Stories of Cancer Objects

I’ve been at this cancer thing for quite a while now. These are the objects that tie me to cancer and treatment without question.

Port:

My port tells the story of ease and comfort for treatments. It’s used to get blood draws for labs. Premeds and any injections take this route into my body. Chemotherapies, infusions, and whatever else my body needs go in through the port. Mine has been a companion for years and started to not work. A protein flap builds up over it and prevents a blood return. Fluids still go in but a blood return is needed for it to be labeled fully functional and meet criteria for being used for treatment. Alteplase is injected and left in for an hour to eat through the block and get a blood return. In the meantime, patients raise their arms, arch their backs, turn their heads, and contort in all sorts of uncomfortable and comical positions with hopes one of these positions will position the port into a position that allows for blood return.

Last winter, my port had finally had enough and leaked. It took a couple of months to conclude this, and then a couple of tries to get one that worked effectively. All works perfectly now and I am back to a story of ease and comfort. Some still prefer a line placed in the arm and removed after every visit. They have good veins. Perhaps treatments are spread far enough apart for them. Maybe they only have a 6 month course of treatment and know they will be done at some point in the future. Not me. I’m in it for the long haul and my port is in it with me.

Waiting Room:

The waiting room tells a story of waiting. It also tells a story of worry and anxiety. Schedules get thrown off and I wait a little longer. I look around at who else waits. Not many come alone. Most have a spouse or a support person. They all have their own stories and objects that help tell them. In the waiting room, we are all in the same place waiting to go somewhere slightly different. It’s like the gate area at an airport. Some may be boarding a plane of early diagnosis. Some just flew in for a yearly check and they’ll shortly return to the rest of their lives. Then there are the frequent flyers like me who come often. It doesn’t matter how often I come, the waiting is the same. To read more about the stories of waiting rooms, click here.

Office Visit Room:

Stories of the exam room are mixed. There’s more waiting in this room. With my first oncologist, there was more calm and predictability to visits. He addressed all my concerns, comforted me when needed, and always did an exam. He taught me tons. My current oncologist works in a larger setting – a center within a hospital – and there have been times I’ve felt like I’m on a treatment assembly line. She is an expert, dedicated, and friendly. I work a lot harder to be heard and get what I need, but I do it. Since I’ve been struggling lately, she has shown more empathy. I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I’m in the room for an office visit. It’s unpredictable. I never know for sure what I’m going to get as my office room. The room itself is sterile and pretty much like all the others, devoid of personality.

IV Bag:

The powerful and hazardous liquid in those bags tells the story of treatment. It’s the reason I’m there. Cancer. I have prayed holding the bag before infusion started. I don’t do that anymore since the nurses dress up in protective gear to hang the bag and get it dripping. I’ve sent Reiki energy to the bag during treatment. I’ve felt depressed, angry, and out of my mind while there. I’ve felt empowered because something was being done to kill cancer cells.

Treatment Room:

The treatment room is another area of mixed feelings and different stories. It has been a story of smooth sailing in the past. I’ve enjoyed visiting with nurses. It has even been, dare I say, relaxing. It felt like a natural part of the landscape. I felt I belonged. When I switched treatment centers, the story was revised. It became a story of mild to moderate discomfort. I struggled to belong. The nurses were a bit short with me if they spoke at all. I counted the seconds until I could leave and return to a world where I was more comfortable and felt like a real person. This story has been revised again over time. It feels like home. The nurses know me and we have conversations. I receive comfort while I’m there. I take naps.

Due to scheduling, I’m usually the first one in the chair in the morning. I wonder who will be using the chair after me and what cancer story they would tell. Would they cold cap? The cooling machine is in the bottom left of the photo. How are they feeling?

Scanners:

The MRI and PET machines tells stories of regression, stability, or progression. I’ve been fortunate to have a few scans show regression. Results now tend to be more often progression. Scans also tell the stories of claustrophobia and scanxiety. I realized during my last MRI that the claustrophobia has all but disappeared. It’s about time after nine years. You get used to things after so many years. The scanxiety was almost gone, too. Results from the MRI were already read and released by the time I got home. I prefer it this way so I have time for feelings and plan my questions. I may be upset with the results, but I don’t have to wait for them. It takes a lot off my mind.

Objects have stories. I can look around my house and am able to retell the stories of buying certain pieces of furniture, why a few decorative items are important to me, and recall stories of a few professional objects that remain. As a storyteller, I love collecting and sharing stories. Okay, not as much the cancer stories, but they need telling too.

A Lot of Grief and A Little Hope

“What is a grief journal? It’s a journal where you’re free to write exactly what you’re feeling. You can share memories, feelings, anger, or just daily ramblings. As long as you’re writing, you’re getting those emotions on the page.”

Sam Tetrault

Ultimately, writing is healing. Deep within writing about grief is hope. Grief becomes healing and heling transforms into hope. I’ve found it is a long process.

I think everyone personalizes how they use a grief journal because grief is so personal. It isn’t supposed to be a happy place. I think almost every time I wrote in mine I cried. At some point, the tears lessened. I could read what I wrote and reflect on it without tears.

A working definition isn’t too important to me. My sister and I took a grief class the summer after our mom died the previous spring. I think the grief journal was born there. It appeals to my writing side.

These are snippets from my grief journal. If they don’t fit your definition, you do you.

Many of my entries at the beginning look the same.

