Depression

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Depression

Depression is a lonely business. It sits behind one’s steady eyes, shaking your faith in yourself, your place in this world, your desire to stay in it. Sometimes it all just seems too much. And when you’ve felt like this more times than you can count, and you’re on the downhill slope of life anyway, and you’re so tired, just so tired of keeping on keeping on, you just might reach for something, anything really. Whatever calls your name while you look for a speck of light in the dark inky world of despair you can’t see as temporary anymore. This time I reach for expensive, brand name Prozac. It keeps me here. This time.

Prozac cropped

“Older”

Prompt: 40 minutes: “Older”
June 17, 2013

Older

Older is a loaded word, a plant growing out of its pot, roots bound together in a clump of experience seeking desperately fresh soil, nutrients, water — that life-giving, liquid oxygen.

Older is not for sissies. No, it takes a bit of bravery, or at least the show of “a stiff upper lip” as my dad would say. “Everything’s super,” he says, when I know he must have aches and pains, feelings of grief and loss somewhere down inside that aging body, now a size small.

Older is watching your parents age, Dad shrinking, Mom getting shorter, rounder. Older is watching myself get rounder, wrinklier, heavier, more tired, less patient inside but more patient in front of youth.

Mom and me at Holden Beach 2011

Mom and me at Holden Beach 2011

Older is the home around me — walls needing paint touch-ups, cobwebs stretching from chair legs to corners, not having moved for months, years.

Older is the dog lying contentedly beside me, an occasional sigh sounding full of resignation perhaps. Or maybe it is just sheer acceptance.

Acceptance. That’s what older requires. Acceptance — of life, people, days gone by, limitations. Really? Or am I just too sleepy this morning to be more upbeat? Maybe older is needing more leisure time to wake up, or maybe it’s having so much leisure time that I don’t “wake up” until the day is well on its way.photo-22

Older is sighing when I don’t feel like making the effort to open my eyes, get out of bed, put the pen down, and go on with my day.

Older is knowing you have surgery in less than four days to remove cancer from your body. Older is looking around the house at the accumulation of a lifetime and just not knowing where to begin to sort it all out. I don’t want those I’ll leave behind to have to do it, yet I’m not ready to burn it, shred it, dispose of it just yet — I might live many more years and wish I could find those notes I took when I was in my 30’s, trying to sort through life. I might want to get inside that young woman’s mind again sometime. Words can take me there.

For now, I think I’ll just close my eyes and rest a bit.

Breast Surgery, Ducks and Pillows

Breast Surgery, Ducks and Pillows

Her warm dark eyes smiled at me through the wispy remains of the anesthesia.

“Hi. My name is Sandy and this pillow was made by some volunteers here for you to take home with you to help with the pain during your recovery.”

pillow from Duke RaleighSandy handed me a black pillow with bright colorful figures on it, about eight by twelve inches and rather light and thin, not stuffed too full.
“You can hold it under your arm, kind of supporting your breast and it should help with the pain,” she explained.

A friend had reminded me of the pillow trick the day before, but I hadn’t looked for the little one I’d used five years ago after my first breast cancer surgery. I tend to block out the negative and only remember the positive. I hadn’t wanted to give thought to how miserable I might be post op, so I hadn’t read up or prepared much this time. Instead, I’d paid bills, wrapped and delivered birthday and graduation gifts and cards, stocked the panty, the refrigerator, the freezer. I’d returned clothing items I’d had sitting around for a while, made phone calls and scheduled appointments, stitched up holes in Roosevelt’s Mr. Bear and Squeeky Chick, and bought fabric for window treatments I had put off for years, keeping busy until the day of the surgery.

“Thanks,” I replied with heartfelt appreciation, looking intentionally into Sandy’s liquid chocolate eyes.

All morning I’d noticed the kindness of the staff at the hospital as they dealt with a gurney that was hard to keep going in a straight line through the corridors, a temperamental mammogram machine, my questioning the wording on the consent form before I signed, wanting to make sure “partial mastectomy” was the same thing as “lumpectomy.” Who knew what was going on in each of their own personal lives? But here they were at work, me just another patient in a string for the day, the week, their career, and they were offering me such individual compassion and attention. How refreshing and reassuring to experience great care despite the fallout of Obamacare swirling all around.

