The great laundry debate

Every single time I have time off I enter into a debate with myself: do the laundry immediately or wait until the day before going back to work to do it. This is symbolic, do I wash my work clothes and put them away, representing a close to the work week. Or should I wait to do it all with my vacation clothes, representing the close of the vacation. You should know that I often have this debate as I am loading my work clothes into the washer. The debate is more of a formality maybe a ritual, not really a debate at all.

Yesterday I was thinking about work, clothes, lunches, groceries, the usual process for getting ready to restart the work/school cycle after time off, especially holiday time off, when I heard the usual war cry from the girls: “we have no socks.” This, too, is symbolic. There are socks, they are everywhere, tucked under couch cushions, in corners, in shoes, under tables, they are everywhere. I sent them to get their dirty laundry from all over the house.

They returned with six overflowing, completely stuffed laundry bags of filthy clothes.

Apparently the laundry debate skipped this generation.

I don’t like having things hanging over my head, I cannot fully enjoy my vacation or down time knowing that I will be coming home to work before going back to work. My kids don’t feel that at all. They kept looking at me like, what? we still have the whole weekend to get this together, what’s the problem? And they even suggested that it didn’t need to be completely finished prior to returning to school. I could feel my entire family tree rolling over in their graves.

We sorted, we spot treated, we matched outfits, we did seven extra large loads of laundry and a few specialty cycles. We talked about how this was a daunting task and how we could break it down for the future so that it wouldn’t be so overwhelming and wouldn’t consume a whole day of vacation. They suggested that doing three loads during the week takes up more time than seven on one day, that it spread the dread so to speak.

It hit me, they weren’t daunted by this epically ridiculous amount of laundry. They didn’t see this as growing, looming work, tasks needing to be completed, or anything symbolic at all. It was just a means to an end of getting clean clothing back into their drawers and closets.

I would like to type that I giggled, saw their point, acquiesced admitting to my rigidity and am now encouraging them to self determine how and when they do their own laundry.

That would not be accurate.

We completed the laundry. It has all been taken care of properly. We set up sorters and a schedule so that I can rest easy, they truly do not care, knowing that there isn’t a mountain of laundry growing somewhere in the house to be taken care of at the last minute. While this never was a problem for them, we solved it together, for now. I have every hope that this will evolve into something we can all live with.

For me the great debate will continue, I will wonder as I load my work clothes into the washer the second I get home if I should do it then or wait. The symbolism and ritual are significant to me. What is a great debate in your life that when you look at it objectively, isn’t a debate at all, it is more of a ritual of some significance?

Someday is fast upon us

I hope that you are enjoying the new year, new decade and all of the 2020 equivocations. They make me smile each time someone throws one out cleverly in conversation. My favorite is hindsight is 2020 with the year being ahead of us. I don’t know about you, but I blinked and 2019 ended as quickly as it started. I have no reason to expect 2020 to go any slower. Although, I really would like to savor more of it this year.

Looking back at the last decade it is amazing how much has happened. My youngest daughter started the decade at 2 months old, middle daughter was 2 and the oldest daughter was 7. Such fun ages. They have lived a majority of theirs lives in this decade. We couldn’t wait for them to reach their milestones, and documented them feverishly.

Back then I wasn’t sold on personal mobile phones, they weren’t yet smart and you had to buy plans with defined number of minutes, roll over minutes weren’t around yet. I had a Blackberry for work–with a QWERTY keyboard. Now I use my phone for everything from photography, random searches for random facts, personal calendar with reminders, keeping in contact with loved ones a variety of ways and sharing my latest blog post. I rarely make a phone call on my phone, although making one is more likely on my work phone.

A decade ago someday was far off. Today someday seems very, very close.

I can’t help but wonder what role cancer played in the thought that someday is very, very close. And what role cancer played in making some somedays very compelling and some much less so perhaps more like musings.

Someday I would like to start a non-profit to help women with cancer deal with the other day to day nuisances so they can focus on healing through treatment to thrive after cancer. It seems like I cannot make Survivor Sherpa happen fast enough. Like if this particular someday doesn’t happen soon other women will have to make their own paths, feeling alone and overwhelmed. I cannot bear that thought at all. I work every day to make this a reality, no one should journey alone.

Someday I would like my children to be self-sufficient, independent, happily-satisfied, contributing members of society. Until then, we are diligently arming them the best we can so they can be when someday gets here for each of them.

Those two somedays are wildly compelling to me and take up a significant amount of my personal bandwidth.

