Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy, and Writing

Long ago, a few weeks over a year, I said that I couldn't write because I was too happy. Well. That is just silly, I've come to realize. I'm drunk with optimism, and writing poetry like never before. The happy poet who I atheized back then is alive and well, and living inside of me. Thank you, God.

My dad, in a funk a few months ago, whining about the crops or the broken down tractor, asked, "What was good about you getting cancer?" "So many things," I said. "I feel closer to God than I ever could have imagined, I feel grateful, blessed, happier, kinder." Since then, I've also confessed to my sister that, some days, I'm gripped by fear. But then it's gone, and I am electric, feverish about the future.

I have surgery Dec. 2. The good one. One year, and my cancerversary that I couldn't really ignore like I'd originally planned came and went without pomp and circumstance, thank God, again. I'm blessed, blessed, blessed to no end that I can go without a big to-do about being alive. Nothing is sweeter, and I can hardly say what that means, just that I know how it feels to believe I would die – and then I didn't, and so I feel like sort of witness to a miracle, which changes you, good and bad. But much more good than bad, and nothing is ever the same as it was before, and so it's a milestone that was never intended, but a milestone nonetheless. A life changer, a game changer. Dec. 2 is another milestone. The last hurrah in this bittersweet party that celebrates the things you never really wanted to or should have to, but that's so alight and beautiful in spite of what started it all. It's all so simple: celebration, hope, faith, life, life, life, and this little one that's so full and fresh with it.

NJ after her very first Ring Pop, a blue one, as you can see – compliments of her Papa.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How Many Miles Does It Take?

During the breast cancer walk, we asked why in God's name is this thing 60 long freakin torturous miles. What's up with that? Haven't we suffered enough? I mean, everyone here pretty much has suffered in one way or another, from breast cancer, of course. And now we have to walk 60 miles on top of that? Why not 40 miles? Why not 30? But now I get it, and maybe it should have been obvious from the start.

It's supposed to be a little torturous and hard and slightly misery-inducing, because that's how it feels to have cancer. This is as close as it gets to walking in the shoes of those who've had to take the walk unwillingly, a measure of the tedium, the dreariness, the struggle to take one more step, to wake up to another day of uncertainty – besides the knowing that you'll have a hard time just getting out of bed from muscles and joints sore from chemo drugs; stiff, tight skin from surgeries in inconvenient places; looking again at that strange body you're living in and trying to get down with. Wanting to get back into bed and forget about it. 

After Day One of the walk, it seemed preposterous that we'd go back the next day and do it all over again, and then again. But, like cancer too, there is grace in the struggle, humility, an abundance of love, gratitude and support. How many miles does it take to get you to that place? Fifty-nine just might not be enough.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Is Worry Worth Writing About?

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I haven't been writing as much lately and have been trying to figure out what the deal is. I mean, this is normal for writers, I suppose. Writer's block, and all that jazz. Or, for anyone who does anything creative. Sometimes the juices just aren't a-flowin'. But, I think it's more that I've caught the worry bug, and I just don't like to put negative vibes out there, anywhere, for anyone. Today I realized though that if I don't put them out there, then they're just in here, in me, and that's the worst place of all.

Yesterday, there was a horrifying photograph in the Washington Post of a little girl who was burned in a Pakistani suicide bombing. I thought of NJ, of course, as any parent would think of their child. Anything that devalues the preciousness of life is disturbing to me now more than ever – sickening, paralyzing nearly. Yesterday when the train got to my stop, some drowning, heavy sadness physically overtook my body. I felt nauseous, and started crying as I was walking through the parking lot. Couldn't even wait until I got to my car. I hoped no one saw me.

The image of the little girl was awful, but it set free some oppressive heap in me that's been there for weeks – fear of anything bad happening to NJ, or my family, or, basically – me. What if I'm working too much, and not spending enough time with my family and that makes me sick, again? What if I'm not eating enough good stuff, and that makes me sick again? What if I need to exercise more (um, I mean, exercise at all, and yes, I do!), or give more, create more, love more, pray more? What if I'm waiting too long to get my ovaries out of my body, and that makes me sick? What if I can't have another baby and NJ never gets to have a brother or sister? What if I'm breathing wrong (not even joking)? What if it comes back? What if, what if, what if? This worry itself will make make me sick.

