Get over it or get past it (or both)?

No! I didn’t get over it already. What’s more realistic is I’ve gotten past it. Trauma is like flowers that bloom, go dormant, and bloom again. Get over it implies the impact ended. Get past it implies overcoming the impact. Overcome and end have different finish lines. I’ll get over the cancer experience once there’s a cure.

Here’s evidence I’m past it:

  • Less intense panic attacks
  • Fewer decisions I’m too paralyzed to make
  • No need to explain that quadruple mastectomies dictate my wardrobe choices.
  • Haircuts are haircuts, not flashbacks about being bald.

What’s the ‘it’ I’m past?

The radiologist, who I’d never met, entered the room, stared at the screen, and declared with certainty the abnormalities on my breast ultrasound were benign. The ultrasound technician looked shocked but didn’t contradict him. The radiologist missed the cancer. When my doctor did follow up, one year late, I was four months from dead of advanced breast cancer. Treatment left me exhausted, underweight, brain-fried, and angry the cancer wasn’t diagnosed before it required heavy artillery.

They made mistakes where they’re supposed to be experts. But, most decisions rely on imperfect information; even experts can’t know every variable. My diagnosis was in time, if not timely.

I’m grateful. I’m past it.

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Trust the tail, the truth is there

“This little guy will save your life.” Between diagnosis and my first mastectomy, my partner Decker put his trust in a ten-week-old puppy named Trail to keep me alive. How’d that go? Well, Trail’s living large, having figured out my operating system*. Wow, imagine replicating Trail’s job style:

Self-written job description.

Trail lifted a rear leg on our pet expectations.

White Westhighland (Westies) need plenty of exercise and playtime … excel at agility, obedience, flyball, and other canine sports. These activities stimulate his bright mind and channel his boundless energy.

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Grey face

Yup, playful, agile, energetic, obedient White Westies. So says the website. Trail clarified our delusions starting with his breed’s name. White? Trail rejects White.

Trail hurtles himself hedonist-style, buries his nose and rolls, talking non-stop to the dirt, grass, or snow. He emerges joyfully, his coat drenched in goop, chlorophyll, or icy pompoms.

In a competition between a brilliant-white dog and a joyful dog, I relinquish roll control to Trail.

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photo: Cat Harbord

Be useful.

Trail matured with an unusual attitude and a secret identity, Rescue Dog. Trail’s rescues include:

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• Waking us to help a disabled house guest who’d fallen during the night.
• Diving into the water to help when someone toppled out of the canoe.
• Waiting at forks to guide laggard hikers on the right path.
• Running a black bear thirty feet up a tree in our back yard, where it clung while Trail barked and tried to climb after it.

When it seems he’s all about him, he accommodates himself completely to others.

unsure tail

Read my tail

Speak heart to hearts.

His responsive tail, bendable to his mood, telegraphs Trail’s emotions with an honesty that wrenches my heart. If I misread hisarticulated tail tail’s meaning, he’s kind and forgiving.

I want that collaborative heart in all my relationships.

 

scared tailalert tailneutral tail

Find fun everywhere.

Trail ignores me prance about with dog toys to entice him. “Poor pathetic human,” his eyes say. “So sad she can’t entertain herself sniffing.”

He retrieved ball and stick – one of each. The first ball I threw, Trail brought back in his little mouth and dropped at my feet. Trail stroked the lake until the stick I tossed was drawn to where he could reach it without getting wet. Both times I unplayful tailpraised, rewarded him, and threw it again. Both times he tilted his head as if saying, “I already brought it back, you get it.” I tug a toy and he walks foward holding his end.

So, he misses out on play or sport; he’s endless fun of his own kind. Avoiding one kind opens space for others.

Take my time.

Other humans spell w-a-l-k or their dog explodes. We excitedly say, “Walk”, and Trail lies down, chin on paws. “Okay,” he seems to sigh, “if you insist.” We ‘walk at a Trail’s pace’, more pulse than walk – shuffle, stop, shuffle, stop. Repeat.

