Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Ikea: Selling furniture for college kids and divorced men..."

As many of you know, I took my husband to IKEA this past weekend. I was so excited that he agreed to go...after all..."the bookshelves aren't going to buy themselves, you know, honey"? While riding in the car on the way there, I kept babbling about the prices and the food and the showroom and on and on. And he kept making these frowny faces and bitching about the traffic. LOL.

When we entered the parking lot and he could see how many cars and people were already in their IKEA glory, he muttered something along the lines of "Oh, hell no". But, we proceeded. As we walked the 4,000 football fields through the parking lot, I point out the Swedish meatball sign..."Look, honey, the meatballs!! Only $2.99"! To which, he responds with a "hmph". My enthusiasm is quickly waning.

Once inside, I tried to get my bearings. IKEA can be overwhelming even on a good day and now I had to contend with Saturday crowds and a husband who hates both shopping and people. I knew I had to find those bookshelves and I had to find them fast. But, as anyone who has ever been to IKEA knows...there is no fast way to get to anything. The store is a complete labyrinth...only in this case, once you reach the center, there is no inner peace. No...not with my husband. By now he was grumbling obscenities every 42 seconds and I was starting to sweat and push people. I decided that the best course of action was to shut everything out and follow those damned floor arrows to the bookshelves. Then, again, shut everything out...head down, ears averted and follow those damned floor arrows to the self-help furniture warehouse. Never in my life have I been so discontent inside of IKEA. This was not your usual IKEA shopping experience. There was no time to even eye the prices and happily gasp "look...only $34.99...for all of that"! Nope. Not with my husband. :o)

We did eventually purchase our shelves, load them in the car, drive them home, unload them and recover. The IKEA store is approximately 25 minutes from our house. We made it there and back, with the getting stuck in traffic, the running through the store and the purchasing of the shelves, in a little over an hour. Record-breaking. Never again. IKEA cannot be experienced this way. It is against the Nordic tradition. You win, hubs. Next time...I go alone. LOL.

My husband and I once constructed a futon. It's a great futon and looking at it, you would never know the blood, the sweat, the tears that went into it. The process wasn't pretty and if we weren't so exhausted from the act of getting the futon into an operable functioning condition, we may have murdered each other with the wooden slats that hold that lovely piece of furniture together.

That being said, I build all of our assembly-required furniture myself, alone, now. It's safer for everyone that way. I love building IKEA furniture. The little drawings that you have to decipher. They make me laugh. Sometimes they make me curse. But, in the end, once I build something...I feel like I am amazing. Amazing. I built bookshelves. I rock. I am woman, hear me roar. Damn...I want some meatballs.

And...Thanks Jamie...for your viewing pleasure.... IKEA by Jonathan Coulton

As the Universe Unfolds...

I have been trying to open my eyes to the messages of the universe more lately. The things that cross my path that don't seem to just be "coincidence". Like how right before this cancer diagnosis, my husband and I moved to an area much closer to my family and childhood friends. An area where there is great medical care. Like how we found a house within 2 miles of an old college friend. And how my husband landed a job that pays enough that I can remain unemployed and focus on my health without worrying too much about finances. A job with good health insurance. Like how one of my childhood friends married into a family and circle of friends who has become pivotal in my emotional support. These things can't be just coincidence. I guess they could be...but I choose not to see it that way. I wonder how far back it goes...this way the universe has unfolded to meet so many of my basic needs as I face this battle. Without my husband, without my family nearby, without financial stability...this would be a whole different struggle.

Why the universe handed me cancer...that is still a mystery to me. Some people say that cancer is a gift (not that you would want to give it to anyone else). That it opens you up to life and fully living. That it gives you a wake up call to get it together before it's too late. I'm not there yet. I still have days when I say "why me". I still wonder what I have done wrong to be given this illness. What kind of karmic joke is this? Did I not get the message in 2008 with my first diagnosis, so now the universe needs to kick me harder? (Actually, that's possible...I really didn't get the message back then. I never questioned my chance of survival back then. I never wondered about the deeper meaning of my life. I just dealt with it and continued on my merry way.) Now...it's hard to escape it. I have to face whatever it is that the universe is trying to tell me.

