Slowly, Very Slowly Moving East

Zion National Park

Mojave Desert

After a beautiful drive across the Mojave Desert, last Monday, I arrived in southern Utah. I planned on a few days outside Zion National Park (ZNP) and then would be on my way east. I am here a bit longer than I expected.

A good and very long time friend, Sharon, is in need of some assistance so I am going to be here through the end of the holiday weekend and depart next Tuesday. She was in an accident and is bruised and banged up with a few fractured ribs and sternum tossed into the mix. This is what friends do for each other. They help each other out. It is my honor.

This is not a hardship. I have known the whole Hatfield family since I was a girl and I love this woman dearly. We have ample time to talk and relax in each other’s company. And when she is off to take a snooze, ZNP and surrounding areas are there for me to explore. It is amazing country out here and I never tire of walking off down a wash to see what I can find.

Sharon has a lovely yard. It is big and currently needs grooming. Since she cannot tackle it, in her current state, I am gardening for her. There is nothing I love better than getting some gardening gloves on and digging, prune the trees, pull up weeds, and get things organized. It is probably the one thing I miss, living my current lifestyle. I love the smell of dirt and loam. Earlier in the week it was raining, which brings all the smells forward. There is no other smell like it.

Elsie and I are camped in the driveway. I chose to live in my small space this time, rather than finding a bedroom to sleep in. I have gotten quite comfortable in my cozy tiny home on wheels. Miss Elsie the Cat has too. I spend my day letting Elsie out and into the rig. She has discovered the catmint in the driveway and is a happy camper lying in the midst of it. When Elsie is out, Dharma the dog is in. When Dharma wants to go outside, Elsie goes back into the rig. I am the animal monitor. Who is in and who is out. I definitely need to stay on top of this. Dharma would like to meet Elsie but Elsie is not so fond of this idea. So I remain the door monitor.

Having been to this park many times before (it is good to have friends that live so close), I have not felt a great urge to hike every trail. Instead I have wandered from Sharon’s home and explored what I can find on foot. The Virgin River is at the end of the drive. It is an easy walk. Currently there is a lot of water in the river which adds so much drama to a river visit. When not there I have wandered the town of Rockville. I have visited the cemetery and meandered the side roads. This is a delightful and quaint little town. And, how convenient that it is so near the entrance to ZNP. On Monday I may decide to explore it by bicycle. That would be a new experience for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so my adventure unfolds a bit at a time. I have rather enjoyed the slow pace yet I know that I need to move east. Africa awaits. Next stop southern Colorado.

Living With or Without Cancer-Getting Ready to Roll

“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” – Terry Pratchett

Today I am changing my story. Instead of dying with cancer I am now living with cancer. It is possible that I am fooling myself and there is no cancer within me to live with. Well that is a cool thought.

Moores Cancer Center

Last Wednesday, with the support of Yvonne, we drove to the Moores Cancer Center at UCSD (University of California San Diego). I had a second opinion appointment with one of the primary head and neck surgeons. I define second opinions as a way to gather more information, so that I can be comfortable making a decision that will shape and define my life.

This whole complex of buildings that makes up the cancer center and other technologies are imposing as you drive in. The structures are big and impressive. There is one building that is dedicated to all things radiological speaking. The Novel Technology building is so new that the staff is not sure what it does. I was curious enough to do some on line research. It appears that it is a specialty that works with deep brain tumors and microscopic surgery. Interesting. It is good to be impressed by what I see.

My appointment went well. I met with Dr Brummond and his associates. They were kind and amazingly good listeners, especially the medical student that did the intake interview. Most of the information that I was given was not new, but that is what I wanted, a confirmation that my surgeon and endocrinologist were on the right track. I will have the other half of my thyroid removed upon my return from Africa (yes I am going). I did receive one new piece of information. This doctor feels that if the biopsy on the left thyroid comes back negative for cancer he believes I don’t need the radioactive iodine treatment. So I will gather that information into the ongoing puzzle of thyroid cancer.

Dr Brummond feels it will be OK to wait until my return in the fall to have the surgery to remove the other half of the thyroid. That is good news, really good news. I am relieved that this appointment is over and that I can begin to really plan for a trip of a lifetime. I imagine my friend and travel companion, Phyllis is glad to hear this too.

With the help of a therapist I am now getting ready to go into the final planning mode for this trip. Today I got my typhoid shot. All the other meds are gathered and ready to go. I am planning to leave San Diego this coming Monday and begin an amble east. Elsie says her bags are packed as well. I am daring to allow myself to get excited without getting overwhelmed. Living with cancer allows me to dare, to get excited, to dream. I was already getting weary of the feeling of dread that has been hanging over me. As I take each step towards Africa, the dread will disappear more and more.

