Sunday, June 28, 2015

Life's Curveballs and What You Can Learn

The doctor stood in my ER room, looking at me with my chart in his hand and said, "I'm so sorry." Sorry is not a word you want to ever hear from a physician. That sorry meant he had little hope for my recovery; for my life. As I was being wheeled into surgery I refused to let that sorry sink in. "I'm not going to die. I'm not going to die. I will be ok". It was my mantra on repeat until the anesthesia gave way and my mind shut down as I gave my body over to the doctor who seemed to have little hope in fixing me. 

For two weeks prior to this, I had extraordinary pain in my back due, I thought, to a muscle spasm. I went to an ER and without even an X-ray, the doctor agreed and sent me on my way with muscle relaxers and a warning to take it easy. When the pain worsened over the following days, to the point where it was blinding and I couldn't breathe, I went to another hospital. After three X-Rays and a CT Scan they finally discovered the problem; my entire stomach was in my lung and was now leaking gastric fluids due to a rupture. They were baffled. I was eerily calm. 

They listed all the possible things that could go wrong with my surgery; death, colostomy bag, full removal of my stomach, a lung too damaged to operate properly. I heard all of them, but I didn't listen. "I'll pull through. I'm not going to die" 

I awoke from the procedure alone. The first thing my hands did was to go straight to my stomach. No bag. I looked down. Stomach looked normal. Lung area looked normal. New scar. I can deal with that. You did it, Kathleen. Again. Defying the odds is kind of my thing. 

I was moved from post-op recovery to the recovery floor. No ICU for me! I had drainage tubes coming from my lungs and breathing tubes down my throat, but I was alive. Everyday in that hospital when my septic body filled with fluids and my beaten and bruised heart went so crazy a team of doctors rushed in to see why my resting heart rate was 175, that voice echoed in my head, "you're going to make it." 

Every doctor told me they were astounded, some calling me a miracle. I call it faith. In myself. In my body. Faith in my Faith that prayers are answered. Faith in the Universe that all works out as it should.

Everyday friends came and sat by my side, feeding me when I couldn't feed myself. They helped me walk my laps around the floor. They bathed me; having my hair washed was always the highlight of my day. Having my son help me out of bed and step carefully around my IV pole nearly broke my heart in two. But seeing the gentle, caring young man he has grown into made me realize I've done my job well. Every person who visited me, had a profound change on me. They loved me back to health. 

The road back hasn't been easy. I'm maybe at 60%. I'm slow and tire easily. I get frustrated and irritated when I can't do what I want to do for myself. But, those same people surround me with their love and remind me everyday that I am here for a purpose. 

I want people to know that you CAN overcome. There will always be obstacles. Don't let your focus be on them. See past them, see around them, let your sights rest on your goal. 

We are all miracles

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Letter To My Son On His 19th Birthday

Nineteen years You're now the age I was when I had you. I thought I was so grown up then. Truth is, I knew nothing about maturity until you came along. Over the years, as I've continued to learn and grow, I've gained some knowledge I would like to share with you on your birthday. Listen up:

-Get yourself a best friend. You don't need a bunch; one will do just fine. Someone who will be there for you, create inside jokes with you and hold your deepest secrets. Be good to that person and never take them for granted. They know where the bodies are buried.

-At least once a day, laugh until you tear up. It's not that hard if you don't take life too seriously; which reminds me....

-Don't take life too seriously. We are here to be joyful. Find your joy and spread it to everyone you meet. Part of the reason everyone loves your grandfather, aside from his brilliant one liners, is his lightheartedness. He's a great man; follow his lead.

-See the world. Don't confine yourself to this tiny section of the planet. There is so much life out there to explore. Go

-Be fearless...your fears will determine your limits. Learn how to shake them off and embrace all that life has to offer

-Don't be reckless with these three important things: Money, your health, someone else's heart. All three are gifts and must be respected. 

-Be kind. You know better than most the battles people face behind closed doors. Life hasn't been easy for you and it's not easy for many others, too. Always remember that and have empathy.

