Saturday, January 30, 2010

Inhaling deeply: a little hint of spring in January

This is the first day without rain in a few weeks, I think, the first day in ages I have felt the sun on my face. It's delicious and exhilarating to be outside, to be dry, to catch up with what's been happening while we were hunkered down in the deluge. Everyone I've been in contact with today has been a little giddy, grateful for the break in the weather.

Joe's outside in the garden weeding and straightening, moving borage, pruning roses, I'm inside taking a little moment to reflect on how great today feels. I'm sure it's not just the blue sky that's responsible for this mood - yoga was awesome today and clarified some important things for me. Plus my practice has been feeling really strong lately, like I'm finer-tuning my poses, finally understanding physically what the words carry.

Through the window, I can see Joe's sunlit pate as he moves back and forth between garden beds and the compost, downy hair growing back in, softer than before, but coming in fast and furious, erasing the most telling sign of chemo. Like the bees that are zooming in and out of the hive now, birds singing, Joe, too, is busy enjoying this little hint of springtime, even as we know that winter's got a ways to go before its end.

On a day like this, how not to be excited and exhilarated by the promise of the warmer temperatures to come, the burst that will happen when springtime is here for reals? And for us, after that long darkness of the cancer, how great to breathe this in deeply, hope for the future, delight in what's to come.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy Happy Not-Chemo Wednesday!

Today marks three weeks since Joe's final chemo on January 6th. Last night while brushing his teeth, he asked me if I was coming to chemo with him in the morning. I kind of choked, forgot what day it was, felt instantly panicked (shit, how could I forget?) and sad (oh no, not again!), and then just flooded with relief. Yes, that part, for now, is over.

It's so interesting and amazing how quickly we can settle into a routine. Joe started chemo in September, so every 21 days we were back at the Infusion Lounge. He'd feel horrible for a few days, increasingly so with each round, start to feel better, then bam, another chemo - start all over again, our poor little Sisyphus. That whole nasty experience lasted about 4 months, but it felt like it was for always, the new reality.

So, we might have been a little too excited about the final chemo. We clearly forgot how crappy the side effects made Joe feel, and he did, indeed, feel crappy, really crappy, for most of the first two weeks. I had to keep reminding Joe that hey, hang on, chemo had only been 10 days before, or two weeks before, so no wonder he felt like shit. His red blood cell count is still super-low, and restoring that will take a long time, we're told. No remedy but time.

And time without doctors is not something we're going to have for a while, I think. We expected we'd have a few months doctor-free, two months before check-in with the oncologist and the ENT, but that's not to be. Joe has an MRI scheduled on Feb 5th, so they can begin looking more closely at Whatever It Is that remains on his right tonsil. The oncologist said, at Joe's final treatment, that it doesn't look like lymphoma, but they can't tell what it is exactly. If the MRI reveals something suspicious, then they escalate the testing, CT scan then PET scan. It's possible, according to the ENT, that the tonsil could be removed and Whatever would go with it. That would be nice. But we won't know more until after the MRI.

No matter what, it's a good Wednesday today. I am so happy, Joe is so happy, that he won't spend 5 hours in a hospital bed while they fill him with poison. No chemo is great. That's something to celebrate!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Forty-seventh Birth Day

Forty seven years ago today, I entered the scene. My parents were living in Longview, Washington, where my father had a teaching job. There was a snowstorm, icy roads, but still they made their way to the hospital, where at 11:30 am, finally, I was born after causing my mother pain and gas, "a terrible combination, but so worth it," as she puts it. They must have left my brother, Pancho, a mutt adopted while my mother was pregnant with me, waiting patiently at home.

If "holiday" is a bastardization of "Holy Day," then truly my birthday is a holiday for me, a day on the calendar that matters, full of ritualistic observations, same-same practices year to year. I never work on my birthday. I made that mistake seven years ago, new job, new pressure, didn't want to ask for the day off. That was a ridiculously sad day for me, brightened briefly by a friend and her husband who stopped by and brought me an ice cream cone (nice!) - but I learned my lesson. Nope, my birthday is a special day for me, too special to spend with people that are in my life by circumstance rather than by deliberate choosing.

This birthday is so much better than last year's. A year ago we spent my birthday morning at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital. Our sweet Jasper had been diagnosed with canine melanoma, and the first available appointment was on my birthday. After the appointment, we went out to Bolinas and watched him bounce around blissfully in the surf, totally unaware that in a week he'd be having a big surgery to remove the tumor. It's not hard for this year to top last year!