My life is too short to be fearful and experience dread. That is a hard way to live. I would rather live hopefully and with a little or a lot of joy, depending on the day. These are always personal choices we all have to make every single day of our lives. Yes even you, dear reader are included here. Sometime the choice to live with hope is easy. Other days well we all have to dig a bit deeper to find that place. And so dig I shall.

Getting to Roll…New Jersey here I come….AFRICA here I come.

 

Friends

I wasn’t planning to post again until after my Wednesday visit but….this will be short.

I have all kinds of friends in my life. Long term ones, short term ones, ones who are occasionally there and ones I can rely on through thick and thin. I love them all. Sometimes I mistake what one friend can or cannot do. This is often my assessment of a situation that turns out incorrect. Mistakes can also come as lessons I need to learn.

This morning I am sitting at this lovely campsite and trying to figure out where to stay in San Diego. Yvonne is a friend who has surfaced since Jim’s death. She worked for him at the college. She is a fellow tour guide. When I asked her to accompany me to my appointment on Wednesday, she said yes. She is going to get off work early so she can be my second set of ears, a very important role.

Today, Yvonne offered me her driveway to camp in. Oh my goodness this is exactly what I needed. I don’t need to ponder and think alone in a campground for the next few days. She and her home, at the moment, are a gift to me. I am feeling blessed and overwhelmed and oh so grateful. It will be fun to catch up with her and Elsie will enjoy her backyard.

Today I am feeling grateful for all my friends in whatever form they take.

Today I am feeling so grateful for Yvonne.

The Flight of the Butterfly

I am slowly making my way to San Diego.

Roadtreks at a Rally

I had a wonderful couple weeks on the central coast of California. The Roadtrek Rally was a great success. It was a personal success for me. I met wonderful people. When the rally was over I left with two of the women, Mandy and Ann and met up with a third Roadtreker, Don. We camped for four nights near Morro Bay. Every day was beautiful and fun. We hiked and taked and talked and laughed. We got to know each other.  I have new friends to go on adventures with.

I gradually am working my way into San Diego. I am a bit nervous about my upcoming appointment at the Moores Cancer Center. Instead of making my way all the way there, today, I am camped for one more night on the ocean. My view is great and I can fall asleep to the sounds of the Pacific crashing below my campsite. 

Four Roadtreks at Morro Bay

The last few days I have been in Camarillo, CA staying with my good friends, Mary Jane and Jeff. Elsie and I camped in the driveway. Jeff and I are doing fiberglass repair work on my side steps. I sort of met one too many sidewalks. It will take a while to complete, yet I walk away with the knowledge that I will be able to complete the repair on my own. It is looking good at the moment. 

For the past two days I have been sitting in the middle of the Monarch Butterfly migration. It has been amazing. As soon as it warms up they are flying, up the driveway, over the roof and on north. I have heard of this phenomena yet this is the first time I have experienced it. I am not talking of one or two butterflies, I am talking more like hundreds. I finally left them behind when I arrived at the ocean, near Malibu today.

“The annual monarch life cycle and migration begins at the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico (for the eastern population) and the central to southern California coastal region (for the western population). Around March, the overwintering monarchs begin their journey north. Once migration begins, monarchs become sexually mature and mate. The females begin their search for milkweed plants on which to lay eggs. After mating and egg-laying, the adult butterflies die and the northward migration is continued by their offspring. It takes three to five generations to repopulate the rest of the United States and southern Canada until the final generation of the year hatches and does the return journey to the overwintering grounds.

The monarch migration is one of the greatest phenomena in the natural world. Monarchs know the correct direction to migrate even though the individuals that migrate have never made the journey before. They follow an internal “compass” that points them in the right direction each spring and fall. A single monarch can travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.”

I admire their perseverance. They cross ten lane freeways, mountains, Los Angeles and they still continue to fly. If it is not warm enough they lay on the ground until the sun or weather heats them up enough to fly. 

I feel honored to have witnessed this once in my life. It was amazing. I rode my bicycle to a preserve near my friends home. The butterflies were hanging on the wild mustard. It was a sight I will not soon forget. It was hard to drive because I knew that my rig was hitting them. I kept telling them to fly higher. It is hard when the industry meets nature. Often nature loses.

Tomorrow it is on to San Diego. I will remember to breath. I am hoping for a good outcome from this second opinion. As I weave my way through these next few days I will remember the amazing Monarchs and hope they help me smile.

