Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I don't have colon cancer

I had a little scare a week or so ago.

Now it's safe to say that it doesn't take much for me to have a little scare. When you've lost both parents (not to mention far too many friends and colleagues) to cancer, you tend to scare easy. Plus I work in a hospital where any and every freaky thing becomes suddenly and completely plausible: A head injury from hitting the rafters as you fall from the top of a barn? Steel rebar through the brain by way of the mouth as the result of a car accident? Second and third degree burns to the inner thighs, chest and face due to a fire in the cockpit of the plane that you were flying your mail-order bride around in?

All true, my friends. All true. (Sometime I'll have to tell you about Casey, the oppositional teenager who played Russion roulette and didn't exactly "win," if you know what I mean. Oh, Casey... you taught me a lot, buddy. Like how you shouldn't put a plastic spoon in the mouth of a boy with a tonic bite reflex, and how it's OK to tell my patients not to call me a bitch.)

Anyway, I've seen a lot. Nothing really shocks me anymore because anything, and everything, is totally possible. So when I started to have some concerning symptoms it was completely rational to conclude the inevitable:

I must have cancer.

But I don't! I don't have colon cancer! The good doctor checked it out yesterday with his very own eyes (and his very long endoscope) and even in my Versed-induced fog I heard him say it: Totally normal. Everything is fine.


I feel better today than I have in weeks. Maybe the celebratory doughnut(s)and the good night's sleep had something to do with it, but mostly I think it's the knowledge that I don't have colon cancer. It's not just an amazing relief, it's energizing. It makes me feel like everything is possible, maybe even if it isn't. More than possible, actually -- like I owe it to myself to try. Try what? Try everything.

As I was thinking about this today I started wondering if my reaction is disproportionate to the situation. After all, it's not like I've had questionable blood tests or inconclusive scans. No, I've just got a bad family history, one scary episode, and a catalogue of tragedies that belong to other people. So maybe my elation isn't justified? Or maybe it's just out of scale? I don't know. Would my relief/excitement/joy be greater if there was "real" cause for concern? Certainly. And what about if I'd actually had cancer and beat it? I can't imagine the jubilation.

Seriously, I can't imagine -- and fervently pray I never know.

Here's what I do know: Right now, today, I DON'T HAVE COLON CANCER. And that is super-fantastically amazing. Phenomenal. Blessedly wonderful. A cause for my most favorite prayer of all:


Amen, amen, and amen!!!

And as a little PSA, let me just say that if you are 50 or older, or have a history of colon cancer in your family, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to HAVE A COLONOSCOPY. Yes, the prep blows (literally and figuratively), but you won't be sorry. Early detection can save your life -- and your colon! Take care of yourself! Lots of people out there love you... and if you're actually reading this, I'm probably one of them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


It is already August 9th. That may seem like no big deal to you but for me it was Independence Day about two hours ago so you can see how the freaking rapid progression of time has me reeling a bit. Mom always said that the older you get the faster time passes, and she was right.

Sara starts school next week. REAL school. Can't-be-late, no-calling-out-for-a-quick-trip-to-Vegas*, gets-to-eat-peanut-products-again REAL SCHOOL. On the one hand I'm in a little bit of denial about this. I am not really ready to hand over my sweet little girl because I'm pretty sure what comes out on the other side of REAL SCHOOL is an independent young woman. And God help me, I am so not ready for that.

But honestly I'm also a little excited about it. It thrills me to watch Sara learn something new, catching that precise moment when she makes a connection and another whole world opens up for her. Hearing her first cry, watching her first step, and seeing her face light up when she realized that "thpot begins wif an eth, like Thara!" were all equally gratifying for this Mama who wasn't entirely sure she could gestate the girl without thomehow thcrewing it up.

It helps that I am truly, deeply, madly in love with our new school**. I'm not joking, I kind of want to have another kid just so we can send him there. It is a safe, lovely place that gives me faith not only in the promise of education but in the power of people banded together for a common cause. It's tremendous. I'm sure you'll hear more about it in the months and years ahead.

And then, of course, there is this: Autumn -- God's reward for a summer well-sweated -- is but six short weeks away. There are those of you out there who shudder at this, and to you I say I'm not even the tiniest bit sorry. Summer in Indiana, and particularly this summer in Indiana***, is a beast. I do not miss it when it's gone although, admittedly, by mid-February I do find myself full of false memories of the glory of fireflies and tire swings and fresh juicy peaches and I while away hours and days pouring over the Burpee catalogue convincing myself that this will be the year I perfect my garden. (Sadly, this was not the year.) But autumn! Autumn brings clear crisp air to wash away the oppressive heat and trees blazing with color to brighten the hazy sky. Football. Naps in a sunbeam. Walks through crunching leaves. Comfort foods. Costumes and parties and plans for the holidays, apple-picking and pumpkin-carving and popcorn with cider. I love fall-time.

