Breathe

This time of the year is always a bit difficult for me. I arrive back in San Diego to get all my medical and dental completed for the upcoming year.

Dr appointments loom or have already been finished. My annual mammogram is complete. Although it has been almost ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, this time of the year I notice I become slightly anxious as I await the results of the mammography. I have about ten days to go before the results are in.

This year, 2019, is a bit more difficult. I have surgery on Friday to remove the other half of my thyroid. I have cancer. I have papillary thyroid cancer. My left thyroid will be removed to prepare me for the radioactive iodine treatment that will seek out any thyroid tissue that is left anywhere in my body.

Today I had my pre-op appointment with my surgeon. Dr. Ressa has followed me through breast cancer treatment and now the thyroid. These visits are never easy for me. I have a lot of questions. Being a nurse makes it harder because I read a lot. Being a one-time cancer survivor increases the number of questions and concerns as well. Having had almost six months to anticipate this coming Friday has allowed me to evaluate and add more questions in my mind.

Here is what has not helped me while waiting to have this surgery.

  • I have heard the good stories and the bad. It does not help me to hear that this is a “good” kind of cancer to have. There is no “good” cancer!
  • It is good to hear positive outcome stories, it truly is, however, I would encourage those who say this not to devalue my situation. At present I am anxious and a bit worried.
  • Surgery is surgery and not to be taken lightly. I am not taking it lightly and I would like others to not brush it off either.
  • Don’t question if I caused this cancer. Don’t tell me that if I had done something different I wouldn’t have cancer. It seems that only people who have not been challenged with this diagnosis say these things.

The bottom line? I have cancer. That statement alone is overwhelming and a bit lonely. How is it lonely? I have found since Jim died, I have no one to talk to daily about things that make me happy or things that concern or frighten or discourage me. I miss having that daily person to check in with and support me no matter what. Even when I might have done something stupid or said something out of character, Jim was there to give me a hug or counsel me through indecision and worry and often lead me in the right direction to correct wrongs.

It is hard for me to do this for myself. I can, it is just harder. In my current lifestyle, I find I have to push myself to interact with others. Often the campgrounds are full of air-conditioned RVs. When these hot Santa Ana days are upon us, very few people come outside or interact with their neighbors. I don’t blame them. It is “hot” in San Diego county these days.

Joining cancer support groups sounds like a good idea. I have joined a few thyroid support groups on Facebook. They are filled with nice, mostly women. Here is the deal with these sites. The women who post are having issues pre or post-surgery. I now avoid them as surgery looms nearer, they scare the heck out of me. I find I am overwhelmed on these sites. I feel sorry and sad for these people who are going through difficulties and I worry about me and my outcome. I have taken a hiatus from these groups until I am post-op.

When things like this arise, I miss my family. I have two sisters and two nieces that live over two thousand miles away. Their lives are busy. When things like this come into my life, even if I recognize it is complicated, I would love to have them show up on my doorstep and take over for a week or two. As a rational adult, I recognize this is not possible, yet the little girl in me still wishes that one of them would show up anyway.

This is where friends have stepped forward to help me out over the next few weeks.

 

Miss Elsie the Cat

  • My friend, Nancy, is taking Miss Elsie the Cat into her home and life. She loves kitties and Elsie has always really liked her. It is a good fit.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home for the weekend post-surgery. When I think of this offer it brings tears of gratitude and caring to my eyes and heart. I am so thankful for their caring and support. With their support and encouragement, I will be on the road to recovery and dancing quickly. (They are members of the Scottish Dance community in San Diego).
  • Phyllis is my go-to friend. She will help in any way that I will let her. After traveling for two months in Africa we still remain good friends. That is an accomplishment in itself.
  • All my friends near and far will be loving and supporting me. I feel so fortunate to be loved by so many.

Now I need to take a deep breath, push worries aside, walk into Friday with positive thoughts for the best of outcomes. I need a mantra for this. So far the only one I have come up with is “breath”. The other mantra I have had for years is “You are a good and caring person and worthy of being loved”. I often say this to myself as I look in the mirror morning and night. Now I say Breath.