-Live a life of passion. It made not be the means by which you earn a living but have something in your life that feeds your soul.

-Be chivalrous. Hold doors, hail cabs and always remember 'ladies first'. Be the kind of polite that makes old ladies swoon.

-Lastly, and most importantly, know you are loved in a crazy, all consuming kind of way. It's the kind of love that makes a mother stand quietly outside her 19 year old son's room just to watch him sleep while she fights back tears and floods of memories. It's the urge to pull the blankets under his chin, just in case he gets chilly during the night. That kind of love that makes a mother smile when she hears her son laughing halfway across the house. The kind that makes her know there is nothing she wouldn't do, no battle she wouldn't face in order to spend as much time as she can surrounded by that love. Let it be your safety net in life. 

Thank you for helping me to grow, teaching me how to love unconditionally and for being my reason to live. From the moment you were born, you have been my greatest joy. Happy birthday, baby.

Forever and always


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Clarity On the Mat

This morning, while meditating, I felt the urge to scream
Not very zen, I thought
Or maybe it is the epitome of zen
Something that serves the soul and, after you're done, a state of calm
Anyway, as I began to prepare myself for a long 'Om' I felt a tightness in my chest
As if my body were rejecting this notion of peace
As if it knew exactly what it needed
And it needed to scream
A primal, guttural moan
That seemed to echo like the crystal singing bowl I had before me
I screamed for the 17-year old girl who cowered every time her boyfriend hit her
For the 19-year old who was left 6 months pregnant and alone
For the 20-something year old who always came so close to achieving her dreams,
Only to watch them slip away each time
For the 35-year old woman who was told she had 18 months to live
I screamed for all that I am and who I thought I would be
The heaviness in my chest began to wane
I closed my eyes and allowed the bright, white sunlight to engulf me; to heal what was broken inside
I was not taught to feel
Sensitivity dismissed as weakness
Get over it
Stop crying
But I never did get over it
I pushed it down until it became impacted in me
A mass of fear and anger and self loathing
Growing inside of me like the cancer
I sat there on my mat today
With the sun and my meditation bowl
I thought of all the parts that make me whole
The sensitive girl, the victim, the single mother, the dreamer, the cancer patient
I thought of all that we have been through
I screamed to send the pain into the ether
Or wherever it is that pain goes
"I got you," I told them
And then, collectively,
We let it go

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trust is a four letter word

Trust. That is a word many of us struggle with. Can I trust this person with my valuables? Can I trust this person with my heart? But when you're dealing with a health crisis, such as cancer, and have to ask the question, "Can I trust this person with my life?", the stakes are raised immeasurably. 

There is no way to explain the anxiety I feel when I walk into my doctor's office. I carry with me not only my own hopes and fears, but also those of my son, my husband, my parents, my family and friends. The weight is enormous and, if not kept in check, can crush me. 

But I trust her. I made that choice when I took her on as my doctor two years ago. She is smart and thorough and innovative. She is everything you would want in a doctor. So, when her decision to be hyper-aggressive with the tumors that remain in my lungs was put into question by another doctor, I didn't doubt her for a moment. Until I did. We should question, right? Weigh the pros and cons, not head blindly down a path, be the copilot and not just a flight attendant handing out refreshments. Except sometimes you want mommy and daddy to handle everything. Those 'big girl pants' are overwhelming and you want to take shelter under the warm blanket until the monster is gone. 

Life doesn't work that way when you're an adult. Decisions must be made. This is where the trust comes in....but it's not in my doctor. It's the trust I have in myself to make the right decision. Because I am smart and thorough and can be quite innovative myself. You should see the way I 'MacGyver'' shit all over my house. I am everything you would want in a patient. 

I also trust in life; that it works out the way it should. I am learning the lessons I need to learn and am being guided down the path I am supposed to be on. I trust in that with my heart and soul. 

So, I made an informed decision and it's mine; right or wrong. I am the co-pilot where my health is concerned; assisted by an amazing crew, whom I trust almost as much as I trust myself.

