Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reunited...and It Felt So .. Weird.

This past weekend, I went to my 30th high school reunion.  I debated myself long and hard about going.  After all - my head is covered with a quarter inch of insanely gray hair and my eyelashes are about half their normal length.  But I did want to see a few people, and it's always fun to see what your former classmates look like now.  I even attended the tour of my high school to see all the changes.  There is now carpet in the hallways, and still no elevators to sell tickets to.  (Only a Plainsmen will understand that.  Heh)

There is a weird doubling of vision at a class reunion.  You look at Billy Bob and while you see him as he is now, 30 pounds heavier and certainly balder, you also see him as he was - with his blonde hair and the clean shaven face he sported back in the day.  He moves the same, and he sounds the same - but that weird overlay is there.  As you see him move around and visit, you have flashes back to high school - remembering moments you shared, conversations you had.  Then you shake your head and he's back to being just Billy Bob - a little older, a little greyer.

Then there are the folks (mainly men, by the way, and that is so unfair) who haven't changed a bit.  There might be a couple of lines on their faces, but for the most part, they haven't changed and you can't help but wonder if they have a painting in their attic.  Bastards.  Age,  will ya!  It's only fair.  If I have to have these laugh lines and grey hair, so do you!  Hmph.

I struggled the most with those who I couldn't recognize.  Thank goodness for the name tags most everyone wore (although I would enlarge the print for the 35th reunion - I'm sure I'm not the only one who's eyes are going).  It should be mandatory that everyone wear a name tag at all events, in my oh-so-humble opinion.  I feel so strongly about this that I'm going to put myself in charge of the name tags next time.  (Yes Crista and Allison - I'm serious!  One less thing for y'all to have to deal with!) There are still several folks that I didn't recognize.  There was one that I was sure who it was - then I saw him the next day in town, and he wasn't even there!  He somehow missed the whole weekend.  Oops.

Over the years I've become friendlier with some of my classmates thanks to Facebook and Pinterest.  One chick that I was in drama with has discovered just how geeky I really am.  It was fun to see her, but I didn't get near enough time with her.  I get the feeling that we could sit and debate sci-fi movies for hours.  We totally need to do that over adult beverages one of these days. 

I wasn't one of the "popular" kids in high school.  I didn't really belong to the "cool" kids group/clique/whatever you called it.  I wasn't a "grit," or a "nerd" or a "jock."  I might have been considered one of the "stoners" - but although I did my share of illicit activities, it wasn't my be-all, end-all.  I was friendly with kids from most of the groups listed above.  Since I didn't really fit in any particular group, I pretty much created my own little group, and we thought we were pretty cool.  But most of the girls I was closest to were in the grade behind me.  Those are the chicks I really would love to hang out with at a reunion.  I'm seriously contemplating crashing their reunion next year. Ha!

To be honest, my husband and I didn't really visit with that many people there.  We did more people watching I think, which I find just as entertaining.  But once again I came away from the reunion a little down.  I don't know if it was because of my hair, or my energy level not being what it used to be, but I just felt out of place a bit.  I had moments where I felt comfortable, but most of the night I missed my girls.  Melissa, Becky, Marla, Bret, 'Nicey,.  Those are the chicks I wanted to hang out with and re-visit old times with.  The majority of the kids from my class that I hung out with were dudes, and oddly enough, wives don't always appreciate some chick sitting and re-visiting old times with their man - even if there was no dating involved.  Go figure.

There is no guarantee I'll be around for our 35th.  It's my plan to be here.  Just in case, I went this year.  I'm glad I did.  It's part of my new philosophy - to live with no regrets.  I don't to look back and think "I wish I had gone to that last reunion."  I'm living my life with intent now.  No more what might have beens.  No more regrets.  So far - so good.

Now to start planning for that trip to Cancun.....

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Missing: Work Enthusiasm

In the fall of 1990, I was hired by the Department of Geeky Science at Mid-Size University.  I was hired as the receptionist.  It was my second real office job, an entry level position.  I was so thrilled to finally be working for Mid-Size University - at last I could put food service behind me.  Around 10 am that first day at work, a student came into the office, saw me sitting at the front desk, and stated - loudly so as to be heard by not only every person located in the Dept. of Geeky Science, but also over in the Dept. of StuckUp Geeky Engineering across the courtyard - "Hey!  I know you!  You used to work at Burger King!"

Well, so much for that. 