Asking for thoughts and prayers is a statement that has been degraded over time. There have been too many situations over recent years that have made me hesitate to ask people for this. Instead, I will ask you to send a breath my way on Friday filled with whatever you want to fill it with. It will help me walk into a current unknown future. I have no doubt that I will feel the love and support.

Moving forward, one step at a time.

 

 

 

Anniversary Time

Today is my Birthday. Tomorrow Jim died seven years ago. My October tends to be action packed with events of significance in my life. One more is coming up in another week, when I have thyroid surgery for cancer.

Every year at this time I give myself some time to reflect, on my year, on past events, on events yet to be and I try to place where I want to be in my life at this moment in time.

Grief and the loss of someone dear, is an interesting event. Sometimes it feels like it happened many years ago and it did. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. I can relive the events of the last two weeks of Jim’s life like it was yesterday. It was certainly a significant event in his life, in mine and those who were close and dear to him. Yet the significant memories change when they arrive, usually unexpectedly in my life.

The other day I saw a Tesla (a dream car of mine) and there was an instant recall of the time when I left the hospital to get in my car, and a Tesla was following me. I didn’t even know it was there. The darn things are so quiet it scared me and made me jump.

That memory drew me back into the hospital and being with Jim each day in his room. A few days before he died my sister, Ginny was flying to San Diego to help out. I knew how much she liked our hot tub and it had not been cleaned. I went home to clean the hot tub with Jim on the phone giving me instructions on how to drain it. It gave us something to focus on, but really???? the hot tub??? It reminds me of how we were a team until the very end.

I remember his good and long time friend, Doug, showing up at the hospital and staying until after Jim’s death. He didn’t leave San Diego until he knew I was OK. And then there were his long time running buddies who showed up the afternoon he died to let him know they were there for him.

And the memories go on.

I have been listening to an audio book while driving titled Resilient Grieving. It has been reaffirming for me to hear someone else who is more of an expert than I am, speak of taking hold of your grief and helping it to shape your existence, at the moment and what to do to help, as time moves on. One of the things she mentions is that these moments of memory are helpful as they may remind me that during that time of my life I lived in the moment. Each moment was precious and valuable and I was right there and nowhere else. It didn’t matter about the past and it didn’t matter about the future and I was alive and so was Jim in that moment of time.

I find those moments to be extremely positive in shaping my life since his death. Some people have told me “it is time to move on” with the implication that I need to put this behind me and live today. All our memories and experience continue to shape who we are today. So why not this one? Why should I forget it or put it behind me. If it was a good experience, although painful and heart rending, then I believe I can bring it forward with me and shape who I am today.

I hope it has made me more understanding and kind and present. It certainly has made me thankful. I have been given gifts by the Universe or God or whoever you believe in, over the course of my lifetime. Learning the “in the moment” presence is one that has shaped me more than any other. Being married to a life partner for twenty one years has certainly shaped who I am today. I hope never to forget the laughter, adventure, deep and loving conversation and more that the two of us shared. And now I want to begin to reach out more and share this with others.

I tend to get lonely out here on the road and that is my own doing. I don’t reach out to people often and I think that has to change. I find when I take Lyft or Uber I relish the conversations with the drivers. I learn and share and find it fun. I want to do this more with other’s in my life. So maybe that is a goal for this year to come.

I do know that I have been loved and cherished in my partnership with Jim. I want to do that for others. I am feeling extremely blessed to have good friends wherever I go. I hope I have carried this forward in my life with friends near and far.

Today I am thankful for my memories and for experiencing “in the moment” points of time. Today and every day I remain thankful for those twenty-one years I had Jim in my life. I miss him and I will carry him forward for the rest of my life, even as I make new friends and experience new things.

My Summer Vacation by Elsie the Cat

After a long, long summer break I am back in my home on wheels and heading into the sunset. As usual, I am riding shot gun while Janet drives. I am not sure where we are heading, and it doesn’t matter, as long as I am going along for the ride. Janet and I, we are a team.