The most difficult hour that day was spent with Dianne and Jennifer in radiology. They ended up taking another ten mammogram images (I’d had 25 the previous week). Because my tumor was vey small and located so close to the chest wall, it was difficult to image.

“Ok, let’s try this,” Jennifer decided. “Stick your butt out like a duck and lean into the machine. I’ll just reposition your breast … I’m really sorry I’ve got to pull on it so, but I’ve got to get as much of your body into the machine as I can.”

At one point the machine malfunctioned, while I was uncomfortably pressed into it.

“What can I do?” Jennifer asked Dianne. “Sometimes if we stop and start over and spin the arm all the way around, it will start working again. Why don’t we try that?”

“Because I don’t want her to have to keep doing this any longer than necessary,” Dianne said as she began turning the tight knob by hand with her own brute force. She made a joke about getting her workout for the day, but kept a smile on her face. “I’m sorry this is so uncomfortable, but we’ve got to get a good image. You’re going to be bruised and sore tomorrow. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay, you’re just doing your job. I’ll have to tell you my duck joke later,” I said good-naturedly. “It’s actually a joke my grandmother used to tell.”

“Okay! We like a good joke, but we need you to be still while we try to get these images. I wish we could give you something to take the edge off, but we need you standing and able to follow directions. As soon as we’re done here, you’ll be getting some sedation.”

The two ladies retreated behind the safety screen and snapped another x-ray.

“Yes! We’ve got it!” Ok, don’t move a muscle! Just keep leaning in with all your weight and keep sticking your butt out like a duck. I’ll go get Dr. Campbell.”

Dr. Campbell, a male, came in and introduced himself and described what he would be doing. I would need to stay standing in the awkward position without moving while he injected lidocaine into my breast, then inserted a guide wire, marking the area to be surgically removed. I would need to stay in that position until more mammogram images confirmed the wire was in the right place.

He got down on the floor, literally squatting or lying (I couldn’t tell which from my vantage point), reaching up through the opening in the panel of the machine and started the stinging injections of lidocaine. When my breast was numb, he began inserting the guide wire into my abused left breast.

They lightened the tone for me and for one another, peppering the stale, dark room with casual, upbeat comments. When the doc was finished, they took one last image.

“Perfect!” he pronounced. “That is perfect!”

Dianne and Jennifer came back over to me and released the compression, but kept me still while they covered the wire in gauze and bandaged it to my skin for the surgery. I was glad I wasn’t able to see the wire sticking out of my body.

Before they escorted me back onto the gurney, I told them about the mama and papa ducks and the little baby duck getting lost and how they tried to find their way back home. “So, the father duck stuck his beak under his wing, ruffled around in his feathers, popped his head up and said, ‘My instincts say go north.’ I imitated the duck movements with my own nose bending down near my right armpit, then popping up to deliver the next line of the joke. “The mother duck stuck her beak under her wing, popped her head up, and said, “My instincts say go south.” So the baby duck stuck his head under his wing, then popped his little head up and squeaked, “My end stinks too, but it doesn’t tell me which way to go!”

They laughed as they got me back onto the gurney and began maneuvering me through the doorway. I hoped maybe they would remember it to tell the joke to other ladies poised so uncomfortably in the restricted position — maybe take the edge off another woman’s nervousness in the future.

After my surgery, back in Bed #5, Lois, the tall nurse dressed in dark blue, explained my post op instructions. It was hard to take it all in — the bright lights, tight quarters, people in and out, voices beyond the curtain, still groggy. Lois explained that I couldn’t shower until the next day, needed to wear a bra like the surgical one I found myself in upon coming out of anesthesia, and that Dr. Tolnitch would call with the path report and to set up my follow up appointment in a few days. I had no memory of anyone putting a bra on me (“free” surgical bra, woo hoo! Or maybe it will be an outrageously expensive line item on my hospital bill!). I wondered how in the world someone had managed to accomplish that if I was a limp dishrag. Or maybe I wasn’t. I was glad I couldn’t remember. I’m all for good anesthesia.