My friend, Ash, told me I should see a therapist after my surgery. It would be a lot to deal with, maybe more than I could prepare for, mentally. Maybe she was right. But can a therapist heal me better than God can? Talking is talking, and I'm being much too quiet. I know God is listening, and well, He's free.

A little Xanax never hurt anybody, either.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bless This Home Sweet Home

Buy this pretty picture from Spread the Love.
Buy this one from Spread the Love, too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Show Some Love, As If You Haven't Already Shown Enough

I'm doing the 3-Day walk in DC. Sixty freakin' miles. 6-0. Soo excited, and nervous. I know I'll cry so hard when I see all of the gorgeous ladies and families and friends who have been affected by breast cancer. What's a few blisters for a good cause, right? I hope I raise millions of dollars, just me – with the help of you.
Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Washington D.C. 3-Day for the Cure!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Change Is in the Hair

Oops, I meant to say, change is in the air. So much has happened in the past month. All good things. So much to be thankful for, I'm afraid I don't know how to show my gratitude. How much can I pray? There's more to do. Something big is right around the corner, always. I can feel it. In the meantime, here's what's been goin' down:

1. I got my very first new hair haircut. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee. But still soo short...
2. I'm not eating meat anymore. For serious this time. No more dead stuff.
3. NJ is sleeping in her very own bed! – mostly. And me and Jon get to snuggle, like old times, if one of us doesn't fall asleep on the couch that is. It's pretty sweet, but we miss that little munchkin.
4. We got a sweet, awesome nanny. Her name is Katy, and NJ is in love. She brought her a princess coloring book with stickers on day one, and that sealed the deal.
5. I was crazy post-treatment anxious, like, what will happen now that I'm not getting a zap or a cutting out or a toxic-in-a-good-way drip? And I prayed for no more worry and fear, and guess what? It's gone. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
6. Went to see Dr. Huxtable (oncologist) for the first time since my "treatment plan" has ended, and got straight A's for once in my life.
5. And, we bought a new house. Plantin' roots, and wheat grass.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

This is from someone I never even met before – another angel.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So Sorry, But You Won't Be Missed

I forgot to go to radiation one day last week. It was one of those rare occasions when I was actually engrossed in work and just plain forgot. When I arrived late, the nurse said, "I'm glad it's such a non-event in your life." Exactly, I thought.

That non-event has been a thorn in my side and is now an itchy red mess, and it's about to be over. There isn't a single thing I'll miss about radiation, unlike chemo when there was some bittersweet, ecstatic, confused ending. Then, there was camaraderie, like some battle, where I was headed home and the rest stayed to carry on the fight.

I won't miss opening that steely locker, hoping that the coral, not the blue, hospital gown is on top of the stack, and that it isn't too starched. I prefer the ones that feel like a worn, floaty old summer sheet, the kind at shoddy beach houses mostly. And I won't miss the part after when I struggle to get out a navy robe from the too-small wiry shelf shoved precariously into that small space. I almost always yank out the whole damn thing. It seems I'm the only one who ever cares to wear them, but there are boys, men, whatever, in the waiting area here, too.

I undress, top only, but I take off the bottom sometimes, just forgetting, or I'm wearing a dress, and then after I lay down on the table, they remind me "top only." I know, I say, I'm wearing a dress. Next time I just pull the top of my dress down. Make little jokes, small talk, the weather, work. How much can you say in five minutes?

I won't miss walking past the sign that says, "Danger, Radiation," wondering what exactly it means for me, and what it even is anyway. The nurse explained to me the other day that I'm in the last days of treatment here, and now I'm getting a "boost" on my scar because recurrences occur here most often. It's only surface radiation – electrons – which is different from the protons that penetrated deep into my chest wall, bouncing off bones, fragments brushing my lungs and inducing a barely noticeable dry cough, intoxicating my throat with a funny feeling. The bad coffee and the fake creamer. I won't miss any of it.