Three months ago, that is what Janet says, she left me and my tiny home at her sister’s in Northern New Jersey. I really don’t know where she went but I was left in this cushy home and gradually as I became braver I was able to explore the whole house. This house is a lot bigger than my tiny home on wheels. There was so much to explore.

At first I was timid and would come down the stairs and peer into the living area. There is a rug in that room that smells like catnip. It was the first thing that pulled me further into the living space. I loved rolling on that rug. If someone paid too much attention to me, I would run back upstairs to the safety of my room. I know it was my room because my toys, litter pan, food and water was there. Every kitty needs a safe place, a place to call home.

My Summer Home

After a few weeks I discovered that Ginny and Frank were really nice people and they welcomed me into their lives. I would sit on Ginny’s lap sometimes. It was warm and fuzzy place to sleep. When Frank would take naps I laid on his side or next to him. They often had the heating blanket on and it became a favorite place for me to nap.  I soon found that the blanket at the end of their bed was another great place to snooze. Us kitty’s nap often.

Ginny served me my food on blue depression glass plates. I felt very special. She gave them to Janet to take with us. I get served my meals in elegance and style, wherever I go.

They have a kitty, Kitty Lepore, who ignored me most of the time. As I got braver I would run up to her and we would both hiss and then I would run away. I don’t think she ever really liked me a whole lot. I am not sure I liked her either, but life with her was bearable. I have had some other encounters with kitties that were not so pleasant as Kitty L’s and mine. I will take her over other cats, any day.

When Janet and her friend, Phyllis (she has shoes and purses that I love to rub on) returned, the balance in the house changed. I had to get used to Janet being back in my life. She says she was gone for two months. For a little cat like me it felt like an eternity. I was just beginning to think that this house was going to be a forever home when Janet returned. As soon as I saw my little home on wheels, I was ready to get on board and travel once more.

Mid-September, Janet and I stepped into our RV and began to head west. I am back to being an adventuresome kitty. We stopped in Ohio to visit with more family. They have a kitty, Callie, we have never formally met, just stared at each other from across the room. Then we went to Chicago to visit good friends of Janet. While we were there I introduced Charlie and Thuey (more cats) to rabbit pate. It was a big hit.

Me and Percy

A few days ago we left Helen, Dave, Percy (I don’t want to even go there), and Oreo (another kitty) behind and are now heading west. They live in Lincoln, NE. I love visiting with Helen and Dave. When I arrive there is my very own personal guest basket. It has treats and toys to play with. I feel very welcomed there. I am so glad Janet has such good and kind friends. It makes life a bit easier for this little cat.

Now we are going to Flagstaff. More good friends live there and I think we might spend a few days there before departing for San Diego. Janet says I have been to this friend’s home before. I am not sure, I will have to wait and see. Having friends is a good thing.

Well the hour is getting late for this little kitty. I need to give myself a bath  before going to sleep again. You can never get enough of a good thing.

I will wake in the morning to new adventures. Bring them on.

 

 

Driving West, The Cancer Word, Moving On

Sunset over Lake Erie

In mid-September I left New Jersey and my sister’s home and began heading west. Elsie the cat and I moved back into our little home on wheels and took off. I have been slowly making my way west, exploring Pennsylvania, stopping to visit family in Ohio and taking time to bird watch along the south shore of Lake Erie.

I spent three lovely days visiting good friends, Helen and Norb, in Chicago before once again heading west. I am now in Lincoln, NE visiting with good friends, waiting out a cold front that is coming through before once again heading west.

For all of my friends that are experiencing very cold conditions at night, I am afraid I am going to bypass you this time. Why? 10 degrees F. is just a bit too cold for my rig. I am going to be driving south and then west so I don’t have to winterize my little home on wheels.

I will arrive in San Diego on October 20. I am scheduled for surgery to remove the other half of my thyroid on October 25. With the support of my doctors I put off this surgery until after my grand summer vacation in Africa. Now I have to move ahead. I guess the vacation is over.