I don't know why I have been dealt this card, but when it comes down to it, I am grateful that I drew this card and not my loved ones...though I don't know which would be harder...being the one fighting the battle or being the one watching someone I love fight the battle. Either way it's a crap-shoot.

There are things I struggle with daily now that I never did before. For one, I fear that if I accept that I could die from this...that I am inviting it to happen. I worry that if I try to deal with the fact that the cancer could spread more, I am somehow visualizing it into being. Every ache and pain is an invitation to question how many days I have left. It's impossible not to have doubts. It's impossible to stay positive and upbeat all the time. Impossible. Yet, when I let the doubt creep in, I tend to beat myself up about it. Where's my faith? Where's my optimism? How do I accept all outcomes without giving up the one I hope for? This sucks!

Anyway...I digress. Two weekends ago when we were visiting my brother-in-law and his family, we went to church. And a book was passed around for a women's book club/study group. And, I held it and read it's cover...One Thousand Gifts ~ A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. I decided that the book didn't cross my path by chance, but rather for a reason. I bought it. So did my lovely sister-in-law. And we both have been reading it and studying it and enjoying it. Of course, she read it in like one evening and I am still making my way through. But, I am enjoying "reading it together". Ann Voscamp, on a dare, starts a list of 1,000 things that make her happy. One thousand! One thousand things that bring her joy. Simple things. And in writing this list, she realizes how happy this list makes her. How counting her daily blessings makes her daily annoyances diminish and her blessing multiple. How naming these gifts in her life gives them more power to help her live more fully and pay attention to all the good things we often miss. God is in the details.

I wrote this whole post and babbled on and on just to get to this one point: I want to make my own list.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where's My Manual?

I have been feeling rather uninspired...blog-wise...lately. I guess I don't have a lot to say, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Things this month, or shall we say in 2012, have been a little out of routine thus far, and while I am  grateful, happy and appreciative of all the visitors and help I have had these past 3 weeks in my life, I am glad to be back in a little bit more of my own routine (IF you can even call what I do on a daily basis a "routine"...ha ha, but I am working on this). 

One thing that I have been trying to do this month, even in the midst of minor surgery, chemo, transfusions, travel, guests, etc. is to do some sort of daily devotional. A moment each day (usually in bed at night) where I read a devotional and think about what it means in my life. Journal about it. Or just meditate on it. I chose (at first) for some reason Rick Warren's daily devotionals for a Purpose-Driven Life. For those of you who don't know...Rick Warren is the leader of an evangelical megachurch and in all honesty, is probably a little over-the-top religious for my taste, but I had read portions of his book in the early 2000's and thought I would give his devotionals a shot.

Here is where the "at first" remark comes in. Turns out that I can't relate right now. Or my goals are a little different. His devotionals were all about acknowledging where you are, where you want to be, what you want to have in 10 years and the step-by-step plan you need to develop to get there....and all I could think was..."in 10 years, I want to be ALIVE". I can't think about career goals or certain life goals right now. All I want right now is to survive this. To be healthy and cancer-free. I want to make it to 2013 and beyond, much less 2022. There is no step-by-step plan for overcoming cancer. I can think about what I can do right now to make my life full and to make my chances better, but 10 years from now? I don't know if I have that much time...(and that took A LOT for me to say out loud...ugh). But, really, when I think about it...none of us do. None of us know when our number will be up. (Ugh...I still hate to think about any of this at all)!

So, anyway...the conundrum I came upon while trying to do these daily devotionals is not something new for me. I have always struggled with the "how do I live in the present, enjoy it, AND plan for the future"? How does one find the balance? Now, this age-old quandary feels even more significant to me.

My goal for tomorrow and for 10 years from now is to be a healthy, vibrant, active, fit, productive, successful and CANCER-FREE babe who is an inspiring and FUNNY writer, who manages life from a place of inner peace and who maintains a happy healthy marriage and lots of supportive and positive friendships. Some of these I do have now, some I can work towards. But, cancer-free...that I have no control over. And that is what is really hard for me. All I can do is do my best and have faith. (But, I sure do wish there was a step-by-step and proven-effective instructional manual for surviving cancer)!!

