Friday, January 29, 2010

Pajama-Grams & Recovery

I am surrounded by a variety of angels. Brilliant living angels in our midst. The kind of angels that know about "Pajama-Grams" and thoughtfully follow thru. Imagine my delight upon receiving such an amazing gift.

Today I am celebrating my pajama-gram, by wearing my jammies and keeping my feet up and watching the parade of thoughts that trail in and out of my head. Today is the day to acknowledge the two steps forward, one backward reality of this process. Today, is a 'backward' day. It's a stay on the recliner day.

With all of that sun & warmth yesterday I was enthusiastic to replace my socks. Socks I forgot to pack. The closest sock replacement opportunity is our SUPER Walmart about a 15 minute drive away. They call it S-U-P-E-R for a reason. I bought my socks and some odds and ends, several football fields away in the pharmacy end, got back to the starting gates and bought a chicken in a box and some fresh produce. I knew my limitations when I considered how far the dairy aisle was from the door.

I tell you all of this, so you don't think I spent the day digging ditches.... just going to get some socks. Today my body tells me that it's had enough. So a jammie day for me. My mind and heart are a bit sick today, too.... Last night my phone googled me to remind me to go to the airport today for my Houston adventure for ZB. Alas, no Houston for me.

Then this morning I needed to communicate with an OSU Doctorate Dr. about the painful decision to withdrawl from her year long federal study, that I had already signed a contract to lead -- 12 days worth of Arts Training for preschool teachers. Dr. Shayne will get things underway in April without me. She has been divising her Plan B to have ready, in case I was able to acknowledge my humanity, but we had agreed that today would be the day for my final decision. Riding my recliner today, I realized this needs to be about 'me' for the coming season.

BTW: I don't say this easily, nor well. My body may likely heal faster than my heart. So today I'll just share the reality that is my experience with breast cancer, the second time around. Which is to say that I am both simultaneously the most fortunate of fortunate people and pretty broken, too. Negotiating the emotional landmines is every bit the challenge as the physical recovery. This is me, two weeks after surgery. Acknowledging that I can not 'control' my calendar. I'm sure there's a few lessons there -- but it will be time that gives me the perspective to learn them.

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Florida Blue Skies




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Last summer and the Door County blue skies, led me from one garden patch to the next on my bicycle, always in search of the illusive daisies. It would have been fun to have a picture of me taking the thousands of pictures in order to get the rare and occaisional picture in focus, with the blue sky background. I became quite a contortionist in the process.... and loved every minute of the pursuit.

Well we have arrived safely in Florida in the hopes that my healing will proceed 'faster' in the warmth. Yesterday there was indeed full sun and you guessed it a BLUE sky. It reminded me of Door County and my daisies.... then I had a startling thought. My parents had sent me an arrangement of daisies!!! Though perhaps technically passed their peak, they were still daisi-esque. I could 'remove' them from their planter and 'pose' them up against the sky. Yes indeed-ie-do! That's exactly what I did!!

I gradually learned that I could sit (slouch) in our camp chair in our back yard, left hand holding daisies over-head and my bunged up right hand/arm could just manage to hold camera and click. What a happy distraction and good range-of-motion exercise, all in one!

To tell you the truth it felt a bit like 'cheating'..... the holding of pre-cut daisies against the brilliant sky. I consoled myself with ideas about magic and illusion and photography and studio work. In the end, once the images were in my laptop (which did not go 'smoothly' for some techno-geekie-mystery?!?) I could just admire them for their beauty and forgave myself for the manner in which the photographs were manufactured.

Yesterday, I took just over 100 shots, I downloaded 82 and have fallen in love with at least 50. These are a series of four I shot for my dear friend Saint. We were on the phone just before I had this 'brain-storm.' She is currently challenged by pain and side effects, loss of vision and anxiety over the coming radiation to her brain. My blessing was to picture the two of us together and "whole."

Last summer, au naturale, I would shoot 100, keep 10 and like 3. This was indeed an eaiser 'method' which makes me laugh and laugh at my advetures in the field. Last summer, not once, did it ever occur to me that I could go to a florist, buy a bouquet of daisies and pose them. Some ideas take a while to percolate. I have an idea how to use the many images in a project. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Talented Friend #2 Tribute

The Color Pink

Speaking of talented friends..... I am just emerging sufficiently from my anesthesia-induced fog to remember another tribute made for me personally earlier this month, which will benefit a wider audience of parents & children. [How long are you guys going to let me use this: anestheia/pain/BC as an excuse? I think I'll need at least another week or two to be held responsible for things. LOL.]