Mom also used to warn me about wishing my time away, and the older I get the more I understand what she means. In all honesty, I'm a little superstitious about even thinking "I can't wait until..." So I'm going to hedge my bets a bit and say this instead: I'm so excited about what's to come. There is so much to look forward to that instead of finding the time rushing by I intend to savor it. To enjoy every minute of it. And then, when the time has passed, to look back with a thankful heart on a long, sweet season blessed with growth and change.

Surely Mom would approve of that.

*OK not really Vegas, but maybe a trip to Uncle CJ's lake house.
**Name withheld on the off chance that you're a stalker.
***And we didn't have anything on the poor folks down South.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Today I am thankful for:
Sand-covered five year olds
And their Papas who build sand castles with them
Cooling breezes

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Tonight, I am grateful for
Dodging the storms
Witnessing Sara's achievements
Grace, grace - amazing grace

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for:
  • a new office (with a window!)
  • air conditioner repair guys (even when they're late)
  • Rob's new schedule
  • an enjoyable project at work
  • icy cold water

Monday, May 09, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for:
  • productive conversations
  • happy kids
  • a new routine
  • online grocery shopping
  • exercising my body

Saturday, May 07, 2011

An attitude of gratitude

You may have noticed a trend on this here blog lately.

I've started an admittedly cheesy but entirely worthwhile habit: Spending a couple of minutes every night recalling a few things from the day for which I am grateful. This is not an even remotely original idea and if you really must know I got it from someone I heard on Oprah.

That's right, Oprah. I mean the woman must be doing something right, don't you think?

So anyway -- it seemed a good idea to me, this notion of purposely reflecting back on the good rather than the bad. I mean dwelling on the negative is a no-brainer, something I can fall into like a soft leather easy chair: comfortable, familiar, inviting. My mind lands there almost in spite of itself but I really have to wonder why, because it certainly doesn't do the rest of my body any favors. Knots in my stomach, a clenched jaw, tight shoulders, and a headache every night are not exactly the way I like to wrap up my day. But that's just what I've managed to do on more nights than I care to remember.

The interesting side effect is that I find myself a lot more mindful all day long of the many small things for which I truly am grateful. A particularly funny response from a three year old, puffy white clouds morphing across the sky, a freshly swept floor, an unexpected note from a friend -- all of these things really are fantastic if you think about them. All those little joys there for the taking, but only if you take the time to appreciate them.

Right now I am filthy, covered literally from head to toe in dust and dirt and pollen, but I couldn't be happier. It's my merit badge for a day well-spent, enjoying the sun and the breeze with my family and working the earth to finally realize years of dreams for this home of ours. I'm hungry after a day of working in a way that my desk job doesn't allow, but I'm thankful. The physical effort is a gift to my body. I'm tired, but I'm content. These weary bones have a cozy bed and soft pillow to crawl into tonight and are sure to get all the rest they need before another day begins tomorrow.

I'm filthy and hungry and tired, and couldn't be more grateful for it. What a blessing.


Tonight I am grateful for:
  • a new visitor to our feeders
  • beautiful new flowers in our landscape
  • an unexpected sunny, cool day (perfect for planting!)
  • an entire day spent with my family: Rob, Sara, Pants
  • living in a neighborhood where I can hear church bells ringing
  • good neighbors with great kids (perfect for Sara!)

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for
  • cooperative hair
  • successful new recipes
  • tiny green leaves in the garden
  • glimmers of teamwork
  • the gift of another day

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Tonight, I am grateful for
  • a peaceful day at work
  • easy laughter
  • long-awaited answers
  • peanut butter and crackers
  • five-year-olds, especially the crazy one I live with

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Tonight I am grateful
for music and how it moves me
for the end of this very long day
for sunshine, no matter how brief
for the excitement that (still) comes from watching (yet another) front roll in
for the chance to learn a little more about living, every single day

Monday, May 02, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for:
time set aside to breathe
laughing under a blanket with Sara
a simple dinner
my warm bed in a chilly room
the sound of the rain on the roof.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Psalm 13

I have had a very blah day. I was not at all productive at work -- don't tell the boss, but other than attending a couple of meetings I'm not sure I can recall anything I did today that was of real consequence.

I hate days like that. Time is far too precious to waste.