Anyway, for those wondering, my blood transfusion last Friday put me over the moon! I didn't feel it til Saturday. I even cried Friday night cause I was so upset that I still felt so bad. And even though I felt better Saturday, I think it took me til Monday to realize how good I actually felt.  I can take the stairs over and over. I can go for walks. I can clean and cook and just be a human being. It's awesome. Juicy blood and platelets are my friend. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Love Infusion

I just had a dream that I was carrying around two donor kidneys in a cooler...just in case...I needed them at some point. Yes, these are the kinds of dreams I have on a regular basis and this one isn't even THAT weird. In my dream, I started to wax philosophic about how these kidneys belonged to someone else and that someone else's juicy kidneys could save my life. Mind you...as far as I know, I don't need new kidneys, but hey...it was just a dream.

What I do need is more blood. Tomorrow, I get another blood transfusion. This time, 2 units of red blood cells and 2 units of platelets. This will take pretty much my whole day, which initally (ok currently) has me bummed out because...it's just so incovenient to be tied to a pole all day (ha) when there is so much living to be done. Alas, my energy is so low, I would probably be laying in bed at home anyway...but at least it would be MY bed. Sigh. At any rate, I AM glad to have this option. To be infused with juicy healthy life-enhancing blood. And I am super thankful to all the people who are able to and who take the time to donate their juicy blood for people like me. It does make a difference! If you donate, keep donating!! If you are one of those people who passes out or gets ill when donating...for God's sake...don't put yourself through that...but if you do...wow...I am SUPER EXTRA UBER grateful to you. But, don't feel guilty if you can't donate (I don't think I can), just find another way to be awesome.

The parallel of "Take. Drink. For this is the blood of Christ, taken for you" (I hope I got those words right. LOL) has not been lost on me. The idea that someone else's blood is entering my veins and giving me a renewed level of energy and fight and vitality is really pretty amazing. A gift really. A selfless gift from someone I don't even know. Thank you stranger...for your blood giveth me strength.

I got a gift in the mail today. One of many I have received over the past several months. (I would try to list the awesome gifts I have received here, but I am terrified that I would overlook someone and that would be awful because I am grateful for every gift I have received. You are all so amazing...or should I say a-mah-zing balls)! Anyway...it occurred to me that my friends and family are my lifeblood. Each time I am feeling down and out, someone shows up in one way or another and infuses me with love and support  and encouragement. A friend infusion. A love infusion. It renews my fight and my vitality and reminds me that...with friends, I am never ever alone. I am so beyond grateful for these gifts and gestures that keep coming my way. They are, in a way, the push I need some days to keep on believing (key the Journey music) and I honestly do not know how I would get by without them.

I have been pretty terrible about getting thank you cards out (I am working on that...New Year's resolution-wise), but please know that every kind word, text, email, phone call, visit, FB post, delivered package is appreciated and brings a smile to my face and an even bigger smile to my heart. It infuses me with a warm happy glow knowing that I have such awesome friends and family members. I can only hope to be half as awesome as all of you when someone I love is in need. Which reminds me...I think...in my little world of Vashni: cancer patient...I can sometimes forget that y'all have your own problems and obstacles (and sometimes certain people..eh hmm..will hide their troubles from me) so please forgive me if I have not been there to give you a love infusion when you needed it...and please give me a swift kick in the bum the next time it happens. I have so much love coming my way that I have plenty to pass on when needed. Unlike my not-so-appealing blood...my cup runneth over with love...let me pass it on to you if you need some.

Monday, January 16, 2012

That's my Jugular

Is it really halfway through the month of January already? Where does the time go? One of my "resolutions" was to blog more. We can see how well I have been keeping with my resolutions!

2012 has certainly been interesting so far. I started off with a blood transfusion on the 4th. This, in itself, was pretty unexciting. It is just like having chemotherapy except that instead of drugs, I was getting pure juicy red blood cells. Two pints to be exact. I had this done at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD and Holy Cross Moly did I get spoiled there. (Thank goodness because this endeavor took 5 hours). Really comfy chairs, my own TV (with like 30 stations), a personal heating/cooling system AND they brought us all free lunches! Suh-weet!!

