Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remembering Cheryl....

Dear Readers......

It is with great love and sadness that we tell you that Cheryl passed away last Wednesday, April 22nd on a sunny evening with her beloved Robert at her side.

My name is Cathie A. and I am the sponsor of the blogger, Cheryl H.   I am here in Cheryl's home with Robert and we both feel Cheryl's presence as we have hacked into her blog (she would love us being naughty).

As I'm sure readers of Cheryl's blog know...she was a wise and witty woman with 29+ years in the program of Al-Anon.  She was also a very talented writer, gardener, painter, stained glass artist, seamstress (really...who sews their own jeans?), hysterically funny, dear friend, sister and much loved spouse.  Her talents, her humility and her ability to laugh at herself were inspiring.

Robert was telling me this morning of the joy of them both falling into fits of laughter after noticing an oversized jar of Nutella while grocery shopping.   One of my favourite personal memories was of visiting Cheryl in hospital with another Al-Anon friend after her last surgery ... the three of us exchanging stories of our own pre-recovery insanity and laughing so hard that Cheryl had to ask the nurse for pain relief after we left.  Such is the stuff of a simple life well-lived.

Cheryl spoke often of the gifts that working the Al-Anon program had given her.  Her ability to use her program in dealing with life's challenges (yes, even the REALLY big ones) was amazing and an inspiration to many (I put myself at the top of that list).

Thank you for allowing me to share my memories of my dear friend Cheryl.  If you wish to share your thoughts and feelings here......please do.....Robert would love to hear from you.

Love in Al-Anon, Cathie A.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Keep It Simple

A reader posted a comment on yesterday's post, about "Keep it Simple." Now there's a mantra for cancer treatment craziness.

When it comes down to what really needs to be accomplished today, and what can wait -   Keep it Simple - we need groceries to fill the fridge, more than we need to drop off extra supplies back at a hospital office kind enough to give them to us in the first place.  We have to eat today - they have sufficient supplies that our paltry return will be as nothing on those well-stocked shelves.

When it comes down to what each of us can bear, if Robert needs a time-out to straighten his head or just have the cool water of peace swish through his soul, then keep it simple - make the space for him to go off alone and putter, by giving myself the space to start a painting, cut out a garment I wish to sew, or do one of  a zillion things I can do, alone and happy.

When the logistics are getting complicated about who can drive me where, to get this or that done on this or that day at this or that time, and I can't yet feel comfortable driving myself to a distant hospital for a CT scan to stage the tumour - keep it simple -  call my sponsor/dear friend and ASK. She of course agreed, which means I get to have a meeting with my sponsor and some wonderful laughs and the pleasure of her company, making this an outing I can enjoy instead of just another obligation.

Keep it Simple. Cut my day down into bite-size chews, and that way I'm not faced with a mountain I think I need to devour within the next ten minutes; I can take it one step, one day at a time.

Thank you for that blessing,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

So It Begins.

I had my first radiation treatment today. It was all over in a matter of minutes; I was finished before realising that they'd started.

It was painless,  but I'm told that with the attending "sunburning" of the skin which will occur, I may suffer further pain on top of what I'm now experiencing.

Last night I spent some time cleaning my glass collection, polishing the beautiful golds and reds and purples. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my friends, my lover Robert, my sister: who cares for me, and is struggling with her own pain about it all, and my brother, who adores the painting I made for him, which he received yesterday, finally.

I miss my meetings so much, but am too ill to attend them. When someone comments here on my blog, it feels a little bit like a meeting, and I am truly grateful for your input, please know that, and keep talking to me!

I'm hoping that my fight over this cancer will succeed enough for me to go back to a more normal form of life, with meetings, and social encounters, and gardening. I'm feeling like I may be able to beat this one back enough to have some more life granted to me. I'm too young, and unwilling to accept dying yet. I want to live.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Denial, Or Waiting It Out?

Denial means that I am refusing to acknowledge a truth which sits right before me, "large as life, and twice as ugly."  

Waiting it out, means that I have clarity regarding the situation, and an ability to understand that it's beyond my immediate control.

