Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Waiting for the New Menu

photo: Waiting for the Sun

Wall Street knows the agony of waiting to hear what’s going to happen next. Will stocks rise or crash? Will you win some or lose some: stay poor or get rich overnight? It’s worse than waiting for a hurricane to hit. How insecure can life get? Those are collective anticipations based on analysis, history, and weather currents. Waiting for Godot is a classic theatrical experience between two men who don't know what they are waiting for, but they wait anyway. Waiting to Exhale -well we do that on those horrific rides at Six Flags or Disney or Universal Studios. How many eager athletes must wait for the right moment to summit Everest? Sit. Sleep. Read. Breathe. We must learn to bide time creatively.

But waiting to hear what the menu of your life is going to be, based on a single unexpected avalanche, is tedious. Diversion is the key. Trust is the anchor. I kept my spirits up writing emails, hugging my grandbabies, eating poorly, reading the Times, feeding the homeless, and organizing photographs on my laptop. My room is a mess of books stacked like forgotten chimneys, a carpet of papers I need to peruse or at least put in order, and pillows. Half my bed is pillows.

Photo: Whomever waits for Godot, waits for me

(metal sculpture by Suzie Cochran)

I guess we all wait in different ways for the next thing to come. I don’t know how many of you are, like me, waiting for the days of heaven. Some preachers say we are living heaven on earth. I hope not. It's pretty awful. Nowadays. I don’t believe that earth is heaven although there are heavenly places on earth. But there's too much injustice, too much pain, too much hatred and violence. Heaven is that dulce adventure no one knows one thing about, so cannot describe or prejudice or forwarn. Heaven is the sweet pie of death. And I am going for lemon with lots of meringue. Hope of Heaven is part of my faith. Now my faith rocks with dreams. But I need to know some sort of schedule.

When you find out you have a breast tumor, there are lots of questions. Mine are mostly when can I exercise, will I be able to trek to the base camp of Everest and to Mt. Kailas in April and May, how far can I walk and what’s it going to be like. I loathe weakness of spirit and body in myself. And that might become me as I go through the cure. I was so anxious to meet the surgeon (I keep referring to him as the sculptor) that I arrived a half hour before his office even opened and sat on the floor in the hall until someone came with keys. Well, I was going to be squeezed in as it was. I had my frapucchino light and a book of travel stories in hand for the long haul. But it wasn’t long. And my surgeon has the manner of someone who should be in that golden circle before the throne of God. He soothes without seeming obvious and he explains step by step what is happening and going to happen. I don’t like medical drawings nor Xrays that tell me more than I care to know. But I’m learning to look at truth, even if it isn’t my kind of art.

My tumor developed from a milk gland - that occupy most women’s breasts. I commented I thought I had done all the right things, nursing my children forever, and having a no-hassle menopause. We don’t have breast cancer in my family but he said that didn’t matter. Most of the people he operates on are similar to me. So on January 29th he will cut out this tiny tumor (which glows on the Xray like some UFO because a little marker was placed in it during the biopsy ) from my mountain of a boob. (That’s what it looks like, a mountain on its side.) And he will take out a couple of lymph glands under my arm to make sure that is all the cancer present and because there are lymph nodes associated with tumors. (A dye will be injected prior to the operation, as will a path for the scalpel, much as the path for the gun that took out the samples during the biopsy.) After a couple weeks of healing - yes, I can start walking after a few days - but no weight lifting or tennis - then I will begin radiology. I had hoped to avoid this, but the doctor assured me radiation is the guarantee that the cancer is out of there. Okay, I’ll buy that. I can keep up a normal life, and, exercise and the Tibet-Nepal adventure is going to happen. All seems cool. I’m ready. First I'm spending ten days at a health and beauty spa in southern California. Oh well, why not. It's my favorite retreat.
During my weekend waiting, a tooth on a post fell out again, one that seems to fall out every quarter. I think my dentist needs a new kind of cement. I stopped by for a re-glue again after the surgeon appointment. My dentist's assistant told me she had been through the same thing. She is young, athletic, works hard. She had planned to leap into all this with gusto and continue her lifestyle, but she said by the third week of radiation, she began to fold up, worn out, she was pushing her body too hard while being nuked. She said the skin will burn and there are creams to help with that, and that most important is to spend as much time as possible with the breast exposed so the air can get to it and heal. (Oh to be on the French Riviera.)

Photo: Why Worry? Just Hang on!

Therefore, I need to be aware that at some point, I’m going to have to slow down. My friend Mr. Evans at Juvenile Court has long been fussing at me to slow down, slow down. I move too fast. Now he's winning the argument, bless him. I hope to at least keep walking. That’s the basis of the adventure in April. I guess I’ll have to measure days by strength. I will also be assigned an oncologist who will lead me through the aftermath, and so will Pam, my advocate nurse from the Women’s Health Center at the hospital. Friends are arriving all around, it's a pueblo of people who care and know a lot more than I do about survival. It’s amazing how many friends and acquaintances have been through these same doors. They become the experts to whom you want to keenly listen. It’s like working with researchers when writing a thesis. It’s the good part of having to go through this adventure.

Yesterday could not have been fresher, clearer, more agreeable weatherwise. I started the day deep breathing as Brandy smelled the weeds beside my house. I ended the day surrounded by friends at the board meeting for Division Chiefs of the Auxiliary Probation Officers. (I'm the only white member.) And I received an envelope from the first graders at my granddaughter’s school filled with thank you cards (for my talk on penguins and Antarctica) and exquisite drawings of Gentoo penguins which I plan to frame. (The kids adored the Gentoos more than other species.) My granddaughter, always creative, drew a pink hamster on hers. She knows how I feel about her hamster which runs on a wheel all night long when I’m visiting. Aaagh. But she adores that little beast.

As it is, life for me has long been a Roy de Forest painting, full of animals, interesting people, wild plants, and color. If you don’t know the work of this Northern California artist, google him. Many times a day I pass his work painted in a style every child of God's earth can understand. It makes me giggle and know there’s peace and answers for us all if we only know where to look.

photo: Roy's Last Work sent by his wife Gloria.

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