Far less so is someday I would like to go to the Olympics and Ireland, Alaska and Hawaii and someday I would like to take a knife skills class and the culinary institute. These are just a few of the somedays on the less compelling side of things but are on the list of things to do someday.

Pay attention to your somedays and pay particular attention to the ones that occupy a significant amount of your thoughts, those are the ones calling to you to be worked on.

Genesis of new experiences

I recently found rutabagas. Never had one before to the best of my knowledge. It turns out they can be cut like steak fries, tossed in olive oil, garlic salt and parmesan cheese and baked for 35 minutes. They are very good in this preparation.

I never would have tried them if I wasn’t living the keto way of eating.

I never would have tried the ketogenic way of eating if I didn’t have cancer.

Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

There are so many things out there to try. As a family we go on adventures trying new fun things all the time: rock walls, gravity ropes, bakeries, gas tank destinations, you name it! We seek them out and give them a try. It is a lot of fun and we learn quite a bit with each adventure.

We recently made mustard for the first time because of a book I am reading, https://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Herbs-Transform-Everyday-Ingredients/dp/140195006X. It consists of soaking mustard seeds for a few days in vinegar and water put the mixture in the food processor with seasonings of your choice until you get the consistency you want. Who knew it was that easy? It is so delicious, we are going to use it as the glue for seasoning our Christmas ham.

I wouldn’t have gotten that book if I didn’t make a new friend 23 years ago.

I wouldn’t have made that new friend if I didn’t go to graduate school all those years ago.

Admittedly, graduate school is infinitely better than breast cancer, that is not the parallel I am trying to draw at all. I am always amazed when I trace back an experience to the one moment that led up to that.

It’s a wonderful puzzle to try to solve the seemingly small, insignificant event can lead to something wonderful. It can be a dark rabbit hole to try to find the moment that led to something horrible. Just remember the horrible moment is going to evolve and lead to something better, this, too, shall pass.

For fun, if you have never had a rutabaga or made mustard give them a try, you never know what it might lead to!

Happy New You

Yesterday I had a appointment with the breast specialist, the surgeon who performed the mastectomy and removed the cancer, I didn’t have any of the usual dread leading up to it. When we were wrapping up we hugged and she said Merry Christmas and Happy New You, chuckled, looked at me and said Happy New Year to the new you!

Each year about this time I reflect on the year, sometimes a little more than a year. The past year was very full, largely comprised of trying to get back to normal after treatment on many, many levels.

A childhood family friend used to say how you spend New Year’s Eve is how you will spend the year. I brought in 2019 with my family, great friends, a fantastic fireworks display and serious vomiting. This may be the best way to describe how 2019 went.

2019 is cancer free, my health is at an all time high, my weight is at an adult low, a definite firework! My family has been able to start to feel a return to normal, definitely fireworks! We have been able to start the path to a non-profit, Survivor Sherpa, to help other women going through treatment, an absolute firework! The amount of unnecessary stress in my life has fallen to a low I never dreamed imaginable, super duper fireworks!

Getting here was a bit of a vomit-pocalypse. No need to rehash all of that, read https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/survivor-sherpa.com/25 and https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/survivor-sherpa.com/379 to get a feel for what happened. The wheels are back on, waiting is over and those are important memories now, huge fireworks.

It has been a wild ride, I don’t know when to pronounce it fully ‘over’, as a precaution I am keeping my hands and feet in the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop. Maybe when the bills are all paid and I no longer have to take tamoxifen. I do know that being past the surgeries and treatment– especially the side effects is a fabulous firework.

Being able to appreciate all of the positives and being able to help others in this situation is a wonderful thing and this whole experience has made me a new me. When my doctor said Happy New You, it seemed much more meaningful than a simple mistake. I really am a Happy New Me thanks to all of the experiences of 2019. Here’s hoping 2020 is a little more level, or maybe for the highs are much, much higher and the lows are not anywhere near as low.

Merry Christmas and Happy New You to you!

https://www.supportful.com/survivorsherpa

Keto with friends

Chemo sucks, it really, really just plain sucks. My oncologist said that I needed to lose weight in order to reduce my chances of cancer coming back. I certainly don’t want to have to deal with cancer again, and I really don’t want to go through chemo again, it sucks. Doing everything in my power to help reduce the odds seemed like a no brainer.

I have dieted in the past with varying degrees of success, always losing some weight and sometimes gaining it right back. While reading about how to lose weight, get back to being myself as quickly as possible and reduce my risk of cancer coming back I came across something called the ketogenic diet, https://charliefoundation.org/ .

