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.

Sisters

Traveling solo in my RV can, at times, be a lonely existence. There are days that I grow weary of my own company. I miss companionship. I have discovered over the past few years how fun it is to travel with others. There is more laughter and definitely more talking. I have enjoyed the times when I have traveled with others.

I am on my way to northern New Jersey, to my sister’s home. Miss Elsie the Cat and the rig are going to spend the summer there, while I travel to South Africa. Miss El and I know how fortunate we are to have a place that is safe and secure and loving to go to. 

A week ago I texted my New Jersey sister, Ginny, and suggested that she fly to Ohio, where my other sister, Ruth and my niece and her family live. She could then ride back to New Jersey with me. I totally expected her to say no. And, I would have understood. It was a last minute kind of thing. 

You know what she said? “I am already packed!” Woo Hoo! I was immediately surprised, excited and happy. We are going on a road trip. Ginny and I have done road trips together before. There was that time in Maine when we got so mad at each other, we had to pull off the road so we could yell at each other. By dinner we were friends again. 

We have explored the West Coast, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce together. One of our last trips was to western Massachusetts and New York State. I was doing a “Fam” trip (familiarization trip). I was exploring the area before I took a tour group into the area. We have discovered interesting places together. Near St Johnsbury, VT we were guided by a local retailer to seek out the Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain.

Dog Mountain is set on 150 acres on a private mountaintop spot. The grounds are always open to people and their dogs. Stephen Huneck and his wife, Gwen, bought the property in 1995. They turned the barn into studio space. Stephen was a hand wood carver. During a serious illness Stephen had a vision to create a space for dogs including The Dog Chapel. What an interesting find. the whole area on the top of a mountain is dedicated to dogs. Inside the chapel the walls were covered with photos of dogs who have passed over, others that were sick. We added a picture of one of our favorite kitties, Wally. It is important to encourage diversity. Stephen and his wife, Gwen, have both died. A foundation continues to run and manage Dog Mountain.  There are hiking trails and a dog agility park. All dogs and their humans are welcome. Yes I would encourage you to explore this unique find when you are in the are

Tomorrow, all three of us sisters will be reunited, however briefly near Columbus Ohio. I look forward to seeing both of my sisters and my great nephew, Ward. My niece and her husband are out of town. After a good visit, Ginny and I will get in EmmyLou the RV with Miss Elsie the Cat and we will venture the backroads to northern NJ. I am looking forward to the company. I am looking forward to what we might discover.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of others, and you know who you are, joining me for long or short trips in my RV. I will treasure the company. My world appears to be expanding.

 

 

 

 

What To Do When I Am Sleepless

This Friday I am scheduled, finally, for thyroid surgery. I have planned this out. I feel confident that this is the correct thing to do and yet….sleep has been sporadic this week. I go to bed and my mind is full of random thoughts. Sometimes I fall asleep only to wake a few hours later. Then I cannot return to dreamland.

Miss Elsie

I can become frustrated or I can enjoy these sleepless moments during the night. The first thing that occurs is Miss Elsie, sensing I am awake will leave her cushy bed on the front seat and come snuggle with me. These moments are pure joy and I treasure them.

Then I begin to listen and feel. Now that it is warm enough I sleep with my windows open. I can feel the gentlest of breezes coming into the van. If I listen hard enough I imagine them whispering to me, telling me the tales of the invisible presences. I imagine the wind brings Jim’s touch to me from out there. I like the coolness on my skin. Once in a while the breezes will blow in sweet smells of flowers in bloom. Sometimes the smell is not quite as pleasant, meaning there might be a skunk close by.

I am in coyote country. I guess most of us are now. They have seen them on the streets of New York City. There is something special when the pack howls in the night. It reminds me of all those spaghetti westerns-sitting by the campfire with howling in the background, just prior to the cattle stampede. The coyotes are very vocal, at night, in the hills around Santee Lakes. Their multiple voices add to the special moments in the quiet of the early morning.

If I am involved in a good book, I may  read for an hour or so before I, once again, attempt to return to sleep. If any of my computers are near-by I may play a few games. Mostly I like to lay, listen and feel and pet Miss Elsie so her purr can add to these quiet moments.