Today started the way I remember birthdays always starting for me. I stay in bed, pretending somewhat to be still asleep (fat chance of that) while Joe and Laurent conspire, enter the bedroom singing Happy Birthday and bearing gifts. I open presents in bed. These days, that means that Jasper helps to unwrap the gifts with his mouth, an accidental bit of training engrained by years of birthdays and Christmases together, leaving the bed littered with soggy little bits of wrapping paper. The singing and presents in bed is, I think, a tradition I learned as a child, probably the result of busy work and school days, but still ensuring that the day starts out special. This morning, Joe remarked that the day felt like Christmas, meaning that -- success! -- that particular tradition really, really works!

I stay home most of the day and lounge about and think and stare and read and write and plan the year and bake a cake and think about the last year and hike with Jasper, and then there's generally dinner somewhere. I do whatever I want and nothing I don't, the way I wish I could spend every day. And I feel a lot of gratitude to my parents, of course, for the many gifts of my childhood and upbringing in making me the person I am now. Today especially I am reflecting on one of the chief lessons they imparted: the supreme importance of creating a beautiful life.

The sun is shining, lighting up the remaining drops of yesterday's rain on the trees in the garden. The sky is a phenomenal winter-blue. Birthday wishes are pouring in, and I'm savoring them, sitting as quietly as I can in the middle of this abundance and taking it all in, feeling the heat and love and rewards of a life well-lived.

Truly, that's what holidays should be about -- counting your blessings, appreciating and loving the life you've made and the people in it. This 47th time around the sun is my day to do just that. It's really just so beautiful!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010: The Year of Intention

Yep, it's official: for me 2010 is The Year of Intention.

I've been naming my years for a while now [07: Year of Me, 08: Year of Balance, 09: Year of Sustained Connections] at the beginning of the year, as a way of crystallizing the big theme, setting the container so to speak for all that will come in the following months. I couldn't have been more prescient in January of last year regarding the supreme importance of connection in 2009 -- the strong friendships and family bonds really got us through a lot of hell last year, what with that ridiculous cancer and all.

Now this year, this is the year that I am going to realize some big intentions. It helps so much that, thanks to Laura, this has been a strong focus in class since about the middle of December. The regular reminders and physical practice are really helping to keep me to stay focused and committed.

So what am I intending? I have two pages of categorized bulleted items, of course, but the biggest, the most important, is that this is year that I transform the way I make a living, so that I transition gracefully out of my current job, out of jobs in general, and into the next phase. It helps that we're done paying college tuition as of May 2010 (congratulations in advance on your BFA, LT!), and that Joe's business is picking itself up out of the 2009 economic hole. We learned two major lessons last year: that we are nowhere without Love, without friends and family, and that life is too damn short to not be doing the work that's in our hearts. So this is the year.

It's really so exciting, to see it so clearly and to know that all that is required to reach the goal is a sustained commitment and consistent practice. Just like yoga, right? How wonderful that is!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cycle 6, Day 5: The Cure for What Ails Him

It's a gray day and Joe's been feeling pretty crappy. We went for a leisurely amble with Jasper this morning on the levies near McInnis Golf Course. So glad we had down jackets on and gloves -- brrrr! After a few hours of napping and feeling generally miserable, Joe is now back on his feet and outside, doing something he loves: screening finished compost.

This is always a gratifying experience, checking out the worms, smelling the freshness of the dirt, appreciating that all that glorious soil amendment is the product of a natural process of decomposition for which we simply manage the conditions. Right now, it's even nicer for Joe, a great way to balance out the residual effects of super-toxic chemo and settle the mood swings of the prednisone.

There's real solace in the compost, too, actually. It's pretty hard not to be optimistic, not to be excited about the future, not to feel hopeful, when you're elbows-deep in fragrant new soil, dreaming of next spring and summer, what will we grow, what will we eat. Even in the darkest and coldest part of winter, the compost reminds us of what is coming, letting us feed the ground now so that it may feed us later. A little hit of summer sweetness even on this gray day.

This is delightful every year, but especially heartening right now, such an essential part of Joe's own springtime return. :)

New Year's Ritual #1: Last Year's Books

All along the course of a year I keep the books I've read in an ever-taller stack by the side of my bed and keep a running list on this here blog. Then on New Year's Day or as close to it as I can manage, I lovingly shelve the prior year's books. This generally entails dusting thoroughly and quite a bit of moving things around, given that there's the alphabet to consider when shelving Fiction and space considerations as well in the Science/Nature, Poetry, or History sections. There's a fair bit of mooning around and staring too, as handling each book reminds me of a specific time, what else was going on for me as I was reading, and puts me back in the story for a little bit. This is a solitary pursuit, best engaged in while other residents of the house are otherwise occupied. Talking ruins it.