Two of my friends were doing the ketogenic diet, it is really more of a way of life, and they were having great success. My husband was in for whatever diet I picked out because we know first hand that life on a diet is easier when we both are doing it. He was fully committed when he found out that bacon and other meat were completely ok.

We found dietdoctor.com. There are how to videos and meal plans and recipes. It is almost difficult to get it wrong when you have good support like that. They even have a facebook group full of people learning the ketogenic way of living. Very supportive and full of helpful tips and tricks. It’s pretty cool to see other people’s success stories, as well as seeing the answers to questions and concerns similar to ours.

We have all of the ingredients for a successful diet in this case a lifestyle change: strong motivation, excellent support system in both our neighborhood and online, and clear instructions and guidance how and a bonus in that the food matched our palates and lifestyle. What more could you possibly ask for?

We have had tremendous success eight months into this. I weigh 25% less than I did this time last year and am in the normal BMI range. My husband weighs almost 20% less than he did this time last year and is closing in on the normal BMI range.

We have fun dinners with our friends where every dish is keto friendly and no one feels deprived or hungry or like they are missing out on ‘real’ party food. We all feel very good the next day, too! Not bloated or sluggish or anything else that a night of excess can make you feel like. Because it isn’t excess, it is what is working for us.

Maybe eight months isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of time, but I can tell you this, I have never been completely faithful to a ‘strict’ way of eating for eight months in my life with no slip ups, restarts or do overs- ever. Granted, the motivation is much stronger than it has ever been in the past. The food, support system and resources for this way of life are making it so much easier to stay faithful, too.

Having strong motivation, a great support system (personal and online), and good clear instructions seem like a sure path to success, I am going to use this template for other areas of my life, maybe you will find success with it, too.

I https://www.supportful.com/survivorsherpa

Cancer and togetherness

Parenting during cancer is a challenge like no other. A lot of things take a back seat for a lot of reasons but children cannot. There were a few things that fell through the cracks caused by cancer, our daughters always came first.

We like to play games. Board games, video games, card games, you name it we like to play it. We have a game night about once a month. It used to be more frequent, but the girls are getting involved in more and more activities. We have a lot of fun with the games and have great conversations while playing them.

We like to watch movies, either in the theater or at home. We even have a large outdoor screen to have a drive in movie theater experience. We have movie night about once a month, maybe a little more often. It, too, used to be more frequent, the girls’ activities again. We always have great conversations after the movie, sometimes during them depending on how good the movie is.

I wasn’t much fun while in treatment. Games were more difficult for me to play. The medications caused a lot of mind fog, memory and attention issues. It was easier to play video games, but I often just watched them play and join in the conversation.

Watching movies was difficult, too. I tend to fall asleep during movies, even before cancer if the movie wasn’t very good. The girls were very kind and would stop the movie if I was the one who picked it out, or fill me in on the part I slept through some time later. I asked them once why they kept watching the movie and not go do something else more fun. They replied all at the same time that they just liked hanging out with me. Just spending time, being close was the important thing, not the movie.

Well, how do you keep a dry eye when your kids say something like that?

We all pile on the same couch under a couple of blankets to watch a movie on movie nights. Some of the games can get pretty cut throat, we don’t sit as close during those, but the silly ones, we are often in each other’s pockets. It’s nice just to be close to one another, together.

We genuinely like being together, bad movie, silly game, great movie, even better game, it was really just about being together. Even though cancer was a very different kind of adventure, we were going through it and getting through it together.

https://www.supportful.com/survivorsherpa

Seeing the beauty

I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror when I do look at myself it is usually with a very critical eye. This new wrinkle, that new gray hair, this bit of extra weight. I read an article about treating the image in the mirror like someone you love instead of something to critique, it has made a significant difference in my outlook and my inner talk.

Cancer wreaks havoc on all aspects of your being, there is no other way to say it. My identity took a major hit, still is taking a major hit as a result of dealing with cancer. I stopped looking in the mirror when I had the mastectomy. Of course the mirror in my bathroom is 12 feet long and four feet high, making it a bit of a trick not to look.

I became pretty skilled at not looking for about seven months.

I bloated big time and lost my hair with chemo. Every now and then I would look at the sores in my mouth and manage not to see the whole me. It was painful, not just from the sores, but to see this person looking back at me not resemble the person I was used to seeing even if I was overly critical towards her.

I was worried about what this attitude and these actions were teaching my daughters and set out to revise accordingly. Project status.