I have two nights to go. I will not be surprised to be waking in the wee hours for these next few nights. Nerves are just nerves and I am so sure they are part of a very normal process. I look forward to returning to a better night sleep next week. Although I will miss the Elsie moments.

I am the first case of the day on Friday. I enter the hospital at 5:30 A.M. and hopefully will be out of there by noon. I am holding on to the best case scenario. It is hard to ask for thoughts and prayers, these are terms that are so overused in today’s world. If you can, drop a thought my way on Friday morning. The power of others loving me can do so much to help the healing process and good, very good outcomes.

Until then I look forward to what tonight brings.

 

 

Getting Ready to Move

I am in packing mode. Yes indeed, Miss Elsie and I are moving back into the RV on Wednesday. I am nesting. I am packing and sorting and rearranging. It is amazing how spread out one can become when they move into a place with space. Where did all this stuff come from and how did I get it all in my rig?

Pacific Beach

It will  be hard to leave the beach. I have really liked it here. Every day I walk to the bay, it is only two blocks away. About three times a week I walk the few miles to the ocean. It has been a tough existence (sic). The traveling gene is calling and I am heading out.

I have accomplished a lot in my three months here.

  • The dental work is done. Yay!!!! I have two new teeth and one is bionic 😏. Just kidding. I may be financially a little poorer, yet I have two shiny new teeth that I can show off.
  • Taxes are in process. They don’t need me to be present to finish them up.
  • All annual medical appointments are done. It is good to leave knowing I have a clean bill of health.
  • After many visits, chiropractic, massage, myofascial release, and acupuncture my back is feeling soooo….much better. I am seriously going to attempt to stay upright. No more falls are allowed, off my bike, off burros, or slipping on the sidewalk. Ay Yi Yi.
  • My Roadtrek has been checked out and inspected and fixed and is ready to roll.
  • My scooter has been tuned up and is back in my storage unit, ready for my next visit.
  • Thanks to the help of my therapist and the psychiatrist who orders my meds, I am emotionally feeling a bit more alive and ready to face the world. Thank gosh the sunlit days are getting longer, it helps my attitude so much.
  • I have had the opportunity to visit with friends. I have even made a few new ones. Sweet.
  • I finally found that document that was hiding in the dregs of my storage locker. Whew.

Shortly after Jim died, I started a scholarship in his name at Grossmont Community College. The accomplishment I feel strongest and happiest about, has to do with the scholarship. I donated the remaining amount of money needed to make this a perpetual scholarship. This scholarship will now continue indefinitely. Donations will still be greatly appreciated and the Go Fund Me site will remain on this blog page. It has taken the pressure off of me to raise the money needed. It feels very good to know that I have accomplished this very important goal. I have not done this alone. I have done this with the support of so many of you who gave either directly to the college or the Go Fund Me site. It was a team effort all the way. And I thank you.

I know there is more I could list here, these are the ones that come to mind at the present. Now my mental direction is shifting and getting ready to travel.

Ward

Where am I going? I am going to be driving across the southern part of the USA, and plan to be in Ohio by the 7th of March. I am going to help support my niece, Brittany and her husband, Trip with their son, one and half  year old, Ward. I posted about him back in December. Ward was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumor in December. Since then he has had his right kidney and the tumor removed. He is now going through 21 weeks of chemotherapy. My sister, Ruth has been staying with them but she needs to head home for a short trip. I am going to be her replacement while she goes home. It is good that this young family has as much support as they can get.

I am going to enjoy meeting Ward. I have yet to meet him in a person. My personal hope for this time is that I might be able to relieve Brittany’s and Trip’s stress just a wee bit. This is what family and friends do for each other. We all help the best way we can. For me it has given me a direction when I get on-the-road.

I am off to pack some more. Stay tuned. The adventure continues.

 

Preparing For the End of Winter

I would like to express my gratitude to all the responses I received from my last post “Struggling Through Winter”. All of your comments were so supportive and helpful. I have read through them more than once. It has eased the feeling of aloneness I felt this winter. It has reminded me, once again, that those of us who struggle with depression and sadness are not alone. I am forever grateful to all of you.

As the daylight hours lengthen I have found I have more energy and interest in the world around me. And, I am beginning to prepare…prepare to move back into my rig and begin the life of a nomad, once again.

