Imagine

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Chocolate Cake 1, by David Blaikie on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

(In which I decide I am getting a little better at not telling everyone I have cancer, but then decide maybe sometimes it can be helpful.)

We grocery shop at a food coop that has been ridiculed the world over for its insistence on rules and the monthly work requirement that seems to be impossible for some to adhere to. It saves us so much money that the work requirement hasn’t been a burden for us (particularly since I’ve been on disability leave, and J has had caregiver leave, so we haven’t actually worked there in a while, just shopped).

One of the oddest jobs at the coop is cart walker. These are people wearing reflective orange vests who stand around outside the coop waiting for people coming out with carts. They then accompany you home with the cart (if you live in the official coop radius – we happen to live on the last block of it) and walk the cart back to the store for you.

Sometimes it’s a meditative, silent walk (except for when you curse as the ornery cart hits a sidewalk bump) and the walker trails behind you, listening to music or talking on their phone. Sometimes you get a talky walker. I try to figure out what kind of walk it will be in the first five minutes. Sometimes I am surprised. (Once, I spent the entire 12 minute walk arguing with a walker who, on his way back to pick up another shopper, had stopped down the block – in easy sight of the coop – chatting with a friend for ten minutes while a line of people waiting for walkers piled higher and higher. It took most of the walk home for him to apologize and acknowledge he’d been an asshole. Yes, at these times the caricature of the food coop seems more like a photograph.)

Once, a few weeks ago, possibly before or around the time I learned my lesson about cancer talk, I was coming back from the coop with a walker and mentioned my illness. He began telling me about his mother’s battle with cancer and also with the insurance company – she was a hotel worker and didn’t have great coverage so they nickeled and dimed every little thing and he, her son, educated himself and became her advocate, arguing when the doctors either didn’t mention or refused to perform certain tests or procedures.

I felt good about my conversation with this walker, and I told him he’d done such an important thing for his mother, even with the negative outcome. So I was willing to let it slide when he began telling me to seek alternative treatments or change my diet. But he mentioned guided visualization, and even though it was one of those things that sound kind of obvious (so I said yes, I’d heard of it), I honestly hadn’t known what it was about.

Tonight I finally got around to Googling it and just went with the first source I found (overriding my librarian tendencies). Reading through this overview (which all seemed to be quoted from the same book, so it was like guided imagery Cliff’s Notes), I realized that I’ve been doing exactly that for a long, long time – to deal with insomnia (have forgotten to try it lately) or (in elementary and middle school) to imagine what kissing some boy or other would be like. Visualization seemed exciting to me, like something I could get started on right away! That is, after studying the diagrams in that Wall Street Journal story a few dozen more times in order to understand exactly what needs to happen on a cellular level.

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Then I got to the ecommerce section of the site and I felt kind of dirty… and even more determined to make this a DIY. Maybe I can even post a step-by-step on Instructables!

My walker today wanted to talk at length about the evils of plastic. I didn’t disagree with her entirely, but I was briefly tempted to shut her up with cancer. I overcame the urge. She eventually moved on to cornbread, and I knew we were safe.

Back in the world

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Black Lives Matter protest shuts down Interstate 35, by Fibonacci Blue on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I suppose one measure of self-absorption is how soon after your birthday you return to normal life, to stuff you need to do and can’t get out of by saying it’s your birthday and you don’t feel like it. (Tried that yesterday but in our rush to leave for my birthday dinner, it became apparent I’d need to fold some laundry after all.)

The kids were out in Queens for the night. J and I entertained the many possibilities the evening offered. We could… eat! See a movie!  Drink! Ultimately we only had enough energy for the eating (which was fabulous) and one glass of sangria each. We aren’t heavy drinkers and we’re out of practice too. We got back to the neighborhood and considered visiting our favorite bartender at the Latin restaurant down the block, who makes fabulous mojitos, but we admitted to each other we were just too tired.

There was also the matter of two or maybe three helicopters flying low over the neighborhood, shining bright searchlights in the direction of what we figured out was a march related to the Eric Garner and Michael Brown killings. Instead of heading home we walked down the avenue until we saw the cordon of flashing lights, and arrived in time to see a group of a few hundred (or more) people head down a side street of our neighborhood. We followed the marchers (staying on the sidewalk) and then watched an endless procession of paddy wagons behind them (from the reports I read, arrests yesterday, at a march of perhaps more than 40,000 people,  were minimal). I learned today that they marched all the way to a housing project where yet another unarmed man was recently fatally shot in a stairwell by a police officer, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was a ten mile march.

