Monday, February 28, 2011


Ian is home—he got in last night around 2:00am and, because I had generously changed my schedule to coordinate with his Hawaii time zone, I was up and waiting for him. Spackle and Hoover had already been put to bed, but Hoover heard someone—felt someone?—enter the property—he was aware of Ian long before I could hear anything, although I was hanging over the back of the couch, watching out the living room window, and so saw him arrive—and came woofing out of the bedroom in time to leap on Ian at the door. Spackle was close behind, and I ultimately came in a distant third for hugs. We're glad to have him back.

I was really glad to have the week to myself in our home, though. There were a couple times when I found myself needing to take an extra bit of anti-anxiety medication . . . but that's why I have it. And there were certainly times when I really missed Ian, because we've made a life together that is ideal for two people. For example, it's nice to have someone else take care of at least one of the dog walks each day. Hoover's unknown-dog apeshitting is boring to deal with all on one's own, walk after walk, day after day. And I'm really slow at picking up the poop—removing my mitten, pulling the roll from the handy leash-tote, pulling the bag from the roll, finding I need to remove my other mitten, then finding the end of the bag that will open, opening the end and shaking the bag open, making sure it is, in fact, whole—and all the while the dogs are milling squeakily about, maypoling my legs and threatening to take me down.

Also, of course, when I was bubbling with anxiety, it would've been nice to have Ian accessible by more than phone, but I had him there in the back of my mind, and for 8 days, I could live with that.

AND, the house is cleaner! I won't add tedious detail to the list of accomplishments, but rest assured I kept very busy. It was liberating to wander around entirely of my own volition. I listened to two books while I worked; Treasure Island, and a new book by Cornelia Funke (who wrote Inkheart), Reckless. I spent only one evening watching any sort of movie, and it was one I owned, one of my favorite candy-coated teen fantasies, The Princess Diaries. The dogs adjusted to my schedule (aside from dinner time, which they began chittering about at 3:45pm almost every day regardless of how recently they'd enjoyed breakfast and, because they are spoiled, a light lunch) and happily took long strolls around the neighborhood at 10:30pm or later. Ian commented last night that, left to his own devices long enough, he would go to bed an hour later and wake up an hour later each day until he'd done a complete circuit of the clock. And we both remember reading somewhere that, if living in a cave with absolutely no indication of passing time, humans will ultimately work out a schedule of 25 hours, not 24.

Anyway, as I do the work to lighten my soul, I have enjoyed having a week to do some work to lighten my home. Deep, dark corners have been aired and lost things found and brought to light. In some cases, the lost things were recycled to become something new; in others, donated so that someone new could use them. And some things, having completed their lifespans, were merely tossed. The result is that my house feels lighter, even though much of the change has been internal, and wouldn't be noticed by the casual observer.

