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.

The Adventure of the Anxious Traveler

Navajo National Monument

Since leaving San Diego, I have had a beautiful ride and some nice hikes in my favorite parts of the United States. I have visited friends and helped out where I can. It has been a relaxing and easy time.

As I was crossing the Navajo Reservation, I found, although I was enjoying the scenery, I was anxious. The closer I got to Durango, CO the more my anxiety increased. I tried breathing. I tried diverting my thoughts. And finally I took a Xanax.

Rafting the Animas, Durango

The big question, why was I so anxious? I love this area of Colorado. It has a bit of a feeling of coming home. Why the anxiety?

  • Jim and I bought 45 acres of property here, in 1999. It was going to be our retirement home. We have upgraded the property. For the first couple of years after Jim died I was unable to come to Durango, much less visit the property. Last year I realized that 45 acres was more than I wanted to manage on my own and I put it on the market.
  • I have a good realtor. I have a lawyer that is making sure all my paperwork is in order. I have good friends here who offer to help me any way they can. Yet I find it is hard to let go. I try to keep the emotions out of this sale. It is, at times, hard to do.
  • As I drive across this great country I have a lot of time to think. If I focus too much on the issues with my thyroid and cancer I get a little anxious. Have I made the right choice to wait until fall? How long do I have to live? How long do any of us have to live? Why does the diagnosis of cancer create all these mixed up emotions in anyone? Well aren’t these just a bunch of loaded questions.

Very good friends

What surprises me about anxiety is that it shows up suddenly. I have done little to precipitate it. I would like to tell it to go away. If only it was that easy. On the drive into Durango, I diverted my attention with a qood audio-book. This technique helps a lot. It has to be a captivating book. Stopping to take photos also helps me refocus (sic). I know I can reach out to friends as well. Not that afternoon as I was driving in and out of cell range.

I have been in Durango for two days now. I have had a chance to visit with friends, meet my realtor, and take care of some business. I have gotten one good bike ride in and I am doing better. The anxiety is less, yet I still feel it simmering in the deep backgrounds of my being. I am breathing more, throwing in a little meditation and reminding myself that this is just property and as others have said to me, “it is just business”.

I am choosing to find things to do that bring me joy. That has helped lessen the anxiety a lot. If you have never been to this country, joy to me, is being outside and in nature. I can hike, bike, walk and more. There are lovely stores in town that cry out to be explored. The art galleries are my favorite. I may even go off to the hot springs and soak. There is a lot to do in Durango.

I am more than coping. I am being adult when I need to be and then I can drop that and go off and explore and enjoy my day. I am remembering to breath. It is good to inhale spring at elevation. The sky is clearer and bluer. The mountains are an amazing backdrop. I think I will kick anxiety out the door and go and enjoy my day.

 

 

 

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.

 

Birthdays, Breast Cancer, & This Time of the Year

As October winds down, I am feeling relief. Relief that this month is done.

Every year since I had breast cancer (I was diagnosed February 2010), this month has been a bit hard for me. I don’t like pink, never have and never will. I feel kind support for those who walk for breast cancer, who shout about being a survivor, however I am not one of those people. I have found nothing to be grateful for, for having been through the experience of a breast cancer diagnosis. Mostly I find I have residual anger, residual PTSD, and residual everything surrounding this diagnosis. I am grateful to be alive and I would like to see this event take its place in the far reaches of my memory. As you might tell, I am still working on it.

Each year at this time I worry a little bit. Is my mammogram going to be normal? Will my surgeon and oncologist find anything? Is that weird pain in my hip cancer? Ay Yi Yi Yi.

Jim

Jim, my husband, died from cancer 6 years ago on October 17. Shall I mention that this is the day after my birthday? He went into the hospital the day before his 60th birthday (October 10) and died the day after mine. Well there is something to get through. I have not enjoyed celebrating my birthday in big bang up way. I like to be quiet now and contemplative.

I describe those three and half years between my diagnosis and his death, like a deck of cards. They were thrown up in the air the day of my diagnosis. Just as I was beginning to pick up the cards, boom, the next event happened and the cards flew into the air again. I have been slowly picking up the cards ever since. I still can’t find some of them, ergo, I remain living in my RV and drive to the next destination hoping to find another card. This has been an adventure, a painful process, a lonely one too, times of great fun and exploration and everything in between.

Here is what I am appreciative today.

  • My kind and wonderful friends from all over the world who call, email, text and contact me through social media. When I need someone to talk to, out of the blue one of these friends will call. They have saved my day, my life, my moment more often than I acknowledge.
  • I am financially comfortable. I could buy a cute and fancy RV and move in. I can afford the repairs (they don’t come often), the gas and everything that supports this nomadic lifestyle.
  • I am alive and able to go on grand adventures, both small and large.
  • Elsie the cat-what would I do without her? She is one of the most adaptable and loving companions I could have. We are into our fourth year of adventures together. She remains a delight.
  • I am glad to be able to see the sunrises and sunsets. Each day I wake, is another day to be grateful for everything.
  • The doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturist, massage therapist, myofascial release practitioner, and all those other health care workers on the broad holistic spectrum that keep me tuned up and moving.
  • My friends and acquaintances that offer me a bed in their home, whether it is a visit or house sitting. Sometimes I need a respite from my little living space.
  • I appreciate everyone waiting and giving me room to figure out what is next? No-one else is judging me. I need to stop judging and being hard on myself. You know that saying, “It is all about the journey, not the destination”-I still need to learn this.