An eighteen pound anchor on a rope, he’ll sit to watch any activity like his personal television, leaving me on standby until his program ends. happy tail

We should’ve named him Speedy since ‘Trail’ became destiny.

His nicknames include: Trailer; Trailing; and

Trail Mix (from his friend Cat, if Trail were trail mix, he’d be the premium kind with all sorts of great surprises hidden in each handful); and,

Trail Thunderpaws because he runs to catch up; and,

Trail Houdini when we backtrack to find him; and,

Princess Trail in kayak Princess Trail prefers human powered rides like stroller, kayak or bicycle basket;

Princess Trail

photo Beth Lawrence: Marcus ‘walks’ Trail

and finally,

Yoda Trail      Yoda Trail, for oh so many reasons.   Yoda

It’s our particular compromise, Trail’s and mine. He’ll eventually arrive, and I get to practice patience.

Live an authentic life.  

curious tail

Trail learns concepts incredibly fast, and, when inclined or not distracted sniffing every petal of every flower, he obeys the dozens of words he understands – eventually.

Maybe Trail is too smart to waste his boundless energy. He waits until we’re committed to a direction, in case we reverse and can pick him up on our return. He walks 4.5 kilometers to my five.

We’re sure he solves problems, counts at least three, and understands basic geometry and connectivity. He studied a cattle grid and then trotted across, each paw set confidently.

For errands and time sensitive walks, Trail tolerates a leash. He’s clear what he won’t tolerate. Trail intervenes like a mediator between dogs playing rough. If Decker and I split to do separate errands, Trail refuses to follow either of us.

Trail couldn’t fake it if he tried. His tail tells his truth.

concerned tail

Would it be helpful if people still had tails?

 

TKI preferences (Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating, Avoiding, Competing).

 

Resilience helps after a quadruple mastectomy (yup – 4 of ’em)

Oops, I did it again. As in two original breasts, four total mastectomies. Think of that when ordering a double double coffee at Tim’s. After the shock of the first two mastectomies, undergoing another two was – well – a shock. I mean, who has four mastectomies?

Paul comic

“Decker,” I negotiated with my partner, “since you have two nipples to my none, how about a nipple donation? Then you’ll have either a left or right, your choice, and I can have one transplanted to the middle.” He declined.

At least this double mastectomy, on 18 September, was preventative, not because cancer returned. Whew.

remaining breast tissue crop

The July chest ultrasound revealed the bulges were remaining breast tissue and not pooled lymph fluid as we’d believed. Quick consensus followed. Yes, mastectomies may not improve survival. Still, it seemed unwise to leave a potential home for an aggressive cancer while my risk of recurrence is so high. I figured the worst that could happen if I repeated the double mastectomy was that my wardrobe would need adjusting. The worst that could happen if I didn’t have it repeated was too awful to accept as reasonable risk.

Dr. Kanashiro masterfully retraced the incisions she’d made the first time, flattening me further. ‘No’ is still my final answer to reconstruction.

The third and fourth mastectomies were just as miserable an experience as the first and second. Compared to the chemo blowing out my brain, when I fell deep into a non-functional state of profound sadness, repeat mastectomies were only inconvenient. 

Seriously? Have body parts amputated sequentially, endure life alterations in what I’ve dubbed Post Change Syndrome (PCS), and just bounce back? Well, yes. Although ‘bounce’ might be defined as dragging myself up a ragged mountain wall, but that’s where resilience comes in.

In 21 August’s post, I mused about the four qualities that supported my recovery after chemo beat me up:

Resilience, Mindset, Optimism and Discipline.

Once again I relied on these four qualities to recover from drastic change.

The Resilience Project defines resilience well: “In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”

I use conflict competence skills to navigate through adversity and negotiate for resources to make my body inhospitable to cancer. But which came first in my case – resilience or conflict competence? I had to trawl my memory for this because, as a professor once said: “scratch a theory, you’ll find a biography.”