At the beginning of 2009, in reviewing my list of 2008 books, I sincerely hoped I'd read more than 30 books this year, improving on last year's count. [Full list of 2008 books available here:] Well, I didn't break 30 this year. Twenty-nine is the count I get, and actually it's less than that when you consider that I didn't finish a couple (seems like cheating to count those that I haven't quite completed). Looking back, I am remembering that reading and studying for the Biology class I took at College of Marin last January - May interfered with my reading-time. Lymphoma also distracted me and kept my nose out of the books.

I started out the year sitting in the Big Chair chain-reading the Alexander McCall Smith "Isabel Dalhousie" series that my parents sent me for my birthday. Now that's my kind of present: a box full of books showing up on my stoop! And such delightful, clever little reads, really so charming. Then it appears I wound my way through Booker Prize winners and short-listed titles and, uncharacteristically, through a fair amount of non-fiction, from bees, to urban farms, drug addition, Marie Antoinette, cooking, funerals, migraines, indulging quite a variety of interests. Big thanks to Peggy for "Returning to Earth," which she loaned me (Peggy's list would be amazing and long, since she reads more than anyone I know, except maybe Alicia). Also thanks to Donna, who recycles many books to me once she's done with them. Some of these I will admit didn't make the shelves in my house (Guernsey Potato Peel, Testimony), but got freecycled to another reader.

Favorite books from last year would include The White Tiger, Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Lightning Thief (can't wait to read the rest of these, and see the movie!), Marie Antoinette, The Reader, and the title I'm currently enjoying, Sea of Poppies. I [heart] Amitav Ghosh!

For 2010, I don't have any real goals when it comes to reading, except to do more of it. This year I'd like to consume the entire Booker Prize short-list, and keep with my one-poem-a-day reading, to ensure I have plenty of verse in my diet. Reading more than 30 titles would be great, too!

And now, gratefully, the list of last year's books:

IN PROGRESS: Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh
The Migraine Brain, Dr. Carolyn Bernstein
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
All She Was Worth, Miyuki Miyabe
Grave Matters: A Journey through the Modern Funeral Industry to a More Natural Way of Burial, Mark Harris
IN PROGRESS: When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
Marie Antoinette, Antonia Fraser
The Great Hunt, Robert Jordan
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
Testimony, Anita Shreve
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
Tweak, Nic Sheff
Beautiful Boy, David Sheff
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
IN PROGRESS: Enthusiasm, Swami Chidvilasananda
The Age of Shiva, Munil Suri
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
Farm City, Novella Carpenter
Robbing the Bees, Holley Bishop
A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz
Returning to Earth, Jim Harrison
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
The Comforts of a Muddy Sunday, Alexander McCall Smith
The Right Attitude to Rain, Alexander McCall Smith
The Careful Use of Compliments, Alexander McCall Smith
Friends, Lovers and Chocolate, Alexander McCall Smith
The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McCall Smith

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eating a potato chip is not rebellion

On my way to yoga after work yesterday, I saw a billboard for Pop Chips (popped, not baked or fried potato chips, yo) with the slogan: Rebel Responsibly! Wait, hang on: since when does eating a potato chip constitute any form of rebellion?

I suppose it makes sense at this time of year when those who have resolved to lose weight or get fit, are trying to stay on the wagon and eat healthy. But really, rebellion is eating a chip? What happened to rebellion being a strong reaction to a grave injustice, a tyrannical government, something significantly wrong in the world? Or even rebellion being choosing your own way, not conforming to the norm, thinking for yourself? Shit, if the acts of rebellion we're left with have to do with the snack food we put in our mouths, we're in trouble.

Ridiculous, I know, that I'm carrying on about about a chip ad that I saw for no more than 15 seconds. Surely I shouldn't talk about it or name the company, since then I'm just doing their marketing for them, unpaid. But that sorry billboard helped cohere a bunch of thoughts I've been having lately about narcissism and saving the planet, so here goes.

