Clear Skies, Cancer, Boxes of Chocolates


I want it to rain. Rain, rain, rain, steady hard rain with the power to wash the hot, smoke-filled air and put a damper on the hungry forest fires raging out of control all around.

But then, I often want a lot that is beyond my control.

Just a few short months ago my doctor told me things were looking so good that I didn’t need to worry about resuming chemo until the fall. And just as I’d written my enthusiasm and joy about this amazing news, we learned that our niece had died of her cancer, and that our good friend’s cancer had gone on a massive offensive, progressing to where it had not been in many years, and later, that another friend who lives with chronic debilitating pain was suffering a turn for the worse.

I never did publish that post. It seemed gloating, self-absorbed. But then a short five or six weeks later, I got my own bit of bitter news—some suspicious pain, a reminder that I never did finish treatment back in March, some worrying test results, and an all-new treatment schedule of my own, one that was definitely going to interfere with my enthusiastic summer plans. No big surprise, but still, my husband and I sat down at the kitchen table and wept.

The good news was that we were going with a different drug, one that carried no risk of the horrible neuropathy and systemic pain I experienced in February, one that was going to be “virtually impossible to have a severe allergic reaction to.” This was calming, hopeful, gratitude-producing information.

Still, it is a chemotherapy, medicine on a mission to kill cells both problematic and essential. I tend to be both optimistic and anxious, sometimes in equal parts, sometimes in swings of extremes, but I set out for my first treatment relatively tilted toward optimism. It went well. Until two days later, when I again found myself weeping and cursing both the universe and our not-very-progressive state of cancer treatments. I spent nearly the entire time between my first and second treatment feeling miserable in old familiar and entirely news ways. And tonight, at 4AM two days into this most recent cycle, I’m insomniac (thanks to side-effect medications), and waiting desperately for rain.

Life, eventually for most of us, turns out not to be the proverbial box of chocolates Forest Gump’s mother promised after all. It has far too many bitter, not-at-all chocolate pieces, bad-tasting surprises covered in very bitter-tasting chocolate look-alike.

Still, through the heat this past week, I found sweetness alongside bitterness again too. My daughter has been wanting to accompany me to treatment for a long time now, and had the day off this time. She’s just finishing a move, and carrying sorrow and struggle of her own, but she put her curly hair up, and put on a bright yellow dress, and looking like the original blossom of beauty, drew smiles by the dozen walking through the halls of the cancer clinic with me. She held my hand as they started the drip, and we chatted, and I felt loved. The treatment was the most stream-lined ever, record-breaking for me. Not a hitch, in and out in an hour.

Another dear friend, highly skilled with tiny strategically-placed needles, offered instant nausea and pain relief and an amazing endorphin bath for my tears the next day. I felt loved. Another friend, by way of the music she makes, offered her version of prayer. I felt loved. Another offered steaks for the boys and birthday cake for two of us. I felt loved. Another yet is planning an intimate potluck birthday get-together to include a few other friends and our now-grown children. I feel loved. My sister, dropping in with a lovely plate of cooling watermelon in bite-sized juicy delights, had set a picture of me as her phone wallpaper. “I was having a moment,” she told me. I felt loved. My mom called to see what goodies she could cook up for us: Baked ribs for my husband, sugar-free apple-crisp for me, and who knows what else she’ll whip up. I felt loved. She’s 80, which is how long I plan to stick around in spite of the odds against me. Others texted and called, offering to come visit, or chat by phone, which I will joyfully accept with every significant return of energy I experience, I promise.

My youngest son, in excruciating back pain over the past month, picked me up from my needling friend’s place yesterday, and elicited the same enthusiastic looks and smiles as had my daughter’s sunflower-yellow dress the day before. No, it wasn’t a yellow dress, though it may have been as much his shorts and shirt as his charming grin. My son from California, the one who will be wearing his outstanding laugh and energy and medical mind, is coming for a visit, and will be here for his sister’s party, and mine, and his grandma’s, and just hang out with all of us.

I feel loved.

I have new and better chemo side-effect management pills this round, so should be much better by today’s end. Better yet, I get this week off treatment entirely. I’ll get to go to my daughter’s birthday party, and I’ll get to go to my own, and I’ll get to hang out with the kids. Love, like light on a horizon, or stars in a dark desert sky, beckons.

It may not be exactly the summer I planned, but I’m going to be hopeful the treatment schedule will accommodate at least one traditional highlight for me: Four days of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, for which we always go to great lengths to get tickets for. Many favorites coming this year: Angus and Julia Stone, Brandi Carlile, Danny Michel, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Harry Manx, Sinead O’Conner.

So alongside the box of imitation-chocolate covered bitter misery, there have been genuine chocolate surprises. And, from the weather experts yesterday, a promise of rain, lots of rain, cooler clearer air. I’m counting on them.

Why we blog, and A Taste of Summer

I took this at The Enjoy Centre this morning, on our way in to brunch with an unlikely but wonderful little group of friends we meet with once a month. It’s the most enormous greenhouse I’ve ever been in, gorgeous, and permits Edmontonians little tastes of summer and virtual patio-dining long before summer actually arrives here in Alberta.

I took it because my eyes are hungry for beauty at this time of year. We’re well into spring, by the calendar, but the ice has been off the lake for just a week or so, and the trees are mostly still bare.

Over my Reuben, one of my friends, Millie, suggested my blog functions kind of like a journal for me. She’s right, though of course there’s much I’d put into a journal but not publish. But it got me thinking about why I—why any of us—blog.

Bloggers blog for all kinds of reasons, from what I can see—reasons that range from therapeutic ones, to growing their business, to a generous sharing of ideas and information, to just being addicted to the keyboard. Many of us write just for the sake of writing.

I do write as therapy; Millie’s quite right. I’m in need of all things therapeutic at this post-cancer, menopausal (not-quite-ready-to-work-tons-but-often-lonely-and-not-quite-ready-to-retire) point in my life. I write to organize and clarify my thoughts and feelings, to share with others what I’ve learned or experienced or discovered, to talk to others who may have  had similar thoughts or experiences or points of view, and because I miss the community of readers I had when I was writing a health column a couple of years ago. Those conversations honed my thinking, and expanded it, and gratified me in many ways, and one of my goals is to rebuild a little of that community.

I also write because I’m one of those with itchy fingers; I just need to write. I sometimes write because I need a break from what I’m doing, and have nobody in the next office or cubicle to exchange a hello with. I often write to finish unfinished conversations too, hence the tagline of the site. (I almost always have afterthoughts in the wake of social interactions, and it’s a nice way to tidy up the loose ends.)

So there it is. I’m one of hundreds of thousands out there doing it. I follow bloggers who offer me the kind of information I’m after, fresh insights, and—maybe most important to me—those who offer me their humanity. And, for right now at least, I’m enjoying adding my own little melody to the vast and fascinating symphony of sound out there.

It’s not for everyone of course—some people don’t like to write, most are far too busy with more concretely productive ventures, and many are too private for it. But I’ve found amazing connections through writing in the past—met wonderful people, some of whom have become wonderful friends.

Why do you blog, or not? Chime in, please, it’ll be fun.