7/24/13

Dear Sweet Mom,

I love you and miss you. It’s still too hard for me to put all my feelings down on paper.

Love, Kristie xoxo

Gradually, the notes took on more of a conversational tone. It was like I was writing a letter to Mom. Grief was still present, but it was slowly being replaced by normal life and small doses of hope. If I couldn’t speak to her, this was the next best thing. Somehow I expected the words to lift off the page and swirl the night stars until they reached he in heaven.

8/23/13

Dear Sweet Mom,

I brought in a few of the tomatoes the other day and ate the first one as part of a caprese salad. It tasted good and I so wish you could have had some. Thank you for getting me going on tomatoes and teaching me all about them.

I made rhubarb crunch today too. Very good. I ate a piece for you.

Love, Kristie xoxo

3/18/14

Dear Sweet Mom,

I’m feeling sad and empty tonight. Just keep picturing you at Oak Park this time last year, knowing how hard things were getting for you, and how I was losing you more each day. The next month is going to be rough on both of us. I’m remembering the sad and bad times a lot. I was to replace those images and memories with all the happy ones, but I’m not very successful.  Maybe I’ll try to think of some good Door County memories.

Love, Kristie xoxo

4/30/14

Dear Sweet Mom,

It’s been a year. I just can’t believe it and I don’t know what it all means. It doesn’t make me any less sad or you any less gone. All it means is al the firsts for the first year are over.

Last night I dreamed you called me on the phone. After I picked up and said, “Hello,” you said, “Kristie, it’s Mom.” Your voice was clear as a bell. It startled me out of sleep. Unfortunately, that dream was over and I couldn’t get back to sleep. What does it mean? I will keep looking for signs.

Love,

Kristie xoxo

The last time I wrote in it was 7/28/16. Entries became father and farther apart. Focusing on the grief wasn’t what I needed. I had hope that life was returning to something more normal.

The intersection of grief and hope is hard to explain. Grief doesn’t have to disappear. We all have those moments where it shows up unexpectedly. Hope still floats around this atmosphere waiting for the grief to settle so you can reclaim a bit of that needed hope.

I believe we are not given grief without a way to work with it. Hope is how we work with some of the grief we feel. Not all of it. Sometimes the only way to get through something is to go through it and experience it, tears and fears and all. Other times those pieces of hope are enough to cling to in tough moments.

Poetry is another way to combine grief and hope. This poem is dedicated to my friend Lori Burwell who transitioned suddenly on October 7, 2021.

For Lori

Through grief comes hope.

Through the tears,

Through our fears,

Through breaking hearts

That are tearing us apart

And through the pain.

We know we’ll never be the same.

.

We hope.

We try to cope.

We hope our loved one still sees us

And knows what we are doing.

We hope they are at peace.

We hope our grief will cease.

We hope heaven is real.

.

It’s strange that grief and hope

Share a bond.

Grief comes first.

It lasts and it hurts

Like a bruise that never heals.

Where is the hope?

.

Eventually, the black and blue heals.

Eventually, we begin to feel

And hope replaces grief.

This is my belief.

I hold space for you.

I’m holding space for both of us.

.

Our memories gather round that hope.

We walk through our days as we cope.

We want to touch it

And feel it in our hearts.

If we’re lucky we do.

.

There will always be grief

That returns without warning.

There also will always be

A song of hope

Just waiting to fill our hearts.

.

So much despair

She was not done.

It’s so unfair.

From it we hide and run.

Grief still finds us.

What can we do?

.

The sun still shines.

We advocate, we donate, we hope.

We soothe our souls with

Thoughts of the Divine.

.

Lori lives with the Divine.

Rest without cancer and pain.

Rest in happiness.

Rest in love my friend

Until we meet again.

.

.

.

****************************

What are your thoughts about grief?

Finding A Way and the Blog Hop

Once again it is time for Nancy’s 2021 Summer Blogging Challenge . This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about one another, discover new blogs, and share more about my own writing process. My approach to Nancy’s questions is much lighter than last year. You’ll see what I mean.

Who are you?

Somedays I don’t know. I see a familiar stranger in the mirror. Who I feel I am seems to change often. My appearance doesn’t seem stable. We are so much more than our appearance. Who I am isn’t based on what I do (or did). It was easy to tie my identity to my career as a teacher, but what remains now that I’ve been retired for five years?

Am I a writer? Amateur photographer? Professional patient? International mystery spy? Oops . . . it’s in your best interest to forget that last one.

Quite simply, I’m me.  

 

This is how I remember myself in better days.

I love pajamas. I make really good brownies. I hate cleaning. I am not fond of chipmunks or ground squirrels (a lot like a chipmunk but bigger with different markings).

Lately, I’ve thought of myself as a depressed optimist.

I spent my career teaching and am lucky I got to do what I loved for so long. Second graders will always hold a special place in my heart.

I’ve always been a reader and a writer. I love relaxing with a good book. I bounce between a couple of writing ideas at a time. I write a blog on living with cancer while living well that you are reading now! Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012, I’ve blogged weekly about my thoughts and experiences for the last three years.

A lot of my time is spent focused on my health. 2021 has been harder for me than 2020. Every month I’ve had something that’s presented a problem for me. Hair falling out. A hospital stay. Repeated surgeries. Failed treatments. I am someone who tries hard and is hard on myself when something doesn’t work out. It seems the rest of the world slowly reemerged from the lockdown of COVID and embraced the year more positively than I have.

What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it?