I went to the pool today, and my little fake boobie was almost completely out of my bathing suit because I can't feel it exactly, in a way that I don't notice when it's all out there, nekked. I just happened to look down and see it, really, scary close to the edge. Seriously close. Got to watch out for that sneaky little gal. I've kinda been wanting to show it off anyway.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Little Poem for a Big Man

Dad, Workin’
Bent down, bent-over shoulders
hooked back
raising up, lugging in, heaving out
Those busted up fingers all swelled
From the ink and the roots
and wire and cutters
sand paper really does sound like hands
on a tired old chest from North Carolina
that you rub down
some life you round out
like yours
getting smoother now

add milk paint
make a few bucks

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'm Super Organized

This is actually a working document and has been for several months now. I referred to it just today. It makes perfect sense to me, which is slightly worrisome. I found myself asking, "Do I not have it together?" "Am I a mess?" I think the answer is kind of, yes. Yes, I am a mess. And then – I'm not meant to be perfect. Now carry on.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holiday Heyday

Jon says Memorial Day is his new favorite holiday. The mark of summer, beer, BBQs, sunshine, day trips, nekked babies running around. Honoring real heroes, men and women who face death by choice, and this blessed, blessed country. I love it. I really do. We're lucky to live, to have grown up, to raise NJ almost in the heart of this place, this vast nation that feels so small at times. Especially when you go into the city on a day that's filled with such a spirit of gratitude, remembrance and celebration of everyone who makes it so.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

God and Seitan

I've been having lots of crazy dreams lately. Some might call them visions. Some might even call them hallucinations. I don't know what the hell they are, but, I keep seeing animals, and they aren't happy that I've been eating them. I think it's God talking to me, and he's telling me that I can't be one with the universe and all that crap (not crap really) if I'm eating things I'm not supposed to be putting in my body. It's not necessary for us to eat animals, to kill animals, to live and be healthy. In fact, it's unhealthy.

The pastor at our church spoke about attentiveness last week. Not awareness, but being attentive in everything we do, everyday. Hearing that voice, always. Hearing it, and listening to it. My meat-eating heart is breaking, but everything else is unbreaking. So, I have to go with my God-gut. I'm going to be eating tempeh- or seitan-bacon from here on out (the name irony – clearly disturbing).

Here's a recipe for a fakin' bacon BLT from my new cookbook:

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 slices tempeh bacon
4 slices whole grain bread
2 tbsp. vegenaise
2 romaine lettuce leaves
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted and thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tempeh bacon and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels.

Toast the bread (I like Ezekiel sprouted bread) and spread with the mayo. Place 2 slices of prepared toast on cutting board and layer each one with lettuce, tomato, avocado and bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each with remaining toast. Use a bread knife to cut these babies up, and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Three Years Ago Today

On May 17, 2008, I married a man more perfect for me than I could have ever dreamed up. I thank God for him everyday, but can never give thanks enough. The treasure of my life who lifted me up when I didn't know I needed lifting, he healed me before I ever knew I needed to be healed, and opened me up when I didn't know I was closed. I thought I'd been loved before. Not like this. He is my peaceful, easy feeling, my loving cup, my beautiful buzz. The river that sings sweet songs to rock my soul. The sugar in my bowl. Best friend, best guy a girl could ever have by her side. Love you baby, forever.

Monday, May 16, 2011

X Marks the Spot

I plucked a hair from an unmentionable place this morning, which means that things really are getting  back to some kind of normal. I think I have pms, and cramps. Well, Jon thinks I have pms. I even washed my hair, and craved a cigarette for the first time in like 2 years maybe. Now that is awesome. Today was the first day of radiation. Here is my new tattoo, one of four. Not the whole thing, silly. Just the very center dot. Bulls-eye. Not what I had in mind when I told Jon I was thinking of a getting a new one. Four little dots on my body forever from here on out. Four reminders not to forget how fragile, precious, lovely, amazing this little life of mine is, and what I had to do to fight for it. Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. Can't wait to celebrate, our marriage, and so much more.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter

NJ and I are very much alike, already. Aloof, stubborn, leery, inquisitive, picky (with a very discerning palate mind you), she loves language and books, to be touched – when she's in the mood. She even has unnatural leanings, already, toward beer and wine. There are only a few words she can say with near precision, and beer is one of them. Maybe we've been drinking a bit much :( She's got a ferocious sweet tooth. Cookies, popsicles and sweet tea in particular, we recently discovered, thanks to granddaddy. She dislikes people creepin' too close into her personal space and prefers to be naked at all costs. And, maybe we even look kinda the same. Just a little.