I have been contemplating, otherwise known as thinking, about my life coming up. I am nervous about this surgery. I am apprehensive about the outcome. A few days ago I woke in the morning with the realization that I am experiencing the “C” word for the second time in my life and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, a bit nervous, and a bit scared, and a bit emotional. Ah life continues to hand out the surprises.

There is another feeling I have been experiencing this time with cancer and that is the sense of feeling very alone in this big wide world. When I had breast cancer, Jim was alive and was my major every day support. This time I am having to create my support team. And, honestly?, I am missing Jim.

After seeing Jim go through head and neck cancer I swore that was the one type of cancer I did not want to tackle. Now here I am. I am trying very hard to separate the two experiences yet that is hard to do. I know they are different kinds of cancer but seriously who cares? Cancer is cancer and it is a hard thing to handle.

I know I have heard all the words; “I have a friend (aunt, sister…) who had thyroid cancer and they had their thyroid removed and are fine”, “If you are going to have cancer, this is the a good cancer to have” (that is a horrible thing to say to someone, there is no good cancer to have), “you will be just fine” (how do you know?), “God never gives you more than you can handle” (bull on this one-don’t ever, ever, ever say this to anyone-ever), “It is a simple surgery” (What? there is not simple surgery). And the words go on.

On the positive side of this is that my friends are stepping forward.

  • During the weekend of surgery, Nancy is taking care of Miss Elsie.
  • Cynthia and Ward are taking me into their home to love me pre and post op.
  • Phyllis, I know, will be waiting in the wings to help however I will let her.
  • Helen and Dave, my friends in Lincoln told me to let them know if I need them and they will get into their tiny home on wheels and head west. (this was enough to bring tears to my eyes)
  • My friend Sharon, in southern Utah wants to be contacted post surgery so she can, from a distance love and support me.
  • My immediate family are too far away to physically help out, but I know they will be supporting me from a distance.

I am more than a bit overwhelmed by my friends near and far who will be loving me as I face this newest challenge in my life.

And in the midst of all this “C” stuff well here I am, once again in another October. Today would have been Jim’s birthday. Yesterday he went into the hospital for the last time. Six days from now I have a birthday. The day after my birthday Jim died. Now I have surgery on the 25th. Well isn’t that an actioned packed month. October seems to be more and more a month I struggle to get through. I appreciated when November 1 comes around.

Isn’t this an uplifting post? I have always tried to be honest with who I am in the moment and what I am going through. From the moment I posted my first post I told myself to write from the heart and I hope that I have succeeded in doing this.

Today this is who I am and tomorrow, well, I may be different. Tomorrow I will be moving south and west. Just like the other snowbirds I am heading to the sun and warmth. To my friends in San Diego, I will see you in about ten days and I look forward to reuniting with you.

In the meantime I will drive and explore and be amazed at the places I see. I will remember to breath, deeply and long and relax. And yes the camera will be coming out and join me for the ride. Miss Elsie is as always is my sidekick. I am looking west toward the rest of my life.

Safari

Safari in Kenya, with Pangolin Photo Safaris, was a major adventure. It was thrilling and tiring. I traveled to the Masai Mara for five days and continued on to the Samburu Reserve in northern Kenya for three nights.

There were twelve people on the Masai Mara part of our trip and eight continued on to Sambura. They were all ages and from all parts of the world. Many of the attendees had traveled with Pangolin before. When guests return to the same company for new adventures, it says a lot about the company and the hosts and in this case our photography educators.

Gerhard “Guts” Swanepoel and Janine Krayer are the professional photographers and managers of the tour to both destinations. Guts is a co-founder of Pangolin Photo Safaris. Andreas Knausenberger, another well known wildlife photographer and organizer for the company,  joined the group for the Masai Mara portion of the trip. All three of the photographers were personable and worked hard to meet the guests needs.

Our Safari Vehicles

There were only four guests in each jeep and the photographers rotated jeeps each day. It was interesting to have different techniques introduced each day. The teaching styles of the teachers were different and complemented each other.