Scratch my theory that conflict management is a great skill and you’ll find my biography included battling parents, a home with hostility expressed in screaming insults, leaving me insecure and prone to outbursts. I sought conflict management training to deal with my biography and wound up with a rewarding career and the skills to get through PCS. In my storyline, through negotiation training I gained conflict competence and became resilient.

Grandparents Etta and Meyer Switzer

Grandparents Etta and Meyer Switzer

But I my path to resilience was easier because of one stable person in my childhood – my grandfather.

My new theory: the influence of one stable person plus conflict competence help in adversity. I’m grateful for so many things, including my family and Resilience.

 

Breastless Love, The Man Who Stayed with the ‘Sick’ Woman

image

In my posts, the fact I stumbled upon the love of my life at age 58 was an aside, like Decker guided me through the cancer swamp as expected of an old stalwart. Reality check: we’re a new couple. He didn’t have much invested in ‘us’ when my breasts tried to kill me.

My choice was between breasts or death in four to nine months. Easy peasy. Decker got to decide whether to stick around for the medical crap. Whew; he chose to. Cancer support groups are filled with women whose partners left. Heartbreak on heartbreak. Like piling on in football without penalty for being last ‘man’ on the guy down. As if getting cancer was being unfaithful: “What – you went to bed with Cancer? How could you betray me with Cancer? Well, now that you’ve chosen Cancer over me I’m leaving.”

Women (or men, or children – cancer is so democratic) have to deal with threatened lives, medical uncertainties, activities disrupted, hideous side effects, and bodily insults. Then the person we count on gets a free pass on the blood, vomit, infected sutures, bulbs of sloshing lymph fluid, low blood counts, shakes, tears, pain, physical scars, and emotional turmoil. Jeez, how could anyone willingly give that a miss? So no one had to tell me Decker’s a gem for staying.

Diane and Dave, 1989

Our father stayed. My lovely sister Andria and I had a disabled mother who underwent countless medical procedures for multiple medical conditions and a constellation of physical complaints. Mom and dad’s mutual verbal abuse was so miserable some relatives refused to visit us. Yet, our folks stayed together until they passed away and, in Andria’s version of the story, they loved each other.

So I asked Decker, ‘what’s the reason you stayed?’ and his expected response: ‘I love you.’ Too simple? He said, ‘sometimes simple is true.’ Yet, an Internet search ‘men leave sick women’ reveals women are six times more likely than men to be left after a cancer diagnosis.

There are also same-sex partners, families, neighbours and best friends who are too busy or can’t accept the neediness of the woman who once did everything and now needs help. In support groups, I listened to abandonment SLS (Shitty Life Stories) and wondered how I was so blessed, in addition to Decker, with friends, family and neighbours who brought food, offered to shop, helped walk puppy Trail, and called to say hello.

There were delightful welcome surprises – my dear cousin BonnyBonny Gold-Babins and I became much better friends. She’d done her stint twice over nursing her lovely parents through chronic illnesses, and still had a soup pot of caring for me.

But other women similar to me weren’t so lucky. It’s easy to blame; we all have villains, victims and heroes in our SLS. BUT, I practice Appreciative Inquiry and I blog at the intersection of what Conflict Competence teaches about Living Breastlessly. Conflict Competence speaks to the quality of relationships we want whether we’re well or sick, or are the friend, neighbour, or significant other to that sick person. How do we make and maintain the loving, trusting, there-through-thick-and-thin bonds that sustain and nurture us even at our worst?

An Internet search for why people stay to help sick partners and friends turned up – wait for it – NOTHING. The focus of the research is on the negative, the losers, the leavers, and the lovers who abandon. They don’t have a name. The people who stay get a name that’s more a label: caregivers. A search about caregivers led to how to become a caregiver, government benefits for caregivers, products for caregivers, and managing caregivers’ strains and stresses. Staying with a sick person is both an act of love and a profession.

