RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COMING OUT OF HIBERNATION

As terrible as it is, I realize that I have become lazy and unmotivated during this past winter. I DO NOT like winter and prefer to wrap up in my blanket and read, get on my laptop, watch movies or whatever…anything rather than go somewhere. That is exactly what I said I would never let happen when I retired. But now, hallelujah, spring is officially less than a week away. Time to shake off that lazy personality that I do not admire and spring forward. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

I got back on the treadmill this week. I have one of those big milestone birthdays staring me in the face this summer and I intend to meet it head-on. My friend, Fred, used to always quote that TV commercial, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So, I best get moving again.

When we got back from Texas, I harvested the remainder of the herbs that I had planted at Christmas time, cleaned out the Aero Garden and, last week, replanted with lettuce and kale. It’s up already!! Aren’t you excited? Well, it’s a small amount, I know,  but, hopefully, enough to tide us over until we can plant outside.

Yesterday, I started the vegetables for this year’s garden. So many plants – so little space. Should be interesting. Now, once I replenish my supplies, I can get some flowers started. Can hardly wait until we can get outside and start planting. I know – that will be awhile. But, how uplifting to get the process started anyway.

Still working on my 40 Bags in 40 Days de-cluttering project. Got a little behind but did some catching up today and DEFINITELY WILL catch up and complete by the end of the 40 days. Today is the 15th day and I think I’m at 13 bags right now. Not too bad!

And, here’s a big one. I got back to my writing this week. In fact, this afternoon I even submitted an excerpt from what I have completed so far to a publisher for possible feedback. What are the odds? Probably not great, but better than if I didn’t even try.

Now, if I can just get motivated to finish our tax stuff and get it to the CPA!

Yep…I’ve definitely come out of hibernation and it feels good!

Later.

VIENNA WAITS

My initial post on this blog almost a year ago now, announced my impending retirement. blog quote smallA friend commented by welcoming me to Vienna with the lyrics to the entire Billy Joel song. It’s a great song about slowing down and taking time to live….hence retirement…and my favorite part of the song is

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old”

I bring this up now because that friend, Howard Jones, released his second book today…”Searching for Dunderhead” and that is an inspiration to me to push forward on my own project. It has long been my dream to write a book. In Howard’s case, retirement has allowed him to climb mountains, sail the seas, go on safaris, become an accomplished photographer and write two books. (I think it’s two) He personifies the lyrics, “You can get what you want or you can just get old.”

I follow numerous blogs on the subject of reinventing retirement and, regardless of the names…Encore Voyage, One Mom’s Journey, Out of the Frying Pan, they all seem to have one common thread…the quest to live this new life we’ve been given to its fullest. For many people, that means travel. For others, a second career path, adventure, or following a dream. Regardless, it seems we’re all searching for Vienna via our own path. And that’s pretty exciting.

“And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
… Vienna waits for you”

Later.

CHAPTER SIX

As I awaited the results of this latest biopsy, I was unaware that a huge bend in the tunnel lay just ahead. This bend would temporarily shatter my belief that I was invincible and that all of this stuff I was going through was just a temporary inconvenience.

 

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2010

 

So, prior to my biopsy I was told by several doctors that it was highly unlikely this would turn out to be cancer. In fact, there was a 90+% chance that it would be benign. So, why was I not surprised this morning when the Endocrinologist called and said there were problems with my pathology report?

Here’s the deal as I understand it. The biopsy showed follicular cells in the tumor. Follicular cells apparently are almost impossible to get a good read on whether they are benign or malignant but the fact that they exist greatly increases the odds of the tumor being cancerous. Therefore, they will have to remove my thyroid because the risks of not doing so are too great. There is apparently a slight chance that it could be some rarer form of cancer, so I will have a blood test on Monday when I go in for chemo to determine whether or not that is the case.

I meet with a surgeon next Wednesday and I assume will find out then when I will be having surgery.

Cathys TunnelSo, one more bend in that tunnel. I am really looking forward to the day when I can hit a straightaway. Then at least, even though it is long there will be a chance to see a pinpoint of light at the end. For now, I’ll hold fast to the song that started this blog…

“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

For you, for you

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel

Shining bright at the end of this tunnel

For you, for you

So keep holding on.”