The slideshow above was created by my fellow early-childhood blogger, also named Deborah Jo! We met earlier this fall at NAEYC and bonded over our names. Deborah had just invited me to author a post on her blog, when I was in the midst of awaiting the initial pathology report. So that effort was put on hold, but in the meantime Deborah created this little 'dittie' (and you know I use that term with the greatest of fondness)to help children address a serious issue.

At the time of her creativity I think that I thanked her. I am sorry for the 'slowness' with which I share her kindness and talent with the rest of you.

(I am allowed to say "I'm sorry" when in fact it was something under my control. When there are things that I can not control, I am learning not to say "I'm sorry" as a response, no matter how knee-jerk my response is initially. There are many things that are too unfortunate to be true, but my personally saying "I'm sorry" is not genuinely applicable, because I am not 'responsible' for the situation. I'm learning to say things like, "I want you to know that I care about what you're going through, right now.")

OK. Enough of delving into my psyche. We're leaving for FL TODAY!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Talented Gifted Friend

This has been a big day. I met with my oncologist this afternoon. His office is across town. I drove there ALL BY MYSELF!! So, I am officially driving again!! (And the trip over & back has totally wiped me out. Totally and completely.) But before I was willing to say 'uncle' we went over to Sarah's house to love up on the grand peeps and share a pizza. Being there for such a brief time was both wonderful & heart-breaking at the same time. WonderBoy was able to grasp that he needed to give me some space, but da babeez wanted me to be my usual playful self. The gap in what I could do with them was so dramatic and really did wrench my heart.

But back to the onc visit. He's given me his thumb's up, all clear..... head to FL blessing. Whooohooooo!!! So we're taking that opportunity to get outta Dodge, head for the sunshine and we're thinking thru our departure.

Now, back to the graphic image above. This was created by one of my fellow Wittenberg University, art major friends, Patricia Saxton. She has been creating a series of graphic images for a series she's entitled: "52 Weeks of Peace." I suggested she might do something for breast cancer and voila -- we are week #22 in her series. I am so totally over-whelmed.

Here's what she wrote on her blog:

“Debbie’s Peace”
I designed this week’s peace sign in particular honor of a friend of mine whose positive, effervescent spirit shines everywhere she goes. It’s the rare individual who radiates her kind of light and blatant enthusiasm for life ~ the kind of person who unwittingly causes you to pause and embrace life right along with her. And because she recently came through a second cancer surgery – with flying colors and a good report - she’ll be able to keep on shinin’.
For my friend, this piece is a celebration of life.

In her honor, “Debbie’s Peace” is dedicated to all the courageous survivors – as well as to the memory of those who battled and lost. And hopefully this small offering will serve as another reminder for all of us to give our support and fervent hope towards finding a cure.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Support, Support, Support!!

Today has been a great day for reflection and sleep. One for counting my blessings and gratitude. One for setting a record of minutes spent on the phone and laying about with my feet up. One of those several marathon conversations led to this specific juncture for consideration: is it time for me to start a second blog? Is there value in having a 'two time, breast cancer-survivor' blog that stands on it's own? There I could conceivably open my heart and share such things as the fortitude it requires to take the baby steps necessary to move forward, or more likely, all the steps required to keep from slipping backwards. I could spill my inards about all the gory gross stuff of recovery, side effects and dressing my surgery site, the gloppity-glop that fellow cancer sistahs might find of some use or encouragement..... And then the 'rainbow' girl could continue on the singing/children/teachers/arts/happy channel without skipping a beat.

Well. After some personal thought for a couple weeks and a few focused hours of consideration, I've decided to stick to the one blog, one TOTAL experience of life concept...... probably in large part, due to that choice being 'easier' on me. LOL. How on earth could I juggle two separate universes? Obviously this choice presents a few draw-backs as well. Someone clocking in on a rare occasion may be caught off guard with all the tidbits of cancer, when they're expecting happy smiling children faces. Welcome to my life. Again, after careful consideration, the flip of the coin goes to making my life stream-lined. One life, one blog.

I don't intend to keep this unique experience to myself. I know that I'm not capable of that, in all actuality. I need you. ALL of you. Sistahs and rainbow music-lovin' children arts lovers, too.

So how exactly does one fly across the country on the 'eve' of their scheduled Bilateral Mastectomies to sing happy little kiddie songs?? (See there, I used that specific term in context.... you can handle it, right? You did handle it, right?) Well, first of all you pack your 'blessings' scarf and have the thought at the last minute to throw in some extra pink fabric. Then you sing your songs. Then you tell the upcoming surgery-story, by looking at the one person in the audience who has been there/done that and survived. Then you invite good people to add their good wishes to your scarf on the newly cut ribbons of fabric. Then at night, when all the workshops are complete and all the applause has concluded, you spend the time awaiting your flight home to said surgery, by "reading" your scarf. Then you quietly cry, wrapped up in the strength of the community.