 

On a Roll

Miss Elsie the Cat and I decided it was time for an adventure. This morning we packed up and headed north and west. The coolest thing is that for once, I timed the traffic right in Los Angeles and rolled through that major traffic jam without a hitch. Whew, thank goodness.

My goal is Pismo Beach, on the west coast of this nation. There is going to be an informal Rally of Roadtreks for four days. We are gathering at an RV Campground and doing something. I am not sure what, but I am going. It is time to walk away from stress and decision making for a few days and have some fun.

The funny thing with a diagnosis of cancer, I immediately am sure that I am not going to live to see tomorrow. I wonder  if it is a bit of let down to see the sun rise the next day. I just don’t think so. A brief update before I move on to brighter and better subjects. I am putting a puzzle together. As each piece fits into place, my decision gets closer to being complete. I have all the pieces but one. May 15th, I have a second opinion at the Moores Cancer Center in San Diego. Hopefully, the visit to the Moores Cancer Center will give me the last piece of the puzzle, for now. The decision I need to make is: Am I comfortable with delaying surgery and the radioactive iodine treatment until fall, or do I have it done now? What confuses this decision, a good friend of mine and I have a two month trip to Africa coming up in July. Although everyone has told me to go and have the surgery in the fall, I am still needed a bit more confirmation. I have had a lot of indecision around this and finally saw a therapist to help me sort it all out. So stay tuned.

Steve, Debbie, Lynn, John

Meanwhile, back at the beach…..I have decided that I do not want to drive long distances any more. I want to have enough energy at the end of my day to enjoy a walk or a bike ride or a hike. I don’t condone exhaustion anymore. Once I was through LA, I thought I would head into the hills, ah the beach was calling and the hills will have to wait. There are these funky campgrounds between the railroad and the ocean as you drive from Ventura to Santa Barbara. I have always wanted to stay at one. Tonight is the night. Our view is the ocean. Yup right out the back door of the RV. I am not sure Elsie is as happy with this situation as I am. She takes a few looks and then heads to the front of the RV. Silly cat.

 

Tonight I met Debbie, Steve, Lynn and John, newly retired and testing out the RV lifestyle for two years. They are jovial and fun and have offered me dinner. Well yum. I enjoy meeting other people. I did the whole camping experience this evening. I had a burger with all the fixings and S’mores for dessert around a campfire by the ocean. I am still needing to give myself encouragement to interact with those I don’t know. I have struggled with this since Jim, my husband, died. It is fun when others make the first move. I am then more comfortable chatting it up and enjoying dinner and companionship.

Currently Elsie and I are bundled up inside our warm and cozy home. The ocean is our backdrop this evening. Hopefully the waves crashing just below me will lull me to sleep. If not, I will enjoy lying here listening to them.

Tomorrow will bring another day of wonder.

I am thankful today for good and kind people.

I am thankful today that I woke up.

 

Expect the Unexpected

As most of you know I had surgery to remove my right thyroid about two weeks ago. Why remove it? It has had a nodule on it for about seven years.The nodule has been growing a small bit with each ultrasound. The last ultrasound showed a speedier growth than the previous ones. With consultations to my Endocrinologist and Surgeon, we decided it was time for it to go.

With three biopsies that showed it was benign, all of us expected the post excision biopsy to be the same. Well guess what? It is not benign, my biopsy shows a papillary cancer, encapsulated and well defined in the nodule. So now what? The plan is to remove the other lobe and be treated with radioactive iodine and become a Synthroid user for the rest of my life.

I am disappointed and sad. I am also a weary of having the C word wander into my vocabulary, again. Everyone reassures me this is different. Thyroid cancers are slow growing. I will probably die of something else first. Yet, I wasn’t expecting this and I am not happy, at the moment.

What about Africa? What about traveling back east? What about the rest of my life? It pisses me off that cancer can stop so much. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was ripping angry. Now I am just confused on how to handle this information.

Both of my doctors tell me it is OK to do Africa for two months. When women are pregnant they wait the full nine months, if they have to, before removing a cancerous thyroid. I get it, I really do, it is slow growing. I also know that when I found the lump in my breast they told me not to worry. “It doesn’t look like cancer.” When They thought it showed up again (it did not), I was told not to worry. I have now trained all the doctors to never tell me not worry.