We could ask Appreciative Inquiry questions, and research men’s reasons for staying to learn how staying can be an easier and higher quality choice. What made my father stay with my mother, particularly since they fought just about all the time about almost everything? What did Decker see that made the love worth hanging on to? And let’s get to the real heart of it: What can I do, every day with every person I treasure, to let them know I love and value them, appreciate their qualities and forgive their shortcomings if they’ll please forgive mine?

here’s more Decker celebrating the 60s at his 60th:

Decker at his 60th in a wig copy

Standing up to bullies or cancer with a power stance

During cancer treatment and ensuing brain fog I couldn’t read, write, or converse so TED’s short talks were perfect. I watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk again and again, thinking Amy’s – after so many viewings I feel I know her – research has so many uses, from addressing bullying, to healing, to upping my conflict competence. In nonlinear fashion, power poses cycled through my thoughts into brief ideas.

j0186152_2f5bc150

j0186176_2f5ce440Amy’s work continues the study of the mind-body connection, which has lots of science, wisdom and other evidence to back it up. That part isn’t new. During the cancer treatment, I had at least two dramatic experiences of this connection. I used my mind to ease a procedure that wasn’t going well. I was to have a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in a vein. The chemo was so toxic it would’ve blown out the vein had they injected it without the PICC. The nurse specialists tried to insert the PICC and the line hit a wrinkle in my vein, bending up instead of sliding through. A fifteen-minute procedure was into its first hour. The nurses looked more than a tad concerned. I meditated on the vein and the line slid into place. The nurse told Decker she reported this and suggested  patient meditation be included in the procedure manual. The second time came well into the chemo treatment. My blood was so low the oncologist scheduled a transfusion that would have delayed treatment a week. They said blood counts don’t come up with that chemo cocktail. I asked for time to use my Inner Healer, named Terry Gold, and then had another blood test. My count was up. The treatment went as scheduled.

The variation Amy and her co-researchers further of this knowledge of the interrelationship of minds and bodies is that body postures affect feelings of power. The (unfortunate in my opinion) name Amy has given this is Power Poses. I have other thoughts on overuses, misuses, and abuses of power, including that aggressive people affecting poses in the belief it will infuse them with power is indeed scary. However, the idea that even a few minutes of standing or sitting in a certain pose can change an interaction and how my mind functions also has positive applications. It would be great to have this information in the right hands.

Bullies are news again damn it, because of Amanda Todd. What, I wonder, would be the effect of teaching the victims how to stand and sit in order to stand up against their bullies? Bullies seem to know this instinctively and don’t need more power. They’re getting power over their victims already. (I wonder in what poses they stand and sit? Now there’s a research project begging to be undertaken.) Others could sure use some help in feeling more inner power. Could bystanders be empowered to stand up to the bullies?

The body healing the mind has opened up new ideas for how I can stay in remission, the ways I can help my clients, and where I can improve my relationships with others. My conflict coaching clients stand (pun intended) to benefit when I suggest they observe how they and the other person stand and sit alone or in relation to each other, both in calm times, and when locked in conflict with each other. And, look for me to take a stand of power against my personal bully – triple negative breast cancer recurrence – on those now rare occasions when I’m tired and have bleak thoughts about my long-term survivorship. I’ve added body over mind poses to my toolkit of Inner Healer and mind over body strategies to overcome those thoughts.

Cancer’s a game changer but I’ve still got game

The new year is almost on us. 2013 was supposed to be the summer I graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (to add to my 4 degrees, a girl can’t have too many). My secret dream was to enroll part-time while working. Instead of university studies, my 2010, 2011, and 2012 summer vacations paralleled which body part was being assaulted, and I had only medical, laboratory and radiological studies.

2010 was the summer of breasts and lymph nodes.

2011 was the summer of exhaustion and paralyzing fear.

2012 was the summer of brain fog and confusion.

Now I’m aiming for 2013 to be the summer of love and publishing.

2010 was a game changer, the kind of shit kicking where it would’ve been preferable to have a bully beating on me so I could put a face on my abuser. Cancer has no face. It beat me up from the inside out. There was no one to fight back against. I couldn’t dash out the back door, or turn off the computer to escape. It wasn’t lurking around the corner waiting for me; it skulked and stalked inside me, waiting, bidding time, looking for vulnerable places to root, grow and kill. It’s a bully that doesn’t mature in a good way.