I vaguely remembered the large male anesthetist giving me multiple shots in the upper chest on my left side to complete the nerve block. I recalled some nice nurses before that — maybe Sandy, too? — stooping down in front of me as I sat on the side of the gurney, the large man behind me injecting stuff in my upper spine and shoulder area. Later, Michael said they had had some difficulty getting me numb. Thankfully I can’t remember this very clearly. Let’s hear it for sedation!

Back at home, days later, I still cradle the black pillow with its bold cactus, animal, Southwestern hunting motif, positioning the cold gel pack wrapped in a pillowcase between it and myself. I lie back and close my eyes. I see Sandy’s lovely deep brown eyes looking kindly into mine. I’m glad it is done.

This Time

June 10, 2013
Prompt: 10 minutes: “this time”

This Time
This time I am braver. I haven’t even sent out an email yet, put it on Facebook, keeping the cancer private, more or less, for the past week. This time it feels so much more manageable — almost routine. I mean I know it’s surgery and I don’t like pain or recovery exercises, but this time I don’t have a fear of death — I truly believe it’s just a little left over from five years ago, a remnant. But we’re going to get it good this time, and hopefully I won’t have to deal with this again for a long time, if ever.

This time I’m taking it in stride. Getting my ducks in a row, practically speaking, but the emotional component either hasn’t hit me yet, or it’s really just not a big deal the second time around. I guess if the docs were more worried, maybe I would be, but …

Eight Weeks

Prompt Writing: 15 minutes: “Eight Weeks”

Eight Weeks

In eight weeks, I will have breast surgery behind me. For good. I hope. Know, I believe. (Ha – I meant “No, I believe,” but how much better is “Know, I believe!”) For GOOD, I tell you! Knock cancer cells on their butt! Excise them out and banish them from my life forever.

In eight weeks I will be packing for my dream trip — a writing workshop with Elizabeth Berg in Chicago! She is my all time favorite author and I devour her books as soon as they are published. She writes so cleanly, simply, yet touches my heart, my soul, my mind — silky strips of pastel fabrics flowing over my body, feeling so poignant, so delicious I want to savor every word, reread every paragraph, every book. And I get to meet her! In person! In a smallish group of women writers! It’s only money (and you can’t take that with you!).

Berg Books

My awesome husband agreed the moment I asked him about spending such a large sum on myself, taking off and leaving him with Roosevelt, who whines whenever I’m away. He knows how much I love Elizabeth Berg. From the first book of hers I read, tears leaking from my eyes as I tried to explain to him why Pull of the Moon grabbed me so, poolside where he was attending a dental conference — us not married yet and in that getting-to-know-each other phase, me still grieving the loss of my first marriage. Not yet 50, but well into identification with Nan’s feelings of confusion, needing solitude and adventure all at once. Yes. In eight weeks I will have just that.

Perspective

How bizarre it is to know there are malignant cancer cells inside of you, just waiting, waiting, waiting for an MRI to provide more information so you can decide how to proceed. “Simple” lumpectomy, again, no nodes this time? That would be awesome!

Awesome. Really? isn’t awesome a relative term now! I guess most of life IS relative, dependent on your experiences in the past, your hopes for the future, your interpretation of the present.

Interpretation. A choice as to how to view your life. Perspective.

Bring on the day.

“This book”

Prompt: 25 minutes: “this book”

This Book

This book I’ve tried to finish, publish, get out there for so very long, still sits on my cluttered desk, pulled, wrinkled, from the bag I took with me to the fall writer’s conference this past weekend with high hopes of making headway in a seemingly never-ending process, like this sentence that can’t seem to find its ending. Period. Not. There’s more. There’s always more to edit, reword, rewrite, rethink. “Is it good enough yet?”