Identity, what does that mean exactly? Oddly, when asked to list positives about myself, I never include anything about my appearance, this gave me pause. If my appearance didn’t define my identity, why was looking at myself in the mirror such a painful experience?

One day I caught a glimpse of myself and forced myself to look, really look. I was amazed at how much I looked like my mom. My mom is one of my favorite people to ever exist and I loved her very much. The parts that don’t look just like my mom, look a lot like my dad, another favorite of mine. How can I be so critical when I look like two of my favorite people?

I read an article the suggested instead of being critical you should treat yourself how you would treat someone you love in this situation. My first thought was I’d give my mom a moisturizing facial and moisturize her neck, I remember how much she hated having dry skin. I did both things for myself and felt better. It really felt like I was doing something for her.

My mom always told me to look for the beauty in things, not the classic physical beauty but the underlying beauty. In this case I believe she would tell me to acknowledge that my body was strong enough to handle chemo and start the healing process, a very beautiful thing. This made me start to become way more grateful and infinitely less critical looking at myself in the mirror. I still have room for improvement but I am getting there.

Now when I start to pick and fuss at the lady in the mirror I take a step back, do the Wonder Woman pose and tell myself how grateful and wonderful I am for what I have come through, what a beautiful thing.

When doctors disagree

Sometimes it feels like you are just along for the ride when you are navigating the follow up after dealing with a critical illness. It isn’t like the runaway train or tornado of the illness, not at all. It is just like you are a passenger along for the ride, sometimes there is disagreement among the drivers, in this case the MDs.

My husband took me to the hospital for a procedure my surgeon ordered recently. They called to ask us to come in a little earlier, no worries, we can come in earlier. We arrived early for the early time. The process is you check in at the main desk, they call you for the insurance and ID bit.

The insurance and ID bit is where things started to seem a little weird. They didn’t know what to call the procedure my doctor had sent me there to get. We sat there and waited until that was hashed out. It took about 12 minutes.

After that I went to sit in another area to wait to be called. They called me back and had me change and sit in another waiting area. This wait was more than 20 minutes, very unusual, so unusual I was about to check to see if I got the directions wrong. About then they came to get me. I glanced at my watch, this was starting later than the original appointment and we arrived early, very unusual.

Two nurses did some preliminary testing and left the room for about 20 minutes, very very unusual. I took a little nap, there is nothing else to do in the dimly lit room and they put a warm blanket on me.

When they came back with the doctor they informed me that they would not be performing the procedure and why. The doctor was patient explaining it to me, said he couldn’t reach the surgeon and since he didn’t see the need I could get dressed and go home. Well that capped the unusual-ness of the day.

They, the two nurses and the doctor, said that they tried to reach my surgeon to let her know but couldn’t get a hold of her. The doctor assured me that this was ok, his opinion matched that of another doctor he consulted with, he’d let my surgeon know when he could get a hold of her. It was all very strange and completely different from anything I had experienced. I sent a text to my doctor informing her of what was going on, hoping to catch her before I left. She was in surgery at the time so no reply. I got dressed and left, we were there for two hours with nothing to show for it but quite a bit of confusion.

She replied after she was out of surgery, a few hours later and said was disappointed that her orders weren’t carried out. She said she would take care of it, clearly irritated.

As a patient what do you do? I couldn’t make the doctor do the procedure, my opinion didn’t matter at all. They looked like they felt they were doing the best thing for me, how can you argue with that? I want the best and most appropriate care possible.

To date the procedure hasn’t happened.

Weird things happen in life. I imagine that for every one weird thing like this you see, there must be more happening behind the scenes. It is reasonable to think doctors have differences of opinion just like any other people do. For some reason I assumed they always agreed and had an idyllic peaceful coexistence in the workplace. This experience doesn’t exactly shatter my assumption, but it does give me pause.

For now there is a new driver and my surgeon and I are passengers along for the ride. I have to trust that we are going in the right direction.

Cancer as a positive

Positivity can be a very powerful force. Just as negativity can suck the life out of any situation, positivity can breath energy and life to any situation. There are negatives with a cancer diagnosis, some are predictable, some are like a sucker punch to the gut. Fighting negativity is worth every bit of energy put into it.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is not cool at all, but it might answer some questions.

I got a Peloton for my birthday in 2017, a little early, it kind of kicked off birthday season that year. It is cool because there is a lot of data to track and trend about yourself. You can watch yourself becoming more fit over time. It is pretty satisfying to watch the effort pay off in real time.

