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the whipped cream conundrum

"would you like whipped cream with that? hell yeah!"

2017: A Love Letter

Dear 2017,

Thank you for being an amazing year.  You are the first year in the last seven years of my life that I spent the entire year cancer-free.  Seven years I have lived with cancer.  Whether in my body or not, I have lived with the ups and downs from diagnosis to remission, from relapse to remission, from a new diagnosis to…well, I’m not ready to use the “R” word just yet.  But, every year, except you, 2017, there was cancer in my body.

2017, you swept away the crazy cells that wreaked havoc on my body, and you successfully kept them at bay.  During your year, I had clear scans and unremarkable blood work.  My body was, and continues to be, cancer-free.  So, thank you for a good year.

2017, I learned a lot from you this cancer-free year.  I learned gratitude – for friends, family, and strangers.  I experienced love – not romantic love, but the kind of deep love you feel when someone has your back.  I moved from the land of the dying to the land of the living.  I moved from patient to person.  I let go of fear and anxiety (ok, not completely!) and chose to move forward, taking a new path instead of playing it safe.

2017, did you know one of my favorite songs is Seven Days by Sting?  Yep, seven again…Seven Days is a love song where, as I interpret it, Sting has seven days to decide on love, and he keeps putting it off.  He sings:

Monday, I could wait till Tuesday
If I make up my mind
Wednesday would be fine, Thursday’s on my mind
Friday’d give me time, Saturday could wait
But Sunday’d be too late

2017, you taught me not to wait.

2017, you haven’t always been easy.  You see, during the other six years, I lived from crisis to crisis and never really took hold of reality.  This year I learned that life truly lived is hard…you have to make your bed, you have to tell people how you feel, you have to face challenges unrelated to illness, you have to make choices (or, as I like to think, you get to make choices), you have to walk the dog in -10 degree weather.  But, that’s life, and I’ll take it.

2017, I will miss you.  I have no idea what 2018 will be like, but, to paraphrase the end of Sting’s dilemma,  Seven [years] will quickly go…Seven [years], so many ways…But I can’t run away…I can’t run away.

All my love,

Lisa

xoxoxo

Starbucks Does it Again

It’s that time of year…yes, the White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream is prominently displayed on the Starbuck’s holiday menu.  There’s even the option to add a shot of peppermint with peppermint sprinkles.  I should be thrilled, right?  But to my surprise there’s a new drink on the menu – the Maple Pecan Latte (with whipped cream and maple sprinkles).  I do love maple.  Thus, I am faced with yet another beverage-related conundrum.

As I stand in the line waiting to make the ultimate decision – which overpriced caffeinated delight will be going home with me – I think about choices.  I struggle with choices.  I am a sucky decider.  Do not ask me to choose the restaurant or the movie.  You certainly don’t want to be the salesperson waiting on me when choosing between the boots in black or brown…but these are little choices that aren’t necessarily going to change the trajectory of my life.  They are small conundrums.

When it comes to those life-altering choices, I haven’t exactly had the opportunity to make those in the last several years.  For so long, I didn’t feel like I had options. There was really only one kind of coffee, one restaurant, one pair of boots – and each was for survival.  Things have changed.  One year in remission.  Tests and scans are clear – every three weeks I get the #merckmiracle, and I go about my scheduled programming.

The thought of having to make decisions scares the crap out of me – it’s like turning on the tv with 1,000 channels and you end up watching the home shopping show (what, that doesn’t happen to you?), or, in Whipped Cream Conundrum speak, you go to Starbucks and walk out with a bottle of water.  Now I have the opportunity to make real choices.  I’m not sure what they are, but I know I have them.  Some may surprise me,  like the Maple Pecan Latte, others may be self-initiated.   Some may require courage, while others could come with ease.  Whatever the option, it still comes with whipped cream.

 

 

 

Use Your Time Wisely

WARNING: Under no circumstances should you say “yes” to coffee at 8:30 pm, especially when the cable is out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, the taste of a strong cup of coffee to cap off a delightful Asian-fusion meal with good company.  It looked appealing in the glass carafe, brewed to order just for me.   It was a superb cup of coffee, but now at 12:20 am on a school night, I am regretting every last drop.

I generally don’t suffer from insomnia, and if I can’t fall asleep from time to time, I find watching mindless television lulls me into slumber.  So filled with caffeine and without cable, I have “found time”  –  a concept new to me. Honestly, it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I have things I need time to do, but I don’t think moving my bedroom furniture around is the smartest idea.  Then I have things I want time to do, like writing, which is a perfectly appropriate post-midnight activity.

It is challenging to discern my needs and wants when it comes to time.  After all, I have a complicated relationship with time – I am grateful to have it, while at the same time I mourn the loss of it. I always seem to want more of it, but there just never seems to be enough.  But when it comes to needs and wants, I struggle to find a balance.

While my cancer is in remission, I am still in treatment.  This means I suffer from immunotherapy-induced fatigue, along with the general fatigue that comes from everyday life.  As a result, I need to get sleep and make time for rest.  I am very conscientious about time, and try to hold fast to a 5:30 am wake up and 7:30 pm lights out.