Unfortunately during the drive home "blah" turned to full-on grouchy. I spent time thinking about all the things I'm waiting on that just aren't happening. Like what? Like moving on from my current job and all of the day-to-day BS that comes along with it. Like Rob moving to day shift and us living in a normal rhythm, just like the rest of the world. Like getting our yard landscaped (enough with the rain already). Like getting the laundry done and put away, and not having my closet annihilated by a five-year old.

I am not a patient person. My impatience has bit me and my little family in the butt before though, and so I've spent the last three years really trying to get better about it -- and I have, honest and true. But right about now, with at least some of the things mentioned above, I feel like enough is enough. I'm singing David's song:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes,or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Overwrought much? So OK, maybe that's exaggerating things a bit, but in all honesty I do find myself waking every morning and sitting on the side of the bed rubbing my eyes, asking "how long, Lord?" This is nothing new, just a remix on an old classic. When my parents were ill and life was, admittedly, much harder than it is now I cried myself to sleep every night asking "Please, God: how long, how long, how long?"

It was a very long time.

Maybe that's why I'm feeling discouraged now. Because we've been chasing things for months into years, but day after day it's just more waiting. And as I believe I've mentioned already... I'm not a patient person.

At least there is good news, and trust me I'm looking for that a lot right now. As it turns out, David's song doesn't stop there. It goes on, and he closes it like this:

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

I believe this. I know it is true. I KNOW it. I know that good will come from waiting.

I'm just really, really bad at it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kindergarten roundup

Waiting really blows, especially when it's a wait for an answer that you have no control over.

Yesterday the answer finally arrived in a skinny little envelope. We didn't even need to open it, but we did anyway just to confirm the obvious:

Thanks, but no thanks.

Learning that Sara didn't get a spot at the school where we had hoped to send her was disappointing to be sure. Despite a lot of early apprehensions on my part I really fell in love with the place, and I hate that she won't have the experience of growing and learning there.

Let's be honest: Rejection sucks. No matter what the reasons may be, it doesn't make you feel good when someone stacks you up against the crowd and says hey, thanks so much, but we'd really rather go with someone else. The fact that it's my kid? Oy. Even worse. Sort of an "It's not you, it's me" for the kindergarten crowd.

But I've figured out that what's really bothering me has little to do with the rejection and everything to do with the reality that in just a few short months I am sending my kid out into the world. And that scares the crap out of me. She's still so little, and naive, and small. Truth be told, I really don't ever want that to change.

I had hopes that we could start out with baby steps, in a place where it felt safe to leave her. Because she's my girl! My only one! How am I ever going to turn her over to a bunch of strangers, to fend for herself in a sea of kids she doesn't know? Really, someone tell me -- how in the hell am I going to do that?

I am not ready for this, not at all. I wonder: Did my own mother ever feel this way? Did she ever stop feeling this way?

Lordy. I am going to be one hot mess. Consider yourself warned.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Opinions, please

I nearly forgot my Blogger login. That's sad.

I've come down with a strain of Unabletowrititis, which is related to, but behaves differently than, it's better known cousin Writer's Block.

Let me sum up.

I love to write but am uncertain about why I do it. My writing is personal, but not of the "dear diary" variety; I put entirely too much effort into it for that. I wonder who would be interested in reading my thoughts because I myself am not at all convinced that they are original, engaging, well-formed, or eloquent. In fact more often than not it seems to me that what I write is more like talk therapy between my laptop and me and, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that kind of thing should be open for public consumption. So I tried for a while to take up a more disciplined approach to it all, working on ideas that didn't focus on something too personal. And that was OK, but it didn't do it for me. It was hard, and I thought my posts were boring, and in the end I don't think it sounded like me, either.

Is any of that important though? Should writing always have to do it for you? Or should it be hard for the sake of being hard (or something like that)?

But still I love to write. And to make matters worse I actually want my writing to connect with other people; it's not enough for me to create something only to turn around and lock it up again because I haven't figured out anything better to do with it. This is not to say that I have delusions about being the next Elizabeth Gilbert or Anne Lamott, but surely there is some in-between place? Some space in the ethernet where writers can connect with readers without having to pimp out Clorox products or maintain a pithy Twitter feed?

So, peeps -- this is my question to you: Does your writing have a point? And if you don't write, do you think that what is written for your consumption must have some sort of objective (entertaining, inspiring, instructive, whatever)?

Or should I just shut it, write what I wanna write, and let the chips fall where they may?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Diving in

So I started reading Bono: in conversation with Michka Assayas tonight. Bono is a character that I've always been a little ambivalent about. You know, he's kind of sexy in that intelligent rocker sort of way but also a little off-putting in his in-your-face approach to saving the world (or at least Africa).