I wasn’t sure what direction I was heading when I left the bay and ocean, in San Diego. I kept waiting it out, in hopes that a small “aha moment” would appear and I would have it figured out. I now know my first destination. I am going to driving across the southern United States and then cutting north to Ohio by the second week in March. I leave my rental on February 28th. I will spend a few days at a campground, just to adjust and then I am on my way.

For those who have been following my blog, you may be aware that my one and half year old great nephew, Ward, was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor right before Christmas. After successfully removing the tumor and kidney, he recovered and is now in the process of receiving chemotherapy for several months. His family is adjust to this unexpected time in their lives. This is not an easy adjustment and they certainly can use all the support they can get.

My sister, Grandma to Ward, has been in Ohio  since the tumor was discovered. She is in need of returning home. I am going to be helping my niece and her husband out for a while. I will now have time to meet and get to know my great nephew. I am looking forward to meeting this little one and loving my niece and her husband.

This is what family does for each other. We may not always agree, or get along but when any of us struggle, my family is there to support and love each other. It is my honor to actively support and love this lovely young family.

As February begins to wind down, I am getting busy with my Roadtrek. I am getting it cleaned up and completing  all my little and medium size projects in the rig. I am cleaning, making lists and starting to figure out what I want to take with me and what will return to my storage locker.

Miss Elsie the Cat is making her own checklist. She wants to make sure she has all her creature comforts with her. 

I am looking forward to being on the move. I am looking forward to spending time with my niece and her family. I am looking forward to exploring places I have not been before. I am looking forward to meeting people along the way and visiting with friends. I am looking forward to figuring out my spring and summer. I am looking forward. Looking forward means that depression is lessening and I am entering back into life. Oh I am so glad for this. It has been a long few months.

Next winter I might go to New Zealand so I can experience summer all year around. 🌞

Stay tuned—-Life is picking up.

 

 

 

Struggling Through Winter

I have struggled, emotionally, this winter. I am not whining, I am not maudlin, I am not anything other than appearing normal on the outside. Inside my brain, my heart and my being has been in overdrive.

From the outside, everything looks fine. I exercise, I eat (well some), I talk nice to others and I feel compassionate and kind. Inside, I am confused, alone and worried that there might really be something wrong with me.

Three months before Jim died, my counselor strongly urged me to try antidepressants. After three and half years of the whirlwind of cancer for both Jim and myself, she and the psychiatrist who recommended the medicine felt that I was emotionally overloaded and depressed. Well, you think? I agreed to try an antidepressant to help get me through a difficult time. The dose started low but we had to adjust it upwards until I reached a dose that was acceptable for me. I come from a buck it up,  grin and bear it kind of family. Weakness is not in our thought process. It took a bit of encouragement to try the medicine.

Five years later I began to talk to the psychiatrist about coming off of the medicine. I mean how do I know that I really need it now that five years has gone by and I am much more together than right after Jim died? How do I know? Last June I began a slow weaning protocol. I did well until September and then I had to go back up on the dose a little. I remained there until I arrived back in San Diego.

Fall and winter are not my best times. I don’t like the shorter sunlit days, and I fight against coming inward and looking around in those quiet and sometimes shadow sides of myself. Winter is a classic time of being inward. I am glad I am at the beach because that has helped with this unguided annual review. Unguided means that I don’t actively seek out the coming within, it just seems to occur.

Did you know that depression is cyclical? I learned this from the psychiatrist. When people come off antidepressants, if a person is in an upswing they usually do well initially until depression once again raises it’s cyclical self. When I tried to take the final plunge to remove the medicine from my body I was in a more depressive cycle so I knew right away that this wasn’t good. My acupuncturist, Gayle, also relayed to me that she does not recommend for a person to come off these types of medicine as we roll into fall and winter.

So here I am, somewhat disappointed in myself that I could not take the final step to stop this medicine. I know it is not a sign of failure but it kind of feels that way, just a little bit.

Depression is nothing to take lightly. I have known others in my life who battle it in a way more severe form than what I am dealing with. It is easy to tell someone to get over it or deal with it or be positive, yet for those dealing with depression, these kinds of statements are painful and unsupportive. What would be a much better response, I think, is to say I am sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? Or even better call them once in a while just to talk. Or even better, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, guide them gently in a different direction. No one wants to be sad or lonely or depressed.

