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Celebrating Imagination and the Wonderful, Wild Ride that is Life

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Celebrating the 4th

This comes a little late, but I have felt the need to share these thoughts for some time now. They are like pebbles in my shoe, constant thoughts that I know I need to share to feel somewhat unburdened. We have all been busy this summer, but especially on the 4th of July, celebrating Independence, the America we all adore, the men and women who have fought around the world for our freedoms and still are. It is a very special time in America. Summer! Often it is spent with family and friends, barbecuing, partying, and shooting off fireworks. It is truly a time for fun and celebration.
I am going on eleven years from my diagnosis. But the 4th of July, despite its fun and spectacle, feeling of homecoming and warmth will, unfortunately, always be tainted for me.
July 4th, 1999 I spent shrinking in fear on a hillside while I tried to pretend I was enjoying the fireworks. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was awaiting my surgery which was scheduled for the following week. At that time, I knew I had an extremely large mass that had been growing unbounded in my breast for over a year, cancer in my lymph nodes, and I had seen the faces of dread on all the physicians who had examined me in the previous days; their barely composed anger at my delayed diagnosis, and their struggle to not squash what little hope of survival I had. I also had a wonderful husband, a seven year old daughter, and a six year old son. I shrank on that hillside knowing that I had an alien inside me. I felt like a ghost among the living. I don't remember seeing much of the fireworks through my tears. Thank heaven I was surrounded by my small family and our good friends who knew how hard it was for me to hold it together and had the grace to let me privately cry.
That year and a long time after were filled with moments of paralyzing fear, lost hope, and panic. Many holidays were ruined, many celebrations virtually unbearable. But the 4th of July continues to be an annual reminder of that time. Even though I am eleven years alive after a devastating diagnosis, I am brought back to that shrinking young mom, just as I'm sure so many veterans are cringing inside at remembered gunfire, explosives, and friends left on some battlefield. I left the carefree person I was then on the cancer battlefield eleven years ago. These days I spend grateful to be here, focusing on the joy of life. But some memories never fade. Some memories will linger with me forever.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's not all doom and gloom...

Well, I went for a great ride last night, despite a sore knee from mountain biking at our cabin this weekend. Riding 15 miles on a gravel road at a low speed did me in, but a 30-mile ride at over 16 mph didn't seem to phase me. Go figure. Still, I am off to see my sports medicine doc this afternoon to most likely get a shot of cortisone. I hate those, but it does work. They are more proof that I'm getting older. Don't get me wrong: I love the getting older part, but not the degenrative joint disease part. Chemotherapy, anti-cancer medication, and the early loss of my ovaries have really done a number on my skeleton. Of course it doesn't help that I have a genetic propensity for arthritis.

Wait a minute...I said no doom and gloom, so here goes:

I know I'm in for a good ride when I get into a rhythm or cadence. Sometimes it just happens naturally, sometimes I have a song stuck in my head and it's the perfect timing for the speed I want to go. At those times, I'm sure I look ridiculous. Not only am I riding like all get out, but I burst into song, too. And here's the truth...I really don't care how I look! I'm sure I have a big grin on my face and I may get more than a few strange looks from people (especially those on other bikes, walking their dogs, or pushing a stroller) but I'm usually gone before I see their full reaction. Who knows? Maybe a little bit of my good vibes are contagious and I just might turn someone else's day around.

The theme for last night's ride was particularly infectious. Not only do I love everything this guy does, but this song just happens to be my ring tone. (Yes, that's what you're hearing in the aisles of's Paolo!) Paolo Nutini. If you don't know him, you really should. If you think you know him because of his "New Shoes" song that gets played on the radio, you really need to listen to his other stuff. It's so much better than that. He sings with emotion, and writes a lot of upbeat songs that just make you smile and want to dance. As you will see when you visit his website, he's Scottish. Be sure and check out everything from "Candy", "Growing Up Beside You", and his newest live performances, the blues classic by Etta James "I'd Rather Go Blind", and the Louis Prima song, "Buona Sera". It's all awesome. If only he would come tour in the US. I would be one happy camper.

So here's the link to his video of "Pencil Full of Lead", my inspiration for yesterday's ride. Warning: this is absolutely infectious.,pencil-full-of-lead-wilton-hall-live-version_13.htm

Okay, I couldn't stand it...I added the video for "I'd rather be blind" below.

What can I say? This just makes me HAPPY :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Questions and concerns

I was going to title my last post "One at a time". To put it mildly, it was a bad day. And a tough week. One in which I have to think hard about what I'm doing here, now, today...what am I doing with my life?

I am living with cancer. I don't mean that I'm living with it in my body. As far as I know (as far as anyone who has ever had cancer can know) my body is free of cancer. But I live with it. In fact I've practically made it my best friend. I spend more time with it than I do anyone or anything I know.
I realize that sounds scary. Maybe even a little crazy.
The realization of it certainly has stopped me in my tracks.
But, it's true. Breast cancer and I are office mates. I think about it all day long, and often it comes home with me in small ways and in big ways. This week, though, it seemed to take over the world.

In the end, I decided not to call the previous post "One at a time" because I really did want it to be for and about Michelle.

But today is different. Today I am left with questions.