 We were awake before dawn, boarded our Safari vehicles and took off around sunrise. Animals and birds are much more active during that time of the day and later in the afternoon. We stayed out all day, stopping for breakfast and lunch out in the bush. As the sun was finally touching the horizon and dusk was settling in, our drivers would make a mad dash to get back to camp. In the Masai Mara they are not allowed to be out in the park after dark. Sumbara was similar. Dinner was at eight and then we made our way back to our tents so we could do it all again the next day. 

Learning techniques

This was a Photo Safari. Besides seeing animals (yes we did see many) I was learning to improve my nature photography skills. And here is what I have learned so far…I am such a raw beginner. It was a very humbling experience to be around so many good photographers that often spoke a language I did not understand. I am returning state side with new tricks in my pocket. I know I will not remember all the things I learned, yet, I will stumble through my learning curve, pick myself up and move forward with improved photography skills. Not only was I weary from a long day out in the reserves, but my brain was also overwhelmed with information. I found, by the evening, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. 

Did I love being out in nature? You bet. Being in the “outback” is thriving for me. I love hearing the lion roar and the hyena laugh. The birds are amazing. Each morning I awoke to the wonderful sounds of exotic birds. The most marvelous sounding birds were often the plainest to observe. 

Our accommodations were top notch and the food was amazing. I have finally come to understand the term “Glamping”. At each camp there was a chef and his assistants. We were served three course meals. Everything I ate was tasty. I did not lose weight on Safari.

The rooms were canvas cabins at the Mara Bush Camp and beautiful hotel room-type accommodations at Saruni Samburu. The Saruni hotel was on top of a cliff and was eco-designed to fit into its environment. Our bathroom had a rock wall in the back of the bathroom. The shower was outside. It was warm and lovely, taking a shower with a gentle wind blowing.

wildebeests Great Migration

The animal activity was amazing. There was nothing missing from this adventure. I saw lions, many, many lions, cheetahs resting and on the hunt, a leopard in a tree with his kill nearby, hyenas, and so much more. And then there were the wildebeests. I was able to witness the river crossings of hundreds upon hundreds of wildebeests. They leaped and ran and swam. The zebras joined then at these river crossing events. Most made it yet some were pulled down for a crocodile’s dinner. The hippos would move out of the way during these crossings and observe. These were definitely worthy National Geographic moments.

Now I have returned state side and am beginning the drive west from New Jersey. Once again Miss Elsie the cat joins me. I have been on the road for about 6 days. I am planning to be back in the southwestern United States by the third week in October. Surgery is pending. I am glad I put this procedure off until fall. I had a wonderful time exploring the magic that is Africa.

In the Middle of a Grand Vacation-Life Continues

I left on my trip to Africa on July 6. I have noticed that when I travel, the rest of my life seems to stop or hesitate, while I am exploring and adventuring. Unless the news is extreme, the headlines slip into the background and I tend to live more in the moment.

Not so, on this trip. As many of you know Jim (my former husband) and I owned land in southern Colorado. I decided a year ago to put the forty five acres on the market.One fall day,  I stood on the south end of the property and realized that I could not see the northern fence line. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of acreage I now owned, alone, I realized that I did not want to continue to manage that much property.

With very mixed feelings, the land was listed last November. Land does not move fast in southern Colorado. I thought it would sit on the market for a few years and eventually sell. Not so. Two weeks after I left for Africa, I received a bid on my property. I decided to move forward. With the help of my two realtors, Robin and Rebecca and my real estate lawyer, Christina, September twelfth, I closed on the property.

A young, local couple bought the property and are planning to build their first home. I am happy about this. I knew that when I sold it, I would prefer to try to sell it to local people. Many of the local families in southwestern Colorado cannot afford to buy in this area. As southwest Colorado has become a destination area for many, the property prices have risen and often has driven the local ranchers out of the buying market. I knew it was a right thing to do.