Without warning my metrics started heading in the wrong direction.

I went to see a cardiologist. Not on a random whim, but because my father died from his second massive coronary at 52. I had zero desire to follow in his footsteps.

The cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health, suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to lose weight and get more exercise. I told him about my exercise metrics. His brow furrowed and he assured me that it was not due to my heart. He suggested that I see an ENT or an allergist to see if there is something seasonal going on.

I did just that. The ENT gave me a turbinate reduction, an office procedure that makes it easier to breath through my nose. It was very cool to breath so much easier and I figured that would make a difference on the metrics.

They kept trending down. After about a month I started feeling nauseous after eating for a few hours. I went to see my primary care physician who was concerned but wondered if it would settle down after fully healing from the turbinate reduction. Wait and see. Either it did settle down or I got used to it, either way, things got better–except the stats from the Peloton.

A month or so after that I found the indentation and lump. I immediately jumped to breast cancer as the cause. The worst possible case that I was aware of. While all of this was terrifying, there was a teeny tiny part of me that was relieved that there was something treatable wrong with me and everything was going to get better….eventually.

I really tried to nurture the teeny tiny part, focus on the positive and remind myself that this too shall pass.

Since completing treatment I have been working on getting back to where I was prior to being ill. It is a long road and I sometimes have to fight through the negativity. Sometimes I give in for a little bit and need help to get out of it. The negativity does pass though.

It is nice to see my metrics improve in real time. I feel a little better and a little stronger every day. It is a frustrating that they aren’t getting there faster and it is very frustrating when they go down sometimes, but they come right back up these days.

I don’t know if things will get back to normal or if this is the new normal, but I keep working at it.

Short term disability is NOT a vacation

Having a critical illness is terrible. It is no fun at all. Even in the darkest of times there are some pretty good moments that you cling to in order to make it through the rest of the darkness. Overall, being too ill to work isn’t cool and being on short term disability isn’t a vacation.

Finding out that you have a critical illness, in my case breast cancer, isn’t easy. Coming to the realization about the duration, this wasn’t going to be a long weekend type issue, isn’t easy. Trying to deal with the reality of what is coming and how to help your family through it isn’t easy. Having four surgeries, numerous procedures, four chemotherapy infusions and countless tests along with all the appointments that go along with the aforementioned list isn’t easy.

There are people who don’t understand, they think you are off work just sitting around watching Netflix. I have watched so much Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and on demand video it isn’t a cool thing to do anymore. It kind of became a chore to find something interesting but not too long because of my frequent napping. Something that could easily be paused for sickness or other physical issues, for doctors appointments etc. Something entertaining, but not a huge time investment. I often turned to video games. Legend of Zelda, breath of the wild was my go to.

They don’t understand that how many miles are going on the car for trips to appointments to see medical professionals taking care of medical chores. That was eye opening for me and I was living it, I put more miles on my car going to and from appointments than I did during the same amount of time going back and forth to work. Each trip after surgery was at best uncomfortable, sometimes they were downright painful. I paid dearly for each of those miles.

They don’t understand that you are putting on a brave front when out in public or when people come to your home because you are trying to have some small sense of normal. Nothing is normal during a critical illness. Any time you have a chance to have a normal moment grab it, they are fleeting and very far between.

They don’t understand dealing with a critical illness while on short term disability is a wonderful benefit and a necessary benefit, but it is not a vacation. Not all time away from work is created equally. Just like not all time away from family is created equally. I have had some vacations that were so jam packed with adventures I almost needed a vacation to get over my vacation. I have had some business trips that were so low key and easy it was the next best thing to a vacation without actually being one. The reverse is true for both scenarios.

There has been no part of being on short term disability that I would wish on anyone. Except the surviving part, I wish for all people to survive their critical illness to thrive afterward. Some part of me is glad there are people who just don’t understand. I figure it means they don’t know anyone who is dealing with a critical illness. Certainly they have not dealt with one personally, otherwise they would have some compassion, understanding or empathy. I am sure they don’t mean to be thoughtlessly insensitive, unkind or in some cases just plain cruel. I am sure they are just unaware they being that way, at least I hope so.

The thing about a critical illness is that it happens on many, many planes: there is the physical fight, the emotional toll, the family piece, the spiritual battle, the financial issues, the torn sense of identity and more. When someone tries to suggest that you were on vacation while on short term disability take a deep breath, they are not going to understand at all, if they were capable of understanding, the thought wouldn’t cross their minds let alone speak it aloud.