In addition to Michelle dying, another young woman named Lisa died. I did not know her well either, although I met her in person at a conference this year and knew her online through the YSC's message boards. Those message boards are on fire, friends! If you ever feel consumed with worry or concern over house payments, job losses, or anything, just take a moment and slip into those message boards for perspective. They are filled with the pulsing current of women newly diagnosed and frightened, women seeking answers, women looking to vent, or women in search of the friendship and support that they can't get elsewhere. I moderate one of the message boards, the "Newbie" board, so I am constantly reminded of what it is like to be newly diagnosed with breast cancer. On there you will find everything from the crazy to the profound. It is truly where the rubber of life hits the road of reality.

Lisa was a very prominent, wonderful presence on the message boards. She reached out, she gave of herself, she asked for friendship and got it, she was fully involved. Her death has left a hole in the lives of many women on those boards. The pages of tributes to her go on and on. And most of these people only knew her through her posts.

In contrast, I know another woman, an older lady. She was sweet, kind, shy, soft spoken and unassuming. She has been suffering with metastatic breast cancer and its treatments for some time now. The last few days she was failing rapidly, but still holding on. Yesterday she died. The visitors at her bedside were few. She had no partner, no husband, no children. I was distressed at the image of her last breath being taken alone. Happily, I believe she had company at the end.

I asked why there was no one with her. I asked if she had any friends. I was told, "No. She has co-workers."

I don't need to point out the utter disparity between these two situations.
I can't even say for certain that one is better than the other. The result is the same: someone unique, irreplaceable, and once alive is gone too soon, as a result of this terrible disease.
But I know which image I am more comfortable with. I know what makes me happy.

But as a friend said, it's really all about choices, isn't it?

So I'm mulling over mine. And I'm keeping a close, unwavering eye on my office mate.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For Michelle

I can't say I really knew her.
In fact to say I knew her at all would be an overstatement.
I met her. I had more than a few conversations with her. She was nice.

She didn't know me.
She may have heard about me from others, but I doubt it.
In the end she probably knew me better than I knew her.
But what she didn't know is what she gave me.

She gave me a bicycle.
Of course, she knew that part, and I was not the only one she gave one to.
But she never knew that along with that bicycle she gave me so much more.

She gave me my body back.
She gave me my own strength.
My ability to believe in and trust my body again;
To know that my body could be a thing of power, maybe even sometimes grace.

When you have cancer, it is hard to trust your body.
I felt that mine failed me twice.
I felt at times that my own body was trying to kill me.

But through my donated bike "Crash"
and training to ride in last year's Tour de Pink,
I found my body again: different, permanently changed, but in some ways better than ever.

She gave me a bike.
So simple.
Yet it is a gift for which I cannot find the words of thanks.
She gave me the ability to dream on two wheels.
She brought me hours of joy, intense happiness, introspection, and closeness to life.

I met her during the Tour de Pink and learned that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was terrible and painfully ironic since the company she worked for, Giant Bicycles, had been a sponsor of the Tour de Pink and donated bikes to all the survivors who rode. I am sure it was a strange position for her to be in. She was part of, but in many ways not one of the celebrated survivors in the crowd. Instead she was quietly on the sidelines, doing her job, and still getting used to her own diagnosis.

She died from metastatic cancer yesterday. She was young. I have no idea if she had a family, a partner, or kids. I know that she had a beautiful smile. I am sure that she will be greatly missed by a large group of people who knew her well and loved her. But I will never forget her.

In thanks, Michelle, I took "Crash" out for a 26 mile ride. We went fast, averaging about 16 miles per hour. It was a strenuous ride, a hard one, but I am so grateful that I could make it and think of you. In each labored breath I took I hope that somehow you heard me saying thank you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


My mind wanders when I'm on the bike.
Sometimes it turns to poetry,
but...we'll see.
Mostly it takes in snapshots along the way,
roadside moments
that inhabit my thoughts
so I'll have small conversations with myself.

The lupines are fading too quickly.
They are going to seed.
Their colors once rich and thirst quenching are like paper.

My mind grabs colors along the way;
the pink of my shirt,
the yellow of the wildflowers in the ditch
the blue trailer and vibrant red of the farm tractor as I speed past it on the road.

Thoughts sift in and out of me like wind.
The word courage comes to mind;
What does it really mean?
I think about people who die. They have courage too.
There are the other bikers who wave or nod as I see them.
I try to remember their names from the conversation we had weeks ago.
There is a sale going on at the dirty little grocery store.
Hamburger is $1.99 a pound.
And coke is 4 packs for $10.
Who waters the potted flowers
on a very ancient looking grave stone
in a Jewish-only cemetery
with its sign dated 1888?
I stop thinking when I have to focus on the hill;
You know the one: by the golf course.
The one I hate every time, that never gets easier.
My shoulders tense as I approach it and it's not long before my legs are burning from the pain of it.
My thoughts are back as quickly as my muscles loosen,
back to the birds in the tree
and the faded work glove lying alone in the center of the road,
the clink of glasses from a nearby house.

I've made my decision before I've even thought of it.
I am riding longer tonight.
I can tell by the speed I am going as I reach the intersection,
the one where I turn left toward home,
but instead I keep riding, straight ahead:
lost in thought and rhythm.

Evidence of a Life