Ahh.. the real question: “Am I good enough yet?”

There’s the pit of the peach, the core of the apple, the stabbing, tingly feeling in my heart when I dare to release this baby into the world for other eyes to see. Will they like it? Will I be embarrassed or proud as I timidly show it to my writer friends to evaluate, judge, critique?

It’s dangerous business, this putting yourself out there on the page, like lying naked on the doctor’s cold examining table, paper crinkling under you, vulnerable, chilled, a bit anxious now that you’re here. New thoughts surface, concerns begin to pop around in your head like microwave popcorn during its last 30 seconds: wondering deep down that maybe they’ll find something you never knew to think about – some strange new diagnosis with a complicated name you’ll have to learn how to pronounce, and spell, to Google it. You arrived for this routine follow-up, not thinking to fear, but now suddenly it occurs to you they might find another suspicious lump or bump or something that needs an MRI, an ultrasound, a biopsy, hopefully just minor editing and not a complete rewrite.

This book I’ve been trying to birth is a pretty book. A coffee table, a gift book. A hopeful book. A book to inspire and uplift. The need to get back to writing it, honing it, word by word, has kept me fighting these last five years. I want to see it published before I die (which could be a very long time, mind you), and so I persevere. In between doctor’s visits, the time-consuming devotion to alternative avenues of healing mixed with traditional allopathic, insurance-covered appointments, tests, labs, imaging, I occasionally pull out The Joy of Shelling and reread, edit a little, research to fill in gaps, imagine it in print.

This book reflects the world I wish I could live in all the time – the pensive, calm, centered, connected place I think we all hunger for, though we often cannot name that restless feeling, that inability to focus, to stop flitting from this to that. A world in which we can just be! For heaven’s sake, the incessant need to do this and that can drive you crazy, really. Take this vitamin, see this specialist, “You don’t have a hematologist? Well, here’s a referral.” I realize the next day that yes, in fact, I do have one – my oncologist is also a hematologist! Whew! I can avoid filling out another long medical history intake form, and maybe write a few words on my book or my blog instead. To slide back into the fluffy, cozy covers of the inner experience – writing, shelling, meditating – it’s all the same: a welcome escape from medical appointments that drain me, suck my time, my life, my writing life. Reaching for my iPhone, Words with Friends and Scramble an easy diversion from the fluorescent, windowless, sterile rooms of answer-seeking, blood draws, IV’s, plastic orange urine collecting containers, saliva-soaked cotton rolls stored in the freezer until I can find a UPS site nearby so I can send them off to some lab in the mountains whose results will offer me new data, a new treatment plan, new hope of returning to a life of normalcy, now 22 years in my past.

Or maybe I should just finish this book.

The Wait

Monday, May 7, 2012 8:40 am

I am not a morning person. I am a night owl. I stayed up late last night paying bills since I had some mental energy, playing Words With Friends on my iPhone, taking a bath with my White Angelica scented Epsom Salts and reading Anne Lamott in the tub. I joined my sweet husband in the bed about 3 am. I know. I know. I know I need more sleep, but today is a big day and I just couldn’t get to sleep.

In an hour I will leave for UNC for my first appointment ever with a neurosurgeon. A neurosurgeon. Really? Who ever thinks they might have a brain tumor? Who ever thinks they might have to go through brain surgery, radiation, chemotherapy? Isn’t that just in Grey’s Anatomy? Movies? In the lives of friends of friends on Facebook? Occasionally a real friend or family member? But not you. Or your immediate family.

There have been so many prayers from so many friends and friends of friends of friends on Facebook and friends of my real friends and family members. Whole church prayer groups, prayer chains, women’s groups, book clubs, small groups.

I think I’ll ask this neurosurgeon for a new MRI. I’ll bet that sucker is GONE! In the name of Jesus, it is no longer THERE!

Amen.