In my naivity (and hopefulness), I had expected the blood transfusion to turn me into Wonder Woman. I had gotten it into my head that the addition of packed red blood cells would thrust me into a whole new level of energy and vitality. With my mother-in-law arriving 3 days post-transfusion, I hoped to clean the entire house, fix all the broken window treatments and towel racks (we seem to have a "wall" problem in our house), organize the garage, build bookshelves for our still-unpacked books, plant a garden, run a marathon, complete the Tour de France, deliver food to the hungry, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Yeah. Notsomuch. I felt better. I think. But, mostly just normal.

The next day, I had my port "installation". This was fun. Not. I had thought my procedure was at 10am, so we arrived at 8:30am (standard arrival time for a 10am procedure). Turns out that the procedure was actually scheduled for 11am. And then, at 11am, there was a trauma emergency that took my place and ended up pushing my "installation" back until 2pm. Mind you, saving someone's life is more important than installing my port, but this was a fasting surgery, which means I hadn't eaten since dinner the night before. I was bored, uncomfortable, whiney and we all know how cranky this girl gets when she is hungry. It wasn't pretty, people. It wasn't pretty. Anyway...the installation went well, if you are into having your jugular pierced and a having a piece of plastic shoved under your skin while your face is covered in napkins and you are salivating over the thought of eating just about anything presented to you. But, it was over lickety split and I was soon back in recovery having my sandwich and soda and ready to move on. 

The next day was chemotherapy. While it was really not fun having the port accessed a day after the install, chemotherapy was definitely more tolerable with the port (as compared to having to sit with my arm completely still for hours at a time). I think I was still there for the same amount of time (people keep asking me if it went faster), but I was able to more freely move about and that totally rocked.

Ten days later, my port still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to annoy the heck out of me. Hopefully, with a break in chemo this week, it will get a chance to finish healing and I won't feel like such an alien. 

Anywho...that's all I've got for now. Time to go enjoy my family. Happy MLK Jr. Day, folks! 

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.~Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

To Jamaica and Beyond...

Phew...there is a lot that has happened since my last blog post. I hope I can manage to keep this a "post" and not a novel!


So...I am not gonna lie. Jamaica was warm and sunny and beautiful and easy and fun. The resort was wonderful. My family was awesome. Everyone had a fabulous time. Except there were times that I didn't. 

Turns out, I am not as secure and mature and stable and "together" as I had hoped to be. Turns out, that in a tropical paradise full of normal-looking people on a vacation, I looked and felt like a fat, bald cancer patient on vacation. I tried. I tried really hard to not care and to not be self-conscious. And it is perfectly possible that no one gave a flying whoop tee doo how big and fat and bald I was. But, there were times I just felt better hiding out in the room. Just being alone. For maybe the first time since this journey began, I felt very very different. And I was PISSED. Pissed at myself for allowing my insecurities to steal even a moment of my happiness while vacating. And pissed at the world for the simple fact that I have to go through any of this. I shake my chubby little fists at the world..."Why me"?!

Look out Jamaica...here we come! (FYI...most people on the plane looked at me with fear. They clearly seemed to think that I had something that was contagious and I was trying to protect THEM from me. One guy asked me a lot of questions about my health...I find I actually prefer this over the stares and fearful looks. God bless him.)

On Day 2 of Jamaica Vacation, we went river tubing and zip-lining. This was pretty much full of the awesome. It was a bit disorganized and maybe too laid back at times for us type-A Americans (I am referring to my husband here), but in the end, it was a really great experience and I would recommend it. It started out with a 45-minute drive through some scary-arse (OMG is there a gun on this van?) parts of Jamaica and then up a rugged, bumpy, gravelly and very narrow mountain road. I was impressed that we survived this part. I think this was all part of the "adventure" and thankfully I didn't poop my pants (it was touch and go there and I said a lot of "oh dear"s) because that would have made for a very unpleasant rest of the day.

