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.

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.