Summer 2011 crawled over me like a bulldozer and I crawled through it. For months I dragged myself to work five days a week, cried throughout my walk home, and was catatonic with anxiety about cancer’s return during the hours in between going and coming. My words were insensible, my thoughts a muddle, and my work substandard. If I wasn’t in bed before 8 PM cancer grinned and looked around for a comfy place to plant. I panicked if I got stressed or overtired because those were cancer’s nectar and ambrosia.

Somehow, I got through to spring 2012 before I screamed for help. After three health care professionals recommended I lay off (the fourth suggested I quit and find my bliss elsewhere) I caved in and took a leave of absence starting 1st April 2012.

The summer of 2012 was a game changer. The leave of absence meant I finally had enough rest, alone time to meditate, exercise time to get physically back to my normal self, and enough mind recovery from brain fog to again enjoy conversation with people. I went weeks without crying or paralysis. I could read simple novels and write stories again, listen to the radio without overstimulation from endless words I couldn’t follow.

The only time I still feel the old bleakness is when Decker wants me to linger with him in nature when I’m hungry for a meal, or to stay up past my limit because he’s having a good time, or tells me to have some great food because it has only a little bit of a forbidden ingredient in it. Then, I hear the dire voice whisper, ‘does he care if I live or die?’ Where last year it was more than I could bear and I had meltdowns of hysterical proportions, now I just tell him what I’m doing. ‘No, I’m hungry and I have to eat before my insulin spikes and the cancer comes back.’ and, ‘No, I’m glad you’re having a good time but I’m going home to bed before I get overtired and the cancer comes back.’ ‘No, just a little of that food is enough to feed mutations so the cancer comes back.’ Yes, I’ll be rigid for the next six years I’m most at risk so that I can live to enjoy other pleasant evenings with you in years to come.’

Now, when the voice of anxiety about recurrence whispers I can hush it. The dire thoughts may come and I have most of my resiliency back to cope with the message. I have a message back for it. ‘I’m doing all I can to stay in remission. whatever happens, I can deal with it. In the meantime, I have a future to live and a grandson whose wedding I plan to dance at.’ And, somehow, I’ll get something creative written for the summer of 2013 because it’s my summer of love. That’s how I intend to change this bully – with love.

Enjoy the images. What are your plans for 2013?

Remission’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose

children-singing-md

clip art credit clker.com/

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photo kriskristofferson.com

Kris Kristofferson wrote in Me And Bobby Mcgee: ‘nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free,’ In the midst of so much bitter debate over free universal health care, free is worth a lot. When it came to treatment for a nasty, rare breast cancer, I had ‘nothin’ left to lose’. I selected an expensive course of treatment and, at the end of my years of living medically, no one handed me a bill. They cheered and waved goodbye.

Is this possible – timely, excellent, appropriate health care for ‘free’ or was I hallucinating? The drugs weren’t that type. The policy answer for how ‘free’ timely, excellent, appropriate health care works is that money from everyone’s taxes is allocated towards universal free health care. Blah blah. The human answer is that free universal health care works because people make it work every day in doing their jobs despite the administrative turmoil around them.

On the cancer conveyor belt you meet everyone on the belt around you. It’s like an exclusive club – if you belong, you’ve got the status of everyone else holding the red cancer membership card. It’s a twist on the joke: ‘I wouldn’t join any club that would have me.’ We have a club that doesn’t want members, and no one wants to join. But, if you need it, it’s welcoming and you’re grateful.

Members of the Cancer Club talk all the time. It’s impossible not to. We’re all anxious, naked under thin gowns, lined up for our turn i the schedule, and in need of bucking up. I sit down, the bald lady next to me smiles and the game is on. What flavour is your cancer? What number treatment or test or exam is this for you? How’d your last one go? Who’s your doctor or technician or counsellor? And so on. So, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that I wasn’t the only bald, underdressed, anxious person who was happy with the care at Alberta Health Services.