NJ (top) and me (bottom), around the same age.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Life, Death and Seasons

What is it about spring that makes us want to get rid of clutter? It's in the stars, I guess. The way God intended. The clearing out, cleaning out, making way for ducklings, young, bright and new.

The stages of my cancer recovery have coincided perfectly with the seasons. Diagnosed in the fall just after the leaves changed and started falling from the trees. Then chemo winter, barren and stark, like my whole body, parched and dry and cracked. (The best fix – Weleda Skin Food. Stuff's fabulous.) Feeling as naked as the stiff ground. And thank God for spring, and surgery. Getting rid of, clearing out, cleaning out to make way for the new.

On the day after Easter, I spent my first whole day with NJ, and barely any drugs. It was 80 degrees outside. I was tired, and NJ and I napped together for the first time since March 30. We strolled to the coffee shop on Main Street. It felt nice to be among the bustling, busy day and people with things to do and places to go. Business, things being done. I had a latt̩ with coconut milk and raw Stevia (love that they have that there); NJ had a bit of cookie. I hadn't been to the coffee shop in a while. Jon blames the place itself for giving me cancer because that's where I went everyday for sweet treats and cinnamon rolls just before it all went down. And now I'm back, the addict going back to her dealer, her mistress Рmy love affair with sugar. But, it's reassuring that I'm learning more and more how to genuinely enjoy my old haunts with a new food attitude, and a better picker. That's the hard part. The new choices, and the starting over.

I've started over before, lots, but I thought getting married, meeting my husband meant not having to start over anymore. I was so wrong. Now we begin again. Life after cancer. And so now I feel like I should say something about "surviving."

I don't feel like a breast cancer survivor, just a survivor in general, like, isn't everyone surviving all the time, living through each day, beating some kind of odds? Being one of the marriages that lasts, a writer who gets published, a mom who really does get to have it all, being kind, having real, true faith. We are all survivors when we get through the treacherous, heady, life-inducing, laughter-invoking, lush, pink day. If you live in or around DC, you're a survivor when you get to and from work, and if you get home with a smile on your face, you are truly victorious.

It is not easy always, but it can be, mostly. Easy in the way it is to navigate a ridiculous argument with your mostly-lovely husband, easy in the way it is to shift a trusty old five-speed you love to drive, easy in the way it is to love your children and find them more beautiful every day, even as they get smarter, craftier and generally crazier (and more terrifying in their capacity to become if you're not very, very careful).

I have never been more thankful for God and his seasons, Easter, rebirth, life renewed, resurrection.
NJ enjoying her first Easter Peeps.
On a lighter note, coming back to life makes me think of Michael Jackson. I just watched This Is It, filmed before his death on his "comeback." He still had it, moves, man. He was so awesome. Dang. Death is just as much a part of seasons as the living, and that part is a stinker.
holy experience