I've had many times in this journey in Al-Anon, when I've been so far gone into a state of HALT that I couldn't distinguish between whether I've been in denial, or whether I was waiting it out - I could not tell the one from the other, no matter how I tried.

It's been fascinating for me to add "moderate to severe pain" to HALT, so I'm not just hungry angry lonely or tired, I'm also in sufficient physical pain to inhibit and affect my judgement. In enough pain, I can be completely unable to grasp the lifeline of hope and serenity. 

That which a few hours earlier, seemed only a struggle up a relatively minor hill, and well within my reach, thanks to all those who love me, and are more than willing to help shoulder the burden to reach the summit...

.......given enough physical torment, somehow morphs into an asinine plan to try climbing Mount Everest in a track suit, with a hot dog  and one banana.

When I'm in denial, I feel weak, hopeless, ineffective, stupid, and like a bad person.

When I'm waiting it out, I know that my powerlessness is a gift, allowing me time to seek through prayer and meditation, closer contact with my Higher Power.

Closer contact with my Higher Power brings me peace, and the belief that I can get through whatever is to come. Not merely get through it, but feel boundless gratitide for, and joy in my beloved Robert, who understands my heart,  and brings me 50-year-old sewing machines, with which I putter about, and oil, and shine and polish, until they run with a softly powerful purr and a perfection of stitch not possible from new plastic models. The other day, I sent to my brother 3 pictures. - one of the new/old machine alone in its beautiful wooden cabinet, with the two-tone blue enamel, and chrome dials gleaming, and then one each of first Robert, and then me, perched on the sewing chair, and grinning with wild glee.....

...... and I've got new cancer tumours.....

......but they will only have the room in my life that I choose to give them. My choice, thanks to this blessed program.

Thanks to all of you who write, share your experience strength and hope, and to those who read. When I first began this blog, I could never have imagined the love and caring I would feel, and still do. Blessings, and may you wake to the knowledge that you are loved by a Higher Power.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Change Is As Good As A Rest,

I saw the radiation oncologist yesterday, and he recommended 15-20 radiation treatments, rather than chemo, as these new tumours are close to the surface, and palpable, unlike the original lumps, which were in my lymph nodes. Those two original lumps remain shrunken back to a normal size, so that's good.  I'm still gaining weight gradually, and that too is an excellent sign, given the circumstances. 

As my primary oncologist commented to us at my first appointment with her last year - apart from the cancer, I'm in excellent health.

Later in the afternoon, I met with a doctor and nurse from the pain and symptom department, because the pain from the cancer has been increasing to the point that I have become very uncomfortable. 

After giving me prescriptions for several medications, the doctor spoke for some time about how if I were not to use the meds as prescribed; if I waited until my pain was unbearable before taking them, instead of keeping an eye on the clock, and seeing that it was time for the next dose, they are ineffective. He listened carefully as Robert told him that I have a tendency to wait and hope that the pain will go away without my needing to do anything about.

(This is the third doctor who has given me the same talk about pain medication.)

Which brings me to today's topic - self-care.

I was raised in a home where my pain was negated, dismissed, minimised and mocked-  whether it be mental, emotional, or physical. It was made abundantly clear to all members of that family, that only one person's pain mattered- my adoptive mother.

After breaking her pelvis in a fall just after her 98th birthday, and spending 5 weeks in hospital, she died a week ago this past Monday. It feels strange to know that she is finally gone from this world. I'd made my peace with her, and had no anger or resentment left towards her for many years now, thanks to this wondeful program.

But I realise that even after all this time working my program, I still have patterns of ingrained thinking which can catch me unawares. One such, is the belief that I need to keep my physical pain to myself, minimise it, not "bore" others with complaint or even mention of it, and that somehow, it's my own fault that I'm in pain. 

How this is the case, I cannot articulate clearly even to myself, but I struggle against that one often.  I need to remind myself that I'm not to blame for getting cancer, and that I deserve relief from the pain.

I deserve relief.

I'm a good person, and I deserve all of the wonders that life, love, and the blessings of Al-Anon have to offer. It's my choice as to whether I accept love, caring and relief from pain. I wouldn't expect Robert, my sister or brother, or a dear friend to suffer in the way that I've felt I deserved to suffer, because I believed that I was a bad person.

