Here Comes the 10:15 Conniption, Right on Time

In the first few years after it, Jay and I laughed that our 7650 kilometre coast-to-coast cycling slog had eliminated all chances of future adventure.

Once-thrilling ski and bike tours, tough as they were, left us unfulfilled.

Our bang bar was just too high.

Turns out cancer raised a bang bar of its own.

Mark lost his job Monday.
It blindsided us both.

But we’re all alive and healthy.

We’re concerned, curious and quite run down.

But this challenge, tough as it is, is well below the bar.

What have we always said is the most important thing?

This week, I spent two luxurious days in my first hometown — gabbing and gobbling with my lost and found cousin, Kelly.

During our wonderfully relaxing and restorative weekend, we wandered through pockets of memories from my childhood, my adolescence, my wild university days, my young adulthood and my pre-me extended family.

It felt odd to cross paths with the many versions of me. With my lost and found cousin. In my lost and found life.

Scary stats and niggling twinges of mortality can make me antsy about the quantity of time ahead.

Drifting in and out of these memory-packed spaces reminded me that life is short at the best of times. But, more importantly, that even short personal eras can pack huge whacks of life.

Here’s to great memory-making ahead.

Bliss

It was October 7th, 2009.

Mark and I stood waiting for an elevator at the Women’s Breast Health Centre. We’d just left our first post-diagnosis appointment.

“Nine months of treatment, Mark. It’s a pregnancy,” I ventured hopefully.

And thus began my Me-ternity.
The rocky gestation of the next me.

Yesterday marked the end of that nine months.

The good news is, I didn’t even notice.

Happy, happy day.

Wearing Memories … in a good way

Mark’s parents paid me a lovely lunchtime visit last week. In honour of the occasion, I had changed out of my everyday recovery-wear into my Company’s Coming recovery-wear.

At the end of the visit, Mark’s mom motioned to my T-shirt and asked “Who went to Nepal?” and I responded, “My friend Bill. Twenty-some years ago.”

Old T-shirt.

I realized afterward that not only do I recall the source and story (however banal) behind each item in my recovery wardrobe but the memories flit through my mind each and every time I put the clothes on. Which, for one outfit or the other, is at some point of every single day.

So, for the record and without the full details which flit at lightning speed through my mind each time, here they are.

Dress recovery-wear:
  • medium weight lycra tights – part of a fabulous chemo-survival gift parcel from my sister Linda, January 2010, in preparation for more stylish winter jogging.
  • purple “Trek Nepal” T-shirt – a souvenir from my friend Bill Flanagan following his trek through the Himalayan mountains, circa 1989.
  • CCKMA T-shirt (alternate T choice) – a gift from fellow breast cancer Survivor and neighbour Laurie Kingston, December 2009, on the occasion of our head-shaving party.
  • peach Lululemon hoody – a pre-surgery gift from Mark’s mom and dad, October 2009, in preparation for not being able to lift my right arm.
Everyday recovery-wear:
  • winter-weight wooly tights – my very first MEC catalog order, circa 1992 long before MEC came to Ottawa, in preparation for our bike trip across Newfoundland (2 identical pairs).
  • red fleece undershirt – Phase 2, The Glebe, autumn 1999, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow strollercizer, Caroline Coady, in preparation for winter strollercizing (3 identical shirts).

And my daily hat choice is a selection from the stash provided by my generous and talented friends Whitney, Katherine and Debbie.

And guess what, all those good clothing vibes seem to be working.
Thank you!

Happiness Is…

Long, strong friendships.

Bill

In a crowded Calculus lecture hall, first year at Waterloo, I spied a gangly guy in a fedora. In the twenty-six years since then, Bill and I have covered a lot of ground.

We made it through school, we braved bears on both Canadian coasts, we hitched a freighter to Labrador, biked past icebergs and camped among braying elk and screeching racoons. We drank a lot of coffee. We skied, we biked, we hiked, we drove.

