A year in my life, from the day I was diagnosed and for the full year after. Walk with me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 118 Horse Crazy

Yesterday, for the first time since my (first) surgery I tacked up a horse and I rode.  Granted, she is an old mare, with some age related lameness in her rear legs but she's a steady Eddie pro and a safe bet for my first mount.  I had a lesson under my dear friend who tormented my legs with all sorts of two point exercises and short bursts of trot.

My husband had puppies when I told him I was going to take my first lesson.  He has been my caretaker and closest friend through all of this and has seen the depth of my weakness and knows how far I have to travel yet.  Still, my surgeon gave me his full release and there's a chance that, if I can ride again, I won't be so crazed and cranky.  Even with that behind me hubby was not happy, resigned yes, but definitely not happy.  To live with me you must accept the things you cannot change.

Since I was a girl I have been horse crazy.  Helping my friends take care of their horses in exchange for an occasional ride, paying for lessons, working like a slave in some fancy barns where I learned to fling poo, maintain tack, groom and listened to trainers talking about horses.  I read all horse books obsessively: My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincotegue (the whole series), the Godolphin Arabian, the Black Stallion, horse encyclopedias and breed anthologies.  I have been kicked, stomped, run over, bitten and just generally roughed up by the objects of my affection with no derogatory effect.  I have kept that fire burning, optimistic that one day I would be a horse owner. 

Life gave me that opportunity at age 45, when I brought home Chrome, the most beautiful horse I and anyone else had ever seen.  This horse was a supermodel, splendid in every way except one:  he had an unsolvable respiratory issue and so back he went.  My second horse was Murphy, a Trekehner/Warmblood schoolmaster, but we didn't get along in the saddle, his movement was huge and I am quite little.  Incapable of generating equally measured movement.  I thought time and work would solve our issues but they didn't, and nearly three years later I donated him to a girls college equestrian team that I am very familiar with, and where I knew he would receive great care and affection.  I could not sell him to a stranger.

Which leads us to Dee, my little appaloosa mare.  She is coming along phenomenally well under her fabulous trainer and is gaining balance while making some baby steps toward collection.  Riding her is like climbing the Empire State building to me, but it is a goal I am working toward ever day I get a chance to ride another horse.  My poor husband would rather I just give up this foolishness, but I can't.  My love for this is an elemental part of who I am and when I ride, I link myself to a brave girl who caught the city bus to arrive at the barn(s) for 5:00 a.m. chores, taking another bus to High School with mud on her shoes, determined to survive another day of teenaged angst, and make her life into something of her own design.

My life has been a life of long term goals born in a wild heart.  I am not sure if it is the goals or the undomesticated nature of my heart that have made me so determined frankly, but whatever it is it has served me well because I am still going strong.  I wanted to live, then to live to ride my horse, and now just to ride my horse.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 112 Treasure Bench

The kids have been gone for a week, cruising with their cousin and grandparents, living in the lap of luxury and extravagantly unconcerned with what is going on at home.  And so I am cleaning their rooms.

This could be a tale of woe, stink, and undead dust bunnies; in fact there was plenty of that and, if I hadn't bumped into my daughter's storage bench causing the front of it to fall off, that would be all that it was.  As the contents of her life of hoarding came bursting out all over my feet I realized that something had to be done.  I had to repair that stupid bench and avoid my teen aged daughter's cat fit.  Simultaneously.

I was a teenager once, though my children don't believe it, and the thought of having my mother in my stuff would fill me with helpless fury.  Certainly she read everything, trying to suss out my misdemeanors and motivations.  Once she found a photo of my boyfriend (who I was not allowed to see) and me at a local amusement park (that I was not allowed to go to.)  I found it tacked to the wall with a steak knife through his eye.  Sweet memories.

But I digress.  After about 4 hours of hammering and 3 trips to the hardware store I had repaired her sacred treasure chest and got about refilling it.  I did it all without my glasses on so that I wouldn't invade her privacy by reading anything.  Still, I knew what most things were since they had been there for years.  She keeps everything that was ever meaningful in her life.  Her autism is a closed world until you get to see her collections.  It is only when you see the poetry, journals, drawings, boxes filled with unspeakable beauty that you understand where it is that she dwells.