I am first to admit that I do think that our personal actions make a difference, that each person can play a part in bettering and beautifying our world. Personally, I take many actions that I suppose reduce my footprint to some extent, but mostly I do them for selfish reasons, because growing food or composting or keeping bees or buying organic or spending less on gas or freecycling stuff is fundamentally fun for me, gives me joy. I am not thinking about the rainforest for even one second as I do it. Increasingly the actions I'm focused on, the ones that are important to me, aren't about using less shit or buying more shit, even if it's eco, but about our personal emotional actions (the karmic shit, if you will).

So back to the chip. There's something so narcissistic, so Me Me Me, about the notion that eating a chip is rebellion. It's disgusting. And ties into this thing I've been noticing more and more, a fundamentally-negative fear-based paranoid self-important navel-gazing paralysis. It doesn't seem to be about choosing to eat local because it's good, or choosing to eat well or raw because it's good, or choosing to produce less trash because that's good. Instead it seems to derive from a sense that if you don't, then since everything revolves around you and you're not choosing correctly, then the whole globe is going straight to hell and it's your doing.

Because, of course, it's all about you.

And consequently about what snack food you eat.

And truly, that is bigger bullshit even than snack food itself, which seriously is total bullshit if you think about it.

If you want to eat a potato chip, then do it. If you choose to eat that chip, then revel in it. Revel, not rebel. Enjoy every bite, savor the tastiest, greasiest, most delicious potato chips you can find. But don't think that makes you a rebel.

If you rebel, don't do so responsibly. Do so recklessly, think for yourself, act from joy, break out of the tiny house of your ego and act for others, from love. Make it about something bigger than you, something bigger than a chip.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cycle 6, Day 3: The bounty of friendship, another gift of yoga

After walking with Jasper at the levies this morning (big tide rushing in, harriers trolling for their breakies), I sat with Joe by the French doors in our room for a while and watched the busy-ness of birds outside. Joe had a bit of a rough night, feeling very weak today and funky, but nevertheless left for work around 8:30, which is late for him. Not sure how long he'll last there today, honestly. Even though it's the last time, it might be the worst time, his poor body weakened by all of the chemo and side-effects that came before. Hanging in there...

I continue to be amazed at the kindness and love of the beautiful people we are so graced to call friends. Last night, darling sisters Alexandra and Gillian brought us an enormous pot of delicious chicken soup tied with a red bow, warm, delicious garlic bread, fresh and delicious zucchini bread. And a handmade sweet card. We were all delighted and dazzled by their presence, so moved by their generosity and unbelievable cuteness.

Besides the sheer delight of their presence, just how lit-up they each are, what's so awesome about it, for me, is that I only met these two lovelies in April of last year, when we had the good fortune to meet and spend a week together at Laura's retreat in Careyes, Mexico. For me, it was love at first sight, in that way I've grown to expect through yoga, that the people I meet through the practice become my fast- and heart-friends. I would do anything for them and know they would do anything for me. It's as if we've always known each other, because we see and know the truest thing about each other from the very beginning. Until last night, Alexandra and Gillian had never even met Joe, but still they came, bringing all that love for us to eat.

I never expected this, to meet such wonderful people through Anusara, to rest back into the arms of such a warm and loving community of yogis and yoginis, to be so very loved and to love so very deeply, so very madly, all these new friends all the time, every day.

The gifts of yoga are so much more than flexibility, handstands, peace of mind -- all of that is wonderful, but what is the real gift, the biggest joy, is this super-connectivity to others. I am so grateful to our teacher, Laura, who creates the conditions in which these friendships burgeon and flourish, Laura who consistently inspires each of us to see the good, the light, the beauty all around us. Through these glorious friendships, I touch the One-ness of which we truly are a part. Thanks to these lovely friends, I am reminded every day, on the mat and off, that Love is all that matters, the one and only real purpose of our time here on this earth.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cycle 6, Day 2: The End, day 2 :)

As happened last time around, Joe has a really puffy face this morning. This only started after the last chemo and that time it only was the first day. Right now he's drinking his morning coffee and reminding me a little of the Beast on that super-cheezy Beauty and the Beast tv series that I loved in the 80s. More pronounced on the right side than on the left. I don't think it means anything, but we're keeping an eye on it. Actually, I'm keeping an eye on it, since Joe has pretty small eye-holes at present. ;>

This is the day that Joe starts the final drug of the chemotherapy: the daily dose of prednisone for 5 days. The prednisone is pure evil in pill form, with the power to turn all joy to misery, every green landscape to Mordor. Joe also administers the shot this morning that is designed to bring his white blood cells back from the brink. If things go as last time, in a week, Joe will have really intense bone-breaking pain in his back, indicating that the Neulasta shot has worked and that he's making the white blood cells his immune system really needs.