I haven’t felt blocked in terms of content and ideas. Material usually presents itself. I’m not sure if that will continue.

A bigger roadblock is exposure. I want to reach more people, but I haven’t garnered as many followers as I hoped I would. I feel established, but I don’t do a lot of promoting.

No, I haven’t found a way to get around it and maybe it isn’t necessary. Being able to share and have people read what I write is a privilege for me. I’ve tried to toot my horn with a Facebook page catered to my blog and cancer content. You can follow that here. What I’ve found is when people don’t have a personal connection from their own experience or through a loved one, it’s too heavy. Photos of puppies and kittens get more attention.

So, basically, I need to figure out how to use puppies and kittens to attract followers.

What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of?

Spelling.

Try fam-trastuzumab-deruxtecan. It’s both hard to say and spell. The brand name Enhertu is much shorter. Nailing some of these drug names is an accomplishment. How about a cancer spelling bee?

On a more serious note, I’ve continued to publish consistently. I’ve included narratives to share my experiences as a patient. I’ve written more poetry to express myself. Letting some vulnerability show up through my words has been another revealing step for me.

More readers are responding to my mid-week posts where I share a thought-provoking quote. I’ve honestly thought about phasing this out at the end of the year. I felt it hasn’t been very successful at times. I am reassessing what to do with my Wednesday Words posts.

Here is a sample from Wednesday Words. Do I keep sharing these pearls of wisdom?

What are a couple of your best blogging tips?

Blogging gratuities are never expected but always appreciated. I have PayPal and Venmo.

Am I kidding?

Send me some money and find out.

Or you can follow my blog. Those are the only choices.

As a writer, my biggest tip is to write what you want. It’s more authentic that way. Sincere writing circles me back to that first question about who I am. Some of my favorite pieces haven’t racked up the views or comments I had hoped they would, whereas a post on writing and stories is still surprisingly well read. You never know how something will go over which is why it’s important the writer likes it. When my heart shows up through my words, I believe I make a stronger connection with readers.

How do you handle negative feedback or comments?

Everyone loves what I write. Wink, wink. I have received comments offering different perspectives from time to time, but nothing I would call overtly negative. I confess I wouldn’t like negative feedback, but I think it’s best to think of it as constructive criticism and turn it into a learning opportunity. Growth can come from these discussions. Or I can delete them and grow that way.

Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written recently that you want more people to read.

One is such a lonely number. Two is better. Three’s company.

I often return to Love Letter to My Future Self when I need a feel good boost.

Cancer Haiku shares big ideas about cancer in a few words.

A Day of Surgery gives a glimpse into the more medical side of my life.

Thank you, Nancy, for your summer blogging challenge. It’s an awesome opportunity to discover new blogs and share mine. I also love reading my fellow bloggers’ responses to your questions. I hope many others will check them out at Nancy’s Point. Click on the link below to access other blogs in the hop.

Enjoy these dwindling days of summer weather.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list.

Three Years Blogging

Another year blogging has come full circle. Number three.

What does it mean?

I had consistency throughout this continued time of COVID. Routines kept me a little saner. Publishing weekly marked time. I stayed productive.

Sharing my experience has been more valuable to me. I’ve touched on topics that I didn’t feel comfortable with a year ago. More cancery things have happened over the past year which aren’t fantastic developments. I’ve written about some of them.

I am more vulnerable than I used to be. Walls have their purposes in terms of safety and protection. I also need people who are supportive and empathetic. Sharing has risks. Am I oversharing? Will my breaking heart be acknowledged or scoffed at? Information can’t be unshared once it’s shared. Not everyone is going to understand me. I won’t understand everyone either. We do our best. Vulnerability can offer safety and protection when you are with your people.

I remember when I first started blogging. I was unsure how my blog would evolve. There was a general direction, but nothing concrete. Slowly, I became more deliberate with ideas and plotting out topics I wanted to cover. Now, I don’t have much of an outline for the coming year as I have had for others. It’s scary for me not to have a plan. I have a handful of drafts waiting for the right moment. I am much more aware of my experiences and wonder in the moment if I need to write about it and coax out something larger. Hopefully, the universe will continue to give me ideas.

I understand cancer is not fun to read about. Many people avoid it because metastatic life is just too depressing. Sickness, loss, sadness, anger, death. Try living with it. Humor is one of my strengths. If I can twist something awful into something that has elements of awfully funny, it helps me cope. I can’t wallow in depression all the time. Hope is another one of my strengths. Weaving humor and hope into my writing works for me because they both are part of my reality as I keep living with metastatic breast cancer.

What are my goals?

Three goals come to mind:

  1. Share more personal experiences and reflections.
  2. Reach more people and educate about MBC. More knowledge can ultimately support more fundraising and more research.
  3. Share my truth.

Have you missed these posts?

It’s in these annual posts where I usually provide links to posts I’ve found meaningful in one way or another from the past year. It’s a little shameless self promotion. Some contain medical updates. I love using metaphors and symbolism to convey ideas. I’ve been somewhat more daring in using humor in my writing. I don’t know whether anyone else finds my attempts as amusing as I do.

If you missed any of these, or would like to reread them again, please click on the provided links. Feel free to share!

Cancer and Treatment Fatigue

The Wishing Tree

Cancer and Unsuitable Clothing

Yoga Pants and Fleece

Cancer Port Problems and Infections

Cancer Hospital Stay

Fearless Girl

Treatment Day Lessons

A Day of Surgery

Cancer and Faith

Cancer Haiku

More Vortex Lessons

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Here are my questions for you:

What topics would you like to read more about in Year 4?