Yes, I often go to bed earlier than a 5th grader, but this is what I need to do to maintain my rigorous schedule.  I wake up, turn on Morning Joe, grab a cup of coffee, walk Sadie, and prepare for the day.  My “school day” kicks off around 7:30 am and runs until late afternoon. I then enter the twilight zone when I begin to wind down – make dinner, prep for the next day of classes, take Sadie out, and hop in bed between 7:30-8:00 pm. I’m very conscientious about time; I need to make every minute count so my stamina stays in check.

But, I want to have fun.  “Use your time wisely,” isn’t that what your teacher told you?  That means I make choices, and sometimes the wisest use of my time is for fun, contentment, relaxation…sometimes it’s dinner with friends, a movie night, getting caught up in a good book, writing, even a concert here or there.  I let go of my rigid, self-imposed schedule, and indeed use my time in the wisest of ways by finding joy.

The clock keeps ticking…12:45 am now…I wonder what tomorrow will bring without my usual nine to ten hours of sleep – a hot mess is the likely result. But, I think I’ve used my time wisely because writing brings me joy, and so did that cup of coffee.

 

 

You Say It’s Your Birthday…

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It’s my birthday, too!  Today I am 5 years old.  Well, put a 4 before the 5 and it’s a little closer.  But seriously…

5 years ago today I received a stem cell transplant for a recurrence of Hodgkins lymphoma. Upon completing a treacherous chemotherapy regimen which killed my immune system, I was confined to a hospital bed for three weeks wherein the doctors pumped stem cells that were weeks prior literally extracted from my body back in.  Scientifically, I was reborn.

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I hadn’t really thought anything about the transplant today until I went to my mailbox and saw a letter with an unfamiliar name and return address.  As I opened the small envelope and pulled out the folded paper, I burst into tears.  It was a letter written by an older woman, Noreen, in response to my recent article in the Boston Globe.  In this moment, the past seven years of my life flashed before my eyes.  It was a feeling I cannot explain; a rush of some kind that at once I felt elated and sad, embraced and alone.

I sat quietly outside in the unseasonably hot late-September sun and read her letter.  She shared with me stories of her life – immigrating from Ireland, joining the National Guard, and meeting Elvis Presley.  She described her family including her husband of 52 years, two daughters, and one son.  Without knowing who she was writing to, she explained about her daughter with special needs and how times were not always easy.  She wrote to me, “Don’t be a slave to anger and sadness for lost time … you are a wonderful human being.”

A message from a stranger, who with just my name and the name of my workplace scribbled on an envelope, took the time to write me a two-page letter to tell me the words I needed to hear on the exact day I needed to hear them.

So, in celebration of my “rebirth” and in honor of Noreen, I live my life with a deeper sense of hope and gratitude, and the knowledge that I’m not in this alone.

The Downward Black Dog

My dog is depressed; she is literally a downward dog – she’s mopey, likes to sleep all the time, and she shows little interest in the usual things that give her pleasure, including her beloved peanut butter-filled bone.  She’d rather laze about on the big red couch.FullSizeRender (1) The unfortunate result is that perhaps her depression has rubbed off on me, or vice versa.

Many of us suffer from bouts of depression, some more frequently and intensely than others.  Indeed, the wartime genius Winston Churchill suffered from major bouts of depression.  In the book, First-Rate Madness, author Nassir Ghaemi writes that “Churchill’s severe recurrent depressive episodes heightened his ability to realistically assess the threat that Germany posed (57).” Some would say thank goodness for his struggle with the depression that Churchill coined his “Black Dog.”  The irony is not lost on me.

My “Black Dog,” along with Sadie’s,  reared its ugly head this summer.  In some ways, the mood “heightened” my intellectual abilities, but more than anything it has heightened my self-awareness, and compelled me to ask essential questions about my life.

After the school year ended and I took some time to decompress, I got a smack in the face  – despite the #merckmiracle, I plowed through the year re-integrating into my professional and personal life while ignoring some of the deeper feelings I had surrounding the turmoil and trauma of the last several years.  BAM!  Time off = time to think = acknowledging the post-trauma sadness.

Life certainly did not work out the way I planned; I am mourning lost time and lost opportunities.  Sometimes I feel as though I have to say things like “I’m feeling great” or “I’m so grateful.”  I’m not lying when I say these things, and the sentiments are true under most circumstances, but they often times mask my true feelings of anger and sadness.  What if I say, “Well, physically I feel good, but I’m pretty fucking angry.”

In many ways, neither Sadie nor I have much to be depressed about – we’re both healthy (kenahurah, which in Yiddish means essentially “knock on wood”) and finally have a sense of stability and home.  Under these circumstances, it feels almost indulgent to say I’m depressed.  BUT, yet again, life has not exactly dealt me the luckiest hand.  As a result, I often get sucked into self-pity; that doesn’t make me weak, it makes me human.

I so want to wrap up this post in a pretty bow, telling you that all is well in my world, that I’ve worked through the “Downward Black Dog.”  Instead, the emotional backlash of cancer rears it’s ugly head more often than not.  And, while I don’t think Sadie nor I will shape the future of world peace like Churchill, we persist.

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