Adjusting to Life’s Turns

13 November, 2012 @ 9:49 pm
art, health | Leave a note

I love to paint. Although this used to be a knitting blog, after brain surgery my left hand became hopelessly uncoordinated, and I could no longer knit. So I moved on to another creative pursuit: painting.

I love the earthiness of painting, the textures and colors, and the surprises that happen on the canvas as I work. Often I know the title of the piece before I even start painting. But this doesn’t seem to affect my process.

For instance, the abstract I’m finishing now will be called “The Long Road Home,” but there are no roads in it or even the suggestion of one. I don’t always understand the process that goes on between the canvas and me, but I love that uncertainty, that sense of discovery.

The painter Robert Genn wrote, “To me, making paintings is a doing thing, a communion with nature, an attempt to refine my own sensibilities and understand my processes, a lifelong puzzle of delight and a membership card in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood.”

Painting is something creative I can do, even with the physical limitations that cancer has left me with. When I paint, I feel like my spirit transcends the walls of my studio and connects me with people from the past, present, and future.

Everyone has limitations or parts of themselves they wish were different. My limitation is visible—an obvious lack of balance and coordination on my left side—so when I fall, I quite literally have to get back up and start painting again. But I do it because the canvas, the colors, and the creative life call to me.

“Don’t give up”

16 May, 2011 @ 7:05 pm
Moments, Reflection | Notes

A few days ago I was at a little store here on The Big Island and the sales lady told me she was an 18-year cancer survivor and that she had fought it for nine years before she got through it. I don’t know what kind of cancer she had or what stage it was. “Don’t give up,” she told me. Her advice has stayed with me. When I get that swelling around the brain and start throwing up every few seconds and can’t stand upright and end up in the hospital, sometimes I wonder, Is it worth it to continue? But talking with another survivor certainly helps and offers hope.

dscn01602This little cove on The Big Island is such a healing, gentle place. I am at the beach now, the sun is out, and the colors of the water are stunning — a soft sea-glass green, aquas, turquoise, then a deep calm blue and lavender farther out.

The sand seems to glow with the warmth of the light. The vegetation is vivid green, and the flowers are brilliant. I plan to sketch palm trees today in their tall grace. Birds are singing; I think they are mostly house wrens, although there are three brightly-colored parrots near the cafe with their wings clipped, I believe.

They seem to resent their captivity greatly and shriek like chimps. There are a few half-grown cats near the cafe also— probably from the same litter—and diners feed them scraps. I saw one of these graceful kitties on the beach last night from our lanai on the fifth floor. Maybe the parrots are watching those kittens grow up beneath their tree and getting nervous.

The water is quite warm and we go in almost every day, although I tend to list to the left from the effects of brain surgery. I can do a sort of frog paddle/breast stroke with splayed fingers. It feels good to swim and the cove is usually calm.

Of course, surviving cancer isn’t about not “giving up.” If that were true, we’d have a lot more survivors. Sometimes the body just can no longer deal with the invasion or we run out of medical options. One of the hardest things for me to consider is that I may have outlived my usefulness on earth.

Hopefully some more physical therapy will help my hand. I am keeping up with my hand exercises here. My neurosurgeon said the brain takes a long time to heal. And patience — especially with myself — has never been my strong suit. So we will see how this year goes. Hope there are not too many errors in this post typed with one hand.

Vacationing on the Big Island

9 May, 2011 @ 10:37 pm
Moments | Notes

So here we are in Hawaii in an absolutely idyllic location overlooking a beautiful small ocean cove. Lovely room, comfy bed, serene surroundings, and a kind, attentive, and loving husband to be sure I get around safely. I use a cane or walker now and am trying to learn to walk again after the brain surgery in March messed up my left side so badly. I am trying to learn to walk faster than the beautiful little baby who lives behind us. But she is already way ahead of me with her growing brain….all as it should be.

