Poetry….again?

Here we go.  It’s that time of year. Once again I’ll be writing a poem a day for the month of April following the National Poetry Writing Month 2014 prompts and challenge.  It promises to be an interesting adventure.  Some of the poems will be brilliant, some will be funny, and some will be total crap.  This month is about getting the words out, practicing my art, and not judging myself along the way. 

Thank you for joining my journey.

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Giving Thanks Once Again

There is so much to be grateful for this year.  Thanksgiving brings out those feelings each year.  It makes us sit and reflect on all those things in life that really are important.  For us, this year the list is huge.  Almost too huge to imagine.

Retirement on Mardi Gras day was everything I’d hoped.  So much life out there to live, and finally, the chance to do it at full speed.  Something I’d always dreamed of, but there is a price to be paid for playing too hard, even for a seasoned adventurer like me.  After a couple of fast paced months of Keith’s ultra-light soaring, motorcycle riding and my canyon hiking and ultra running the injuries set in.  Fortunately  for Keith, it was my turn in the barrel.  I spent the entire summer on crutches, and then, just as I was able to finally stand on two feet again, I broke my wrist in a rough hot air balloon landing.  Guess I should have kept my feet on the ground. Still, there was much to be thankful for from those hobbled times.

Retirement took a little getting used to.  Those who had gone before me told me it would be this way.  But I was certain that I was better than that; that I would need no adjustment period because I was just so happy to no longer be working.  But even my super-sized ego couldn’t escape the rocky transition phase into this new life.  And so, I suppose the Universe decided I needed to be hobbled, to humble me once again, and get this lesson firmly in place.  Apparently, I don’t learn quickly.

The horizontal time when I was on the couch or on crutches was one of the most difficult of my life.  Funny, you’d think that being the spouse of a cancer patient would be harder, and maybe it was, but horizontal left me too much time for self-pity.  Horizontal kept me from running and my endorphin drugs that keep me sane.  What I had was plenty of time for writing, or reading, or contemplating, but all that I could muster was complaining.  And Saint Keith took the brunt of it.   God help us that we never both end up hobbled at the same time.

Getting off crutches made me appreciate everything.  Just being able to limp in the boot was an improvement.  I was able to enjoy everything even if it wasn’t at full speed.  Like participating in the Running with the Bulls race in New Orleans with my sister, Judy, and Molly.  They pulled me in a red Radio Flyer wagon with my boot waving in the wind, while roller derby “bulls” chased us, goring us with foam bats.

By Labor Day I’d taken up swimming at a nearby lake.  I still couldn’t run, but the 45 minute swim across the lake got my heart pumping and started that endorphin drip that had been missing.  Keith would take me to the lake once or twice a week.  Sometimes he’d kayak alongside me while I swam.  Other times he’d just wait on shore in his beach chair reading.  We’d always pack a lunch, and as I lingered over it after my long swim I’d realize that this was the retirement I’d dreamed of.   Sitting on the beach of a clear mountain lake on a Wednesday with no one else around.

With the sprained ankle I couldn’t ride my motorcycle so I rode on the back of Keith’s bike to Street Vibrations in Reno.  With the broken wrist I couldn’t raise the sails or the anchor in our sailing lessons, so I became an expert one-handed helmsman.

I joined Red Cross.  We painted the kitchen cabinets.  We camped in our trailer at Pismo; we were finger printed to become FEMA inspectors; spent two weeks in New Orleans rebuilding our brick and mortar home; tilled and toiled for our newly planned vineyard.  We got the all clear on Keith’s most recent test results.  And I stared running again.

Even after the infamous birthday balloon crash I was happy to just be able to run.  I’m certain I looked crazy running with my bright orange cast, especially with that stupid grin I couldn’t contain, but I did it anyway.

It’s the little things you become grateful for.  It’s not the huge life adventures that make the most impact, it’s the little things.  It’s hair on what used to be a bald head.  It’s being able to get off the couch and have a lakeside lunch with your healthy husband.  It’s enjoying Sunday evenings because you’ve got nowhere to be Monday morning.  It’s not worrying about sleepless nights, because you can sleep whenever you like.

It’s freedom.  It’s what I’ve always dreamed of, and it’s finally mine.  I’ll be giving thanks for a long time.

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Mardi Gras 2012

Wow, so much change in one year.  It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras with my sister and niece, and preparing for life with a chemo patient.  So much has changed.

The first piece of good news is that Keith has had his six month follow-up CT scan and he has an all clear report on the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.   We expect years of continued good news on this front.

The next good news is that his symptoms from the Brachy Therapy treatment have leveled off and are beginning to slightly subside.  These symptoms will continue to decline for the next six months to a year, but at least we are on the downward slope of that journey too.  His first post Brachy PSA test is scheduled for the end of this month, and we are expecting good results there also.

But the super good news, the best-biggest news of the month is that I officially retire tomorrow, Mardi Gras Day.  Wooo! Hooo!  Hard to believe that it’s really happening.  We have so many things  planned.  Little trips, visits and outings here and there.  The big plan is to just enjoy life.  Enjoy each other.

We are so blessed.  So lucky to have this time in our life.  I feel like we’ve won the lotto.

 

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Day 365

One year ago today Keith visited his primary care doctor for his annual physical.  This time it was a little special.  We were both looking for clean bills of health as we prepared for my retirement.  Our plan was to both get physicals before I left my job, and my health care, the following April.

Within hours of his appointment in Davis he was sitting in the office of the ear, nose and throat specialist in Sacramento having a biopsy for what later would be determined to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

I’ll never forget that call.  He was sitting in the Kaiser hospital parking lot in Sacramento telling me that he was going in for a biopsy.

“Oh,”  I answered, “for the high PSA levels?”