The trick will be—always is—to use this cleanse, this created breathing space, this new awareness—to change the habits that brought on the overflow in the first place.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Today is the fourth full day that Ian has been gone. The dogs and I are limping along moderately well in his absence; no one is starving (although Hoover thinks he is, at least beginning at 3:45pm every afternoon, disregarding the fact that I 1: fed him breakfast at 9:30am (two hours later than when Ian's here and therefore much closer to dinner time); 2: fed him lunch at 1:30pm (more or less the usual); and 3: dinner time is NEVER before 5:00pm. The dogs' favorite time of year is Spring Forward, when all of a sudden the clock says 5:00pm and they're only just beginning their vociferous yearning to be fed).
Actually, I should be honest here—for the most part, I've been having an excellent time while Ian's gone, barring the OF COURSE freezing cold bed to climb into after a long day's labors clearing the hidden reaches of our house so that I may stuff them full of new hidden things. In fact, to give you a quick summary, I have:
  1. Taken 42lbs of papers to the UPS Store to enjoy the fruits of their shredding service
  2. Donated 9 knitted caps (already knitted before) to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  3. Donated 2 gently used breast forms to same
  4. Recycled all the Amazon boxes left over from Christmas and the last year (which means that the coats in our coat closet can actually hang straight now!)
  5. Cleared out all the baskets in the bathroom of nail polish colors that I decided were in questionable taste and what was I thinking??? and sterile bandages that had been cut in half . . . rendering them . . . NOT STERILE; I consolidated cough drops and threw out expired over-the-counter meds; and I recycled or tossed the jellyfish swarm of plastic bags infesting it all
  6. Collected and removed from the fridge 18 vials of Neupogen that hadn't expired and so was worth something like $6,000, and the 300 or so syringes that had come along with it
  7. And, finally, I went through all the expired prescription drugs and got rid of those—yes, including all the oxycontin and codeine and whatever else the kids are selling in high schools these days.
This has been good, satisfying work, and I've enjoyed my labors, although my back has been bent in a C-shape basically since I've been back from the Caribbean, and today it (or my mind, or my spirit, or all of it together) tendered a complaint by causing a brief zing to the lower half of my skull, which then settled down to roost, painfully, between my upper shoulder blades. What the fuh?!? I thought to myself, trying to straighten up and make the cramping go away, then trying to bend this way and that. Eventually the cramping ebbed, but I was left with a tightness in my back, particularly when I turn my head, and a sudden case of the panics.
You see, last night I felt a hard spot in one of my neck lymph nodes, one of the ones that I've been so desperately afraid to touch since 2008 when they were so, so engorged with cancer and I was in such denial. This hard spot was new.
And suddenly, the gossamer veil between contentment and fear, confidence and insecurity, joy and deathly dread, was ripped down and I found myself, again, staring stark-eyed at my mortality.
Here are some of the things that I thought in the next 30 minutes:
  1. Maybe that was something actually inside my brain shifting, of course not in a good way.
  2. I feel a bit dizzy. Can I walk straight? Yes, I'm walking perfectly straight.
  3. Ian is in Hawaii.
  4. Maybe that was something actually on my spine.
  5. I need a shower. Well, I'll take a shower and see how I do . . . Yes, I'm able to stand up perfectly well in the shower with my eyes closed.
  6. I went rock climbing last week. That pulls on these muscles.
  7. I attempted pushups two nights ago and did four before I got bored.
  8. But, even though all these things are fine, I'm feeling a bit panicky. I'm going to take ½ an extra clonazepam.
  9. Ian is in Hawaii.
  10. Okay, next, blow-dry my hair.
  11. The dogs need a walk. Can I hold Hoover back if he apeshits, or will it make my shoulders/neck worse?
  12. Look at me, holding on to Hoover and it doesn't hurt at all.
  13. Wow, it's really beautiful out here, bright and cold and with the air flowing with winking crystals.
  14. And I don't have a headache.
  15. (Conversation with Ian in Hawaii, including the suggestion that I could take a taxi to the clinic. I chose to drive the Big Red 4-Runner).
  16. I never had a headache.
  17. I think this is non-serious.
  18. I should make myself some lunch.
I drove myself safely to the clinic after all this, early so that I could get rid of drugs and donations, and it was disappointing all around. No one was in the Patient Resource Room to take my hats and boobs donations and so I filled out a form and left them (but had to miss out on hearing the lavish praise of my fiberical output); the pharmacy actually DOES NOT process expired medications (of all places, one that treats cancer SHOULD, I think); and when I was finally called into the infusion room about 20 minutes after my appointment time, I was put in a chair.
I HATE the chairs. They are ugly brownish-gray vinyl, and sitting on them is like being in a bed with no mattress pad and old polyester sheets. Minus the part about being on Virgin Gorda. And they are not private at all; or only nominally so. They are separated by curtains only, and light and sound spills seamlessly from one to another. I was on the edge anyway, and the sight of this awful place pushed me over and I began to cry, trying all the while to NOT be crying. I explained to my nurse (one whom I've known a long time, maybe 9 years) that it was just one of those days, and that I had all these drugs I wanted to get rid of, and all this really expensive Neupogen that was still perfectly good, and all these ridiculous syringes that were completely sterile still as they'd never even been taken out of the baggy from the pharmacy in the first place. She took the handfuls of my garbage away and someone else came in with some warm blankets. We put one on the chair and I sat down and was cocooned with the other over the top; a couple minutes later my nurse returned with a hot gel pack that I put between my shoulder blades, and yet a third warm blanket behind my neck. She told me they had an organization that might be able to use the Neupogen; I pulled myself together and began working on the morning's Sudoku.
As I sat in my chair and nurses came and went and jabbed my port with a needle and squoze my arm with the blood pressure cuff and offered water and whatnot, I started to listen to what was going on around me. Not just the incredibly annoying television two bays down, or the endless, ENDLESS beeping of empty infusion machines, but the people. And this is what I heard:
The woman through the veil on the right side of me was Filipina and, I would guess, in her 50s. She was there for Herceptin, as I was, but it wasn't going so well for her, although she sounded lively. She would feel short of breath for several days after an infusion, but it would stop a couple days before her next infusion. This process repeated, every three weeks. She couldn't think of the words in English to explain exactly how she felt. She also talked about a woman she knew who had cancer in one breast and had it cut off. The next year it came back in the other breast and she had that one cut off. The next year it came back in her lungs and she had two of her ribs removed and surgery on her lungs. Her nurse gently told her that everyone has her own experience, and that we are all very different.
The woman through the veil on the left side of me was dying, maybe not this week or next, but soon. I had seen her in the waiting room with her daughter, who looked to be about 30. The woman was frail, confused, sitting in a wheel chair. She was in for an infusion of platelets, but was given oxygen as well. "Isn't there a bed?" she asked, three or four times, while the nurse gently told her she was on a waiting list and would be transferred as soon as one became available (the next time my nurse came in I said, abashed, "If I'm on the waiting list, take me off. She needs it way more," and I pointed to my left.). This woman, as all of us, was treated beautifully by the nurses, and by her daughter. At one point they wheeled her away to a private area to talk about her care; when she came back, hospice had been set up, and by the time her platelets had gone in they had set up in-home oxygen to begin this evening. The woman needed to be told each detail multiple times, and each time everyone around her was kind.
But fear of that incapacity, that frailty, that sort of death, is what I walk with in my life, just beyond that gossamer veil woven of fine, fragile cobweb. In certain lights—in many lights—the veil is opaque, solid. Ignorable. Forgettable.
But not all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