Friday, January 30, 2015

New Lumps

As I'd expected, the new lumps are cancerous. So it's back onto chemotherapy, and hope that the new regime shrinks these lumps, in the same way that the first six months of chemo shrank the original small tumours. I go for another CT scan to see if it's metastasized to any of my major organs, and I'll keep you posted as to the news.

On another subject, it's a stunning day today, sunny and mild and beautiful. A glorious day in which to be alive. I'm going to put in some sewing work on the new coat I'm making for myself, and pray for guidance, comfort, strength and hope.

Where there's life, there's hope. A simple truth. I am so grateful for all of my friends,  my brother and sister, and for my beloved Robert. One day last week, I was fed up and weeping, and he made a remark which made me burst into helpless laughter. What a man. And what an enormous gift he is in my life. A treasure, and the best thing that has ever happened to me, he is.

I'm feeling grateful for all of my blessings, and for the delicious sunshine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Emotional Wealth.

These days, thanks to the wonders of Al-Anon, I have great emotional wealth. My dictionary defines
"wealth" as an abundance of valuable resources, and I certainly have been granted that. I have the valuable resource of program wisdom, and I have been truly blessed with an abundance of friends to walk this path with me.

I have friends with whom I keep in touch, who live in cities many miles away, but I am able to get together with them for lunch and a visit every few months. In between visits, we exchange regular emails, and I smile to see their names in my email inbox. They are a richness in my life. Some are in program, some are not, it doesn't matter, we are close, and they add greatly to my joy.

One of the unexpected blessings of this cancer journey is that I have been allowed to realise how I am loved, by the way my friends have responded, with support, encouragement, humour and anything else I've needed, whether I knew I needed it, or only they knew.

I have a sponsor with whom I can speak with utter honesty. Last week before the meeting, she hugged me and asked how I was - I wasn't doing well last week, and when she gazed at me, concern and humour and affection in her eyes, I was completely undone, and began to weep. She stood up, came to me, and held me in her arms while I wept. I felt so safe and cared for. It was exactly what I needed, and it gave me the release of tears and the comfort of her arms around me. Of such relatively small but important things are friendships forged and solidified.

We make each other laugh like crazy, and can talk about anything - what an enormous gift.

Before Al-Anon, I didn't know how to be a good friend. I used what I jokingly call "The Mafia solution" when I was angry or disappointed in someone - "You are dead to me from this moment!"
- I'd just cut them off, and never speak to them again. I couldn't deal with conflict, so I just avoided it by avoiding them.

Al-Anon has taught me how to give, and how to receive love. Never, before Robert, had I ever thought I would love a man the way I love him. And never did I think a man would love me the way he loves me.

I have great emotional wealth, and it sustains me through whatever it is that's happening. I know I have people who love me, and I know I have plenty of people I love and adore. I am a truly lucky woman.

Thanks so much to all who have written their support and encouragement on this blog, it means a lot to me, and I'm grateful that you have taken the time and effort.


I had three biopsies in total, on 3 new lumps, and will get the results in a week or so - more waiting. Robert is feeling devastated that it wasn't an abscess - I think, in retrospect, I knew it wasn't, but was trying to be hopeful about it.

Just knowing is easier than waiting to know, I find. I'm not feeling devastated about it all, more that I'm back at the beginning of the chemo round - hoping that whatever they give me will shrink the lumps, as the first batch of lumps were shrunken. It's all completely beyond my control, but I just have to hang on to the information that it doesn't appear to be in any of my major organs, and that makes it much more workable.

Not much else to say today. Unusual for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When Time Goes Agonisingly Slowly.

I have never been a person over-blessed with patience. Having cancer means that suddenly it seems that all one does is wait - to be given tests, and then for the results of those tests. To be given treatment, and then to find out the results of the treatment.

Today I go into hospital for another day surgery to either drain an abscess, or if it turns out instead to be a tumour, for a biopsy. I'm in a lot of pain right now, feeling tired, and with difficulty trying to turn it over, let it go. It's all completely out of my control, and will be whatever it will be.