Here are two stories, one from the professional aspect of our free health care and one from the personal side of the experience.

The timeline from suspicion, investigation, diagnosis and treatment went without a delay. At first, my partner, Decker, and I thought the hour of specialists’ time at each appointment was extraordinary. But no – everyone had the same experience of doctors who answered every question. We all had the same story – competent, compassionate, high quality care with no delays. And it’s the same level of care no matter the level of income.

The second story was from the Peter Loughheed Health Centre when I woke up from surgery ravenous after almost 20 hours fasting, only to find there was nothing for me to eat. The patient kitchen was closed, Decker had gone home to care for Trail, the 11-week-old puppy, and I was too groggy to walk to the public cafeteria. The ward clerk, who earns a modest salary, heard about my plight. On her break, she went to the public cafeteria, bought me something, and had the attending nurse give it to me. The nurse was the one who told me the ward clerk had done it anonymously.

The debate about Universal Health Care focuses on what’s wrong. Well, there’s also a lot right. For all the extravagance in the administration of the health care system, there’s an employee in the system who pays out of his or her pocket for a hungry patient. The system works because the people on the front line know what to do and how to do it, and know when to ignore the upper layers who are purportedly in charge.

With all respect to the extremely talented Mr. Kristofferson, who wrote a wonderful song, there’s no damn way I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday. And thanks to the fabulous care I received from the front line workers who don’t let the chaos at the top get stop them from delivering superb care, I have many tomorrows, none of which I’d trade for anything.

There’s a lot of great care happening as well as a lot of conflict in health care. The norm in conflicts is to focus on what’s wrong with everyone else’s system while defending one’s own. It’s easy to sit in judgment of who has the best or correct or right way of doing things, or feel compelled to tell the other persons what you believe is their best or correct or right way they ‘should’ do things. In conflict, people drive the system and the system amplifies or dampens the good things people do.

As a conflict manager, when I’m looking at systemic issues, I start with the people who are doing a good job and ask ‘how do we get more of that?’ That’s the Appreciative Inquiry approach. Instead, the powers that be order expensive public inquiries into what goes wrong and how to get less of whatever that turns out to be.

If, heaven forbid, I slip out of remission, even though there may not –at this time – be anything medically that anyone can do, the personnel in the medical system will persist in treating me, knocking themselves out trying to save me or give me more time or improve the quality of my remaining life. That’s worth something and – where I live – it’s free.

Here’s Kris singing Me and Bobby McGee:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG2kq-4dM98

 

Good news, honey, I have breast cancer – we can get a dog

Decker and I work long hours. We added ‘get a dog’ to our retirement goals. 2 August 2010, the doctor said, “Bad news, you have a really bad breast cancer and you’re in for a very tough year.”

I said, ‘Puppy time!”

Decker had to be convinced I could handle it. Cripes, women handle cancer with young families, aging parents and no money or partners. What kind of princess status was I aiming for?

Decker & Trail 28 Aug 2010

Trail’s first day on the job of pet

A 10-week old White Westhighland Terrier, joined our family 20 August. I wanted a mutt; Decker would only have a Westie. The trade-off was I got to pick his name.

As we drove to collect him from his birth family, I announced his name was to be Saith, Welsh for 7. Since I was proud of the originality, I didn’t expect Decker’s mirth. Decker said, “Say ‘Saith sit’ really fast”. 10 minutes later we got to the breeder’s and his name was Trail. We wanted a happy dog (as in Dale Evans’ song Happy Trails to You sung with Roy Rogers). We wanted a hiking companion. I was born in the town of Trail (so it would’ve been silly to call him, say, Paris or London). We had a week to get used to each other before the first mastectomy disrupted our lives.