We had already seen the results of the blood tests in preparation for his physical and had noted the increase in PSA from the test the year before.  This is what ended up being the trigger for the prostate cancer biopsies.  But for the moment he was talking about something different.

“No, the other one,” he answered.

“What other one?”

“The one on my neck.”

“What one on your neck?” I asked.

“The lump on my neck.”

“I didn’t know you had a lump on your neck,” I said, shocked.

“Well, I didn’t think it was anything and I didn’t want to tell you until I got it checked.”

So there he was, alone, having this biopsy.  As the technician took the sample, she and the doctor both noted the dark black color, which is usually an indication of cancer.

Keith, shaken, called me again from the parking lot after the test.  I offered to leave work and go get him, but after talking for a bit he said he would be fine to drive.

Little did we know that this would be just the beginning of year of tests, more tests, treatments, surgeries and more tests.  But 365 days later we are happy to report that all is well.  All the treatments have worked exactly as planned.

Keith will continue to be monitored for the recurrence of both cancers for the rest of his life, but that will not stop us from having a life.  A good life in fact.

So once again, one year later, we stand poised for retirement.  I think this time we will actually pull it off.  In fact, I have a new fishing pole waiting and ready for the retirement plunge.

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Lord I Want to be in that Number

So here we are, three weeks into 2012, and doing just fine, thank you very much.

Keith continues to struggle with even more severe brachy therapy side effects, but it’s nothing that keeps him from having a full life.  The biggest struggle is his inability to pee the way he wants to.  This is a normal side effect of the radioactive seed implants, and the doctors said to expect it, but no matter what you expect, you never understand the full impact until you are knee-deep into it.

Since he can’t pee with the gusto he’s used to, he can’t drink beer with the same gusto either.  What goes in must come out, and if it won’t come out, well, it can’t go in.

But life continues on as normal on every other front.

Last weekend we were in New Orleans for Katey and Beau’s wedding.  Katey is the daughter of our good friends Molly and Buck.  What a fun wedding.  Very New Orleans style with gospel singing jazz band in the wedding, a second line parade after the wedding that we marched in from the church to the reception at the wax museum.  Too much fun.  Too much good food.

My sister, Judy, and her family were there also, so it gave us all a chance to visit together over dinners and wander through the Quarter.

Keith had his brachy therapy follow-up with his doctor the week prior to the wedding.  All is going exactly as expected.  The doctor says Keith still has a nuclear reactor in his pants, but we can cease with the barricade spooning at night.  Hallelujah.

Today we’ll meet with Foresthill friends to watch the Niners play the Giants for the National Championship.  Last weekend we were dragging the wedding party out of the bar at half-time in the Saints/Niners playoff game.  I know, I’m a California native and should have been rooting for the 49ers, but part of my heart will always belong to New Orleans and the Saints.

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Welcome 2012

New Years Eve and New Years Day was spent in a somewhat non-traditional way for us.  Believe it or not, December 31st was not a drinking day for us.  Not really at least.  We spent the day taking a drive out to Big Trees, about an hour from Foresthill on the road to French Meadows.  We’ve wanted to see the grove of big sequoia trees, so we packed a lunch and headed out. 

When we first arrived we were the only ones wandering this primeval looking trail.  The trees were huge, not a drive a car through huge, but still pretty big.  It was pretty impressive.  By the time we made our way back to the trail head we were greeted by other arborists enjoying the cool sunny day.  It felt more like spring than December 31st.

We rounded out the night with drinks by the bonfire next door.  A couple BudLights for Keith and peppermint tea for me.

Keith is doing great.  Still suffering from some “mechanical” side effects south of the border, but his energy and overall health is pretty much back to normal.

In fact, he felt so good that he volunteered to cook breakfast for a bunch of crazy runner friends.  He dropped me off at the Cool fire station where we met up with 13 other runners for the 16 mile trail run to our friends, Grant and Leslie’s house.

Keith drove out to the house where he had a full breakfast waiting for us when we arrived three hours later.  We were starving.  The smell of bacon wafting from the house when we were still a quarter-mile away didn’t help.  Pancakes, sausage, fruit, breads, mimosas and beers completed the menu.   Each of the runners brought something to share.  My share?  My pancake king extraordinaire.

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The Sun Also Rises

I watched the sun rise on this final morning of 2011 curled up with my blanket and cup of coffee.  Through the filtered pine trees I could see peeks of red orange clouds churning above the brighter light as it  broke through the horizon.   Waiting and watching for the sun to rise is always such a peaceful time.  Not one filled with challenge or conflict, but rather of hope.

Bidding 2011 good-bye is much the same.  From the corner of my eye just now I saw Keith  watching the news as Hong Kong rings in the New Year.   The fireworks and reporters all happy to wish farewell to  the struggles of  2011.  For me it’s confusing.  The year has brought challenges, but it has also brought something more.

I’d have to be blind to not see the struggles of 2011.  The earthquakes, tsunamis and occupies that have defined the year.  A congress who can’t play nice and a government who can seem to do nothing about it.  And of course there are the personal struggles.  The cancer diagnoses, work challenges, and the loss of friends.

These would all point to a year of grief.  One we should be happy to be rid of. But still there’s this underlying feeling that it has been a good year.  A year of learning and resilience.  A year of hope.  We’ve learned the value of being connected to health, to each other, and to friends.  Looking back a year I see now how much we’ve grown.  The understanding of what is important in life and the openness that comes with that lesson is something I’m not sure we could have learned any other way.

So saying good-bye 2011 is a mixed bag of emotions.  But welcoming 2012 feels much like watching the sunrise.  I’m grateful for the beauty of the red and orange turmoil as it passes and filled with hope as it is gradually replaced by the brighter light.

Happy New Year

 

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