I was sorry once again not to be able to join. I was inspired once again by the refusal to let this injustice get swept under the rug.

I was grateful to think of something other than myself, my age, and my current health predicament. And sort of relieved that my self-absorption has its distinct limits.

We went home. It was quite early. A party raged upstairs, but we hit the hay earlier than usual. It was just enough birthday for me.

Still here

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Creative Commons Birthday Cake and Candles, by D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m 43 today. I don’t have any mental picture or scrawled extrapolation of what I once imagined myself like at 43, because as I’ve said here before, I’m not much of a long-range planner. When I was ten years old and visited New York City for the first time (graffiti’d trains and all) I decided I would live here some day. And now I’ve been living here for – incredibly – almost 17 years. After all that time, I have yet to generate another life dream that is remotely attainable.

If 4 a.m. is “the hour of 30 year olds,” according to Wisława Szymborska, what is the hour of 43 year olds? I’ll venture to say… maybe 5:45 a.m. Just too early for waking up without great pain, though you can remember when you used to get up at all hours for babies, or once in a great while, pre-kids, to run a road race. (My running life – now that seems like ancient history.)

Last night I was up at 4:15 and it took me a while to get back to sleep (if I even managed). I listened to the upstairs neighbor snoring. I wondered if Land’s End was going to drop their prices any more before I buy Young A some new snow pants. I tried to think of nice things like waking up to breakfast on a tray. I tried to think of what I’d write in my “birthday manifesto,” something I have been writing in my journal as long as I can remember.

But all of these things were eclipsed by the unknowable (until January 5th) thing, which is hovering over me like a giant anvil that could squash me flat like a cartoon character. It doesn’t seem to be there during the day. It comes at night, when all is quiet except for snores and stray wails of sirens and the intermittent blast of the ferry horn. I wouldn’t call it fear, sadness, or anger I feel, because there’s this sense of not knowing what I will need to respond to when I get the news. The blank to be filled in. An anxious blank.

But that’s over for today. From the kitchen I hear J puttering, the cheerful noises of impending breakfast, Young A having senseless tantrums and (maybe) helping a little, Young J reading aloud from Tintin with great expressiveness. In this waking world nothing is amiss, and I have to go with that.

Initiate: shed inertia

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Family Time, by Alex Loach on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m having another one of those days where I can’t get moving. This time I blame a wicked hangover from the ONE beer I drank last night.

Last night I ventured out to a reading some friends were doing on the Lower East Side, discovering the J train as a super fast conduit to that part of the city I rarely visit anymore. I had good in-person conversations with people I mostly converse with via email. It was a good night.

I’m worried about my alcohol intolerance. Giving up caffeine was one thing, but I never intended to become a teetotaler. I guess I should commit to having a nightly drink until my tolerance is rebuilt. That sounds quite exhausting, however.

Yesterday I did a lot and the more I did, the more energetic I felt. I even moved the car for street cleaning at midnight when I got back to the neighborhood. Today, I have accomplished exactly two things. One and a half, even, because I’m waiting for a phone call back on one of the things. There is a teetering pile of dishes to be washed. I now have 45 minutes before school pickup begins. Time for a nap.

You can’t fix stupid

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?! by Ian Boyd on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I called Nurse Practitioner K yesterday, because my hips and legs and back were all quite sore. Plus I felt like I was coming down with something, so I had spent most of the day in bed. That preventive step (plus chicken soup and a really nice chill evening with the boys) seems to have sent the cold or flu or plague packing. I hope.

She told me, now that I’m off them, that the dark side of steroids is they can cause muscle deterioration. She asked me questions about the pain. She said, “Well, it doesn’t sound like cancer.” (Good to know.) She recommended stretching and exercise to strengthen the affected muscles.