 

Pray for the people of Haiti.

Later.

Stephen King

IMG_1698I have just finished reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and found it to be very interesting. Some of his better insights I have shared through my professional Facebook page over the past several weeks. Another, that I read yesterday is the basis for this blog post.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” – Stephen King, On Writing

This is so true. I had a terrible time getting started, in spite of the fact that I have been kicking around the idea of one day telling this story ever since I began my first blog in December of 2009. It is unbelievable how many things can surface to hold you back. For years, it was just that I was working full-time so did not have the time to focus like I would need to if I were to write a book. But, once I retired and, seemingly had the time, it still took me months before I was able to actually get started.

I think that a lot of it was self-doubt. I had great difficulty believing that I could ever have the ability to do this. That is one reason why I have so enjoyed reading books on the writing experience itself, written by several successful authors. They validated all of those doubts I was having and, in a sense, gave their permission to have them…just not to let them stop you.

At the end of his book, Stephen King summarized what he had hoped to get across to readers – to me. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

I am so excited to share that, as of this morning, I am now working on Chapter Four of my book. The hardest part was definitely just getting started. The second hardest part was writing Chapters One, Two and Three, because they deal with events that happened prior to the time that I began my blog. From here on out, I have something to refer to and to fall back on rather than having to rely on gut-wrenching attempts to recall events and emotions that happened six years ago. Most of what happened from that point on is documented. It will be interesting because I am still working on coming up with a format that will allow me to incorporate those posts and comments into the book. And, most interesting, will be re-reading it. I have not gone back and read any of it since it was written. But, piece by piece, it will now be re-read, re-written and transformed into book format. “Onward and upward” as one of the classiest ladies I know always says. Onward and upward!!

Later.

Chapter Two

I’ve been working on some research this morning for Chapter Two, but find my thoughts wandering to the enormity of the project itself and how it all came about.

One day you’re supposedly healthy and the next day you’re diagnosed with cancer. That is a tough thing to wrap your head around – not only for you but for those around you. You’re the same person you were the day before, but you suddenly feel like you are defined by cancer, People are concerned, but most feel awkward. It is hard to know what to say, so many resort to platitudes…you have to stay strong…you are going to be fine…God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…you don’t look sick…etc, etc., You reach a point where you want to talk about anything but the cancer…not because you don’t want to share your journey, but because it is exhausting to feel like you have to be strong for the rest of the world so they will feel more comfortable.

When I began treatment, I began my first blog. That was my way of giving myself an outlet where I was free to express myself and also a means of sharing with family and friends without having to retell my story over and over. I’ve been a quiet person all of my life. I never sought to be the center of attention – never liked to get up in front of the class…never wanted to feel like all eyes were on me. But the strangest thing happened as I made my way along this journey.

While I never believed that cancer defined me, it somehow gave me a voice. In May of 2011, I was named the first honorary chair of the Komen Siouxland Race For the Cure. honorary chair I was also named the Komen Siouxland representative on the New Balance Breast Cancer team, I was later selected to drop the puck and ride the Zamboni at the Sioux City Musketeers annual Pink in the Rink. I was interviewed numerous times on local television and was the subject of a feature article in the Sioux City Journal. To this day, I have no idea how all of that happened, but the even better thing that happened is that I found myself being placed in situations and crossing paths with friends and acquaintances who were themselves now touched by cancer and were in need of someone to talk to. I was able to give them a voice in an atmosphere where they could feel comfortable to talk freely and to express their feelings. This continues to this day.

That is why I am determined to pursue the writing of this book. I believe that if you’re given a song, you should sing it. If you’re given a story, you should tell it. And, if you’re given a voice, you should use it. I’ll leave the singing to my talented husband, but I do have a story to tell and a voice with which to tell it. And, I now have the time, so that is what I hope to do, no matter how long it may take.

Chapter One

I PROMISE that I won’t bore you by force feeding every chapter of this book as I write it through this blog or through my Facebook page, but just had to share this today for two reasons…that milestone moment when the first draft of Chapter One was actually in writing and two – to hopefully garner feedback and suggestions for what I have done and what I should do.