I need to go take a shower, get dressed, and get ready to leave. One foot in front of the other, trusting in faith that my Higher Power will grant me the strength to get through whatever comes next. I am deeply grateful for Robert, because I know he will be with me whatever comes next.

Bless you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Deja Vu All Over Again

I'm going in next Tuesday for another day surgery. Ugh. I have a lump which the radiologist considers to be an abscess, and the oncologist isn't sure what it is. Either way, abscess or otherwise, it either has to be biopsied, or if it is an abscess, drained. So I'm going back to the hospital again. I'm deeply grateful that it's going to be day surgery, and I can go home afterwards.

I'm struggling a bit with this. I've reached a limit of some sort, and feel like I've had enough, already. I don't want to go to the hospital again, I was just there two weeks ago getting a chemo port put into my chest.

But the sun is shining today, and I've got plenty of blessings for which to be grateful, so I'm trying to shut out the whining voice in my head, ask my Higher Power for help, keep calm, and carry on.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Be Where Your Hands Are.

I first heard that phrase when I was a newcomer, and it hit me with the force of a blow. What an astonishing feeling that was, to realise that the fellow member of Al-Anon had just given me a way to anchor myself in the present. Where are my hands? In the evening of January 9, 2015. I have the choice as to whether my mind is in the same time period,  rather than wandering the dusty hallways of the past, or racing wildly along the path to my future.

My adopted grandmother had several sayings she repeated endlessly, and one was:

"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
I take that to mean that each day contains enough to keep me occupied, so I need not be trying to peer around the edges of today, trying to imagine all the possibilities of my future.

Living with cancer is a hard teacher of that philosophy. Find a new lump, and one's mind can jump to various horrors and losses - when I'd just found the latest lump, before seeing the doctor, I said to Robert, "I can't face another operation!" He put loving arms around me, held me close, and said softly, "Don't fear the worst. It may never come to that."

I've just returned from seeing the doctor at Cancer Care again, the ultrasound report is in, and it appears that I have an abscess, and cellulitis,  (the skin and the tissues beneath it are infected.) This may sound somewhat gruesome, but compared to cancer, it's manageable and tolerable. I remember the oncology nurses warning us months ago, that I'd be susceptible to infections that a normal immune system can shake off.  It's a small price to pay for continued life.

Staying in the present moment means that I do not allow myself to imagine what might happen "if" this or that were to occur.

I don't go excavating in the past for hidden meaning anymore, or to feel self-pity about my childhood. It was what it was, and there were bad times and good; I choose to focus upon the positive, rather than reliving the pain, terror, and loneliness. I wallowed in my past for many years before Al-Anon, polishing my resentments, feeling furious anger about the abuse I'd gone through, wishing with all of my heart that my childhood had been "normal" and that I had a family in which I was loved. I didn't, I wasn't, and now that I'm 57, so what?

I cannot change the past no matter how hard I try. It's done and gone, and I've made my peace with it. Today is all that I am given - I have only this day in which to live, and if I spend my inner life in the past or the future, I am not really living, I'm existing.

I'm learning that having cancer doesn't mean I can't feel joy and gratitude. I feel as much happiness as I allow myself.

Today, I found myself thinking that I wished I still had my old industrial straight stitch sewing machine, with which to sew the coat I'm making. It had great power, and would sew through a dozen layers of leather with no hesitation. In the past, that thought would have had a life of several hours. Nowadays, it's a passing thought. I don't have it anymore, so what can I do if this domestic machine balks? Get a heavier needle. Do some handsewing. It's all manageable, if I permit it to be so.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Roller Coaster Ride, con't.

Just a quick note to say that I saw a doctor at Cancer Care this morning, and had an urgent ultrasound this afternoon, and am now taking two kinds of antibiotic, as the doctor thought the lumps were the result of an infection, and or possible abscesses. She mentioned that on chemo, one is vulnerable to infections that someone with a fully functioning immune system can shake off easily.

We're praying that the news from the test will be that she's correct in her diagnosis, and that my new lumps are part of the infection.

