Posts tagged with 'breast survivor'

One-year Cancerversary!

  • Posted on November 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm
Dad and Mom during World War II

Dad and Mom during World War II

It was a year ago that I received the news that no person, whether with a breast cancer history or not, wishes to receive. Oh, I knew it was coming. One of my best friends took a day off work to be with me as I drove to my oncologist’s office for the dreaded appointment. I knew I would need emotional support. And when I saw the oncology nurse enter the examination room before the doctor did, ominously bearing a prayer shawl, I really knew my number was up.

All the warning signs were there: vomiting right after I received some great news about the sale of a house, persistent flu-like symptoms, unbearable left chest discomfort, insomnia, pain too severe to allow me to go to church, near fainting during choir rehearsal, terrible lower back pain when I sat down, and uncharacteristic shortness of breath that prevented me from walking around a beloved lake on a beautiful October day.

This is someone who had perfect attendance for four years of high school and hardly ever got colds, except when her children were small. This was a working mother who ran throughout her thirties and religiously exercised at a fitness club for almost two decades. The bubble of denial in which I encased myself, as a lady who thought she had beaten her cancer, was about to burst. So much for the well-meaning advice of others that God had cured me and I need never worry again about breast cancer. Those words probably comforted the speaker more than they reassured me.

I appreciated the oncologist’s honesty, but also his compassion. He told me the liquid in the pleural effusion (my lung sac) was malignant, with a Halloweeny pathology of HER-2 positivity. For the uninitiated, this is an aggressive type of cancer. But the good news, which the doctor was quick to point out, was that this type of cancer is treatable, though not curable. I could go to Stanford to see if I qualified for a state-0f-the-art clinical trial to treat cancers such as mine, or stay locally and get the standard treatment. I chose the cutting-edge option, intrigued by the idea of a clinical trial that could help others as well as myself, plus happy to know that the manufacturer, Genentech–not my insurance company and myself–would pay for the wonderful, but expensive, targeted therapy (Kadcyla and Perjeta) involved.

It’s been quite the road trip since that life-changing day a year ago as I staggered out of the oncologist’s exam room and into my car, with a written prescription for narcotics and a fresh appointment for a PET scan involving inserting a dye into my fragile veins. Yes, I dreaded the dyes. But I dreaded even more the prospect of discovering just how much and where the cancer had damaged my body. Frankly, the “scanxiety” frightened me out of my October gourd. The thought of entering a clinical trial also scared me, but it seemed more like an adventure than a repeat of the drill to which I was accustomed.

I’ve grown a lot in a year. I’ve learned first-hand the intense worry and then overwhelming relief when someone gets tested and then qualifies for a clinical trial. I know now what it’s like to stay in a hospital five days in a harrowing whirl of tests and narcotics. At least I had a private room with a view, thanks to my condition being labeled “acute”. I understand now what it’s like to be wheeled into the infusion room, with a bucket in my lap where I fully expected to vomit any minute from narcotics. I experienced the adventure of drugs coursing through my veins, attacking the cancer cells with a vengeance, but leaving side effects that literally chilled me to the bone. I learned the meaning of friendship as I, a skeletal shadow of my former healthy frame, stayed with a dear friend who cared for me for three months while I underwent the first phase of this drama. While it has not been easy making these oh-so-frequent trips back and forth to the treatment center, I’ve learned to make the best of it. After all, my life depends on it. Literally.

Oncology nurses vary as much in their personalities as in their skills. Some just seem to know when I need a bit more compassion. Some aren’t paying attention to clinical protocol, while others stick to the rules like an army sergeant with a large platoon. Some are what I would call an officer and a gentlewoman, exuding a reassuring mix of rules and bedside manner. Some are better than others in poking my port to access the veins and in removing the apparatus. Twice I’ve heard the strains of “Hey La, Hey La, You’re Chemo’s Done” to the tune of “My Boyfriend’s Back.” The nurses enjoy doing their choreographed version of this routine to lucky patients who will soon be walking away from all these infusion recliners and hanging bags of toxins, presumably forever. I’ll never get to witness that song and dance for myself unless the chemo isn’t working anymore. I think I’ll pass. Still I smile on. It doesn’t matter which nurse I get or which song is sung, whether a dirge or a number from a beloved musical. I’m alive! And I’m not on a deathbed.