And now that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of ribbons on the scarf, it takes a while to read..... from end-to-end. When you return to gray Ohio, you read it again. And again. And again. And about the seventh time thru all those ribbons, just when you need it most, you untangle THE MOST amazing ribbon from the pack and your jaw hits the ground, and your heart skips a beat and your eyes open to their widest and you read and re-read. There is a ribbon that says: "Louisiana-Saints-Faith-Love-Hope!"

Then you just marvel at the synchronicity of the universe. You just sit in complete amazement. Quietly and in awe. Someone has written the two words: Saints and Faith, side by side on their ribbon. Someone who is a teacher in Louisiana and follows football and does not know that my cancer-mentor goes by the 'nick-name' Saint and that my code name in that community has been shortened to Faith has written those two words side-by-side. Seriously. I couldn't make this up. And that's why I'm gonna keep it all in one blog. The unbelievable blog that is my life's experience on this planet.

P.S. Special hugs & kudos to all the ribbon writers, but the other one that made me smile from ear-to-ear: "Hope you live for as many years as there are dots on your skirt."

P.S.S. That's ZB's Greg who was the other component of the equation that made for such a resounding success in the completion of this invitation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Whoop it UP!!!

Can you spell enthusiasm? Can you spell responsive? Can you spell outstanding? How do you spell participation??
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Enthusiastic Educators

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Love in Louisiana

What an amazing invitation. Zaner-Bloser's Greg asked me way long ago last summer to participate in their annual winter state wide conference in Baton Rouge. I was excited from the beginning to contribute some happy singing & dancing fun. We were assigned the big ballroom and had lots of chairs and were almost ready to begin, but there were way toooo many participants -- so quick as a flash the conference center folks started rolling in additional racks & racks of chairs. We had plenty of space and the enthusiasm was sky high.
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Louisiana Love

Teachers together.
Support & encouragement.
Louisiana Love.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pathology's in: HURRAY!!!

"Oh, my friend,
it's not what they take away from you that counts ---
it's what you do with what you have left."
~Hubert Humphrey
[Received today via Louisiana email. Thank you Pat McD!]

The news is in!!! I have received word from my surgeon that my surgery was completely successful and my pathology report has arrived. It's all good news. GREAT news in fact.

All of the cancer was DCIS "in situ" which means 'contained.' NOTHING invasive. NO surprises. This is all the very best of all the very, very best.

I am aware of just how very fortunate I am. I am keenly aware in fact. Perhaps just a smidge too keenly aware, as the case may be.

Periodically I slip into the quagmire of 'survivor-guilt' over how I could have won the lottery twice, to have this 'early/easy' diagnosis. There are tens of thousands who will not receive such a good prognosis with their reports thru the coming year. I have my brilliant mentor, "Saint" to help me keep things in perspective and offer me the permission-to-celebrate.

I have been given another new chapter. A new opportunity. Won't it be fun to see what I can do with this part of my journey?
*******The pictures are from the pink tulip arrangement that my daughter Sarah hand delivered on my first evening home from the hospital. I have always liked the color pink.... in fact I don't think there's a color that doesn't make my heart sing. These make me think: HOPE & SPRING -- all good things to keep in mind.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Angels in our Midst

Every blue moon you meet someone that reaffirms your every bit of faith in the universe. Any nagging doubts that might have crept in around the edges of your earthly experience are instantly vanquished and you sigh a contended sigh of assurance that all is right, when you are in the presence of such an earthly angel. I want you to meet just such a being. She is very shy and I will not take advantage of my position to 'out' her beyond her comfort zone. So instead I will just tell you a little story, a true story.

Once upon a time there was a happy-music lady who was required to adjust her life of giddy delight around a diagnosis of cancer.... and being such a pure-pollyanna type she looked for the good that could emerge from such a diagnosis. The music lady found a sisterhood of amazingly strong women who had endured much and had smiled resilliantly in the face of pain and fear -- overcoming much in the process. And she grew stronger in their presence.

As the sprites and fairies were orchestrating good jestures of hope, they conspired on a clipboard for two such upbeat polly-people to meet in person: Baton Rouge. Jan. 2010. It was seasons away, not mere months, but entire seasons off into the future. It gave the giggle-girls something to look forward to. And time passed. And months of the calendar fell away. And diagnositic tests were undergone and poof, before you could blink your eyes it was January of two thousand and ten and a second diagnosis of cancer had befallen the star-of-the-show.