If you use WordPress, what theme do you use for your template and why?

How long have you been blogging? Do you mark a blogging anniversary? How?

Keep finding a way.

Always.

Love Letter to My Future Self

A writing prompt is often given to write about what you would tell your younger self. I think the idea is an older and wiser person could reflect on the insecurities that never came to fruition. Maybe it’s an opportunity to focus on all the positives that have come to pass. As we age, we learn about what matters in life, where we find joy, and experience a stumble or two we’d like to avoid if given the chance. We don’t get to go back in time for do-overs. My younger self would feel doomed if I told her she wound up with metastatic breast cancer at 41. Wouldn’t she have the opportunity to change it? She sure tried. She/ we/ I had diagnostic mammograms for years in our 30s due to my mother’s breast cancer. It wasn’t enough. Cancer was missed. I know when I think this happened. I was dismissed and told not to worry when I was sweating profusely. Major sweat blobs. I think my lymph nodes were blocked, but I’m not a doctor. Iffy mammograms were followed up by ultrasound and I was always given an all clear. I can’t go back. Telling my younger self to be proactive wouldn’t help.

I was proactive.

Looking back at what could have been “if only” doesn’t provide comfort. The past is unchangeable. I think all of us feel a certain invincible quality when younger and that bad things can’t touch us until we are much older. Quite simply, it’s unbelievable. Our lives stretch out indefinitely in front of us when we are in our twenties and even our thirties. Our lives are finally just beginning.

So instead, how about standing where you are now and advising your future self? Now there’s an interesting prompt. It creates an opportunity where you can pause and dream about goals. I find myself looking back and forward. There are some logistic factors that don’t jive well. My future self would already know what happened in present time. Well, the metastatic breast cancer is out of the bag. I am wiser, know what matters to me now, and what brings me joy. For a few moments, I set my modesty aside as I think about my future. Here is what would I like to say to the me ten years in the future.

Dearest Kristie,

How did you make it to your 60s? I’m not sure, but know intention is something you carried with yourself day by day and projected into the future. Hope and sheer belief are part of it. Somehow you kept going.

You’ve been through a lot over ten years, but you’ve come out better for it.

Life is good.

As you know, you’re still awesome. People appreciate your perspective and wisdom. You are still a trusted ear where others share their private thoughts. Your sense of humor still makes many smile and laugh.

I’m proud of you. You never gave up belief that you could go into long term remission. You continued to give back to Carbone Cancer Center. They listen to you, sort of. You’ve supported their research. You’ve spoken publicly at various functions. I am glad you are working for others in hope they have the same outcome as you. You are a driving force.

I know you’ve worked hard. You’ve had hundreds of treatments and endured even more side effects. You’ve submitted to so many tests and scans so you would have information to plan what’s next. You’ve swallowed supplements and medications that have improved how you feel.  You rejected norms, medians, and negativity from Day 1. You’ve embraced exercise, therapy, affirmations, and surrounded yourself with those who are supportive. You’ve even tried a few crazy things. You’ve worked on having fun and staying hopeful. You made plans. You worked hard.

You look outstanding!

Seriously girl, how do you do it? Cancer ages a person and it did on the inside. Lots of physical things happened on the inside that made you an old lady. And there was a good year during the COVID pandemic where your hair and outward appearance took some punches from tough chemo. Oh, how you loved your yoga pants! You still can’t decide if you’re more gorgeous with white shimmery hair or the more youthful brownish red from the magic bottle. Keep up the good work. You are beautiful.

You still help others. You have found a way to connect with children again and share the love of learning and thinking. Besides being happy and healthy with a few people that love you, it’s really all you ever needed. Hold on to it tightly.

Keep holding on to belief and hope. Never abandon these. They will always serve you well.

I know there are readers who are thinking I’m delusional in writing about my life ten years from now. Researchers can’t put their finger on why some survive for decades with metastatic cancer. What if it’s pure denial? What if it’s the delusion and the denial that got me here? Denial has its merits. I’ll do me.

You are loved by many, including yourself. You’ve tried to return that love to others.

Much love,

Kristie xxx

A favorite photo from spring

This is very similar to another writing activity where the writer sits down, envisions the future, and writes about life ten or twenty years from now envisioning it as well as it possibly can go. There are connections to taking an active role in your life rather than a passive one, setting goals and planning, and daring to dream. I completed this activity about five years ago. It is filled with some very concrete ideas. Retiring with a full retirement package came true much earlier than planned. I was on medical leave, so the writing was on the wall. Writing was mentioned, blogging was not. I’m now well into my third year blogging.

I hope you make the time to write yourself a letter and tuck it away for a decade or so. Time flies. Don’t wait. Happy writing.

Always.

Write What You Know

To write what you know is one of the biggest nuggets of writing advice that comes from authors. It doesn’t matter if the writer is published or unpublished, well-known or obscure, or a beginner or someone highly established. Writing what you know allows the writer to draw upon personal events where details can appear more naturally and make the writing feel more authentic. This advice applies to so much more than just events. We feel a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from euphoric to gut wrenching as we live through these events. Writers know emotions and must write those emotions. I believe this is why we get hooked with a story we feel has nothing to do with our lives. It isn’t the mob lifestyle or unspeakable events from Nazi Germany during WWII that pulls readers into a story. We identify with characters who feel what we feel.