The adventure continues as I struggle with side effects that linger on despite the arsenal of drugs I take and the walks I make. I’m such a picky eater now, and hardly ever finish my meals, as I slowly work my way through mostly unappetizing cuisine. Acupuncture doesn’t seem to do much, nor does healing touch. But social interaction is the best alternative medicine I’ve found to date.

Yesterday my dermatologist informed me that a black spot I’ve had on my face for months that I thought surely was melanoma was nothing more than a blackhead. My pain threshold is so high that I hardly flinched as she applied a pin to it and pried it off with some prodding and poking. I was just thrilled it was not another form of cancer. In a few weeks I undergo a colonoscopy, something I wouldn’t normally look forward to. But if I were headed for hospice anytime soon, my oncologist would not have recommended it. And I will clearly benefit from the new U.S. law banning insurance companies from taking pre-existing conditions into consideration as they determine premiums. Any financial break at all is a break for someone like me on limited income.

My beloved mother would have turned 92 yesterday if she were still alive. She would have been proud of how I have coped. And my Dad? I get my strength from him, as well as my heavenly Father. When my Mom and Dad were going to a restaurant, he in a wheelchair due to his amputated leg and my Mom leaning on her cane weakened by terminal lung cancer, someone asked my Dad why he and his wife were still bothering to go out for a meal. He curtly replied, “Well, I’m not just going to give up, am I?”

After a valiant struggle with recurrent infections, my Dad finally died six years ago. But his words still linger in my mind. I’m not just giving up, either. I intend to do another blog post next year on my two-year cancerversary, with equal stubbornness and verve as I have now.

Dad would want it no other way.

Autumn Reflections: Day Trippers, yeah!

  • Posted on October 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm
Mt. Lassen Peak as reflected in Manzanita Lake

Last Saturday’s forecast promising sunny fall weather in our area proved right on target. Relying on this prediction, my good friend and I decided to take a day trip so I could say goodbye to a family vacation lake house soon to be sold.

Before our trip up into this mountainous region best known for Mt. Lassen Peak, we stopped at the local coffee drive-thru to snag some Oregon Chai Latte, a black tea with vanilla and spices combined with 2% milk.  We wanted to be jazzed as we made our way up the twisting roadway.

On the way, we found a place to pull over so we could explore snow-fed Deer Creek. Climbing down to the water’s edge, we snapped photos of a small waterfall with a backdrop of yellow leaves dangling from tenuous branches. Big leaf maple abounded with its golden leaves, evidencing a decline in chlorophyll production.  Alder and some western dogwood displayed a pink-orange, while the poison oak has transitioned from pink to orange to brilliant red. It’s rare that I see pink in the fall, outside of pink-tober. What a welcome relief! I hope to paint from the photos we took.

A campsite sits on the opposite side of the road, so we crossed over to explore. At the peak of summer this locale must be packed with families eager to have running creek water for cooling off and for children’s play. If only these summer tourists could see the magic of this heavenly place in the autumn, with its vibrant colors and shifting shadows.

When we reached town we found a gift store where we could browse and window shop. We met some lovely women there, taking the time to chat, share stories, and marvel at the myriad of Christmas ornaments on display. I love the fact that we were not rushed in any way. Leaving this shoppe we headed for the realtor’s office so I could sign papers and get key access to the vacation home.

For lunch we chose Knotbumper, a homey restaurant located in town for over 20 years, one to which I’d never been despite all the summers I spent in this area. A wood-burning stove with a glowing belly graced the main dining room, providing atmosphere and charm. As we sat there, we noticed a marked influx in customers, undoubtedly including those who had gotten a late start up the mountain and were now just arriving to enjoy a hearty meal. From the eclectic menu I chose a lunch called Coyote Flats, consisting of a chile relleno casserole, a tasty navy bean soup and some refried beans and a tortilla.

It was the first meal I’ve finished in a long time.

