WATCH YOUR STEP
I’ve seen those words painted on steps in a public place. Maybe it’s the first step, or a step that is all by itself. Last week I talked about how I had better pay attention as things were changing, that I’m moving out of chemotherapy treatment
That warning on the step is laughable. We learn to walk first thing. Of course, I know to watch my step. And that step with the warning? It’s right there, so obvious. What kind of person would not see it?
These are my thoughts, smug and certain as I step over that exact step and stumble.
Thanksgiving morning, I joined the traditional morning workout class at my Dojo. I was so excited to feel good I really got into it. So great!
And I suffered the rest of the day, and the weekend.
I know better. I even knew I know better. I still walked right into it.
This is not a chemo thing. There are stereotypes about weekend gym warriors, who show up only on Saturday, and push themselves to their utmost—sometimes to injury—and crawl away to continue the cycle. Or maybe to give up altogether.
Like those “heroes” I would like to step into my vision, my fantasy, of being capable and strong. I *used* to be able to do that many kicks, or pushups.
I can’t now. It takes time to build up to my heroic vision. It’s not helpful to push past my limits and hurt myself. Showing up is worth a lot.
Once again, my compass points have changed. I have more endurance and capacity. Kinda. Rather than immediate weakness, the weakness showed up later. New pacing is required. Each day is different
I’m chagrined. I’m feeling around this new landscape and figuring out what the appropriate levels are.
Can I be satisfied with progress not perfection? Showing up and taking steps is going to have to be enough.
My old friend, the 1 % change comes to mind. It would be great to make a measurable change, even one so very small.
I will be honest. I don’t know what a small change might be. I can’t envision it beforehand. I know how things used to be. At least I think I do.
Then again I can’t measure myself against a memory. I can stand where I am this moment and reach for something. I might find that standing is near the limit of what I can do.
It will have to be enough that I do all I can. If I show up and do it, that is quite a lot.
And when I trip on that step again
I have to laugh at myself. Just like I should. It’s one stumble out of many steps that make up a whole trip.
8 oz of cranberries
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
3 T orange zest
put in a sauce pan and boil
stir until cranberries pop
add ginger or cinnamon if desires
when it’s thick it’s done
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by
Those iconic lines create the feeling of FOMO- fear of missing out. Every choice made means all other choices are refused. The author made a choice based on which one he thought was less used.
In my populated life, the city is full of well-worn paths. So well-travelled that we watch out for traffic jams. Every wants to get to the same place.
The onramps consolidate all the many into one. The cars line up on the freeway, all of them going as fast as they can manage in the crush. It’s reassuring to join the group. We all are going the same way. All of us together pushing moving, with intentions so clear they never need re-examination.
Right up to the part when I remember the road doesn’t lead to where I’m trying to go. There comes a time when I have to get out of the group and get back to my own. I have to become aware of myself in this crowd and wrestle my way through to the exit to get to my destination.
Getting out is where it gets tricky.
Everything is simple when I’m chugging along on the same road.
And I know this is the time to pay attention so I don’t tangle myself up. I’m so close to the goal. I can taste it. It’s right there.
But all the little choices I have to make, the individual distinctive things that set me alone out of the crowd now. This is where I have to stay awake and make my own decisions without the reassurance of the others.
I’m done with a big leg of my journey. Chemo is finally done. I am just now starting to feel strong again, more like myself. It’s almost like waking up. I can see beyond the next moment.
There are a few more months of different treatments to get through. It is scary to come back to awareness and to wrestle with my own life and make choices again. I didn’t choose this and would not choose hiding anonymously in a crowd. But since this year I restricted my abilities and choices to others’ prescriptions.
The rewards and risks of individuality are at hand.
Things being what they are, I have a new habit every morning. I put on my face. Fake eyelashes, makeup and a head covering are required for me to feel comfortable being seen.
If I’m honest, I can admit that a not small part of me feels like I should hide and not appear in public. I’m just not in an acceptable state. The part of me that is critical and points out how I’m supposed to be in the world does not give the pass for me to be visible freely.
It’s a sense of shame. If I show I risk being rejected, mocked or pitied.