Despite that embarrassing beginning, I grew to love working for Geeky Science (to be known as GS from now on).  I enjoyed working with the students, and with the faculty, and eventually with the alumni.  When I got up in the morning, I looked forward to going in to work.  I loved the variety at my job, and I loved what I did. I was a young engaged woman when I started.  I got married while working in GS, had both my children, tried leaving the department for two years, and practically begged to go back when my old position opened up again.   They threw me wedding showers, baby showers, anniversary parties, and the occasional birthday shindig.  And when I developed cancer, they rallied behind me and supported me, even though I disappeared on them for 4 months with very little warning.

A large part of who I am now is because of that job.  It taught me how to multi-task, how to anticipate, how to delegate, how to be diplomatic, how to interact with people from all sorts of cultures and nationalities, and how to appreciate those differences.  I grew from a nervous girl into a confident woman - secure in my place, happy that I had found my niche.  I knew how lucky I was to love my job.  I spent a significant part of my recovery worrying about my Dept. of Geeky Science because I knew I didn't leave anyone trained well enough to take over for me during my sudden absence.  I couldn't wait to get back to work.  

When I think of who I am, it's wife, mother, coordinator, friend.   I love my job.

So could someone explain to me why I'm having such a hard time going to work each day?

The first few weeks, it wasn't a problem.  I looked forward to going into work, and relished the challenge of getting back on track and catching everything up.  It took me awhile, but now I'm working full time again, and am working on getting things caught up.  I'm making pretty good progress on that.  I have more good brain days than foggy brain days now, and I don't feel like it's a struggle to comprehend the various tasks I need to do each day.

Yet when I wake up in the morning, I hit the snooze button more often than I should.  Once I finally accept that I have to get up, I then have to talk myself out of bed so I can get dressed to go to work.  Driving to work is no longer the time I spent going through my to do list in my head and planning my day.  Rather it's the time I try to pump myself up with enough enthusiasm to do a good job once I get to work. 

I find myself thinking of how much longer I have until I can retire.  Currently, I have to meet the "rule of 80" in order to retire with full benefits, and that won't be for another 5 years for me.  I used to think that being able to retire at 53 would be awesome - I'd still be young enough for the hubs and I to really enjoy retirement.  Then I was diagnosed - and now I wonder - can I even count on being around in 5 years? 

I wonder if I really want to spend these next years working at a job where I don't have the same joy as I used to.  Yet my family's insurance - including my own, which is critical now - is through my job at Mid Size University.  If I left my job, there's not an insurance company out there that would take me on - not with a Stage IV ovarian cancer diagnosis.  The hubs has his own health issues - he probably couldn't get insured either.  So whether I want to stay working or not - I really don't have a choice in the matter.  Perhaps that's why I've lost my joy.  It's hard to feel joy in your work when you know you are basically trapped.

Or it could just be because I'm having a hard time adjusting to this life after treatment.  You spend months fighting against a disease that wrecks havoc with your body, your mind, your family, your job - then suddenly it's over and you have to re-focus.  Somehow it's hard to see setting up a new phone system as important after fighting for your life.  Go figure.

I'm hoping this is temporary.  I'm hoping I can find my joy again.   I don't want to be that lady that forces herself to go to work.  That scares the students and faculty because she's such a grump.  I want to be the one who enjoys the people she deals with every day - who welcomes visitors to her office, and goes out of her way to help the students complete their degree, to help the faculty provide a top notch education to those students, and to help the alumni in any way she can.  The one who makes her chair look good.  I used to be that lady.  It used to be effortless. 

I hope that someday soon, it will be again.  Until then - I fake it.  I go to work, put on a smile and do what I can.  It's all I can do right now.  

 Guess I won't be taking down that "Beware!" sign off of my door anytime soon.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I've written before about my vanity.  I've written about why I wear scarves instead of hats.  I've written about my fear of letting the world see my now nearly bald head.  Today I want to talk about the public's reaction to those of us with cancer.

I haven't really talked it about it much.  I haven't discussed how wearing a scarf out in public immediately brands you as someone with cancer.  It does.  When you wear a hat in public, especially a baseball cap, there is always the possibility that you just had a bad hair day.  But a scarf - that's your badge, your identifier.  Wearing a scarf in  public practically guarantees stares, sympathetic half-smiles, or those well-meaning looks of pity.  Total strangers will ask you what type of cancer you have, and what your prognosis is.  And when you come across another scarf wearer, you share a look - you too?  Yes - me too.  It didn't matter what type of cancer we had - we just knew we were part of the same tribe.  The tribe of fighters.  Of survivors.