It’s the night…

It’s the night before the PET scan that will reveal whether the 9.4 mm “lesion” on my brain is anything to worry about or not. Obviously I’m glad to have some answer as to why I’ve had such increasingly frequent and debilitating headaches, especially during the past 6 weeks, complete with nausea and pretty much housebound more days than not. I’m hoping for the benign tumor possibility. Or even the post-stroke inflammation/healing chance. Or maybe even a brain abscess? But my docs seem to be worried about metastasis from the breast cancer I had in 2008, almost 4 years ago. Or a new primary tumor. I think I’d prefer the new primary? It’s kinda confusing and surreal actually. I know I do not relish thinking about the PET scan showing multiple metastases in other parts of my body. So I’m not going there. Not yet. No, though it’s 3:30 am, I DO plan to go to sleep soon, asking my angels to guard over me and my loved ones through the next 24 hours. We should know more by then.

Interestingly, during the 48 hours after the MRI results were explained to me by my endocrinologist, then my oncologist, I shed a few tears (and a few expletives!), but after an hour, I became very calm actually. Peaceful even. Somehow, I just know it’s all going to be okay. However it turns out.

Just look at all the amazing gifts of the past two days:

* my husband has blossomed, no, catapulted! into an amazing, engaged helpmate, determined to overcome his own personal fears to stick right with his soulmate through whatever is ahead, regardless of the personal vulnerability and pain. I’ve been blessed with Michael’s adoration and devotion for over 12 years now. I thank God for sending him to me when I was so alone. This is just another opportunity to deepen our connection, share and cultivate even more love, add to our memories of a rich, supportive, warm, devoted marriage.

* Hallie and I have had several poignant, honest, loving and direct phone conversations, and she will be home for a bit this weekend. We’ll actually be celebrating her 23rd birthday (a week early) with all the family! And I DO mean CELEBRATING!  Celebrating LIFE and LOVE and FAMILY! Having Hallie “home” from her new home in Charlotte is a rare treat. And her little dog, Hershey, will join the party! Jen, Jay, Jonathan, Elijah, and new baby Olivia will come, and hopefully Betsy, Josko and Kristina, too.  All the family – yea!! Hallie says she may be able to work from the Raleigh office a week or two if I need her to come home to help out – so sweet! On Wednesday, Hallie sent Caroline and me one of her daily email Bible verses from an app on her iPhone. How happy I am to know my girls have each other for support, and that they rely on God and He/She is cultivating their maturing faith. 

* Caroline’s text message to Hallie and me the same morning after the MRI news was a photo taken from her car on her way to swim at 6:45 am Wednesday – a huge, beautiful RAINBOW!!! The 3 of us group text messaged about how awesome is our God!!! Monday night, before the MRI, when we knew nothing was amiss except I’d been feeling lousy for awhile, Caroline and I had gotten together for dinner, planned months before, at a new restaurant for me, Relish. (Timing is everything – the next day is when I got the news of the lesion.) We enjoyed the carefree kind of mother/daughter time that we empty nesters live for! We celebrated her new job, back with The Link Group, laughed, caught up, laughed some more (both my daughters are quite funny and crack me up quite often!!)  We stuffed ourselves and then completed the excursion with our traditional stop for frozen yogurt (love some cake batter fro yo), as much to extend our time together… until we closed down the place at 10 pm! She’s taking next Tuesday to spend the day with me during her week off between jobs – originally planned for watching movies and hanging with me since I’ve not felt like doing much. Perhaps she’ll be driving me to medical appointments, but, whatever, we’ll be together! And she tells me she can be available for whatever I need. Two of her friends have even offered to bring us a meal! (Michael says we’ll take that, even if we get good news and there are no treatments to deal with! Thanks, Carrie and Chelsea.) Caroline and Cameron’s church, All Saints UMC, is praying with us – thanks Molly, Greg, Mendy, Leon, Laura, and all the rest! It’s so reassuring to know my daughter has such a strong and generous support group. That’s one of the more interesting realizations a parent experiences as their children go out into the world on their own – that they are no longer the center of their child’s universe. Praise God for leading them to healthy, supportive friends and churches! I can see into the future and KNOW they’ll be taken care of, regardless of what unfolds in the months or years to come – this is THEIR experience, too – not just mine.