3:30 Wake-Up Call

Hoover became agitated early this morning and woke me up because I am a woman and hear things in the night . He then woofed, and woofed again, and I dragged myself, bleary-eyed and slightly alarmed, out of bed and into my robe, and out to the kitchen where, less than a week earlier, Hoover had announced my arrival to an equally alarmed (but less sleepy) Ian. There was no one at the door, and I went to the window to see if our raccoon had come back. No, but there was a bit of something dark and green dropped just inside the gate, with a scribbled note on it. Craig? I thought, supposing that our crazy friend had been in attendance to return something, but no,it was Ian's jacket--the jacket I had handed to him--with his acknowledgement and gratitude, mind you--as he ran out the door to his taxi. Evidently however, not having remembered to collect it himself, it was not in his mind as one of the things he was taking on his trip, and so he left it in the cab. The cabbie, a wonderful man, brought it by at the end of his shift, with a note explaining that he had picked up a man who worked for NOA and was on his way to Hawaii from our corner and this was his--could I maybe get it back to him?

Hoover was confused about why Ian wasn't in the jacket, but went back to bed anyway, and this time let me sleep until 9. I think we'll be okay, if a little sad, without dad.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

At Least He’s Not Off to War

I just watched Ian get in a cab and drive away to the airport, where he'll fly off to Honolulu (between the two of us, we're practically living in warm climates—i.e. not Seattle—these days) for a week-long conference. I chose not to accompany him on this one because I've just been to Hawaii, and I've just been to an additional warm place, and I was in a warm place before, and we were in another warm place before that, and, honestly, one of the things I like about travel is knowing that I have a home base to come back to, and frankly, in recent months, my home base has been so unfrequented by me that it was beginning to feel like a medical shop and that was pretty much all. I want to love my home, not dread it, and so, along with emotional cleansing for the year, I am also working toward rediscovering/discovering how to be free at home, instead of having to go away to be free. To integrate my work/play lives a bit more, if you will, in addition to integrating my spiritual/physical/emotional/mental lives.