I feel myself cringing, curling up to protect myself from these painful possibilities. My real self, my authentic face needs to be hidden, covered and not exposed public judgement and personal humiliation.
It’s painful to see other people look on me with pity. There has to be another way.
As I consider it, other’s opinions of me are something I have wrestled with in the past. I had to rank my own opinions higher than other people’s. I suppose putting myself together in the morning is something I do for me, not for other people. I feel more comfortable when I look the way I want to look.
Other people are welcome to their opinions as long as I am secure and balanced. I’m the only one that knows what’s going on in my life and what it took for me to get to this moment.
I actidentally had a deep plunge into the world of other’s opinions last week. I posted a 9 second video of my daughter doing a karate lesson. Nothing special but the gods of internet algorithms took it viral. Amost half a million people saw this 9 second video over the next few days.
Of that huge number of people who saw this video of my kid, a few thousand hit the heart and ‘liked” the video A few hundred left comments.
The comments were not expressing approval. That huge number of people boiled down to a couple people who had to tell us all the things that were wrong with us. The commenters were inspired with certainty in pointing out shortcomings. Well, they also decided that my daughter was mentally handicapped and being scammed by her Karate teachers.
A few hundred people were direct, definite and specific.
But they were totally wrong. Laughably wrong. Mean and cruel, many of them.
I knew they were wrong. It was okay that they were wrong. It was all about their error and nothing to do with me or my daughter.
Same with with the cringey shame I dread. Other people’s opinions really aren’t about me. If I can look myself square in the mirror and know who I am and be proud of what I’m doing in the world, that’s what really matters.
There are a lot of ways to figure out where to go. Humans are social animals, so it follows that when we get in a new situation, we look around to what other people are doing and where they are going.
Unfamiliar situations are uncomfortable and scary. I like to get situated, get my bearings and have an idea where I am going. I want to get in a groove, have a sense of what to expect. Five months ago, I got my first dose of chemo and started to map the territory. After the first dose I got an idea of what to expect with the chemo infusion. Then the days and weeks after how I would feel and what was going to happen. It wasn’t the same every time, but I had a sort of confidence with the experience.
When people started making maps, they drew what they knew. Then they realized there was more, but they didn’t know what was in the unknown.
That is where they drew monsters.
It’s scary in the dark. I don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s got to be nasty. I mean, I don’t know it is but I’m afraid of it.
Like shadows cast in my imagination it is spooky and scary.
After all this, I find myself at the beginning again, having to be brave in the unknown.
I was hoping I was past that part.
It seems the map makers had it right. The monsters aren’t going anywhere.
I will have to keep my bravery at the ready. I never wanted to stay on the same paths. I will find strange corners I’ve never encountered before.
Adventures are not comfortable things.
Breaking off bits of the bread her guard provided with her meal, Princess Sophia threw the crumbs at the crows who visited her tower.
That one has a toe missing, she thought. The other two didn’t have any distinguishing marks to tell them apart, but the missing toe would help her identify at least one. That’s how she’d know if the bread was poisoned.
She was almost certain she was being poisoned, just not exactly how.
It could be the bread, but it might also be the meat. Or even the water. She hoped it wasn’t the water.
It was a slow death her enemies had planned for her. She was almost sure of it. If she could get some grasp of the nature of the poison, she might be able to avoid the worst of it.
The ache in her bones was real, and so was the heavy weariness that she carried through the day.
Then again, after a sleepless night she wondered if it was coming from her head instead of an outside poison.
The night hours stretched like a table that she set with many fantastical ideas and imaginations. She could have convinced herself into the weariness and pain.
She tried to use the nights to devise a plan to test her situation.
The birds would get the bread. And the rats that found their way up the walls would taste her meat.
They couldn’t eat as much of it and get as much of the poison as she did, but they were smaller. If one of them died, it would tell her something.
And it was nice to pay attention to the animals, even though she knew they were all moving further down their poisoned path.
As with the crows, she tried to find a way to recognize each rat. Was it really the same one coming every day?
And were either of these creatures showing the sort of symptoms she was feeling?
She tried to engage them, to get them to stay with her so she could observe them. Spending time with them was also something to do.