Surgery prep started 28 August, at 6:00 AM. As I was wheeled to the operating room at 7:30 AM, Decker dashed through rush hour traffic to feed and walk Trail, and be back for 9:30 AM when I was wheeled out, one breast and a dozen lymph nodes lighter.

furry faces sleeping 2010

The job of pet is hard work

Whoever thought laughter’s the best medicine didn’t have tubes sewn into their armpits ending in bulbous drains full of sloshing lymph fluid while trying to train an opinionated, stubborn, independent Westie pup. It hurt to laugh. It hurt to breathe. It hurt when Trail jumped on my chest. When the clumsy puppy pulled on a tube sewn into my axilla (that’s fancy-ass talk for armpit) I thought I’d pass out. Then Trail fell asleep on Decker and it hurt not to laugh. A day later it didn’t hurt at all and he’s still making us laugh.

Trail, at 11 weeks had 5 pounds of heft in him. Decker and I, two days post-chemo treatment, took him on a mountain hike. The first log lying on the path was easy to step over for legs longer than 3 inches. Trail ran at the log head-first and full tilt. He somersaulted backwards with four paws flailing air, tongue hanging from his mouth, and stars circling overhead like Wiley Coyote after hitting the tunnel Roadrunner painted on the cliff. Trail learned and the second log he tried to jump over. He high centered, two 3-inch legs on each side of the log still motoring above the ground. The third log he walked around. We were so proud. He summited the mountain, puked, fell asleep, and I carried him down.

it-wasnt-meTrail mastered climbing up stairs but not down. We barricaded him in the kitchen and went to our appointments. The munchkin wiggled out and went looking for us – upstairs, where he pulled over the phone, peed, and chewed a shoe. When I got home from the hospital, he was stranded on the landing looking pitiful. He denied doing the damage.

Decker said it’s a close contest which of us is cuter, Trail or me. I said, “I have only one boob, which gives Trail a slight advantage, but he’ll soon have no balls and then we’ll be evenly matched until the second mastectomy when it’s advantage Trail again.”

30 Aug 2010

Home the day of my first mastectomy

Pets bring out the best in most people and bring people together. Pet owners can spend as much time discussing their fur-bearing critters as parents do  their kids. Friends admired Trail and related the story of the pet they’d loved and broken-heartedly had to ‘put down’ when it got cancer. I rested my hand on Decker’s shoulder, looked into his eyes and said, “Don’t get any ideas.”

Conflict managers do a lot of reframing. I’m aiming for the title of Reframe Queen with this one: If not for a deadly cancer, we wouldn’t have Trail.

A Bride in palliative care is a model of hope

In March 2012, Kerry participated in a 5 day Tapestry Retreat I attended in the foothills of the Rockies. She was engaged to marry her long time partner Darren in May. After 5 days watching her suffer and laugh, depending on how well meds were managing the pain, her laughter made a bigger impression on me than her suffering did.

After she took pain pills Kerry spoke of her hope. As the pills wore off, she told us she was losing hope. Call me a romantic, I saw the hopefulness. When Kerry shared her wedding plans she lit up. Her gray complexion left and she became a blushing bride-to-be. Their teen-age daughter was so excited about the wedding. Kerry thought about advancing the date to make sure she’d be able to dance, and then didn’t change it. At the scheduled time and place, Kerry and Darren married so that when her time comes she’ll die a wife.

As I write this, Kerry is in palliative care for detox from the pain pills and those who love her await her discharge to have her home again. She’s young, in her 30s, and strong, and we pray she’ll have more time and less pain. Her breast cancer returned as the same kind of Triple Negative cancer I had, so my prayers for Kerry and a breakthrough drug to help her have more than a hint of self-interest.

Before the retreat, I’d never met Kerry. After 5 days, I care about her a lot, and Darren, and her daughter. I cheered when she sent the link to their wedding album. She’s a beautiful bride. It was her dream wedding.

We all have dreams of some kind and a certain amount of time to achieve them. Kerry achieved some of hers and she’s alive to continue to inspire those who know her. May we all have the courage Kerry has to pursue our dreams no matter what happens, and have hope despite the pain.