I also remember Jim’s (my deceased husband) surgeon when they first thought he had metastasis say, “Go to Peru, make memories for you, make memories for her, make memories together. When you return we will get the bone biopsy. Same diagnosis, same treatment, same prognosis.” After the trip to Peru we returned, the biopsy was positive, he went on chemo and five months later he died. Now I know this is not the same but….I need some convincing.

My surgeon says I am experiencing some PTSD and I am sure that this is correct. What do I do with that information? He reminded me that this is a whole different type of cancer. Jim’s was aggressive with a poor prognosis.

I am seeking a second opinion to confirm that it is OK to wait five to six months before the rest of the treatment. I am thankful that the Moores Cancer Center is close.

When I had breast cancer, Jim was here to support me. Now I am alone. I know, I am not alone but I do feel a bit alone. Who do I talk to? Who do I share this news with? What if no one offers to help me out?

I am not alone. My friends have boldly stepped forward to love and help me. I don’t see that changing unless I do something really, really stupid. And even then I think some of them would be here for me. That is what friends are for.

I was hesitant to write this post. As I look back over the years I have pretty much shared everything, why not this? What I need from all my readers and friends is good, positive support. I don’t want to hear the worst stories. Please don’t ask me how I caused this cancer (I got that from a few people when I was diagnosed with breast cancer). All I want is love and support and an occasional ear. Diversion therapy is good.

I will continue to plan my life. Africa is still on, at the moment. I am not sure when I will leave the west coast, that depends on the second opinion appointment. After some quiet contemplation, taking a few days to digest and work through this information, I plan to go back to experiencing life to it’s fullest day by day. As one of my friends said to me “This is just another of life’s big hiccups”.

 

 

 

“The Power to Rise Again”

There are times in my life when I can use encouragement, support and more from known and unknown sources. When life gives me a hard push or I am struggling with indecision or fear, encouragement in positive outcome helps me so much.  The known sources are my friends or people I know through social media, like those of you who follow this blog. The unknown sources may be inspirational books, poems, and news articles.

About four months ago a good friend of mine, Pat, introduced me to the “Sunday Paper“. The Sunday Paper is Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter publication that offers news and views for a meaningful life.  This newsletter is one I quickly began to look forward to receiving each week. I like to go to my inbox before I even get out of bed to read the inspirational message at the beginning of the Paper. Each week there is usually something in this message that resonates with me and gives me courage when I need it most. I feel like each week there is something in these messages that speaks directly to me.

Now before, you of different political beliefs begin to think, “Here is that liberal Janet speaking out” or “Maria Shriver-just another Kennedy” I encourage you to go to the web site and have a look around. It is amazing what she comes up with week after week. She posts you-tube videos that are pertinent to the weekly theme. There are interviews with authors. There is so much in this paper, that I rarely read or listen to everything before the next week’s paper appears in my in-box. Some weeks I just read the inspirational message and short prayer at the end of the message.

This morning’s delivery in my inbox is titled The Power to Rise Again. If you click on this title it will take you directly to her page.

I have considered and thought about this article of inspiration often through out my day. I needed to read or hear what she had to say. At times it is hard to deal with other human beings. I am dealing with some issues with another human being at the moment. It feels unfair how I am being treated and even though I know “this too shall pass”, well right now I am in the middle of it all and it is a struggle.

Here are some of the quotes that I have found encouraging in Maria Shriver’s message this morning.

These days when I go to church on Palm Sunday, though, I find myself really thinking about the significance of the day. I also find myself thinking about how fast the court of public opinion can change someone’s life, just as it did for Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, he was met with adoration. By Friday, he was dead on the cross. I mention this because if we spend our whole lives working for other people’s admiration and validation, it’s worth remembering that external validation can change on a moment’s notice.

“The game is going to test you, never fold. Stay ten toes down. It’s not on you, it’s in you. And what’s in you, they can’t take away.”

He was right. Life is a test. It was for Jesus Christ, it was for his mother Mary, and it is for each and every one of us.

Life will always test us. I know it has tested me, and I know it has tested you. On many occasions, I have found myself saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” Or, “Wow, I have no experience for how to deal with that.”

But over the years, I have also found great moments of awe and wonder and joy in life’s surprises. Time and again, these surprises have led to me discover strength within myself that I never knew existed.

I say all this to remind you that if your week starts out great, but hits a bump along the way, you can still rise again by the following Sunday.

Life will test you and it will surprise you, but you have everything you need to rise up and move forward with strength and courage. I love knowing this to be true. I love believing it.

I have found such support in these words today. I will spend the rest of the week digging deeper into the Sunday paper for joy and enlightenment and support.

And then next Sunday….a new edition will be there to greet me.