As a teacher teaching second graders, this often meant I read lots of informative pieces on playing with pets, narratives of a summer trip where a flight was as exciting as the destination, and realistic fiction stories about camping, sports, or school. Most kids have fairly similar experiences coming from the same geographic area and being so young. The joy of writing, experiencing success, and becoming more independent writers were always wide-ranging goals in any piece. I wanted kids to write what they knew. Writing about what they didn’t know was a blank page.

It’s the same with me.

As a reader, I look to sources who are experts. Mitch Albom. Sue Monk Kidd. Brené Brown. I go back to favorite authors as well as whomever I’m reading at the moment to reread passages and examine what made them effective. I read like a writer. I love words and storytelling. Even when reading fiction, I understand authors research their topics to make stories credible and realistic. Many factors make writing come alive.

I ask myself, as a writer, what do I know?

Cancer

Unfortunately, I know too much.

My mother had uterine cancer that was successfully removed through surgery. It gave me an early example that disease would always be caught early and without much inconvenience. I recall a couple of years later telling friends she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that it was going to be harder but that she’d be okay. It was harder. Mom had a partial mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. I became an expert on her health and breast cancer knowledge. Information was power and I wanted to understand all of it. All was good for years. Golden years.

And then it wasn’t. She wasn’t.

Looking back, I’m not sure if she cared for all my pearls of wisdom that I’d learned. I likely was annoying. It’s very different when the shoe is on the other foot and you have been diagnosed rather than a family member. I want my information but have a bit of an inner attitude when someone who isn’t an authority drops false information at my feet.

My metastatic breast cancer diagnosis came about a month or two later on the heels of hers.

There is a lot I could write about from my experiences with cancer with my mom and from my own. I haven’t mined memories of it with my mom because of the pain. I don’t feel as much pain with my own. I’ve found it to be cathartic and a home to give voice to the pain and whatever other truths need speaking.

Others write from a very factual perspective of their experience. Expert background experience support their writing. They write from legal, medical, patient experience, and personal experience perspectives. Others share raw emotions and reactions to what’s happening in their lives through poems and deeply personal reflections. I tend to write about cancer from the lens of what happens to me and my thoughts about it. Factual information gets sprinkled here and there as it impacts my chosen subject or theme. We’re all invited to sit a while with these perspectives and stories of shared experiences.

Write what you know. I know cancer.

Feelings

Emotions were mentioned at the top of the piece. We all experience universal feelings. Fear. Despair. Loneliness. Humor. Love. Hope. Spirit. A small event of forgetting music at a piano recital can pack some huge emotions of not feeling supported, being humiliated, and hearing your parents lie to you about your achievement. It’s still a tough memory for me. This story can be more powerful than a story that retells a death in the family that is void of emotions. Emotions and feelings spill over in writing because the goal is for someone else to understand and connect with what was written. When I think of a common quality that’s at the core of favorite books, or dare I say even things I write, is the desire to be understood. We crave that as writers and readers.

Feelings are our emotional truths.

Stories of good times on Grandma’s farm help me preserve memories that I want to remember. Her home is a strong example of how emotions create the writing. I took a photo of her farm from out in the field one winter. My grandma, dad, and mom were all warm inside visiting after our Sunday meal. I wrote about how the people I loved were in the photo even though I couldn’t see them as part of an assignment in college. Later, I wrote a poem about it. Years later, this house is in disarray. Raccoons have taken over and hauntingly walk on keys of the damaged piano in the night. A cousin’s son and his wife moved onto the property into the more modern home across the drive when they married. They see the old house as dilapidated and scary (I do too) but more of my emotions are grounded in Sunday visits, time with Grandma, and playing with the farm cats. I sent my cousin’s son a copy of the poem so he could see the abandoned house as a home for a few brief moments.

Write what you know. I know my feelings.

Experiences

Small experiences can have big impacts. I remember winning a cake at a cake walk when I was about six and it was the first thing I ever won. It was a carrot cake with nuts. I was allergic and unable to eat it, but I had won something and felt special. Memories playing at the playground across the street fill many childhood memories. Camping in Girl Scouts. Family vacations. Being bullied. Never knowing if you really fit in. I remember holding my dad’s hand in the ICU and watching it shake trying to find mine after one of his heart surgeries. I have entertaining experiences throwing dinner parties, both fun and disastrous. News of a good scan. Not so good news. There are arguments and celebrations. Little events make a life. Although short, this brief list weaves together experiences with emotions. Most are waiting to be written.

Hope isn’t an experience as much as it is a belief. This belief has been a driving force in some of my experiences and many of my thoughts. Links are provided if you’d like to go back and read past posts. Hope is what I know.

Hope, Belief, and a Monthly Planner

Doom Dibbling or Hope Harvesting

Write what you know. I know my experiences.

Teaching

I know a few things about teaching after twenty-three years in the classroom. Best practices in curriculum and child development have come and gone. Co-workers and students have provided so many stories that you can’t make up. Classic one liners that still make me laugh. One year each child reminded me of a different breed of dog. I loved that class. One year there was a child who had some obvious unidentified emotional issues but who could work quite successfully under his desk. I loved that child as challenging as he was. Another year there was another child who inched her way closer and closer to the door and thought she was hiding. She was a character. I remember mistakes I’ve made like working with glitter as part of projects. I could write about lockdown drills. There is endless material. I can remember where I stood when I learned my dad had died. I know where I was when I got the call that my mom had taken a turn and the end was near. I can bring up the moment where a friend told me she was pregnant. The day I shared with my students I had cancer and couldn’t be with them is still fresh. So many nonteaching things happen within the walls of a school. The things we’d hear if those walls could talk.