 

Kerry Lee-Anne ROBERT-McDONALD

It is with heavy hearts the family of Kerry announce her passing on Thursday, December 6, 2012 at the age of 41 years after a long battle with cancer.

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BOGO, would you like a double with that mastectomy?

Buy one get one (BOGO): a double mastectomy instead of a single?
I’ll negotiate anything and it helped me through this. I tried to negotiate with Jeanie Kanashiro, the wonderful surgeon. I knew, in spite of the negative test results, my right breast was as unhealthy as the left. Jeanie made a counter-offer. She’d take off the left breast 28 August 2010. She’d amputate the right breast after I finished treatment  in April 2011.

Even though I didn’t agree I was persuaded: If I got post-surgerical infections that would delay chemo. Jeanie had experienced women mourn the loss of a breast. The right breast could come off once I knew how I’d react to losing one breast, much less two. Except, I did know how I’d react. I didn’t give a damn. The tissue formerly known as my left breast tried to kill me. A lump of fat with cancer isn’t something to be sentimental about in my world.

Call me in April, Jeanie said. In January 2011, I made an appointment for February. I was still in chemo but knew the date it would end. Jeanie’s secretary, Sherry, had to be sweet-talked into giving me that appointment. I won’t flatter it calling it a negotiation. I sucked up.

At that February exam Jeanie didn’t have a chance. She signed the form and told me to call Sherry in April to start the surgical booking protocol. I called Sherry the next day. Jeanie didn’t have her operating schedule and I still completed the booking protocol. Sherry said she’d never had a patient do that. Maybe she hadn’t a patient so certain her right breast was lurking and biding its time to complete what the left breast started.

The right mastectomy, finally, was 28 April 2011, and  official pathology was “no convincing evidence of cancer”. As Jeanie predicted, if there had been cancer the chemo blitzed it away. The right breast had the same micro-calcifications as the left had in June 2009, which I’d been told was nothing to worry about and was stage-III cancer by June 2010. The classification of the right mastectomy as prophylactic removal of a healthy breast, I call bullshit; it wasn’t a healthy breast.

In this whole gimish, I melted-down twice.
The first was 29 August, 2010 when I saw tubes coming out of my side, and bulbs leaking blood and lymph fluid. I fell to the floor weeping and Decker’s best comforting was futile. I was inconsolable. The scar, the tubes, the drain, the pain, the leaking fluid, the near death experience – was overwhelming. I’d never taken good health for granted. I was grateful every minute of every day for a strong body. I’d broken bones, been in a wheelchair in 1995, and had periods bedridden. This was different. My life was at risk. I sobbed.

Then I cleaned up the mess, measured the amount of fluid to write in the chart, and got on with my day.

The second time I sobbed as hard was when Decker touched my chest after the left mastectomy. I lost all grip on what was important and cried myself to sleep while he held me. Not because the left breast was missing, but because the right breast was still there. In the morning I couldn’t reclaim the sadness; it was slept away.

After the right mastectomy I asked Decker: “how does it feel to stroke my chest?”
“Flat,” he said.
We giggled into hysterics in the dark.
“Do you miss my breasts?”
“I’d miss you more.”
Great answer Decker.

I can negotiate through most systems – I’m still learning how.
The psychologist tried to get me (in 3 sessions at $175 per session) to deal with my grief of loss. No matter how often I told her I didn’t have any she kept talking about grief and loss. She said my ‘denial’ of grief was a problem. Problem? For who? I didn’t go back.

There have been times I thought my clients might be avoiding the real issue of their conflict. I’d like to think that on those occasions I kept my judgment to myself. Certainly that’s what we teach people in our conflict management courses: that the parties have self-determination and the conflict managers’ opinion of what they ‘should’ do is irrelevant.

When I get back to work I’ll remember the experts whose experience told them they were correct while I wanted something different. I had the balls to stand up to them because I’m a trained negotiator. Not everyone is.

I don’t want to be an ‘expert’ who stands between a client/party and the solution they want, even if I have doubts they’re doing the right thing. I know now how that feels.