I filled a box with every birthday card she has ever received and made a pile of all of her drawing pads including her first, filled with art that has become more sophisticated and compelling.  Her journals made another stack.  Some were filled, some had only a few pages of writing but they were all there.  Her anthology.

Every model horse I collected for her, when we shared that passion, and two Barbies wrapped in gauze like mummies with jewels tucked into the wrappings to assure their passage into the afterlife.  My breath would leave me, like I had been struck in my center when I ran across another object of her inner life made manifest.  A blue sparkly box filled with polished stones and beads, her "good deed" jar stuffed with Jones Soda caps and every fortune cookie fortune she has ever been able to collect or steal.  A ring holder, the kind that looks like a cupped hand, so laden with rings and bracelets that it looks like the pleading fingers of one who needs rescue.  One solitary doll.

Through unfocused eyes, all of that stuff no longer looked like a hoarded cache, but rare treasure.  My lack of glasses couldn't hide the richness and depth of feeling obscured by her aloneness.  She is authentically an ardent lover of art and fiction, a child happily wrapped in family and her world viewed through unmagnified eyes was my weeks trip to another world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 101 Dallas's Gift

I have a secret.  Silently, I have been incubating and nurturing it until it becomes strong enough to survive as a real truth.  All of my hopes have been pinned on it but I have had to allow it to become vivid before sharing it.  I have to believe it myself.

A little over a week ago I received the results of my PET scan, bone density, and complete biochemical screening.  My oncologist grinned like a boy as he told me that my bone density was that of a 20-30 year old, and with the exception of an elevated FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone, which rises when you begin to slow in ovulation) my body's measured biochemistry is that of a young adult.  Most importantly, my PET scan could not detect a single cell of cancer anywhere in my body.

I am as young as I feel and I am cancer free.  I will not have to have chemotherapy or radiation, only 5 years of Tamoxifen.  My husband and I pumped our fists and yelled: "Yes."   He told us we did everything right and that we were helped in that by educating ourselves and making educated decisions.  For sure, none of this would have been possible if I hadn't been hit in the chest by Dallas, a mammogram alone wouldn't have detected my carcinoma until it was much bigger, possibly stage 3.  He told us that our choice of surgeons, treatments, tests and attitude delivered me to him wrapped up with a ribbon; a survivor.

With a 3-5% chance of reoccurrance, odds are I will live to be an old woman with a great story about how a horse saved my life.

I still can't believe it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 95 Hermitage

I used to own a yoga studio.  10 years ago, in the deep, heavily Christian, buckle of the bible belt such an endeavor was laughable and doomed to failure.  I loved yoga and my students but such love did not sustain us and eventually we closed.  But before that happened something extraordinary happened in my little studio.

I rented a room to a journalist, and the local Dharma center run by a woman who was working to be ordained a buddhist monk.  She had shaved her head, and given away all of her worldly possessions and whatever else she had to do (I don't remember) and all she needed was a place for her ordination.  It made sense for me to host it since I had the space.  Little did I know we would be hosting a Geshe and his traveling retinue of brother monks.  They would perform the ordination and then create at a local university,a Mandala for peace after the 9/11 attacks.  Fresh from the Gyuto Tantric Monastery in Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama they were a torrent of Tibetan, brilliant smiles, broken english and saffron robes.

When being introduced, or simply making conversation a monk would look deeply at you and perhaps take a breath. It can be somewhat anxious meeting of the eyes as your new aquaintance uses his spiritual x ray vision to see you in your psychic underwear.  It was of the utmost importance to truly be there with an individual without any desire to judge or evade.  The same intention was ideally brought to everything that they do.  They do not desire to be anywhere else or doing anything other than what they are doing at the moment.   Departures were marked with hands pressed together as in prayer and Namaste: "the light in me sees the light in you."   

 I am not an ascetic, not even close.  But it has dawned on me that cancer and it's treatments can be, in themselves an ascetic's voyage where an individual's trappings are stripped away and you face the you that was hermited in the deep spaces behind your carefully constructed appearance.  It takes some guts to recognize the parts of yourself that you have declared false or too damaged to project.  Coming to terms with your deepest self is a uncomfortable voyage past your psyche to behold and nurture the light within yourself.  It is an act of courage and forgiveness to let go of your selfdom and allow yourself to become more authentic.  So that you can really be seen.