I was happy teaching. At times I was frustrated. I felt successful, secure, and safe. Teaching was home.

Write what you know. I know teaching.

I’m not the only one who knows these things.

What do you know?

Cancer Haiku

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that usually is about nature themes. It’s written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. I find it a beautiful way to create images and stir feelings. Writing it has made me a stronger writer because I must be concise with a finite set of syllables. I often find myself walking around thinking in syllables. I have broadened the scope of my themes when I write haiku to take on personal experiences as I live with metastatic cancer. I offer glimpses into my heart with a bit of that imagery and feeling I’m hoping comes across in seventeen syllables. The more I write, I better I get. I hope you connect with them in your own way.

I answered the phone

the voice said you have cancer

and everything changed

but you look just fine

you can’t be metastatic

you do not act sick

tears on my pillow

tears and sobs in the shower

tears behind a smile

chemo in my veins

chasing after cancer cells

killing good and bad

you’ve stolen my hair

my eyes have a lifeless look

I’m pale, weak, and scared

scars on the outside

reflect little of being

scarred and scared inside

we can land on Mars

and urgently make vaccines

we can’t cure cancer

who is this person

who stares back in the mirror

she looks familiar

the dreaded scanner

I lie inside motionless

hoping for good news

nervous in a gown

waiting for fate to unfold

in the next minutes

we need more research

and more effective treatments

to save those we love

cancer spread elsewhere

is known as metastatic

and cannot be cured

wicked cancer cells

how did this happen to me

how is this my life

cancer side effects

suck everything out quickly

that helps us feel well

sleepless once again

I lie awake unable

to dream something else

positive thinking

balances hope and science

when you have cancer

spring turns to summer

my next season is unknown

I live in the now

petals on a rose

lovely and soft and alive

how long will you stay

bad thoughts creep inside

my heart about when and how

that I push away

dying is rebirth

to where our souls remember

and feel love and light

Fearless Girl

The Fearless Girl is a bronze statue created by Kristen Visbal. The statue has come to symbolize progress and equity for women. The reason for her existence is much less inspiring. A large asset management company known as State Street Global Advisors commissioned it to advertise an index fund. Sure, it also promoted female empowerment and aligned well with International Women’s Day, but the initial motivation of the asset company makes its origins more of an advertising stunt. It was conveniently installed directly opposite of the famous Charging Bull statue of Wall Street which added drama in more ways than expected. Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of the bull statue, complained about the deliberate placement of the girl statue, and she was eventually moved to a different spot in front of the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan.

My opinion is her new location is better because all the focus is on her. There is nothing to detract away from her. Those who see her can connect with personal stories and interpretations about what she stands against fearlessly. It makes her more fearless in my eyes.

Image credit: pixabay.com

I believe Fearless Girl represents many favorable qualities. She embodies a confidence and indomitable will. There is something unmovable about her other than her 250 pound weight. It’s her stance with her hands on her hips and the determined look in her eyes. Although small, she is an image of strength and might. Can we all be her? I think the answer is we can.

Images of confidence, determination, and strength are important for me as I go about living with cancer. I muster up courage for office visits. I know what I have on my agenda. I attempt to hold my head high as I go about trying to pull off a persona of confidence, determination, and strength even though I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know if my inner and outer vibes match. I try and keep trying.

Granite is my chosen word for 2021. It came from an unexpected ending to a poem I wrote. It’s known as a hard, igneous rock. Granite is made up mainly of quartz, mica, and feldspar. Symbolically, it’s associated with strength, abundance, and protection. Because of its durability, granite has a long lifespan. Therefore, granite also represents longevity. It’s a good word for me this year to picture myself as a strong rock that will withstand wear and tear. I am durable. Like granite, I have longevity. I want longevity on my side. My image of granite strikes me as fearless.

What does it mean to be fearless with cancer?

I’m not sure. Fear is a normal and expected part of it. I don’t believe those who say they aren’t or weren’t afraid. Knowledge makes me less fearful, but I still feel fear. Being scared is okay. For me, being scared makes me more fearless. People call me strong or brave. All I’m doing is walking through the fear. It pops up even with non cancery things. I face it. Whereas I doubt I can eliminate it entirely, I know how to lessen it.

Tests and scans provide information and direction. Knowledge, information, and my feelings support me as a patient. I need the tests to plan for treatment. My mom didn’t want lots of tests when she had cancer. It presented even more unknowns and made it a lot harder to treat a cancer that returned metastasized. I believe my mom was fearless in her own way. It’s too emotional for me to put words to how I believe she faced her diagnosis. She didn’t talk much about what was happening. It was so emotionally and then physically painful for her. I’m sure my status factored into it. All I have are my observations and own feelings. My point is everyone works with fear.

Support makes me more fearless. I feel less alone when I share how I feel with people I trust. I feel less alone when others let me know they’ve been through something similar and feel similar feelings. My true friends are the best. Phone calls, emails, texts, and messages are treasured means of connections in this COVID world. Checking in and listening are huge comforts to me. We all need such support. As a writer, my voice has more power through my words. Blogging is a platform where I can reach out and share what’s on my mind. I appreciate the support I receive through those who read my work.