It's daunting work, though, trying to figure out how to recognize deeply ingrained, unhelpful patterns of thought and bring them to light, thus letting them crumble and disintegrate in the air and environment . . . and I've discovered recently that I'd really prefer to do those things (and most other things) with Ian at close hand. I like Ian. He's my best friend. He's sweet and funny, he asks really good questions, he's a generous hugger when I'm having an unexpected crying jag . . . and he takes a lot of the dog pressure off by walking them every morning long before I'm interested in getting out of bed. I'm less independent now than I was 9 ½ years ago when we got married and that, like many other things I believe I know about myself, is a change I need to recognize and embrace.

And so, my new more-dependent self was sad to see Ian go this afternoon. Sad enough that I decided I'd rather—I'd better—stay home and not deal with driving him to the airport. Don't worry—I will keep myself busy this week, and the house will most likely not devolve into the pit of untidiness I surprised, along with Ian, when I came home three days early last week. But I'm sad, and he's only going to a beautiful place to work in an office setting for a week. There were a lot of troops coming and going from Seattle and Dallas when I flew last week, and I can only imagine how infinitely harder it must be for their families. My heart goes out to them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It’s Not All Bad

What I really mean to say here is that It's Not AT All Bad. I'm talking about my recent (and presumably future as well) bouts of weeping and release, and I want you readers to know about the great benefits that I am discovering.

The other night, after watching Glee, I was awake for many hours (until 4:30 am, at least). The first several hours of my wakefulness I was, yes, going over memories of my father and crying, quietly now, as I thought about many more examples of his often unexpected sweetness; his quick temper and irritability; his ability to build anything (not necessarily perfectly well) that he could imagine out of wood, metal or concrete; his skill not only at performing music himself, but encouraging others around him to perform; his rascally (but never mean) sense of humor; and, of course, his oh-so-charming method of praising a child for work well done, i.e. the following conversation:

Me: "Dad! I got a 96 percent on my trigonometry quiz!"

Dad: "What happened to the other 4 percent?".

But the thing was, these thoughts were not keeping me awake any more than I was staying awake to be able to think them. I love that time I just had, memory gates open, marveling and mourning and REMEMBERING, a person who has had, and continues to have even in his absence, a huge influence in my life.

The memory taps eventually ran dry for the night, though, or had been running into my bladder; at any rate, I got up to use the bathroom. While I was in there I suddenly thought "I am not actually going to need my anti-anxiety medication forever," and a wave of peace washed over me. I am not an anxious person at heart, and the current need for medication to live my life on an even keel has, ironically, made me the tiniest bit anxious. I'm still taking the medication, and recognize that I'm not in a place to stop taking it right now (and, in fact, had the beginnings of an anxiety attack yesterday afternoon after having my eyes dilated and then an hour and a half of Gyrotonic—talk about induced vertigo) . . . but someday I will be. I am DOING, I really am, the wrenching but also satisfying work of clearing the shuttered, bank-vaulted, nailed-in tight and then tarred-and-buried-deep-in-the-sand-on-an-uncharted-tropical-island boxes and crates and pirate's chests of all my long-repressed emotions.

Why is it, how is it, that we as a culture have come to learn to repress and hide our strongest emotions? How have we learned that THAT is the appropriate way to be human? Stiff upper lip and all? Don't Cry Out Loud? How many people who succumb to "road rage", for example, would have avoided it if they'd just felt free to scream or weep to someone, anyone, about a really awful experience at work, or even a not-so-awful one that just needed a bit of airing?

What are we afraid of?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Watch “Glee” for Catharsis

I never followed through here with the aftermath of my breakthrough at the Witch Doctor's—i.e. that I should forgive myself for getting cancer. First of all, I think that it's not that I feel I "deserve" it, nor do I think it's a "punishment", nor did I somehow ask for it to come. Rather, I think I've been judging myself for being so weak? inattentive? just plain foolish? as to get it at all. How could I, strong, smart, independent, farm-bred, International Woman of Mystery, capable I have somehow acquired cancer? It just doesn't compute. Someone must be to blame. It must be me.

Witch Doctor Dan did open up some physical blockage, for which I am grateful. Ian came home from work hungry the evening that I was writing about the experience, before I was done. I, in the midst of emotional housecleaning, was not hungry in the slightest. Ian fixed himself a snack and fiddled with things until I had posted.