A couple of weeks ago I was told that I might only have 3-6 months left if I chose no more treatment. That’s when we decided not to postpone our vacation plans further. And we also decided go ahead with the laser brain surgery. Because in spite of all the problems in our world, it is still a beautiful world and I am not ready to say good-bye to the lovely outdoors yet. Or to my loving and beloved family and friends.

Ease of communication

2 May, 2011 @ 8:49 pm
Moments | Leave a note

I’m right now checking out an I-Pad to see if this is easier to type on than a keyboard with only one well-functioning hand. This is certainly an improvement, no doubt. Easier on the eyes than my phone, too.


2 May, 2011 @ 5:51 pm
Update | Leave a note

Last week I was informed by my neurosurgeon (I asked) that with no further treatment I have 3-6 months left.

Lots of tears. Aaand on to the next procedure. I had the open-brain surgery last month which has left me with a very uncoordinated left hand. So now I’m keyboarding with one hand which is a major annoyance when you’re used to using both hands.

But of course that’s the least of it all. I still have a tumor in my cerebellum. The med team is going to laser it tomorrow morning (Gamma knife again) to try to buy me more time. Cliff has been a gem through all this — so supportive — and of course it’s always hard on everyone, including my two wonderful kids. It’s just way life goes sometimes. At least I got to marry a fine man and raise my children and live in this beautiful world.

“It’s not brain surgery”

13 March, 2011 @ 8:08 pm
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Oh wait, it is. I’m going in for brain surgery tomorrow. The neurosurgeon will remove the two tumors that are growing in my left cerebellum.

I suppose I should be worried, but I’m not at all. I got two opinions from top neurosurgeons, and they both said this was necessary surgery and that gamma knife surgery is not a good option for these tumors.

So I really don’t have a choice, and I’m going for it. I may have some coordination/balance issues afterwards, but I’ll just do the best I can. Hopefully, with time, activity, and physical therapy, this will improve.

Also tomorrrow I’ll have my fourth brain MRI in a month…bam bam bam bam. Those things are loud. But they give important data, so onward we go.

Brain surgery

10 March, 2011 @ 5:13 pm
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I just received a phone call from my neurosurgeon. He has reviewed the results of the MRI I had done this morning. A couple of the tumors in my cerebellum have grown, and he recommends going in and removing them rather than lasering them.

So I am scheduled for invasive brain surgery on Monday at 4pm.

I’m not looking forward to being in the hospital again so soon. It seems as if I just got out. But I have had severe headaches lately and am unsteady on my feet, so maybe this will take care of the symptoms…or at least prevent the symptoms from getting worse.

I am expecting physical therapy afterwards because the surgeon is going to have to cut through healthy brain tissue.

The wait for data

5 March, 2011 @ 7:02 pm
Reflection, Update | Notes

About six weeks ago, I didn’t think I would be able to live out the year. I learned that I have at least two more metastases in my cerebellum, in the balance & coordination area.

Then I suddenly began throwing up and couldn’t stand upright. I drove to the oncologist for rehydration, and they wheeled me right over to the hospital and checked me in.

There is no cancer showing up in my body now, only in my cerebellum. It’s unusual enough that the med team was concerned it was a new kind of cancer. They are reluctant to go through healthy brain tissue to take a biopsy, but a biopsy is the only way they’ll know what kind of cancer it really is. Because of the risks to my motor skills (vroom vroom), they are going on the data they have, which is of course colon cancer.

It seems that a tumor or else some edemic necrotic tissue (from the gamma knife surgery last year) was pressing on my cerebellum, causing the symptoms. After four days in the hospital and a high dose of steroids to reduce the swelling, I was released. Hurray.

I’ll have another brain MRI this Thursday, then meet with a second neurosurgeon the following Tuesday. After that, I will have some kind of brain procedure (probably gamma knife again) to kill the tumors.

I’ll get some time to recover from that, which may involve some PT, and then I’ll be starting some chemo. It won’t be hard and heavy chemo, as I had before (twelve rounds every two weeks for six months). This time I’ll have a couple of rounds, then be allowed to recuperate, then a couple more rounds, etc. — more sporadic. The med team thinks the cancer is lurking in my body on a microscopic (i.e., non-tumor-size) level, and they want to go after it.