I shared this quote on my Facebook business page a few weeks ago. “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

So, once she completes a first draft, she shares it with her trusted advisors in order to get their feedback. I figure if an acclaimed writer like Anne Lamott does that, perhaps I should too. At least today. SO, here goes. Chapter One.

The Tunnel Re-visited

Chapter One – Diagnosis

Is it irony, the hand of God, or mere coincidence that I am sitting at my computer this morning, Thursday, October 22, 2015, to finally begin the book I have talked about for the past six years?

The story actually unfolds back in the fall of 2009. Blessed with good health, I had not visited a doctor’s office in more than five years. However, I was feeling myself being pulled in the direction of finding a physician I could feel comfortable with as I aged, someone I could establish a medical relationship with, prior to it becoming some sort of emergency. My husband, Ken, had been forced into making that same decision the year before, following a serious health issue. He was very comfortable with the physician he had selected so, I decided to follow his lead.

I called to schedule an appointment and was told that the doctor required all new patients to undergo a complete physical. I didn’t know it then, or even suspect it, but I now know that call may have saved my life.

I went in for a consult, exam, and the entire battery of tests that could be done in-office. He then scheduled me for additional tests at the hospital….x-rays, DEXA Scan, colonoscopy and a mammogram. That appointment would be later that same week, on Thursday, October 22, 2009.

I reported to Radiology first thing in the morning.  Things moved quickly and went relatively smoothly, and before I knew it, we were in the elevator headed to 6th floor for the dreaded colonoscopy. Once upstairs, we were told that the doctor was running late so we would have some time to relax in the room before someone came in to set up the IV. It was shortly thereafter that a bizarre chain of events began…a chain of events that leaves me shaking my head even today.  How did I not suspect something?

A nurse knocked on the door and came in to tell me that I had been requested to return to radiology for one more picture. I do admit to finding that somewhat odd, but, not once did it cross my mind that there might be a problem. I just went back downstairs and followed their instructions.

Later, there was another knock on the door. This time the nurse told Ken that someone was there to see him. I might have found that even more bizarre than I did had they not been on the third attempt to get an IV going at the time and that was occupying most of my attention. Who would be stopping by to see my husband in the colonoscopy prep area at Mercy Medical Center? Seriously? I asked him that when he came back into the room and he just shrugged it off. He said the nurse from the doctor’s office (which is there at the hospital) had just stopped by to remind him he was past due for a blood test. Seemed odd, but I took him at his word.

Finally, they came to wheel me in for the exam. I heard the tech say to the doctor, oh, this is the mammogram. Apparently word was spreading quickly – to everyone but me. The gastroenterologist then asked me if I get mammograms. Seems pretty random, but I told him that, as a matter of fact, I had just gotten one that morning. He dropped the subject. I was given the anesthesia at that point and remember very little from then until late afternoon.

……….

I was still very groggy when we got home and Ken had to get to class, so I laid down and went to sleep. Next thing I knew, he was waking me up with the news that I had breast cancer. They wanted to meet with us at the doctor’s office at 4:00. Apparently, when he had gotten called out of the room, it was, indeed, to talk to the nurse from the doctor’s office, but, it was not about his blood test. It was to tell him that the mammogram had revealed breast cancer and they didn’t want to tell me personally since I was just getting ready to go in for a procedure. They set up an appointment for us to return later that afternoon, and he was forced to keep that information to himself until he came home and woke me up.

In retrospect, I don’t know if it was the fact that I was still feeling the anesthesia or if I was already disengaging from all that I was about to go through, but, I had almost no reaction to what he had just told me.

We went to the office and were shown the photos of the unmistakably cancerous tumor. She asked if we had a preference for surgeon and then scheduled an appointment with him for the following Monday. That would be the beginning of a total whirlwind of events that would wind up with me fighting to find my way through a very dark, long and winding tunnel.fight

We had made plans to take a week-end trip to Omaha for Ken’s birthday and I saw no reason to cancel. I know that Ken spent the week-end thinking about cancer. I thought very little about it. I was already putting up the walls that would shelter me from an emotional rollercoaster that I was apparently unequipped to handle at the time.

——————————————————————————————————-

So, there you have it. Chapter One. I welcome any and all constructive criticism. And, oddly enough, just as I completed the first draft of Chapter One, I received a call from the Cancer Center, wanting to schedule me for a mammogram. Hmmmm.