Here is the reality of trying to sell property when one is nowhere nearby: It is difficult and I would not recommend it. In hindsight, to decrease my stress level, taking it off the market while I was out and wandering would have been a much better choice for me. There were several stressful moments regarding this sale.  I found it hard to manage everything while being so far away. Having meetings over the phone or on WhatsApp was difficult. I had to rely on people to be honest and truthful with me. I had to let people, I did not know well, manage most of the complexities of the sale. They did a fine job.

I am thankful for my traveling friend, Phyllis, who was willing to listen and support me through this process. She also, graciously disappeared when I had phone meetings. I am thankful for my sister, Ginny, who talked and texted with me. I am thankful for all the support.

Now that it is done my feelings are mixed. The property was Jim’s and my hope for our retirement and future. We were planning to build a home that was unique and different. Instead he died early and the land that once represented hope, now became a dream and a wish unfulfilled. Jim wanted to sell the property when he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. After much discussion we held onto the property. It represented hope and a future that was yet defined. I told him if the worse should happen, I could handle it. Well the worse happened, and I became the sole caretaker for the property.

We made friends with Ron and Miss Carrie, who leased the property for their horses and mules and they have continued to support and help me manage the property. I hope they know how much I appreciate their caring and support.

Each time I release a part of me and Jim, I wonder if I by letting something go, Jim will move further and further away from my life. That makes me feel sad. He and I were a team for twenty one years. I miss him when I have news to share. I miss him when a big event, such as this occurs. I miss him when I travel. He and I were a delightful and close couple that shared everything. I know I need to move on yet I want to carry him and our time together, forward with me. My time with him, enriched and fulfilled my life. So I wonder…..

Seeing the land go on to the next owner, is important to my own healing. As the closing day came and went I have found that I am sleeping deeper and longer. My breath is easier. I feel a step or two lighter. My stress level is certainly relieved. I hope life will be just a wee bit easier.

I am getting ready to head west (currently in New Jersey). I have more personal issues to address and I have an appointment in San Diego at the end of October. It is time to stretch, yet again and get ready to return to my small RV life. Miss Elsie the cat, of course, returns to the adventure.

I know I will reflect on this whole summer in so many different ways, as I travel west. And, it may be good to travel down to southwest Colorado, visit friends and see the Aspen change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often Misunderstood-The Hyena

It is never much fun to be misunderstood. There might not be another African animal that is more misunderstood than the hyena. Yep the hyena. I have actually been told by some of my readers that they dislike the hyena. “Look at him in the Lion King.” Now come on everyone, that is a movie and play-not real life.

The hyena is dominated by female power. The females are more muscular, more aggressive, ten times heavier on average with triple the testosterone level of their male counterparts. They rule.

They are often depicted as dumb and crude. Hyenas are actually one of the most intelligent and socially complex mammals in the world. They have a developed a frontal cortex comparable to primates. Research has concluded that they are socially just as complex as primates and are able to solve equally challenging cognitive puzzles.

The spotted hyena has more than a dozen vocalizations to communicate about social status, territory, and age. They will often release a giggle-like sound after being attacked by another hyena trying to steal his or her kill.

Hyenas are  cunning hunters, killing roughly 95% of their food. Using bone-crushing jawbones (Top 10 strongest bites on the planet), hyenas work in groups to take down large mammals: buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra. In less than half an hour a pack of hyenas can attack and eat an entire zebra, bones and all.

While in the greater Kruger eco-system a guide took a group of us to a hyena den. We were able to sit and observe this matriarchal community at home. There were all ages of hyenas, from babies of all sizes, and adults. Upon first arriving at the den there appeared to be an eruption of a feud among the adults. One of them ran away screaming while others gave chase. After a few moments all seemed to be forgiven and they settled down to family living again.

Out of the animals I was able to observe in South Africa the hyena became a favorite of mine. It was eerie to hear them call at night while I was snuggled into my bed. I like the sound of the call and it gave me some comfort to know they were out there.

Before you choose to like or dislike this often misunderstood animal, do some research and if at all possible talk the opportunity to watch them as they interact with their world. Maybe, you too will decide to give this much maligned mammal a chance.