"Okay, I'm done," I said from the couch, which has been doubling as my office during the colder winter months, since low temperatures coupled with our 90-year-old single-paned windows and uninsulated lath-and-plaster walls have made my actual office an unfriendly 54 degrees. "Can I read it to you?"

"Yes, please," said Ian attentively from the easy chair, laying aside his new android phone.

I read, about Dan recognizing my emotions still bottled up about my dad, and tears came. Ian moved over to the couch and put his arm around me while I went on, to the part where I needed to forgive myself for getting cancer.

"Sweetie-pie," said Ian, and my heart center ruptured into gasping, wracking sobs. He tightened his arm and patted me, as I choked and coughed and wept. "It sounds like you needed to cry about this," he said, holding me close.

Cut to last night, episode 3 of season 2 of Glee (spoiler alert!). In the episode entitled "Grilled Cheesus," Kurt's father, a self-employed business-owning mechanic, suffered a serious heart arrhythmia and ended up in the hospital in a coma. Kurt had already lost his mother, and his father, a more complicated and more sensitive guy than "mechanic" implies in our culture (note: much like my father, for those of you who didn't know him), was obviously dear and important to him. After several days of no change to the coma, Kurt came into Glee Club after school and sang a song to his dad: I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

When my dad went into anaphylactic shock and was airlifted by the US Coast Guard from Stuart Island to Victoria, and my mom taken by cutter, the charter company we'd been renting our boat to for the summer was contacted by one of my aunts (who were on board for our mid-August San Juan Island boat trip), and the company sent someone out to meet us and bring in our boat.

I was annoyed by this. At 19, I was already more skilled at captaining than my mother (who, granted, had no real interest in running the boat anyway), and I desperately wanted something to do, while we waited to hear something, anything, from Mom. The adults didn't think I should have to be in charge, however, or didn't trust that I could be, or who knows what, and so I sat on the flying bridge next to the rep from the charter company and focused all my attention on holding my father's hand.

His hands were stained and the skin of his fingers cracked from years of working with grease and oil and heavy, filthy car parts and not wearing gloves (although, I think you probably do better as a mechanic without them)—and not being at all vain, so his attempts at cleaning up were notably imperfect. His fingers had grown large and rugged over the years, and I never saw him wear a wedding ring; it would've been dangerous in his line of work, and his strong fingers grew out of it, anyway.

The same hands, though, gently held newborn lambs to be fed, intertwined with kids' hands to comfort and protect, and fluidly manipulated French horn keys so that Dad could share his soul through music.

On the boat that August day, in my mind, I held my father's hand from Stuart Island back to Anacortes, barely seeing the glowing northwest summer, the glinting waves, the green and rocky islands that we passed. "Stay with me, Dad," I repeated silently, over and over. "Stay with me."

We were just coming into port in Anacortes and I was on the bow, ready to jump off and moor, when our giant, early-90's brick of a cell phone rang from where I'd stuffed it in my back pocket. It was Mom. "He's gone," she said.


In Glee, Kurt's father of course regains consciousness near the end of the episode, with Kurt holding his hand. The tears, they started, and Ian said "do you want to watch another episode?" and I said "YES, of COURSE," and then Ian said, "but do you want a minute?" and I said yes, and then suddenly I was sobbing, gut wrenching sobs. Hoover came over to minister to me, while I, again, as fresh as yesterday, lost my dad. He never got to meet Ian. He isn't around to help me through difficult times now. I will never again make music with him. He can't tell me he's proud of me, or even disappointed. He's gone. And I miss him. I always will.

I can still remember the feel of his hand in mine.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Conversation Circa January 1989

Me: "I'm not afraid to drive in the snow."

Dad, instantly infuriated: "Damnit anyway! You SHOULD be afraid to drive in the snow! How long have you had your license? THREE MONTHS???"

Me: "DAAAad! I'm not an IDIOT! I drive cautiously in the snow. I look at the environment, and I feel how the car is responding, and I drive according to the conditions. FEAR would just get in the way, and keep me from making good decisions!"

Dad, begrudgingly mollified: "Humph. Well, alright. That makes sense."

Surprisingly wise for untested 16.