When I finally went to put my rain boots on, to wade out into a rainy and windy Nor’easter to pick up Young A from school, I reached into the other boots I’d been wearing for a few days, in order to transfer my orthotics to my rain boots. That’s when I realized I’d been wearing those boots without orthotics, for days. And walking quite a bit in them. So all of the muscle pain I’m feeling may have nothing at all to do with steroid withdrawal, and everything to do with my shoes. I don’t think there’s any medication for that.

I went back to the gym today. I used a foam roller on my hips and it was magic. Then my awesome teacher M showed me a new thing she’d been doing for hips – pummeling them lightly with the ends of two dumbbells. I did some of that and it felt great too.

Dumb and dumbbells. It’s time to stop living symptomatically!

Bucketfuls

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Air Drop of Humanitarian Aid Delivery to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, by Beverly on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

We’re having the worst kind of Nor’easter today: a rainy one. No relief in sight. There may be two inches of rain before day’s end. I wish we could send it somewhere else.

I enjoyed feeling well for about five minutes before getting that woozy, about-to-get-sick feeling yesterday. J again had to cancel his basketball plans, and go grocery shopping instead. When I am finally out from under this endless streak of sickness, he will finally get to play basketball every single day. (Like it or not!)

Today I feel less woozy but still not quite well. My hips are sore. My back is, too. I did some ill-advised asking of Dr. Google regarding steroid withdrawal symptoms and it freaked me out. No surprise there. Everything feels like a symptom. It takes very little effort to turn it into one.

The best thing I can do is go back to sleep, so I’ll give that a try. The kids encouraged me last night to sleep with my trusty old teddy bear, so I did. It wasn’t bad. He’s a good chap. I hugged him to my chest and remembered sleeping with a newborn that way. (I got nostalgic until I remembered that was the only part of the newborn period I actually miss.)

Flying visit

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We woke up super late today, for those keeping score of our Mondays. The unrelenting grayness in the sky coupled with the kids tiptoeing out of their room and not getting into immediate squabbles lulled us. (It may be time for us to consider setting an alarm, honey.) In spite of this, we managed to get out of the house in time, even with Young J on the injured list. He slipped and fell at a party yesterday, and may have sprained his hip. Lucky for him, he was able to ride his scooter to school. It’s easier than walking.

I lay there willing my body to move despite soreness. I accompanied Young A to a birthday party yesterday and its location made it hard to access by bus, so I walked and he scooted, almost a mile each way, the way back up a steep hill. It suddenly occurred to me I had a checkup early this morning with my melanoma surgeon, Dr. S. It’s a formality, at this point. Something I should have been doing as a completely healthy person. And in that sense I am – I’m so over cancers that are only skin-deep. I’m more complex than that. I filled him in on my November ordeal, he told me I seemed completely fine and that I looked well, which is important. He did not make any of his signature jokes, which disappointed me, but maybe he saves that for people who are really screwed.

On the way out I waited at the reception desk to wish Quentin, my buddy, a happy new year. I wanted him to know he wouldn’t be seeing me but that it was okay. It’s my small way to take care of the people who care about me. In the elevator on my way up, I rode with a nurse who was coming in to work. I realized after a moment she’d been my infusion nurse, the day I got the Remicade that fixed me. I said, “Hey! You were my nurse! I’m doing great now!” She said she was so glad to see that. And I thanked her. Yesterday, I sent the melanoma team two boxes of fancy pears (to counter the choco-apocalypse I saw in their office the other day). I am looking for ways to say thanks. Because despite the looming uncertainty of the scan, which won’t be resolved for almost a whole month, I feel – finally – fine. And the people who got me there – medical personnel, caregivers, cheerleaders and supporters, readers of the blather posted here – deserve to know.

After my appointment I went for a fancy, late breakfast at a place right near the cancer center which I hadn’t gone to before. I ate a frittata which was accompanied by some salad. SALAD. I didn’t realize it until my first bite that this was my first salad in a month. It was a good one. Minimally dressed, some slices of fennel mixed in, subtle and delicious. I couldn’t stop eating it. I am so happy to return to plant-based eating. All the carbs and protein have been fun, but balance is better. I crunched my salad gleefully, possibly eating it (as the Italians like to say when someone is eating too eagerly) like a morto di fame. Well, guess what? Not so long ago I nearly was starving to death. So get over your etiquette, and if you love me, bring on more of the leafy green stuff.