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fun With Pharmaceuticals

I'm finally emerging from my drug-induced cave. No more stupor-like behavior. Except for today when I forgot to wear panties under my dress to get a pedicure. Under normal circumstances, I would have dutifully gone back home and put on undies. I'm not a commando kinda gal, and, well, frankly, I just find it kind of icky. There was just this one time, but I was trying to get my boyfriend back and it was strictly out of necessity and an exception to the rule. But today, I just didn't care to drive back home. It's a little hard for me to steer (look, I'm being extra cautious and all), and who has the energy to drive two miles all the way back to the house? Clearly, though, the joke was on me, seeing as how my pedicurist was a dude, the only dude in the place. And straight, I'm fairly positive. It's hard to relax during a spa pedi while struggling with all your might to ensure your thighs are glued together. He must of thought I was afflicted with something, in my legs, or just a stress case who doesn't know how to relax, ever. When he was rubbing my feet, he asked me how I was feeling. It all seemed kind of weird and perverted and I just wanted it to be over with already.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind if you ever need to be highly medicated for any long stretch:
1. Take pills before pain sets it, or it's too late, and your screwed.
2. Eat a lot, anything you want, because it helps you get out of bed when you picture how amazing it looks and how delicious it will taste.
3. Drink tons of water, but that doesn't mean beer or wine, especially if you're taking Dilaudid. This will help you poop, and take stool softeners too, even though these don't really seem to do much. Water is best, and Yogi tea called Get Regular.
4. Try to shower sometime, but not until it's been a few hours after your last drug. You might slip or pass out or fall asleep. If you don't want to shower, don't feel bad about it. Like I said, it's a little dangerous anyway.
5. Do Reiki, lots of it. (There is so much more to say about Reiki, I'll write about this alone in another post. It's amazing, life-changing, a simple miracle.) Even if you're in so much pain, Reiki means less pain, and it helps to calm your nerves and tension, which might alleviate pain more than anything else under the sun.
6. You might wanna smoke a little herb if possible, but not with Dilaudid. And, really, just a tiny bit, because if you cough, that would really hurt. If you don't know where to get any, ask the most normal looking but cool person you know (one who dons a bow-tie or listens to the Goo Goo Dolls would be a bad choice, for example), or a lesbian or a person who drives a Subaru (sometimes this is a lesbian, too). They usually have a stash. I hear this stuff really helps, but I wouldn't know, personally. Plus, I guess it's illegal.
7. Pop another pill before it hurts too bad, or it will be too late.
8. Wear perfume so you're not too stinky, and it will cheer you up.
9. Light candles, but don't burn down your house or even just your bedroom, and surround yourself with soft, pretty things. These will also lift your spirits.
10. Pray several times a day and night, even about stuff you might not normally pray about, like "God, please help Gretchen see that Slade is shady and not the right guy for her." This is a good time to get closer to God, and that's no joke.
11. Indulge when you're up to it. Shop, but only if you're not too out of your mind and don't overdo it, buy some new lip gloss or get a mani/pedi, but don't drive on drugs or forget to wear your panties.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not So Fast

I think I lied when I said the worst was over. Getting my "expanders" blown up with saline hurt like the dickens. Yesterday, I wanted to rip these fake expanding metal-ish boobs out of my body. They hurt, were pulling my skin, burning my incision, aching my back, crushing my ribs, taking my breath away. Lying around makes it worse, but there's nothing to do, but something, anything is good. Do something. Otherwise, it's turning just right, stay there, don't move, ouch, shit, don't, move, that way, drugs, ow ow, more drugs, more House Hunters, repeats of Real Housewives, get up and get some Oreos, cake (I am eating everything and anything during recovery, to gain weight, to feel better, and have fallen back into my sugary ways with such gusto, it's remarkable I ever went without – a glutton for sweet punishment). I would like an epidural and am really not sure why only laboring women get to have them. Why should they get such special treatment? Child birth was a cake walk, which sounds very delicious right now. And speaking of eating, as of today, I've ingested 40 Hydrocones and 20 Dilaudids, which is stronger than morphine apparently. Am I wimpy about pain? I’m kind of a baby, but seriously, I didn’t even take drugs after NJ was born. I’m actually sick of taking drugs. I just want to get back to normal, feel normal. There is light at the end, and it looks exactly like big, glorious, boobies. Can’t wait to get naked. Speaking of which, I think this summer calls for my first one piece since I was 12. This J. Crew get-up is super cute.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Post-Op Perks

People always say how adaptable children are, but it's still amazes me to see it in the flesh. NJ has become completely attached to Jon, and is barely bothered by my inability to attend to her in the way I did before. When she does reach for me to pick her up, I sit down on the floor and she crawls into my lap. And she's gotten into the somewhat annoying and adorable habit of grabbing my hand and dragging me everywhere. I'll take what I can get. My husband is now the lucky recipient of diaper duty, whining fits, dirty hands and faces, naps, baths, bedtime and thousands of kisses. Not to mention breakfast, lunch, dinner, dishes, laundry, sweeping, cleaning, and the list goes on. Maybe surgery isn't so bad after all.