Knotbumper Restaurant

Sample cuisine

We then ventured next door to a place called “Good Vibrations.” No, we didn’t see the Beach Boys. While we were minutes from a lake beach, we were five hours from any ocean. But we did find unique treasures that would make fabulous souvenirs. According to my friend, who lived in this area as a teen, the store’s building was once a restaurant, with an outdoor eating area overlooking a babbling brook. She remembered the history of many of these buildings in town, so she became a tour guide giving me a glimpse into the past.

When our desire for shopping abated, we made our way to the lake house. Having not been there for over two years, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was exactly the way I remembered it. The big river-rock stone fireplace still dominated the Great Room. Furniture stood where I remembered it to be. The decks still looked out on a lake and mountain scene partly obscured by pine trees. The afternoon was so warm and inviting that I was surprised there weren’t any boats out on the lake. But then again, boat rental season is over and homeowners have brought in their docks for the season. Snow still lingering on the ground reminded us of the significant snowfall they had had a week earlier. So while no boaters were enjoying the lake, this was the perfect day to come, before the weather turned again and the days shortened considerably.

After saying goodbye to the house and locking it up, I jumped into my friend’s vehicle and she drove around the peninsula on which the house sits. We noted how close the homes are to each other because land is so valuable. We passed countless bear and moose mailboxes. We passed the now-deserted beach and tennis courts. I marveled how restaurants had relocated even since I had been there two years ago. Changes of ownership and venue are common in this area where the economy depends mostly on summer tourists.

After leaving the peninsula my friend drove me to the area where her family used to live. She pointed out her old house and the school bus route and the school she used to attend. She actually got bored on the bus despite the beautiful mountain ranges appearing from the windshield every day. I can’t believe it would be boring, but when you are a teenager and the route leads to school, the scenery becomes routine fast.

Cascade mountain range seen from the bus

After we dropped off the house key at the realty office, we headed out of town before the melting snow could turn to ice on the road. We were armed with cookies to munch on as our snack. Our first stop was just out of town where we searched for the perfect sugar pinecones to take back. Ponderosa pines are prominent in the foothills near where we live, but the sugar pines with their enormous cones grow much further up into the mountains. What great decorations these will be for Christmas!

Once we got back on the road that followed Deer Creek we pulled over to get a closer glimpse of the Indian rhubarb growing there.  The big, fan-shaped leaves of this plant are beginning to blaze in red. For those unfamiliar with this water plant, it is a slowly-spreading perennial native to mountain streamsides in woodlands in the western United States (southwestern Oregon to northwestern California).  We had missed it on the way up and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to zoom in on its once-a-year glory.

Indian rhubarb before the fall

When we returned to our home city, I gave my friend a huge hug of gratitude as we parted ways. I told her this trip was the best I had ever taken up to that area. No other mountain drive could compare to this one with a beautiful friend who cares and takes the time to stop along the way and live life in the slow lane.

You see, my cancer has likely returned. This was a perfect diversion, an incredible almost-ending to pink-tober, the month my beloved father died. My wish to all is that you would have good friends as I have in this woman willing to drive me to an autumn retreat while I am feeling reasonably well.

Have you a special autumn spot to which you return to enjoy fall colors?

The Hunt for Pink October: What Helps Cure Breast Cancer?

  • Posted on October 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm

The pink culture that defines breast cancer awareness sears our consciousness this month, with everything from pink helicopters to pink slugger violins to pink sleeves by quarterbacks.

But porn?

I just discovered that the adult entertainment site PornHub will donate one cent to a breast cancer research charity (Save the Boobs) for every 30 porn videos watched.


How generous! How wonderful that women will be exploited so that a penny will go for research for every 30 videos men watch to satisfy their prurient interest.

This is wrong on so many levels. Porn is not just a healthy outlet for men who need sexertainment. It has consequences no matter how you slice and spice it. The sex-slave trade is only one of the many dirty secrets that porn kings want to hide. Titillating videos of this nature are also associated with such unpleasantries as incest, rape, underage sex, and marital infidelity.