Knowing that it's the last time makes the burden so much lighter. But there's still a little ways to go. With happy hearts, but still a little ways.

Nancy and Ben, since Joe opened the last window on the Advent calendar yesterday, I believe that our Adventure is over. Just winding down now, keeping it together, and waiting to feel 100%.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cycle 6, Day 1: The End!

When we woke up this morning, Joe opened the final window on the beautiful Advent to Freedom calendar that Nancy and Ben made for him 30 days ago, to count down the final month to the last chemo. Behind that final window? Mark Cavendish, a kick-ass sprinter Joe much admires. Perfect inspiration for today!

Of course, Joe is going to feel crappy for about ten more days, especially since tomorrow is the Neulasta shot and the start of 5 days of prednisone, but from that point on, he'll just continually feel better. Oh how wonderful!

We heard such great news from Dr. Maloney today. We'll see him again in two months for a follow-up. Around the same time, Joe will also see the ENT about the mystery Something on his right tonsil, maybe have a biopsy. The doc doesn't think that the Something is lymphoma - unlikely, in his opinion. When I asked whether there was some period of time we had to get through after chemo to be in the clear, like 2 years or 5 years without recurrence, Dr. Maloney said No, Joe's in the clear right now. IN THE CLEAR RIGHT NOW!! Damn it, that feels pretty f*ing great!

More great news: Joe went on a little spin around the neighborhood just now with Laurent, celebrating the end of chemo and Laurent's first bike purchase. So, so glad about that.

So we're home and it feels like we're home free.

With so much love,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cycle 5, Day 21: The Eve of Destruction

As we settle down for the night, Joe is preparing for the start tomorrow of his final cycle of chemo in this great battle he's been waging against lymphoma. It's hard to believe that the last cycle of 6 is finally upon us. By sometime toward the end of January, Joe should start feeling better and better. Wonderful to know that he won't feel better just to get knocked down again by another round of chemo, you know?

This last cycle hasn't been particularly easy. It kind of snuck up on us how hard this is and we keep being surprised by how winded or tired or weak Joe feels. It's still, even after four full months of living with it, so hard to understand any of it, but really, I suppose it doesn't matter that much whether we understand, as long as we survive.

We've been so buoyed and cheered by so many loving people through this entire experience. My list of Good Things About Cancer/Chemo is damn short, but #1 on that list is this ever-expanding, never-flagging support that's come at us from every direction. We will always be grateful for this.

In a way this exhilarated, dazzled, almost-vibrating feeling of connection, of being part of a great and loving whole, really hit me first at our anniversary party in June. That was such a great night! The next morning, I remember Joe and I kept looking at each other, just stunned by how lucky we were to have such terrific people in our lives. And so many of them! I know I felt drunk in love with our life, with our friends, with Joe. After twenty years together, that felt so good.

Not too long after the party, when we knew something serious was wrong with Joe but we weren't sure what, I was terrified. Had I been too happy, was it hubris, were we only going to get 20 years together? Those were terrible dark days for us, as we tried to keep it together until we knew something, until we had a name for the shadow that had entered our lives. It seems almost melodramatic with the benefit of hindsight, but really, that's how it was.

But as soon as we told, let people in on what was going on with Joe, there it was again, stronger than ever: Love, from all sides, powerful, unstoppable. Everyone came out to help us: old friends, new friends, snow friends, bee friends, neighbors, colleagues, even yoga friends of mine who'd never even met Joe showed up with food out of sheer love. Dazzled by all of you: that's what we are.

One more cycle, people, then Joe says he's giving chemo up cold turkey as his resolution for 2010. May we all enjoy good health this year, the better to love each other for a long, long time to come.


Friday, January 1, 2010

2009: Here's your hat, what's your hurry

Lovingly dispatching 2009, sending it on its way, grateful for the many gifts and challenges it delivered, but looking with bright, open eyes to the promise of the new year, the new decade, what feels like an almost-universally shared expectation that "this will be The Year," the year we finally Do It.

So many amazing things about 2009 (full post to come later), but for now I'm just so glad that decade is done. Somewhere I saw it referred to as The Decade of Fear. I just know that the last year was rrrrrough. We had to re-trench, dig deep, re-evaluate everything What a genius opportunity!

Without that, coming in to this year would be so much less conscious for me, less deliberate.

So 2010, bring it on. Whatever you've got in store, no problem - I'm ready.