I didn't like the stares, but I never minded the questions.  I've never shied away from answering questions, and encouraging conversation about my type of cancer.  Part of that is because I'm just not that secretive a person (as you might have noticed here).  Part of it is because so little is known about ovarian cancer, and I think it's important to share what I know about the symptoms so that maybe someone else can get diagnosed early, and not have to go through what I've had to go through over the last 8 months.  Part of it is because many of those who know about ovarian cancer think it's an automatic death sentence, and I want them to know it's not.

Since I'm currently not undergoing chemo, my hair is growing out.  It's still pretty short, but it's coming in thick.  I'm still  hoping for chemo curls.  It's gray - good gracious, it's gray.  But it's growing back.  Now that it's summer and I have a bit of hair, wearing a scarf is hot. Hot hot hot.  One day last week, after about the 15th hot flash of the day, I pulled that scarf off and didn't put it back on.  I drove home without out it.  And I decided I was done with it.  Done with wearing that badge of cancer.  Done with hiding my head. 
Done with being only seen as cancer.

Since then, I go about bare headed.  Guess what?  I don't get stared at as much.  It's like without the scarf, I'm just a normal unremarkable person again.  Granted, one with very short hair, but just your average everyday gray headed chick.  I was so sure that I would be stared at more.  I had no idea it would be the opposite.

I had heard that going around bald was freeing.  I thought they meant it was just being free from all the styling and grooming.  I had no idea it freed you from the stares.  From the badge.  From being one of the cancer tribe.  I'm not real sure how I feel about that.  Yet I know one thing.

I don't miss that scarf.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Old McDonald Had a Farm....

I might have mentioned before that we live in the boonies.  It's not as much the boonies as it used to be - we've had all sorts of families move in around us in the last few years.  And while I might rail against their pointless and wasteful pole lights and over-watering of their lawns, it's not too bad.  Since we live in the middle of our 15 acres, we still have some elbow room.

On that elbow room we have a cow and some chickens.  Some of those chickens are currently broody and sitting on eggs.  They've actually hatched a few chicks, but sadly, none of them have made it.  We don't know if one of the hens sitting is killing them, or if it's too hot, or what, but I'm getting pretty tired of finding cute baby chick bodies.  If anyone has any bright ideas on what is happening to our babies, let me know.

Our cow just recently came back from visiting my cousin's herd.  His herd has a bull or two, so we're hoping she got herself knocked up.  The only problem is that if she is knocked up, she probably won't be dropping her calf until February or March.  March won't be too bad, but February is an awfully cold month for new calves.

We might not have planned this very well.

Face it - we're amateurs at this homesteading stuff.  We've finally gotten the gardening side down pretty well, but we're still learning when it comes to livestock.  When our banty hens hatched some chicks a few years ago, we only lost a couple of chicks.  Those were good mama chickens.  These "heritage" breeds my husband wanted don't seem to be doing as good of a job.  And we're clueless when it comes to cows and calves.  It's a new adventure for sure, but one we like to think we're ready for.

So  wish us luck.  It can't be any more frustrating than trying to type on my new laptop and constantly having the cursor jump to somewhere two paragraphs up because the base of my hand rested too long on the touchpad.

Stupid technology.

What new adventures are you exploring this year?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Work It Girl!

Before I was diagnosed last year,  I would get up every morning at 5:30 and work out.  The two months or so before my diagnosis I used my new elliptical machine.  I loved that thing.  There was something about getting into my workout clothes early in the morning, plugging in my earbuds from my iPhone and spending 30 - 45 minutes working up a sweat that was very satisfying.

;-)  I should have realized then I was a sick woman. 

I still worked out every day up until the point my ascites bloated my abdomen up so large I could barely breathe.  I think my last workout on it was about a week or two before my surgery.  After that I could hardly sleep, much less work out. 

After my surgery, I remember asking my surgeon how long I had to wait before I could get back on my elliptical.  I was convinced that the sooner I could get back on it, the sooner I would feel better.  I had no idea that it would be 8 months before I would be able to use it again.

Yes - it took me that long to get strong enough to even consider turning it on.  After I finally came home from the hospital, I would take walks around my house to regain my strength.  I would see it sitting there - unused.  I would think of how everyone told me that it would make a good place to hang laundry. Isn't that what usually happens when we buy a piece of exercise equipment?  I had sworn not only to myself, but to my husband that if we bought one for the house, I would use it religiously.  Yet for months I didn't have even enough balance to get on it, much less the endurance.