Being fearless as a patient means I ask questions. I research and learn. I speak up and say what I need, what works and what doesn’t. I am a part of my team and participate in decisions. I know I’ve weighed decisions thoroughly and made them in my best interests. My body goes through a lot. A wide range of emotions are felt. My voice gets heard. I can get upset and often have tears, but this is one of the ways I walk through fear. Tears do not make me a weaker person or less abled patient. They get me somewhere I need to be.

Living the way I want to live makes me fearless. Many of my plans have changed. Somewhere I learned not depend on others in order for me to do what I wanted. Independence has served me well seeing as I’m on my own living with cancer. I am thankful for my successful teaching career and the ability to support myself. So much is taken away with metastatic breast cancer. I certainly have given things up. I am grateful I am able to be independent, have a home I love where I feel safe, and the ability to set and achieve a few goals. I want to be seen, make a difference, and feel connected. I refuse to hide and wait for the next problem to present itself. I don’t want pity or to be told how I should be living based on what others have done. I am well aware that events in my life aren’t always pretty. It seems I struggle more than I’d like with what I think should be a lot easier. I believe we all have these moments. It’s how we handle them that can define ourselves as fearless or fearful.

Cancer is an invisible fear that shows up in visible ways. It creeps slowly at first when life hasn’t changed much. Then you qualify for disability and your health takes precedence over your career. There are medicines and side effects. There are many private tears and fake smiles. There are uncertainties and fear itself. There isn’t a day it isn’t there in some form. I stand as fearlessly as I can against the fear, scans, progression, and dwindling options, while always hoping for a cure. I stand with others against losing 119 a day in the U.S. These are our friends, relatives, coworkers, and others we’ve come to know dearly along the way through our shared misery.

I have a DOVE chocolate wrapper on my refrigerator with an inside message that reads to be fearlessly authentic. A wonderful thing happens with aging – you learn to be truer to yourself. I was more confident in my 30s than my 20s, my 40s than my 30s, and I would expect the same to be true in my 50s. We figure more out with each year. I’ve become more expressive of my opinions. I’m not willing to tolerate certain opinions or behaviors of others that violate my values. I am in a place in my life where I do what I want if nothing is standing in my way. I remove obstacles when possible. In terms of blogging, I write about what I want. It isn’t always about cancer, but usually there is a connection tying the piece together. I read a number of blogs and do too much comparing of others to mine in terms of definitions of success. If I were to change mine, I’d have to compromise my authenticity here, and I’m not willing to change me or my craft to fit in falsely somewhere else. There may be some cosmetic changes but the real me is at the core of the writing.

I never have been one to change to fit in. Most of the time I don’t think I fit in very well. It has become less important the older I get. Cancer has opened my eyes to myself even more. I’m authentic to myself and know who I am. Introverted and private with most, but I know my inner workings well and how I move best through the world. I know what traits I value. I try to demonstrate those and surround myself with like company. My personality and abilities as a teacher shined in the classroom. I believe I still teach by example. My efforts in fundraising, advocacy, and any cause I find important showcase my beliefs. Writing and photography presently reflect my authentic self. I am far from perfect. My imperfections may be some of the most authentic parts about me. In these ways, I embody my fearless girl authentically.

How are you fearless?

How are you fearlessly authentic?

What goes into being a fearless patient?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Two Years Blogging

My second year blogging is in the books. I’ve explored expressing myself a bit more through personal narratives and even poetry. I’ve covered a variety of topics. I hope I have made connections with readers as I’ve shared what goes through my mind and in my life as someone living with metastatic breast cancer.

There’s no need to have cancer in your life to read it and get something out of it. Not everything I write about is specific to the cancer experience. Themes of fear, trust, and identity apply to all of us. Memories of joy or moments that teach an important life lesson reside within all of us. However, it’s often when I appear to veer off the cancer path with my writing that I come back to say something about the cancer experience. Maybe I’m only speaking to me. Joy is important for anyone with metastatic cancer. Memories can be bittersweet, hopefully mostly sweet. Life lessons help us embrace the now. Some of these lessons are difficult to embrace. Maybe they help us understand our now one lesson at a time.

I am always interested in growing my audience. Please share my blog with anyone with whom you think may benefit from it. I also want to take a moment today to thank you for reading and sharing your comments. I love reading them and you are always welcome to leave a comment at the bottom of these posts. Today, I’m interested in if you’ve had a favorite post over the last year. I have many favorites, but know I am biased.

Recently, I received a few compliments on my blog’s title, Finding A Way. It conjures up many thoughts in my mind. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Look at a challenge from multiple perspectives. Approach something in a new way. Venture outside of your comfort zone. Find a way to get it done.

Find a way.

There have been some remarkable things I have attempted while living with metastatic breast cancer. I figured out how to keep teaching for four years after my diagnosis. I’ve discovered new ways to enjoy exercise. I’ve developed hacks for when things are hard. I’ve found a way. Maybe it isn’t always the best way or the easiest way, but it is a way.

The phrase “finding a way” is defined as having an opportunity, or an intention, to arrive at a specific outcome. That definition fits the vision I continue to have as a mantra in my life. My blog’s title got me thinking about other expressions that are essentially synonyms for it. It turns out there are dozens of substitutions. Some fit better than others. Some were noted as more common in the UK. Some are positive. Quite a few have negative connotations and that surprised me. Apparently, finding a way can be by hook or crook. Wordhippo.com is my source. See what you think.