Day at the tidepools-4

My therapist has given me some assignments. So I am trying these while I wait for spring and the longer happier days of that time of the year.

  • Set up a phone date once a week with someone I love and know loves and supports me.
  • Read up on the “Stages of Life”. I guess when you reach my age it is not unusual to review all of your life thus far and try to figure out what comes next.
  • Take my passion and do something with it. I have already been working on this with my photography and creating my web site.
  • Each month pick one thing that brings happiness or contentment into my life. Last month I started a photo a day project. It not only fuels my artistic side but it also gets me outside. this month, I am attempting to finally sit in meditation for five minutes a day.
  • Look for groups that have common interest and join in.
  • The worse thing I can do is to hole up. Each day I try to get out to walk, bike-be in nature. I do it alone and with others.
  • I have also decided to start a journal and write one thing I am grateful for every day.

This is just a sample yet I believe you get the idea.

As I write this Miss Elsie the Cat and I are in Idyllwild, CA visiting a good friend, Mary. This has been the best thing I could have done. I have been able to casually visit with Mary over the past few days. I am out and away and in the mountains. Each day I have been here I have felt better, emotionally. Mary and I are embracing each other’s company, sharing our woes and all our good and interesting times since we last saw each other. It is a marvelous catharsis for us both.

It is hard to admit this type of stuff to yourself. It is hard to admit it to the broader world. I have sat on this post for over a week, wondering if I should reveal this much of myself to the rest of the unknown world. I reviewed some of my other posts and some of them have been just as raw and revealing. Why hesitate here. I believe that depression has a stigma that surrounds it. What if I admit that I am not strong. Well everyone is suppose to be strong all the time, right? Well guess what?  That is not true.

I see this as a continuing part of who I am and dealing with grief. This too shall pass. Maybe, just maybe by sharing this someone else may not feel alone or the odd person out. Well here is a fact so no one has to feel alone, over 350 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression.

I continue to embrace each day with as much fervor as I can muster. Some days that is easy and some days my embrace is just on a tinier scale.  And…I keep telling myself, spring is coming, it is just around the corner.

 

 

A Very Early Morning

Yesterday morning I woke at 4:45 A.M. After attempting to return to sleep, I gave up and laid in bed and listened to the quiet. On a Saturday morning it is so quiet that, even though the ocean is about a mile or two away, I could hear the breakers. What a peaceful and relaxing sound.

There are times I really don’t mind waking up in the wee hours. There is a peacefulness to those hours. It is  time to contemplate and maybe, just maybe, be.

I find that these times are when I feel the most relaxed and comfortable in myself. I am not fighting with thoughts or feelings. Most of my aches and pains (from current accidents) are absent and I can rest. Miss Elsie the cat comes and lays on my tummy. Mmmm, such a special moment with her.

I especially love to hear the ocean as it breaks on the shore. The waves sound giant although they are only 3-4 feet this morning. I imagine a big ocean with great swells, even though it is quiet and the break is good. I love the ocean at it’s wildest moments.

When I was in my OB/GYN rotation, in my nursing program – many, many years ago – I followed a woman through the end of her pregnancy and birth. My mother gave birth in the very early hours of the morning. I remember sitting outside the hospital in Providence, RI just before dawn, smoking a cigarette (yes I did do this) and feeling content, happy, exhilarated and pleased with the whole world around me. Pleased with my self, pleased for a happy mom and dad and content. I listened as the city came alive on another normal day that was magical for a few of us.

The early wakeful morning hours are when magic comes alive for me. I am grateful to be here, relatively in tact and know I have time to stretch into my day a little bit at a time. I have time to read, to play games on my tablet and sometimes just lay there and be content. I like the content part most of all.

I can then stretch into my day at leisure. If I am not too lazy I can get up and catch the sunrise. If I am too lazy I can slowly get the day together. Elsie gets her leash on and goes outside. I have time to contemplate what might be on my agenda for the day. And then the day begins.

Today I will try to remember my sleepless nights and be grateful for the gift it gives.