She noticed, as I had not, that a lump I'd still had at my last appointment has now disappeared, and also, I'm gaining weight, both excellent signs.

I'm trying to let go of awfulising, projecting, and worrying, and just live in the moment and be grateful for all of my blessings. I'll keep you updated. Thanks to all of you who sent your best wishes to me, it's enormously comforting to receive them.

Roller Coaster Ride.

Living with cancer has been likened to a roller coaster ride - peaks - a clean ct scan, and valleys - I've found some new lumps in the month I've been off chemo long enough to get the PICC line out of my arm, and a chemo port installed in my chest. I wanted this done because I'd developed a ferocious allergy to the adhesive on the plastic and gauze bandages they were using on the PICC line, and the itch was driving me to distraction.

But the result of no chemo for a month is the new lumps. All I can hope is that once chemo starts up again tomorrow, they will be shrunk back into nothingness. I'm feeling anxious and frightened, and have had to ask my Higher Power to take my fear and anxiety, and grant me serenity. Against my initial feelings, I've shared the news with close friends in program, and shared my fear. I have received such love, caring and support, it brings tears to my eyes to know that I am loved.

I spent all of my life before Al-Anon, wanting to be loved, but being the kind of person who was so angry and resentful that I drove people away from me. I have the support system that I do now because of the person I have become as a result of this wonderful program.

I'm off to Cancer Care to see a doctor in about 45 mins, I'll keep you updated with whatever news I get.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Practise of Gratitude.

A reader of this blog asked me to elaborate upon what I mean when I write about "practising gratitude."

I was taught by my first sponsor that gratitude doesn't just come upon us unannounced -  not at first, it doesn't, because most of us come into Al-Anon full of anger, resentment, self-pity, and other strong emotions. Not only does there not seem to be any room inside our heads for gratitude, but I for one, couldn't find a darn thing to be grateful for. One of the tools in my arsenal was sarcasm, and I used it liberally, slathering it over my daily life, steeping myself in cynicism and negativity.

I thought anyone with a positive attitude had to be a fool, or at the very least, faking it.

My sponsor pointed out to me that whatever opinion I decided to maintain, was my choice, and mine alone. If I wanted to stay miserable, I could clutch onto my negative opinion about life, carry it forward with me, and it would poison all that I saw, experienced, and felt.

Or I could begin to practise gratitude. For me, the beginning was not just to practise gratitude, but to force it. It didn't come naturally to me, to any degree. At the start, I would try to find one thing to feel grateful about, and fail completely.

I was utterly blind to the fact that I had plenty about which I could feel gratitude, if I so chose. I was well-fed, well-clothed, comfortably housed, had a vehicle to drive, a dog I adored, and friends who loved me. I was rich with opportunities for gratitude, it was just that I always had my face turned away from those riches, and towards the alcoholic, and the alcoholism, or the miseries of my childhood.

An AA speaker I really like, Bob B, spoke in one of his talks about getting up every morning, and choosing to "paste something to my eyeball, and that's what I see all day long. If I paste something which is annoying and frustrating to me, I'll be annoyed and frustrated all day. If I paste gratitude, I'll be grateful and blessed all day."

Emotions are powerful, and can have us swinging like a pendulum. But gratitude is more powerful. Gratitude can centre and calm me, regardless of the level of my discontent or upset when I start.

I began by forcing gratitude, as I mentioned earlier in this. I wrote down a list of things for which I could be grateful, had it always with me, and when my mood began to sour, I would pick one or two things on my list, and begin to silently thank my Higher Power for whatever it was. After a few dozen (or hundred) repetitions, I would begin to feel grateful for it.

Practise gratitude the way you'd practise the piano if you were trying to learn to play. You wouldn't walk past it, and hope that soon you'd be good at it, while never opening the lid, would you? No, you'd find regular periods of time in which you could sit down and practise. Well gratitude is the same. I needed to practise the habit of gratitude by forcing gratitude. And the way I did that, was by thanking my Higher Power, for the things on the list I'd compiled with my sponsor.

Do you have fresh running water? A warm, safe place to sleep? Start there. Be grateful for the big things, and the rest will follow. Bless you.