* My mother and father are definitely worried, but they are being so supportive – keeping positive for me, keeping their anxiety to themselves. They want to be here with me. There will be plenty of time. As a parent myself, I feel their pain. God, be with them at this time. I need to be here for my children, my husband, myself. I thank God that my parents are healthy enough to drive to me when I do make those calls. Their love has sustained me for more than 52 years now. Halleluia!

Then, of course there are my closest friends and family members:Molly, Carolyn, HarDarshan, “the bridge girls”: Connie, Robin, Carolee and Susan. Connie is “my longest thing”, as I call her – the person closest to me and still in my day to day life, even though we’re miles apart, for the longest time – since we were freshmen ADPi pledges in college. We’ve talked several times a week for the past 25 years, after reconnecting 34 years ago now. We listen to one another with complete unconditional love, asking the hard questions, the important questions, holding the mirror for each to see our lives more clearly. Thank you, Connie, for ALWAYS being there. How wonderful to alternate and share the roles of supporter and supported like a fluid, easy, graceful dance.

Wednesday I talked to the scheduler and requested a late morning Friday PET scan. (I had another appointment Thursday, and Michael is off on Fridays, and he definitely wanted to be with me.  And I DON’T do mornings well.) They called me Thursday to say there was only one available appointment Friday – it just happened to be at 11:45 am!  PERFECT!  AND Dr. Graham (oncologist) wants me to bring the CD-ROMs with me and he will work us in tomorrow afternoon to go over the results! So no agonizing over the “maybe this, maybe that” over the weekend!

Wednesday night, Michael and I had our workshop with Fran Wellgood, where we study the application of metaphysics in our lives. What an awesome group to be with at this time! The love and support and my calm and radiance (their words) blessed the entire group and just swirled good, loving energy around and around the room the whole evening! We definitely left feeling uplifted and empowered to face our own unknowns, our own fears, with faith and assurance in the Creator! Thanks to Fran and the Wednesday night group.

* I’ve been working for the past 6 months on my high school reunion to be in Little Rock, Arkansas the end of June. I’ve been on Facebook a lot and have reconnected with many old friends. I’ve enjoyed frequent communication with the planning committee members, who have become quite good friends even though I didn’t know them well in school.  I recently got added to Kenneth Mont’s “Inner Soul Room” prayer warrior Facebook Group. Over Easter I found myself drawn to reading all the scripture and prayers written by such strong Christians of faith. I have found my strength for the 21+ years of living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia through personal yoga and mediation times, reading spiritually uplifting books, meditating, praying, but without the health to attend morning worship services, have missed the community of faith. Who knew that Facebook would elevate my spirit so – would provide constant posts from many of the 2000 members so that anytime I need a shot of Jesus, I just click and read! Or listen. Tonight someone posted Avalon’s song about praying, with a montage of children, adults, brothers and sisters in Christ praying. I “shared” that on my wall. So I can find it and play THAT whenever I want! Thank you, God, for Kenneth Monts, music, and this amazing group of prayer warriors. 

* Facebook in general has, in 48 hours, linked my friends and family to spreading the word of my/our situaton to their friends for support. The outpouring of love and calls and texts and emails has been amazing already! And this “lesion” could be NOTHING!  ESPECIALLY with all these prayers uplifting me!  I’ll bet it’s being zapped before I go in the tunnel – or whatever a PET scan does! Thanks for technology, emails and Facebook.

So, I must get to bed. But I just want to say, on this evening before I get results, that I am grateful to you all and feel totally loved and supported. And I KNOW that whatever I will face, I will be blessed and led to make choices that are prefect for ME, and that the results will also be perfect for ALL. I am staying in the present and acknowledging all the gifts life is presenting me in EACH AND EVERY JOYOUS MOMENT! I hope to nap during the PET scan. And if I can’t sleep, I’ll certainly be breathing in love and breathing out fear, singing and chanting mantras of worship inside my perfect brain! Thanks be to God!