Just like the sprites and fairies had concocted, eons ago, the two indeed got to meet. In person. The unsung hero dedicated three entire days of her life to the support, care and feeding of the dittie-diva..... loading and unloading heavy things, schlepping, encouraging, prompting and reminding. All the while: sharing. Sharing. SHARING.

We do indeed have angels in our midst. I've met more than my fair share. I will forever be grateful and remember crossing the hurdle of my second cancer diagnosis because of the grace of my looniest fan. Thank you sweetie. Your support kept me sane in the face of the unrelenting beast. I got to sing & dance because you were there to hold me up and hold me together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let the Healing Begin

"What ought one to say then as each hardship comes?
I was practicing for this, I was training for this."
-- Epictetus (55-135 AD) Greek Philosopher

****Warning, warning, warning. This blog about children and music and the arts is being interrupted by my latest experience with breast cancer. I am wrestling with just how 'candid' to be about this chapter of my life. I promise not to post any pictures here of my body as it heals, but I may be uncharacteristically glum on occasion -- possibly too detailed for the casual reader.

So continue reading at your own discretion.

I am home from my over-night stay at the hospital. I am home from having had surgery to remove my breast cancer. I have 'survived' a bilateral mastectomy and have begun the process of healing. At this the 60 hour mark since surgery my frustration is that all of the medicines intended to help me overcome the pain, seem to be keeping me from sleeping. Hopefully that will balance out as I wean from the prescriptions..... I long for some serious sleep.

The quote above is 'new' to me. Insightful. Last summer while I was riding my bike at length, I used to say to myself going up a 'tough' hill, "This is good training......." and then I would leave the rest of that thought unfinished, with the 'suspicious' area on my last mamogram looming somewhere in my mind's eye. And I would push myself to ride a little further. Good training. Good training, indeed.

I rode 827 miles on my bike last summer in preparation, in training, in an effort to affirm life --in an effort to build strength and confidence in myself. I 'knew' going up and down those hills that I was preparing, I was in training. I was in training for this weekend. For this very weekend. I am convincing myself every hour that I can survive this, that I can in fact 'thrive' this surgery.

Like the hills that went up and came back down, I know that there are challenges awaiting me. I prepared for this weekend and I have passed over this hurdle, this surgery is now history. Now I can forge ahead into reclaiming my life and discovering just what it is that I'm able to contribute.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Daddy!!

I have had a very deep and restorative sleep, albeit short. I am up to wish my dad a HAPPY eighty-first birthday!!! I'm here to start the celebration early.

In a few short hours I will be sliding off under anesthesia to converse with angels and be kept company by the saints, while my medical team works it's wonders to rid my body of it's intruder, this cancer.

I anticipate that calling my dad and singing "Happy Birthday" to him, to be one of the sweetest presents he's ever recieved..... what with the calibar of my vocal prowess. Teeheee.

Cancer. Again. What's that all about? "CANCER, THE SEQUEL" the title I'm using for this chapter of my life. It makes me laugh. So there, take that cancer, I'm laughing at you!!

These past 10 days have been a whirlwind. A tilt-o-whirl of emotion, energy, enthusiasm and emptiness.... calvacading one right after the other. Cancer, a second time? What incorrect memo has my body received?? Again?? How are these rogue cells getting organized?? Again???

Last night right after Sarah and the grand-peeps left, I started sobbing over a commercial for a sleep magic mattress. The thought that it comes with a DVD for clarification had me weeping. Then my tears turned to that howling laughter of the institutionalized. All in a nano-second.

What I know. What I've learned. What I am realizing (in no order what-so-ever.)

1. When I have to tell people, my heart actually aches at their response & sorrow for me.
2. Yesterday, I got an invitation to present in Utah next summer: divine timing. I love having something to look forward to. Just got an invite to be involved in something thrilling in Texas next summer as well. (I think this infers I'll be 'wonderful' by summer.)
3. When people say "I'm sorry" I feel a wave of revulsion. It sounds like pity to me. My art friend offered his brother's line to say in response to the I'm sorry-ers: "That's ok, I don't hold you personally responsible." Just having that thought in my head adds some relief to the situation.
4. Family means everything as you sit awaiting the surgeon's arrival.
5. The community of Facebook and BCO friends have kept my tether to sanity, when I let it go periodically. Apparently, when you have given to others they are willing to give to you in return.
6. My friend showed me her surgical scar in the Sheraton elevator, because that's where we were when the conversation led us to that unveiling. We laughed about security cameras, but neither one of us batted an eye over her scar.
7. Laughter is absolutely the best medicine. I've received some pretty hilarious email and for that I am grateful. The best sort of laughter is that generated genuinely by a child. In the last 10 days I have studied the laughter of children and joined in with them, at every opportunity.
8. My two daughters and their husbands bring my life solidity. My two step-sons are like icing on the cake. My daughter-in-law is such a peach. She lets me cry & babble and knows that I am fine, the whole time. My sister, my neices & nephews, my brothers..... my cousins, well you get the idea. My parents. My husband is indeed the foundation. My rock. He keeps me safe -- even against rogue cells. He says amazing things like, "We're in this together." Which is one of my favorites. "I love you for what's inside, not for what's on the outside, silly." He sits next to me on the loveseat and doesn't say a thing, when I just need him to be near me.
9. I have all the faith in the world that the next chapter that unfolds will be the very best.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!! Be sure you hold up mommie today. She'll need to borrow some of your strength and courage. I'm so glad that you're both healthy and in sunny Florida. I'll call and sing later this morning. That's the plan!