All this recent news made my husband, children, and me very somber at first. I wasn’t weepy, but of course none of this is good news.

But we are working through it and treasuring our time together, and now I am feeling remarkably peaceful about it all. I am painting, cooking new recipes, hiking, doing yoga again, enjoying my family and three loving pets, and I’m even doing a little knitting, now that our golden is a year old and not such a terror with yarn.

Regardless of our circumstances, there is always so much to be grateful for. I have wept many tears on our back patio, which is sort of a sanctuary for me. But recently just standing out there and taking some deep breaths of fresh, crisp winter air feels healing to me. It seems to clear my head and give me hope.

Audrey’s dare

22 February, 2011 @ 1:13 am
Moments | Leave a note

On AUDREY’s dare, here I share my western fare…
(dreamed up in lala land in the hospital last week, as I wished I were anywhere else)
Also dedicated to Pampoo’s fans–you know who you are. He sang me many cowboy songs, all far exceeding this.

Escape Plan
Let me leave the sounds of this hospital drone,
Set myself safely on the path to home.
Ain’t got a car, but get me a hoss,
Lift me up and toss me acrost.
Together we will trot the trail
Through the crick, beneath the hail,
Ending up at my front door
Away from the medics forevermore.

Yeah, we have some ranching in our ancestry. :) And I may be losing my mind. But Audrey “double-dog dared” me to print this. I don’t really know what that kind of dare is, but I have two dogs, and I stand by them.

Colon Cancer Update

12 February, 2011 @ 1:27 pm
Update | Leave a note

I also got the brain MRI on Thursday. There are now two nodules in my brain, in the left cerebellum. My neurosurgeon was out of town, so we’ll see what he recommends when he returns on Monday. I predict another Gamma knife procedure, but I don’t really know.

They thought they killed the nodule a year ago with the lasers, but apparently they did not. All that needs to survive is one cancer cell.

So I am ready to go ahead with the treatment that they recommend. I am also sending the data to my oncologist at Univ of Colorado Cancer Center for his medical team to review. He is my second opinion guy. He has a lot of resources there and does clinical trials too, although I am not ready for trials yet.

Cleaning out

3 January, 2011 @ 4:32 pm
Moments | Notes

garage_full_of_junkOne of the things that has been on my mind lately (sadly) is our basement. It’s always down there, unfinished, a shadowy echo of our everyday existence. Things we used but no longer need are down there, awaiting a final decision.

It bothers me that this stuff is down there. I don’t need stuff. For instance, the crepe maker I used to use when I was in my twenties has been idle since the children were born. The kids liked more middle-of-the-road food, not anything adventuresome. And when they were little, I no longer had the time or energy to make crepes from scratch anyway.

My older child is 29, so the crepe maker has been sitting down there for about that long. All these years, someone who loves to make crepes could have been using it. The crepe maker is going to charity, to a new owner.

There are many more things, no longer useful to my family. I have begun cleaning them out, and it is so gratifying. Getting rid of the literal junk in my life makes me feel like I’m getting rid of some of the emotional weight also. Because hanging on to this stuff — these things — takes energy.

It scatters me. Every day I walk on the first floor of our house, above all this stuff in the basement. I know it’s there, underneath my feet. I want it gone.

A couple of weeks ago, I braved up and took one of my girlfriends down there, daring to expose the mess to someone outside the family. This really helped me. She was very kind and didn’t act shocked. Facing my inadequacy and sharing it with a friend was what I needed to get myself going. She was also cleaning out her basement, and she understood. We were determined to do something about the “stuff” in our lives.

So now it’s down to the basement to face the spiders and dust … and to dispose of the unneeded paraphernalia of my life. These things will have a new life with people who do want them.