River-tubing was relaxing and refreshing, with a few moments of excitement (as you can see from my expression above). Zip-lining on the other hand, for me, was exhausting with a few moments of sheer terror tossed in between. I WOULD (yes, would) recommend it to anyone. It's safe. It's cool. I am glad I tried it. But, seriously, I can live the rest of my life never doing it again. We hiked up a pretty significant trail to our first and highest platform. To most people, this hike was a breeze. To cancer patient, Vashni, with what turned out to be a seriously low level of red blood cells, this climb nearly destroyed me. I collapsed...somewhat dramatically... in a heap of heaving sweat at the top and missed most of the instruction and order that was being disseminated to us zippers. Perhaps...this is why I found less enjoyment in the flying through the air and running full-force into a tree 100 feet off the ground than the other zippers.  Regardless, I flew through the trees 3 times, cursed at my husband on each platform between each "flight" and eventually made it safely to the ground. One of the other zippers asked me if I liked it...my response "Meh".

Doesn't my husband look like the biggest most lovable dork? I love him.

The evenings on the trip are starting to blend together in my memory, but for the sake of this blog, let's just say...we got back from our adventure, showered, fell down the steps (yuppers...that's me...graceful as ever!), had dinner and then went to walk the beach. Only, on our way to the beach...the Sesame Street characters started performing on the main stage. I had some sort of very bizarre moment here. Watching Grover and Bert and Ernie and Elmo singing and dancing to Cotton Eye Joe...I became OVERCOME with emotion. I have NO IDEA what this was about, but something about Grover and Cotten Eye Joe broke me open in a way I haven't been in awhile. Within 5 minutes I found myself in a bathroom stall crying and begging and pleading to God to let me live. To let me understand why this is happening to me. To give me the strength to beat this. To let me be open to whatever the universe is trying to say to me while in Jamaica and to see and hear the "angels" that are among us and among the vacationers in Jamaica. I begged God to allow this trip to restore me and replenish my "fight". I came home needing a blood transfusion and I am pretty sure I didn't have any major spiritual epiphanies while in Jamaica, but that conversation I had with God in the bathroom stall was one of the most real raw moments I have had in a long time. I hope it doesn't just mean that I am crazy in the head. I hope he heard me and I hope none of the other restroom-goers did. 

The rest of the trip really is a blur. I had my emotional ups and downs. But, I also had fun. I watched my husband sing for the first time ever (I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants), watched my step-daughter and husband particpate in some sort of dance-off, drank boat drinks, ate ice cream, got my chubby-arse stuck on the water slides, met Mama Claire's twin sister (perhaps my Jamaican angel encounter) during the martini and chocolate party, watched my husband traverse 4 floors, a hallway and half a walkway with his fly down and shirt tail hanging out...hee hee hee. It was a blast. 


By the time we arrived back in Baltimore, I was literally a walking zombie. I hurt everywhere. My entire spine throbbed and I felt like walking was nearly impossible. My heartrate soared at the slightest activity and I was gasping for breath just walking 5 feet. I was very scared and so I pretty much stayed in bed for 2 days and monitored my own vital signs to make sure I was still alive. Ha ha. 

Guess what...I am still alive!! Turns out my red blood cell and platelet counts are quite low. Blood transfusion low. This is all part of chemo...but new to me. Seems that I was pretty spoiled during my first rounds of chemo. I tolerated it well. I felt good. I could still go about my business like it was no one's business. I thought I was fatigued, but now I know...I was so NOT fatigued. Since starting my new cocktail...all those things they tell you about in cancer books about dealing with chemo and the side effects...all those things my fellow cancer surviviors warned me about...NOW I get it. I FEEL like a cancer patient now and it pretty much sucks. But, I know that this destruction of my red blood cells must mean that those bad cancer cells are getting destroyed too. Knowing why I was feeling so bad and that there is a "solution" and it doesn't mean I am at an immediate risk of keeling over has definitely renewed my "fight". It's gonna be a-ok. My primary care doctor today kept talking about when I am "in remission". I like that he talks this way. Like it's a FACT, not just a possibility. A FACT. 

So...tomorrow I get a blood transfusion. A boost of someone else's juicy oxygen-filled red blood cells and will hopefully feel a lot better (I already feel a bit better). Thursday, comes the port. I keep referring to this as my "port intsallation" as if I am a machine or something. Maybe I am. Hmm. Friday is chemo. My body will go through the wringer this week. But, I will come out the other side. I will. Big, fat and bald....but ALIVE. 

My #1 resolution for 2012: To SURVIVE and to THRIVE!!