We grew up. We stayed friends.

And what a friend. Bill has brightened our days throughout this challenge with delicious home cooked meals, healthful gifts and weekly visits. He’s subjected himself to gruelling afternoons of Life, Clue and Twister with Lucy and Bayla. And he’s turning the winter of their mom’s chemo into our girls’ first season of thrilling cross-country skiing adventures.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Bill Flanagan.

Jay

On July 1st, 1993, as we giddily embarked on a 7,550 km bike ride across Canada, I was greeted by the beaming smile, hand-painted Winnie-the-Pooh helmet and lime green cycling jacket of my soon-to-be best friend, Jay.

In the sixteen years since our cross-country meeting, Jay and I have survived headwinds, sunburns and soaked tents along the Icefields Parkway, the B.C. Gulf Islands and, scariest of all, rural Ontario. Our friendship has stretched to accomodate her adventurous years in Asia and my consuming years of early motherhood. We’ve skied, biked and skated. We’ve ranted and raved.

And our dependable weekly evenings of food, drinks and celebration-or-venting have kept me sane when little else could.

In October, Jay assured me, “We are going to get you through this.” With her weekly visits, her healing connections, her delicious home cooked meals and her weekend getaways for Luba, I know she’s absolutely right.

Happiness is my long, strong friendship with Jay Schmidt.

Rebuilding Me

Almost daily, I’m encouraged to “keep fighting!” and, while I sincerely appreciate the emboldening intention, I’m always a bit perplexed.

I’m not fighting. In fact, I’ve never fought less.

During my 12 precarious years at Nortel, I was fighting. During my various vicious family torments, I was fighting. During my struggles with sundry insecure, thoughtless or just plain nasty humans, I was fighting.

But I’m not fighting now.

I’m healing. I’m nestling. I’m carefully rebuilding my body, my mind, my life; pulling things out, examining them, deciding what goes back in, and where.

The scalpel, chemo and gamma-rays do my fighting while I’m absolutely busy cultivating wellness and peace.

I am grateful to the citizens and politicians who have fought for free health care, to the scientists who continue to fight for cures, to the doctors, nurses and technicians who fight fatigue to care, to the taxpayers who fight daily to earn their OHIP contributions and to the many cancer patients before me who have fought for their lives as treatments continue to be tested, tweaked and tuned.

And I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a happier, healthier me.

Related Links:
Writing in the face of death

Happiness Is…

Life with Mark Blevis.

Fourteen years ago this very week a hunky young whippersnapper enticed me to a rendez-vous with the promise of  “The Internet for Dummies“.

I’m not interested in the internet,” I replied, “but I’d love to meet you for a mega-foamy latté.”

We met. We lattéed. And the rest is history.

Who could have guessed that that bearded young whippersnapper, his joy, optimism, wit, generosity, creativity, brilliance and fierce family devotion, would save my life — literally and figuratively?

Lucky, lucky me.

Thoughts from Tween-age Me

A comment from Brenda (here) made me think of the following poem, which I wrote when I was 13:

Hatred

Hatred is a weed that grows,
Inside a troubled mind,
Churning thoughts of wretched things,
That twist and knot and bind

The remedy is only this —
(if you’ve an ear to lend),
A laugh, a kiss, a cheerful glance,
The kindness of a friend.

— Andrea Ross, age 13

Hmmm……

Pictured above, tween-age me and  Olivia Newton John — breast cancer survivor.

Journey Learning #2: I Count

Years of early indoctrination infused in me an unshakable sense of worthlessness and, as a result, self-loathing. Despite huge efforts throughout my adult life, this injury kept me distracted from the great good that surrounds me and left me raw and reactive to the snipes and whims of every toxic family member or acquaintance.

The unabating care and kindess of friends, family and community members during this health challenge is providing me with a steady stream of invitations to boot my belittling beliefs, to accept and focus on the good, and to let the saboteurs slide.

Will I accept the invitation? I’ll certainly try.