Strength and courage.
Strength and courage.
Strength and courage.

Wait till you see the pictures from Louisiana!! You'll just have to be patient.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Do They Hold You Up?"

Now I am W-A-Y behind in my blog-journal-ramble, which has to do with laptops, Picasa, scheduling my surgery (pre-op-procedures) unexpected accumulations of snow and the attempts to commute thru it, and exhaustion, internet connectivity, and an avalanche and outpouring of LOVE -- and my efforts to respond to that love: all rolled into one. These are pictures from my monthly visit to Children's Hospital last week. I am wearing my set of surgery scrubbies over my heart-boots to work in the infant room, but notice my tights, (this is your foreshadowing clue.)

I was more than a bit 'over-wrought' to go to one of my favorite places with the news of my impending surgery and further tests hanging over my head. I knew that there would be hugs of support. I knew that there would be encouraging hugs, I knew that there would be lots of expression of love...... and I knew that would pull me off of my little isle of DaNile.

Best to jump right in with big boots.

I had a group of about 3 dozen toddlers on that particular winter's morning. Maybe more. We were singing all the familiar kiddie songs. I was strummin' away and we were all singing the infamous Barney song: "I love you, you love me........" This little teeny tot, bellows out, "Debbie I LOVE you!!!"

I literally started crying midverse.
So the teachers started singing 'for' me.
Which of course made me cry more.

This was at minute number 3 of a 20 minute session. I started squeezing my toes and pinching my inards to regain some composure. Anyhow, plop plop plop plop plop came the tears. Three dozen children looked at me..... and then sent me their collective nonverbal love.

I wish I could explain it.

They are not even three years old. Some cocked their heads, others crinkled their foreheads, some appeared a bit perplexed, but they all just sent me their love galore. Communally. They had no idea why that sadness had overcome me, nor did it matter in the least. They just loved me unconditionally.

After the teachers got done singing the song, I told the kiddos to close their eyes for their surprise...... which gave me 10 or 15 seconds to regroup...... and on with the show.

I put this 'conclusion' up on my FB page that same afternoon:

We were all done singing, and they were filing out of the room. This wee-teeny-might-of-a-boy, who barely stands taller than my boots, is walking past me as I hold the door open. He pats my knee and says, "What are those?" (He is asking about my black and pink striped tights.) I tell him, "Those are my stripes." He wrinkles up his entire face and says "Do they hold you up?"

WOW!! Do they hold you up? There's enough meat in that question for an entire book's response.

Out of the mouths of babes. Yes, angel-child, the stripes do indeed hold me up so that you can hold me up, with your unconditional love & acceptance, joy & brand-new laughing heart. You see things I forget to look for.

Thank heavens it was my last class in that building and I had to walk outdoors into the frigid air to my car and drive a few miles to their other building. Again, with the regrouping.

I've been thinking about that collective 'toddler' response since it happened. I can't yet express it, but they weren't the least bit dismayed that I would start crying mid-song. Then I got to thinking about toddlers & how they cry on a dime -- with every wittle tumble, injustice and missing blankie. It's done me a lot of good, to consider & conclude that I can keep singing, literally in the midst of my tears, and that I won't upset the children.
Now the teachers........ I don't suppose there was a dry eye in the room.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. Yes, Virginia, the children hold me up..... with help from the stripes & polka dots. YES!!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Theatrical Faces: Engaged

One of my favorite parts of every school-visit is watching the expressions of the chilren. They click right into the opportunity of the spirit of my songs and allow me to come along for the ride. Together we have a lot of fun. They encourage me & I respond which encourages them. Or is it the other way around??
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Author & Illustrations

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Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!

Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!
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