Don't get me wrong, I didn't lay awake at night contemplating my personal relationship with Bono's place in the world. But he has always been intriguing. Plus, hello, I am a child of the 80s and who didn't love The Joshua Tree, right? So after a friend shared this link, which excerpts the book in the context of Bono's thoughts on God, Jesus, faith, and grace, my curiosity was piqued even more.

Which brings us to tonight. And much to my surprise, here is how we've started:

"...To be serious for a second, I thought I had gotten away from my father's death. I thought I had escaped lightly into busyness and family. I've always considered myself good at wailing - "keening" we call it in Ireland. But, as it turns out, I'm better at other people's tragedies. There's no obvious drama in the slow extinguishing of a well-lived life to a common scourge like cancer, but it had a dramatic effect on me and seems to have set off some kind of chain reaction."

Lordy. And I'm not even into Chapter 1.

So I think Bono and I have a lot more to discuss than just thoughts on God and Jesus and faith and grace. I also think he's going to be a lot more eloquent about it than I could ever be.

There's no obvious drama in the slow extinguishing of a well-lived life to a common scourge like cancer, but it had a dramatic effect on me and seems to have set off some kind of chain reaction.

Amen, Bono. Amen.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Something I never want to forget

Sung by Sara, during a Tuesday night bath in February:

Deck the halls with lots of jolly
Fa la la la la la la la la
Tis the season to be careful
Fa la la la la la la la la

That's it. Isn't it?

Friday, January 21, 2011


I couldn't sleep Monday night. I was tired and had to get up & moving early the next morning for my staff meeting, but I just lay there: tired and awake, a hostage to my racing mind.

That really blows.

It was the meeting that was keeping me up, actually. You see I had this fabulous idea to add something to our agenda, a short "sharing," if you will, to help do some team building (we could use it -- 2010 was rough on us) and staff development. Anyway, the point of this new agenda item is for each staff member to talk briefly about one thing that has shaped the way she approaches patient care. These stories are often funny, just as frequently heart-wrenching, and always meaningful. We all have a story, and story-telling is one of the best tools for teaching and strengthening relationships, so I am all for it. But since I'm the boss, and since it was my idea, and since we had never done it before... I had to go first.

If you know me at all -- and I suspect you do if you're actually reading this -- it will take you no more than 2 seconds to determine what, and who, I was going to talk about.

And.... your 2 seconds is up.

The truth is that Mom's illness was, among other incredibly crappy, shitty, sucky things, a huge learning curve for me. Let's just say that all those things I "knew" about talking to sick, scared and overwhelmed patients & family members -- like how they are overloaded with information, and are in shock, and have different priorities than we do, and don't care how smart we think we are -- suddenly and vividly made a whole lot of sense. Because it really is all those things - plus denial, and anger, and desperation, and heartbreaking sadness.

I can have a conversation with a young clinician about how all of that is true, but through the filter of my mom... well, it's nearly impossible. And I knew it would be, which is why I spent three weeks not thinking about what I was going to say only to lay awake the entire night before trying in vain to come up with some sort of clinical script to get myself though.

Would you like to know how it went?

Well of course you would. It was agonizing. I apologized for the inevitable and did the ugly cry before I even started, and wondered the whole time if I was making any sense, sending any kind of take-home message that my staff could try to internalize for that next hard conversation with the parents of a fragile, failing baby. I desperately didn't want to sound preachy or patronizing, and suspect I succeeded because it's difficult to sound anything other than pitiful when you're sobbing. I noticed some of them tearing up, some of them a little uncomfortable, some of them sympathetic. One of them, a friend who went through a very similar experience with her brother shortly after I lost Mom, actually clapped for me. But all of them heard me -- at that, at the end of the day, was the point.

It was just the train wreck I had anticipated. Later that night I told Rob about it, explaining my tossing & turning from the night before and wondering out loud when I'll be able to talk about that time without it feeling so fresh. I sometimes wonder if that time will ever come. I hope it does.

I hate those nights I way awake chasing my thoughts. I never catch them and the race always leaves me exhausted the next day. My only consolation, at least this time, is that my story might help shape the way our therapists think about care. To remember that behind the diagnosis isn't just a patient but a rush of emotions, and that our roles as caregivers start where these families really are -- not where we need them to be. To understand that when it's all said and done, the very best clinical skills are absolutely worthless unless they are coupled with the insight and compassion to honor their fears and and hold each of their hearts in our own.

It's hard work we do, but we are blessed to do it.