The crows were more willing. She ended up giving almost all her bread to them to keep them near.
Her rat was far more cautious. She would lay out the scrap and watch for him. But he might sneak and get it when she was turned away or sleeping.
One day, the scrap remained. Her heart beat faster. This must be the proof that her meat was the source of the poison. Her mind raced. She had been giving most of her bread away to the crows, but eating most of the meat. Had she been hastening her poisoning. She looked out the window to see how her crow friends were doing. Were they showing signs?
How could she know the right thing to do? Could she balance out her food and avoid her fate?
And her rat friend—he was gone. She felt so alone. And guilty. She had killed him.
“I’m sorry!” she said out the window.
She swiveled her head toward the sound. A striped gray cat stretched along the wall. She had never seen him before.
“What makes you sorry?” he asked as he sat back and cleaned his face.
“How did you get here?” she said. “I’ve never seen you before. And I’m sorry because my rat is gone…probably dead and probably my fault.”
“Ah,” said the cat. “I was brought in to handle the rat problem. Looks like it is solved.”
“Did you kill my rat?” Then maybe it wasn’t the princess’s fault. But the end was the same, no more rat. The conversational cat did not reply.
Her habit of engaging the animals reasserted itself. “That rat got bits of my meat. I’m afraid I’m being poisoned. And now I have no one to test with.”
The cat got up again. “I will eat your meat for you.” He pondered the distance and made an astonishing jump to her window. It took the Princess’s breath away.
She gave him a bit of the meat to reward him, then realized she might not be doing him any favors with poisoned meat. He had already eaten it, though, so she petted his fur and explained to him the situation. It took quite a while.
“…you see, I’m sorry.”
The cat, well-satisfied, sat back on his haunches and observed her for some moments.
“You are a princess and know many things. But I can see in the dark better than you can. I know there are many possibilities that you don’t expect. Hope comes in unforeseen ways. That’s how I have faith to leap the way I do.”
Sophie stared in disbelief. She breathed out with impatience. “Hope? I am alone with nothing but the anticipation of poisons. Nothing has changed for me for months.”
“Something has changed. I am here”
How like a cat, Sophia thought.
The next day, instead of food the Minister opened the doors of her cell and brought her the news that her uncle, the enemy who had locked he in the tower, had been over thrown by her friends.
The Minister knew it the change was coming, even though he couldn’t let her know. He apologized and said, “The best I could do to care for you while keeping the secret was release a cat clean your prison cell of the vermin.”
“Maintain healthy boundaries.”
That’s a saying I hear from the women’s empowerment culture. It is generally good advice to follow. I am not the only woman who has had difficulty saying no to demands on my time and my life.
I don’t want to get roped into an obligation that doesn’t benefit me—to accept the guilt or shame someone might be trying to project on me to control me.
I’ve joined in exercises with groups of women practicing saying NO!
I am sitting here holding a no in both hands. No more medical appointments. No more chemo. No more cancer!
I’ve had enough. This is the last straw.
There was another scan, and another test.
Good news! The breast cancer shows no sign of having spread.
Bad news. A totally separate and unrelated cancer in my thyroid is discovered. They are pleased to tell me that I am cleared for surgery to happen two weeks after my last chemo dose.
What?! I want to be done. I don’t want another procedure!
I’d like to throw up a strong boundary wall to protect myself from this intrusion.
And I remember—
There are two sides to a boundary. Some things have to be kept out.
Some things have to be kept in.
In my case, the enemy in the form of cancer already breached my boundary. I wanted that out.
But since it came in, I want to protect myself by shoving it out.
I would not have chosen one cancer, let alone two.
Deep breath. It’s here now, so my boundaries have to let the right answer in.
I am working to be ready to let that surgery happen. That’s holding my true boundary.
That’s the kind of strong woman I choose to be. To say my best NO for myself. When it is hard and requires strength and sacrifice.
126 days of Chemo and I’m absolutely stir crazy to do something fun. Me and a 21 year old friend went to see Taylor Swift’s Eras concert movie. I figured I could sit in a chair for a few hours and see a spectacle.