Synonyms are listed in no particular order but tend to follow the order from Wordhippo. I understand if you skim them since there are many.

Getting, contriving, arranging, engineering a way, managing, succeeding in, organizing, working it, fixing it, compassing, coordinating, designing, maneuvering, swinging, swinging it, setting, orchestrating, making arrangements for, fixing, fixing up, setting up, pulling strings, pulling wires, sorting out, seeing to, finagling, framing, negotiating, machinating, manipulating, finessing, masterminding, elaborating, developing, executing, shifting, angling, cogitating, achieving, projecting, jockeying, hitting upon, carrying out, playing games, effecting, wrangling, passing, plotting, scheming, devising, conspiring, intriguing, conniving, colluding, planning, hatching, cooking up, operating, being in cahoots, collaborating, hatching a plot, concocting, faking, fabricating, rigging, forming a conspiracy, laying plans, shamming, abetting, exploiting, manufacturing, promoting, getting in bed with, coming up with, controlling, falsifying, simulating, feigning, conducting, handling, bringing about, pulling off, conceiving, constructing, staging, scamming, doctoring, tricking, wheeling and dealing, and conning.

The list goes on, but I think I’ve listed plenty.

One word that didn’t appear that struck me as strange:

Believe.

Finding A Way is about believing. Pure and simple. Unwavering. Unconditionally.

Shall I change the name of my blog to embody ideas of conniving, plotting, or scheming? Nah, it’s better to stick with ideals like succeeding, achieving, and developing. I will keep the title as is. It works. Onward to a third year of finding a way. You know what’s coming . . .

Always.

Summer Challenge 2020

According to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the dog days of summer occurred in late July when Sirius rose just before the sun. The days were referred to as the hottest days of the year. They have arrived where I live with heat indices in the triple digits. Taking a break from the heat and participating in a summer blog hop challenge through Nancy’s Point is a welcomed break from temperatures I don’t tolerate well. A huge thank you goes out to Nancy for organizing this opportunity for bloggers to connect and giving everyone getting a chance to discover new blogs.

Here are my responses to her questions:

Who are you? Tell us whatever you want about you and your blog.

How do I answer succinctly? I am Kristie Konsoer and was born and raised in Wisconsin where I still live. Jump to 2012 when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I retired from teaching second grade in 2016. Writing has been one of my lifelong interests. I started Finding A Way in the summer of 2018 because it tied together writing I was already doing with a way to communicate with others. I initially focused on living well while living with metastatic breast cancer. This still remains a main focus although there are times I dwell more on one than the other. I have written a lot about strength, hope, identity, feelings, thoughts about cancer, and my experiences. I share what’s on my mind. I also include a quote midweek on something that has inspired me or I feel is important to share.

What has been your biggest blogging challenge during this pandemic, and how have you been tackling it (or trying to)?

I didn’t feel challenged with blogging during the beginning stages of the pandemic. I found blogging a reassuring constant. I struggled a bit more as the months dragged into summer. Sometimes feelings I have about cancer are awfully heavy and these added to feelings I have about my world becoming smaller and more isolated with no end for the pandemic in sight gets hard. I keep tackling this struggle and others day by day. Focusing on positive moments throughout my day helps a lot.

I have written before that cancer doesn’t wait for curves to flatten or quarantines to end in a post from May you can read here. Continuing to push for more funding for metastatic breast cancer research has been a challenge when there is also a needed focus on COVID research and treatments. I paused briefly in my life and with my writing. There was the feeling that others have also expressed that they were uncertain about sticking to usual topics during this time. I don’t know how to describe it other than I woke up one day and just snapped out of it because I had had enough of hearing some of my efforts to raise money for more research were on hold.

What is something you’ve accomplished with your blog that you’re most proud of?

I am very proud of the body of work that I’ve created over the past two years that reflects my experience. I’ve developed my voice. I’ve written about topics that have been important to me. I have hopefully helped others.

Share two of your best blogging tips.

  1. Stick to a schedule. Have a reserve of upcoming posts that you can move around or schedule in advance in case life gets too busy and you don’t have the time or energy to give to your blog.
  2. Write about what you know. Read other blogs but be authentic to your goals and vision. The cancer blogs I read aren’t the same. I like them because they all offer me something different.

What is one of your blogging goals this year?

I need to work on marketing my blog. I want to continue to build my audience while maintaining consistent readership.

When things get hard, what keeps you blogging, even if not regularly?

Sharing my blog is sharing a part of me. I always find meaning in it. It’s cathartic. Sometimes I wind up with something different than what I planned. I find that quite amazing when that happens because my heart takes over and gives me something I didn’t know I needed. Blogging grounds me.

What is a dream you have for your blog?

A dream is that its reach becomes wider. Perhaps someday it would lead to other writing opportunities.

Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written that you want more people to read.

It’s between a story that provides a metaphor for living with cancer and a post that highlights work being done at the Carbone Cancer Center where I receive treatment. Both reflect the scope of what can be read on Finding A Way. I’ve decided to include both.

Dodgeball 

Research Lab Tour

That’s it from me!  Thanks for reading. Hopefully, I’ve linked everything back correctly to Nancy and technology works as expected. Be sure to check out Nancy’s Point and the other bloggers participating in Nancy’s summer challenge. Click on the link at the bottom of the post to read more posts on the hop. Discovering new blogs is a perfect way to spend some time during the dog days of summer wherever you are.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…