On the Up-and-Up

I took a shower yesterday for the first time since surgery. I know you're doing the math in your head, but I'll just come out and say it: It's been 10 days. Jon told me I was stinky, and I asked what I smelled like, and he said blood. Gross. If that's not an indication that it's time to wash the funk off, I'm not sure what is. I've been nervous though, to move, to get my wounds wet, to see myself naked.

And, well, I just got my drains taken out, along with the nasty pus grenades that were attached to them. Jon and NJ went to the park and saw farm animals, one of which was a pig with 20 suckling piglets. That's how I felt. Like an immobile pig with nursing babies attached to me. These things made me feel faint every time Jon had to empty them for me, two or three times a day. He is not squeamish in the least bit, and luckily, I got these gnarly things out faster than the two weeks they'd said I would be lugging them around.

In true Hopkins form (I always meet someone awesome), a woman overheard me talking to the receptionist about my drains. "Would I be getting them out today?" I asked. The stranger could tell I was nervous and approached me. I had just been noticing how lovely she was, too. Super tall, striking light aqua eyes. And smiling. Love that. I noticed her 'do and thought "I hope I look that cute with short hair." She said she was a few weeks farther along than I was and the drains were nothing to worry about. She confessed she'd been so nervous too, and hoped I'd get the same nurse she'd had. Soon after we chatted, the nurse called my name and the woman said, "Oh good, that's her." Yes!

I told the nurse I was more nervous about the stupid drains than anything I'd been through so far. I mean, it is a frightening prospect. Ripping out something that's attached, somehow, to the inside of your body. Jon said, "You just had your boobs chopped off and you're worried about these little ass drains." Perspective, perspective. Thank you love.

She told me my boobs were beautiful. I didn't know if she was telling the truth or not because I was too scared to look. But, yesterday, when it was time to shower, I did. Beautiful is hardly the word that comes to mind. She said to remember this is just the beginning. They won't look how they do now. And, I know that. But, I felt upset at seeing them, mostly because it really hit me what I've been through, am going through still. It's hard for it to sink in, even now. I doubt it will ever. It's sort of like when someone you love dies. It never seems real, even years later.

But, things are on the up-and-up. There is more to come, but the worst is over. Thank you God. Thank you beautiful friends. Thank you my amazing family. I couldn't have done any of this without you. And, thank you for the cards and gifts. I adore them. They always make my day, make me smile, and mostly make me feel loved – the best gift of all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

6 Weeks

I had a five-minute-freakout today. The enormity of what’s going down tomorrow morning is hardly lost on me. But, besides the few-and-far-between mini breakdowns – when I just feel sadness, nothing else – I feel so strong, so well really, and like God has been preparing me for this very moment my whole life. 

Six weeks from now, on May 12, I will be officially recovered. It will be springtime, the yellow daffodils in front of my house will be in bloom, the new green grass will be freshly mowed, NJ's unsteady trot will be a fast and furious gallop, these little sprouts on my head will begin to look a little something like real hair, I'll love my husband 6 weeks more than I do today, and I’ll be cancer free. I just know it.

When I fall asleep before my surgery, this is what I'll dream of – NJ dancing, twirling, falling on the bed. 

The Last Hurrah

Jon and I had a romantic getaway in Charlottesville at the Clifton Inn – our last rendezvous with “the girls.” It was dreamy, except for the part when I ate too much pork belly and oysters, drank entirely too much champagne and subsequently got sick. Not so sexy. But, that was merely a minor detail. The rest was perfect. Our room was a cozy hideaway and the service was impeccable. It didn’t hurt that there were chocolate-covered strawberries and several treats (compliments of my sweet sis), soft music and dim lighting awaiting us on arrival. Just what the doctor ordered.