Damn, my ass looks great in these 'big girl pants'.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Fuck It List

I didn't listen. If I had to choose three words to sum up most of my life it would be those. I didn't listen when I was told having a child so young would be a mistake. Or when they said going back to get my degree would be too hard. And when they told me I had 18 months to live? I didn't listen then either. Not listening is what I seem to do best.

So when I spread the word that I was creating my 'Fuck It' list, I waited for the inevitable naysayers to tell me I couldn't do it. "You're still undergoing treatment need your rest...are you sure this is the smart thing to do?" I heard them all; but I didn't listen. 

On my 'Fuck It' list are all of the things I've always wanted to do, places I've wanted to see, but never got around to doing it. About 2 months ago I said, "fuck it, what am I waiting for?" Cancer is a tricky bitch and made me acutely aware of the finite amount of time we are given. I'm just going to say it...we are all going to die eventually. Yes, even you, young, healthy person with the glowing complexion and bright eyes. It may be at 100, but 100 years isn't that long if you've only existed and never truly lived. 

I sent an email listing cities I wanted to visit all across this gorgeous country of ours. I figured domestic travel would be a better way of gauging my abilities. I may be a bit reckless, but I'm not an idiot. Of course, the kick ass group of friends I have responded immediately; picking cities and dates and the planning began. Portland, Oregon would be our first stop.

Joe drove me to the airport and, like a parent watching their kid leave for camp, he stood and waived; waiting until I was lost in the crowd before he left. Knowing him, I'm sure it took every ounce of strength he had not to say I was out of my mind and put his foot down on the whole thing. I love him for that. 6 hours later I met up with my friend in Portland and we began our adventure.

Oregon is an exquisitely beautiful state, with beaches and mountains, waterfalls and gorges. Plus, they have the best fucking donuts I have ever had in my life. Without an iota of shame or guilt, I stood at the counter of Voodoo Doughnuts, ordered seven and had a bite (or two) of each one. Jesus, it's a hidden gem of a place. Every day we planned something else, renting a car for day trips or hanging back and walking around to see all that Portland had to offer. And it had a lot to offer. I've heard that it is a town of hippies and hipsters, and can be obnoxiously self righteous. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Every one I met was super kind and generous with their time. It is a very artsy area so if you don't like artisanal cheeses or homemade goat's milk soaps, then this may not be your scene. But I was totally diggin' it. Organic Shea butter body lotions? Yes, please.

During several points in my trip, I had to stop and take it all in. I would close my eyes and feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my face or the soft rain roll off my cheeks. I felt blessed and grateful. I wish I could capture it all in a jar like a firefly and keep it with my always. I knelt down to pet every dog, smiled at every baby and chatted up whomever would lock eyes with me. I highly suggest doing any or all of those things. It is a sure fire way to bring a smile to your face. We traveled up Mt. Hood and watched the snow fall from a lovely, historic lodge we stumbled upon. It was cold as hell and I was woefully underdressed but I said fuck it once more and just went with it. I warmed up by the fireplace with a drink and a slice of pumpkin bread that made me moan...yes, I really moaned. Don't judge.

Sometimes in life you have to just go for it. Shake off the fear and do what scares the hell out of you. I was scared to travel alone, to be so far away from home and, more importantly, from Sloan. But I didn't give in. Call it what you want...Carpe Diem or Fuck It, but I plan on YOLO'ing the shit out of my life.

While waiting for my plane home, my friend and I spotted a man with no legs riding a skateboard around the terminal. We admired his enthusiasm then went back to talking about the trip. As I boarded the plane and looked for my seat, I realized I was sitting next to the skateboarding dude I saw moments before. I noticed that not only did he not have legs, he also was missing an arm. He smiled at me and we made idle chit chat; names, where we were from, etc. He helped me with the crossword puzzle I was working on and we ended up doing the second one together. He was from Portland and going to New York then to Orlando for business. I was so struck by his fortitude and kindness; the man just radiated light. When once I saw a man who was overcoming his adversities, now I just saw a man; a sweet, gentle man with kind eyes, a great laugh and a killer lexicon. I wondered how many times in his life did he not listen.