Now that I'm in remission, I am using the elliptical again.  It's only for about 12 minutes a day right now, and it's not at 5:30 am.  Instead I fire that baby up after I get home from work.  It'll take me a while to build up my endurance, but I'm working at it.  I'm determined to get back up to the kinds of workouts I did when I got sick. 

I think my husband might worry that I'm pushing myself too hard.  He doesn't see why I feel such a deep need to get back to my pre-diagnosis state.  Part of him probably thinks I'm doing it to get my figure back.  Ha!  I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed.

The fact is, I feel like I'm in training.  I'm eating more healthy, drinking more water, exercising more.  Not to lose weight.  Not to have a perfect body.  Not to compete in a marathon, or participate in one of those Relay for Life things.  But I do have to be as healthy as I can.  In the best condition I can.

So if it comes back - I can fight it off again.

I'm convinced those 5:30 am mornings gave me the strength to fight off my cancer.  It's why I'm finally bouncing back now.  There aren't alot of women who get a Stage IV diagnosis and go into remission.  Who feel as good as I do these days.  But I was healthy.  In good shape.  Ready for the fight of my life. 

I have no intention of not being ready the next time.  If there is a next time.  So I hit the elliptical for those 12 minutes for a few more days or weeks.  Then I'll add a few minutes.  Then I'll add a few more.  One day I'll be back up to 45 minutes.  And if the cancer comes back?

Bring it.  I'll be ready. And I'll win again.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Family That Rocks Together...

The cover picture on my Facebook is a picture of a happy family.  My youngest son, my husband, me, and my eldest son, taken at a concert held at an outside amphitheater last summer.  It is just a few weeks before my eldest son moved away for college, and I wanted a picture of all us together, doing something we all loved - attending a hard rock concert - before he moved off and I had to adjust to being a family of three.

We are happy in this picture  - although you can tell my husband is getting tired of our friend taking picture after picture with my phone.   My husband and I are holding our beers and our boys are spending a few moments with the parental units before they head down to the mosh pits to enjoy the concert as teenagers are meant to - jumping to the music and banging their heads.  We were so proud - we had shared our love of rock with our boys, and they embraced it fully.  Party on dudes.

I have a full head of hair, and am a bit overweight, but not much - and it is concealed well by the top I'm wearing.  You can't see it in my Facebook cover, but my feet are bare, as I wiggled my toes in the grass while we posed.  I can still remember how it felt cool on my feet as we stood there.  I can still remember telling the boys that they were to smile, and look happy - damit.

I had no idea that cancer was running rampant through my body.

I chose that picture as my cover because it is one of my favorite pictures of all of us together.  I also chose it because it is one of the last really happy moments I remember from last year.  Moving my son to another city to attend college was a proud moment, but full of anxiety for this mama as her first bird went out to try his wings.  A few weeks after that I slowly started developing the symptoms of my cancer, and had a low level anxiety that I really had no name for.  I just had a vague feeling something was off.  And then in October, my world came crashing down around me.

It's been a crazy 8 months.  At times it's been scary, and at others it's been uplifting.  I've grown so much emotionally and spiritually.  I've made new friends, and have seen others just disappear.  I've also seen old friends shower me with love and support, courage and "sistah hood."  I have been blessed.  My marriage has reached new depths that I don't think I could have imagined before I was diagnosed.  My sons have grown into young men - no longer the boys they were last summer.

We are still that same family.  But we are so different now than we were last summer.  I'm not sure that's a bad thing either. I think we took our lives for granted last year.  Nothing is taken for granted anymore.

This week my oncologist told me that for now, he is just going to monitor me.  No more treatment unless I have some kind of symptom, or my CA-125 shoots up.  While I still have pleural effusions around one lung, the doctors feel it will resolve on it's own.  For all intents and purposes, I am in remission.

I am free.  Free of the dread that the chemo isn't working.  Free of chemo every 3 weeks.  Free of the nausea, and fatigue, and bowel issues.  Free of the constant need to eat eat eat so I don't lose any weight.

I am free.  And today, as I wear the same top that I wore in that picture, as I coordinate it with a scarf that I won't be wearing much longer, I breathe a little sigh of satisfaction.

I fought.  And I won.  Maybe not the war - recurrence is always looming.  But I beat that bastard back.

I won.

(Don't worry.  This isn't a goodbye blog by any means.  There is still plenty to blog about.  Including the fact that we have babies out in the boonies!!!  Chicks are hatching and I'm hoping to have pictures of the babies, and the garden, and my roses, and maybe even a new family picture soon.  So stay tuned!)