It was incredible. I didn’t start out as a Swifty, but I’m converted. She put on an amazing glamorous, musical and suprisingly intimate show.
She is a very beautiful woman, with so many costume changes and an astounding body of work. It reminded me of Cher’s Believe tour which I also saw…in 1999, the year after Taylor was born
So much glamor, so many beautiful outfits and long blonde hair. I took it in huddling under two jackets shivering from anemia and AC blowing on my nearly naked head.
I felt very far from glamour and too weak to climb the cliff to get closer to it.
I wanted to collapse into a pile of pity. I had become a pile of misfit pieces, scraps half discarded and others pulled out of costume prop factories held together with pins and glue.
The show didn’t let me linger in my pity, because there was a new song or dance move every time I fell into that trap
When I got home and told my husband about it, he said “Taylor Swift isn’t even Taylor Swift.”
Oh yeah. She has costume props too…but with a bigger budget and a staff to help.
I remember when I was learning to put on the eyelashes. It was not easy. I landed that stickey strip on an unnatural angle. I would leave it there because I knew I couldn’t do better in the time I had before my first video meeting of the day.
The camera was forgiving, and I looked good enough. At the end of the day, my off angle lashes would still be haning on, and I’d confess to people I saw in person that I’d been learning to put in the falsies.
They didn’t care that it wasn’t real looking. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t right.
In the end, my friends and associated responded to my smile and welcoming positive attitude.
I’m hard on myself. It could be enough to open up my heart, and sing along to the parts I know. Most people don’t know all the lyrics, but I know I will have a better time if can stay in the spirit of enjoying the show
Living my life as an 80 year-old, I’m changing a few things. I don’t have the strength and endurance I had. I FEEL it when my dog walk turns on an incline. It’s slight, but I can tell instantly that I’m walking uphill.
More prominently, my preferences in reading material has shifted toward the less challenging. Yes, I like the beautifully written prose. And my brain is tired too. It’s like walking up a hill
High school freshman English class has my daughter reading House on Mango street. I have been avoiding that one for a while. It could be the perfect read for my weak mind.
The stories are like snapshots. Like a a box of photos from her childhood.
Some stories–some books—have a long wave of a story. An arc.
Cisneros’ book is like a life that is biopsied. She went into the long story of her childhood and took samples to examine.
It reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in that way. Snippets. Like glimpsed between the fence slats to the backyards I walk past. The words. The sentences.
What is it I’m seeing? I can’t quite see it but I kinda do see all of it.
I see why they have the kids read it. It’s very bite sized for teenagers.
And just enough for my worn out head.
I can’t see the whole picture right now. But maybe I kinda do see all of it.
There was a time when I could assume that all the parts of my body would work. Such a glorious symphony of cooperation.
That is what the doctors are relying on when they subject me to this cure. This strong poisonous medicine that is meant to kill the cancer disease dead, but which also damages a lot of the necessary parts of my system.
These medical people check their checklists. But their concerns are not the same as mine. They want to keep me out of their red zones.
But as I am a human figure, shifted in perspective and dissembled like a Picasso painting, I have to examine the pieces of myself and fit them back together into a mostly functioning whole.
This makes me think of witches. It’s the wisdom of Old Wives. Those stories…rub butter on a burn. Garlic helps with infection, you know. Ginger is good for digestion. There are many more of these tricks and cures.
Each self is unique, and what is bothersome to one is tolerable to another. The attention to the tiny details and comforts is the domain of loving relationship.
Also, someone who is willing to test out the cures and pay close attention to how it works.
Trying things with myself is a good start. Does this cure the itch? Does this help me sleep?
Then taking care of little children gives a lot of chances to take care of the little problems and learn their solutions.
I have to identify what’s not right in myself and practice the witchcraft science of following the clues of what’s worked for others to find the things that help me. I have to define what is wrong and then go on a quest to find what will make it right.
So this week I’m eating liver. It turns out that anemia is not just bad in my doctor’s opinion. Once I got some iron-rich liver in me I felt a lot more energetic.
Seems strange to me that the doctor left it to me to come up with that solution.
But the old wife in me met the challenge quite well.