What did I learn on this trip? I learned to step out of my comfort zone. I learned we are all trying to overcome something. I learned we aren't all that different from one another.

This is it. This is our one shot at this life. Go for it, whatever 'it' is for you. Get on that fucking skateboard and ride. And don't ever, ever listen when someone tells you you can't.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The War

I hate the cliches of cancer. Words like "battle" and "war" and "soldier". But every cliche holds a germ of truth, doesn't it? Because as much as I shy away from the term, it is indeed a battle. Except we aren't fighting for oil, or religion or land. We are fighting for our lives. Every day, every moment. 
We adopt a soldier's mentality. We do what we have to do to get the job done. But at what cost? For some, the scars linger far after the war is over. For others still fighting, putting on that gear everyday becomes harder as the days turn into months then turn into years. And while we are thankful to still be alive, the fighting is taking its toll. 
I see cancer as a sniper; hiding, waiting, ready to attack. Sometimes there is silence and I relax a bit, forgetting for a moment that I'm in a war zone. Then a bullet flies by and I realize I'm under attack again. I need to make quick decisions with trembling hands and gripping fear. There is no room for error. I'm two years in; by now I know what needs to be done.
I look to my left and beside me is my friend, taken down so quickly I didn't have the chance to say goodbye. When I think about it, though, do any of us really get enough time to say goodbye? 
She fought for four years, enduring more than most can ever fathom. She did it with grace and humor, kindness and compassion. She guided me, taught me how to cope with this war, how to find beauty, even while walking through hell. She deserved the Medal of Honor for the fortitude she exhibited, an acknowledgement of her valor. 
I can't help but see myself in her. It could so easily have been me. But I know she would want me to carry on, to keep fighting until that sniper is but a distant memory. And that's what I will do to honor her life and the millions before her. We stand together as one.
For those who say we haven't won the war on cancer yet, I say I'm winning it every day I am alive.
Karin Diamond
Rest In Peace, my sweet friend

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

18 Years

I watch you get in your car and drive away. 
I stand in the doorway; coffee in hand, tears rolling down my face
You're heading off to college
Charging toward adulthood, letting go of my hand just a little bit more
In my mind you were just born, perfect and tiny.
Aunt Trish smiled through her tears when she held you up so that I could see
You were the most beautiful baby...and you were mine

Those first few weeks were so scary
I was so young and totally unprepared for what life just handed me
I wanted so badly to get it right; I'm sorry for the times I got it wrong

You're walking now; charging head first into everything
(I know now this will be the way you always do things!)
There is such a light in you, a sweetness
You draw people to you
Your smile, your laugh, your very presence bring me more joy than I've ever known
You're so smart
You force me to my knees to watch the ants carry food
(You're right, it is a pretty amazing thing to see)
We spend hours playing together and reading books by the lake
You give me Eskimo kisses at bedtime and plead with me to read the book just once more.
 I didn't always
How I wish I had

You're in school now
I see you waiting in line on your first day
Grandma and Grandpa are in the school yard with me as we watch you walk in
You smile as you turned around to wave goodbye
We cried as we walked to the car

Through the years, I have seen some of your friends come and go
Your clothes went from 'dragging on the floor' baggy
To jeans so tight I feared when you sneezed
Long hair, short hair
Piercings, tattoos
I've watched you grow and change and change some more

I wish I would have been easier on you
Let you be you
Had I known how amazing you would turn out to be,  maybe it would have been easier to let go
I doubt it though
I see how amazing you are now and it's hard as hell to let go

Your smile still gets me
I could be two rooms away but  if I hear you laugh, I laugh right along with you
Your 'I love you's' can carry me through the darkest of days

For 18 years I have loved you
And while I may no longer carry you in my arms
I will forever carry you in my heart
Know that you are loved, that you are special and that you'll always be mine
Happy birthday, my sweet, sweet boy