    Jim & I flying to Baja for a week on a deserted beach.

There are three days left in this month. I don’t count them down anymore. I feel I have made progress in acknowledging this month and not feeling quite as sad or out of sorts. One of my friends asked me this month, how I felt about the “whole Jim thing”. Well there is a loaded question. Each moment of the day the answer could be different. I believe I have come to a softer acceptance of this month, of the events that transpired six years ago and I still miss by dearest and best friend. Jim saw things in me that no one else has ever seen and I will always miss this about his love for me and mine for him.

I bid farewell to October, thankfully doing a bit more than just getting through the month. I embrace and welcome November. I embrace and welcome each day I wake up in the morning and am able to figure out what small adventure I will take myself on that day.

Today I am grateful for all of my friends, acquaintances and all of the followers of my blog,  who send me messages of support and encouragement. Today I am grateful for people.

Glacier National Park, Personality, Adventure, Beauty, Exploring Inside and Out, Grief

I continue to remain in Montana near Glacier National Park. The Roadtrek Rally was a success. I managed all the people by remaining scarce, thanks to my friends Linda and Steve. Each day we hiked in Glacier National Park and returned to the rally site around six or seven in the evening.

In the evenings or mornings, people would stop by and visit. If I got peopled out I would disappear into my rig. It worked out, yet, to be honest I don’t think I gave this rally a fair try. I was overwhelmed by the numbers of people that were there. I was overwhelmed before I even arrived. If I choose to attend another one I might stay around for more of the group activities. I believe that if I pick and choose what I want to attend then I will have a little more control over the people time. I know I can be a bit more social than what I ended up doing on this trip.

Glacier National Park was amazing. It has been many years since I traveled in this part of the USA. My first introduction to this park was a backpacking trip with a good friend of mine, Diane, back in the early 80’s. I loved the remoteness and majesty of it then and I find that has not changed one bit. I saw a lot of animals and amazing sites. It was awe inspiring at the least.

On the way north from Boise I lost a part on the outside of my Roadtrek. I have remained in the area while waiting for the part to arrive. I had it put on this afternoon and now EmmyLou the Roadtrek is once again whole, well almost. I still need to find another missing part. That one is not visible to the eye.

As I came out of the drive across Logan Pass (Going to the Sun Road) I received news from friends back east. Once again I am struggling with the basics of life. Many years back, 2013, I posted regarding my friend Zoe. We met on a breast cancer support web site. She and I quickly became friends. Her support was so instrumental in my struggle with breast cancer and it’s treatment. She has helped many people while going through her own struggle with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Her support around Jim’s death was that of a good friend who was always there, no matter what time of the day or night.

Zoe & Kay

Zoe is now approaching the end of her life. I struggle to write this here as I am not really sure what to say. For the last few days I have sat in a forest and dove deep into grief. Grief for the struggle that her and her partner Kay are going through. Grief knowing I won’t be able to see my friend again. Grief for my own suffering and broken heart, no matter how selfish that sounds. Grief for the sake of grief. I have only done this adventure into this area of my life since Jim’s death. I am beginning to recognize when it comes. I tell myself, OK go feel it, you have forty eight hours and then get out of there. Deep grief is not somewhere I want to stay long.

the view from my campsite on the river.

Forty eight hours is now up. I moved out of the forest and am now nested along the Flathead River. Moving out of the forest may be a symbolic move, yet it helps to look out and see the whole world, not just trees. I ventured out tonight and talked with others in the campground. Moving out of grief means moving out of my small and tight world and stretching myself to get back to ” normal” once again. I am not sure what normal is.

I need to ask myself how is it that I can best support my friends during this end of life process? Zoe is not dead, she is dying and no one, including her knows the length of this process. It could be days, weeks or months. She is lovingly supported in hospice and surrounded by friends, her church and mostly her wife, Kay. I don’t know if there is a term for this observing and supporting the dying process, yet that is what we are all doing, for whatever length of time it requires of all of us.

I love Zoe. We have not always seen eye to eye but that is what sisters do. She is my sister and my friend and I am heart broken at the impending loss of her on this planet.

I share this with you all because that is all I can do. “Thoughts and Prayers” seem to lose their intense meaning today and yet that is all any of us can do, think of those we love and pray. That is what I am doing. I carry Zoe and Kay close to me and when I see amazing natural places I hope they know that I see them there too. Nature is a wonderful healer.

In a few days time I will be moving slowly west. I am looking forward to seeing beautiful mountains and seeing friends along the way. I will choose for this moment in time not to spend too much time alone. I can easily sit in a campground and enjoy those around me, even at a distance. I don’t necessarily need to talk to anyone. It is good to have them near by, just in case I feel a social call coming on.

I am back to the present moment. I am remembering to breath. I know that many of you are there if I need to reach out and talk to someone. I am grateful for this knowledge, love and caring support.

Sunset on the Flathead

Now I will be off to enjoy the rest of the evening by the river before the doors shut and I head for bed.