Later.

Cathy’s Tunnel Re-Visited

As I looked down at the dashboard on my treadmill last night, I noticed that without even realizing it I had just broken the two mile mark, arms pumping and my head reeling with thoughts and emotions. Usually I am checking every little bit to see how far I’ve gone and calculating how long it will be before I am finished. Also, I never walk on a treadmill without holding on. My balance, especially since chemo, is not that great and I have never been comfortable with the idea of face planting myself onto the belt before slamming into the concrete wall behind me. But, last night, the adrenaline was so powerful that, without even thinking, I walked the entire two miles without grabbing the rails.  l had just completed Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and it was as if the fog had suddenly lifted. The uncertainty had been replaced by a manic enthusiasm. It feels as if I now have a clear picture of what I need to do and why I need to do it.

In one of the closing paragraphs of the book she said, “No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn’t care about reaching out to the world, when you weren’t hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen.” Those of you who follow my Facebook business page may also recall this quote. “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” **

I realized that I had become paralyzed by the pressure to get published. I have long wanted to write this story. I have talked about it for years. But, it was much easier to talk about when I was not really in a position to do so…when I was “standing there doing some job into which I had fallen.” But, once I left that job – once retirement made this challenge a real possibility, I found myself silenced by insecurity, laden with excuses and totally unable to shake that “deer in the headlights” feeling.

What I have now come to grips with, though, is that I have never said that I want to publish a book (though it would be nice). I have always said that I want to WRITE a book. And, I need to write this particular book for ME. If it would turn out that, once completed, I felt it might be worthy of publication and that ended up happening, it would be great. But, I have given myself permission to remove that pressure.  And, this is why.

Cathys TunnelTwo weeks from today, on October 22, it will be six years since I received my cancer diagnosis. And, I am just now admitting to myself that from the moment Ken told me of the diagnosis (yes, he was the one who gave me the news) through the entire 2+ years of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, diagnostic procedure after diagnostic procedure, the emotions, the terror, the uncertainties, I never allowed myself to truly feel. I never allowed myself to grieve. I put up a brick wall between myself and what was happening to me. I woke up every morning and just put one foot in front of the other, doing whatever I needed to do that day. I never questioned God, never blamed God, but never turned to God either. I was totally removed from the experience in my mind. I was playing a role. I documented everything in a blog – Cathy’s Tunnel. It was a means of keeping family and friends informed of all that was going on. But, I realize now, that it was also a way to record what was happening to me without having to actually experience all of the raw emotion. It was something I could go back to later when the fear had diminished, to remind myself of the journey and to thank God for bringing me through it. It is time now for me to face the demons that I didn’t face during those years and, I believe that re-writing my story in book format will allow me to do that.  It’s funny, but I have never gone back and re-read that blog. It’s still out there in bloggerspace, but I have never gone back except to grab the above photo. It was taken in California on a family trip to celebrate my birthday in 2007 and subsequently became the face, so to speak, of Cathy’s Tunnel

When setting up my new office space, I selected that same photo, different view, for my wall. revised tunnel photoIt allows me to stay focused on just how far I’ve come in the past six years. I’m a different person now, I know that. So many people have told me how strong I am. Of course – a brick wall is very strong. But, the wall is coming down and it is with that manic enthusiasm mentioned earlier that I will now re-visit Cathy’s Tunnel. I have no idea where that visit will lead. And, I have no idea whether or not I will someday write other books. But, I do know that starting now, I WILL write this book. Who knows, maybe portions of this very blog post will become the “shitty first draft” (see the October 3 post on my Facebook business page) of the Introduction or Forward to that book. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Later.

** Bird to Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott 1994

INSPIRATION

I found my inspiration! I came across these books, today, written by my son, Matt, when he was seven years old. He wanted to write a book, or several books, and JUST DID IT! He was author, illustrator and publisher. Nothing holding him back. He just moved forward and made it happen. Since we are well into October and it will soon be Halloween, I thought I would share one of my favorites with all of you. And, just maybe, in the process, I will also be inspired to JUST DO IT!

How could I not be inspired by the creativity of my seven-year-old son. Enjoy.

Later.