New Year’s Reflection on Colon Cancer

1 January, 2011 @ 2:39 pm
Reflection | Notes

Sometimes people are so sure that if they eat this berry or that concoction daily that they will never get cancer. They forget that the newspaper articles say these things “may help prevent cancer.” They don’t prevent cancer. But they do give us an illusion of control.

Unfortunately, sometimes people get cancer regardless of what they do or don’t do.

I have eaten organic blueberries for breakfast every morning for many, many years. I have eaten well in general — broccoli, cauliflower, very little red meat — and am at a good weight. Got my colonoscopy on time at age 50. Was diagnosed with stage I colon cancer at age 53. Was under an oncologist’s care for three years with regular scans and annual colonoscopies, then was diagnosed with stage IV three years after the first diagnosis. Two major surgeries, brain laser surgery, and twelve rounds of chemo in all.

Sometimes things just happen, no matter how careful you are. People in their late teens and early twenties get colon cancer. Young parents get colon cancer. Runners get colon cancer. Sometimes it happens.

I wonder what causes colon cancer to all different kinds of people. No one in my family has had colon cancer. I hope that medical researchers discover the cure someday for this disease — cancer — that brings so much heartache and loss to families.

I have been blessed to raise my children to adulthood, and I am not afraid of death except that I don’t want to leave my family. But things just happen, accidents happen, illnesses happen, and life can seem very fragile sometimes.

I am an ordained minister — have a seminary master’s degree — and, oddly, I believe there is usually no sense as to who gets cancer and who doesn’t. We are all in vulnerable bodies. We think we have control — eat this, don’t eat that, do this and not that — and a certain amount of that kind of thinking is good. We don’t want to ask for trouble in our bodies by neglecting our health.

But sometimes things just happen to our vulnerable bodies no matter how well we take care of ourselves, and all we can do is manage the best we can and pray for the grace to move through what lies ahead with dignity … and to be immensely grateful for family and friends and the moments that we do have.

Happy New Year!

1 January, 2011 @ 12:03 am
Moments | Leave a note

It is 12:05am. I couldn’t sleep so decided to get up and enjoy the popping of firecrackers in the neighborhood as people celebrate the beginning of 2011. The firecrackers are still going off.

I feel very peaceful; I hope others do too. The date is now 1-1-11. I hope it is a good and healthy year for everyone.

Soon I’m going to share a poem on this site that I wrote four years ago after my mother’s death in 2006, and I don’t want to forget to do that.

But not now. Now is for enjoying this moment and reveling in it. I was not supposed to live this long, and I am here…and am grateful for every day as well. Welcome, 2011.

Peace to you.

Snowy New Year’s

30 December, 2010 @ 8:49 am
Uncategorized | Leave a note

We did not have a white Christmas. In fact, we really haven’t had snowy weather here yet, and it’s December 30th.

Well, it’s supposed to snow today and tomorrow, so our big dog will be thrilled and our little dog will be dismayed. He is a real wuss about wet stuff falling from the sky. We need the moisture for sure, so I guess we’ll have a white New Year’s.


12 November, 2010 @ 12:09 pm
Reflection | Leave a note

I sure had a hard time letting go of summer this year. Summers are short here in Denver anyway, and whenever one ends, I’m never sure I’ll be around to see the next spring. Even with the recent good scans, things can change in an instant. I am learning to live with this uncertainty.

I know that none of us knows how long we have, but it’s very different when you have a serious disease. I try my best to enjoy the time between scans and hope like crazy that the next scans will show that I may have more time.

With all that’s going on in the world that is tragic, it is an odd place to be in. Perhaps I should not be so concerned with my own survival. And yet that is instinctive–to survive. Everything within me wants to live.

Anyhow, the kids’ birthdays are coming up along with Thanksgiving and then Christmas–not to mention painting–so my days are busy. Sometimes I end up dealing with it at night as I try to sleep.

However, I had my PET/CT scan, brain MRI, and seventh (7th!) colonoscopy in October. All results were good. So there is every reason to hope for some healthy time now and ahead.


Center of the Circle