Many men have been addicted to porn for years, helpless to stop it no matter how hard they try. Some need more and more thrills to get the same self-pleasuring reaction to the images. Behavior that feeds the ever-deepening addiction can lead sadly to break-up of families. How does family breakup help those with breast cancer? Breakups adversely affect finances, and cause undue stress that depresses the immune system. I should know; I’ve been there.

Such flippant treatment of breast cancer is an insult to women everywhere. It’s belittling to those who’ve had a lumpectomy or mastectomies and/or breast reconstruction. It’s especially an affront to those with metastatic disease in which the cancer has spread beyond the breast to distal parts of the body. It’s a slap in the face to those who have already died from this dreaded disease.

And what about the disfiguring effects of lymphedema, an arm swelling that can occur after breast cancer surgery and radiation? No one wants to mention that ugly little truth, either. Who wants to address how the swelling can lead to complications beyond just cosmetic concerns, such as infections? Who wants to discuss unsightly bandaging?  None of those topics is erotic, let alone stimulatory.

Instead of porn videos, these seekers of thrills should be required to see the The SCAR Project photo display.  According to their website, the SCAR project is “a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors shot by fashion photographer David Jay. Primarily an awareness raising campaign, The SCAR Project puts a raw, unflinching face on early onset breast cancer while paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women.”

One look at these images will take away the pink glitter people continue to sprinkle on breast cancer.

Being encouraged to watch porn videos tempts men and gives them a convenient excuse to feed their addictions, while hurting their loved ones. Are you fed up with this low blow to the cause? Are you tired of how breast cancer awareness has become a form of sexploitation? Then it’s time to make our voices heard. Join me in putting an end to the porno-pink nonsense that damages our society and putting money into causes likely to effect change.

I particularly like to read The Pink Underbelly during October as the author points out all the pink inconsistencies that abound. In her latest post she describes Dr. Susan Love’s recent initiative: The HOW Study. This study is designed to find out the causes of breast cancer so we can prevent the disease from occurring. According to Dr Love’s website, some 280,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Of those, 40,000 women will die from the disease this year. Let’s get these statistics under control, not by watching porn, but by embracing worthy studies like this one. Another organization of value is The Army of Women. I’ve participated in several Army of Women studies and will continue to do so every chance I get, because I believe they will make a difference.

Down with pink! Instead, I’m seeing red. Let’s neutralize the color of the hunt this month by avoiding all causes that sport “tatas” and “boobs” and supporting causes that matter.

Texas Lymphedema Conference

  • Posted on September 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Because I just moved, I had to delay this follow-up post to my earlier post this month on my week-long trip to Dallas. I didn’t come to the heartland just to see my son, although that alone would be ample reason to visit. The main reason?  To attend, as a patient-advocate, the biannual National Lymphedema Network (NLN) Conference for healthcare professionals.

This year the exhibitors outdid themselves, and the presenters waxed professional in every respect.

Wednesday, Sept. 5:

The Tenth NLN conference Research Roundup began on Wednesday with preconference workshops targeted for the medical practitioners. We patient-advocates also could participate if we enrolled separately in the courses. Topics ranged from management of lymphedema (including skin and wound care) to compression and exercise strategies for those with lymphedema. One workshop targeted medical doctors who were interested in learning more about the anatomy and physiology of lymphedema. How refreshing that M.D.’s attended this, so they can take home what they learned to their community of professionals who never heard of lymphedema. We hope the lessons learned from the course will be broadcast all over the U.S. and across the world, since so few doctors know what to do about lymphedema–if they’ve even heard the term.

Thursday, Sept. 6:

We patient-advocates were treated each morning to a special mentoring session with medical doctors specializing in lymphedema. They patiently answered all our questions and helped us understand better the medical jargon and design of clinical studies. Thursday morning we had a nice chat with the doctor assigned for that day, and got acquainted with each other.

The plenary sessions that followed provided a wealth of information on lymphedema research. What I found most interesting were the various presentations on surgical options for lymphedema. The clinical results have come a long way since 2010, when we had the last NLN conference. A pioneering surgeon in Paris has performed more than a thousand lymph node transplant surgeries with some success. Now a surgeon in the LA area who specializes in breast reconstruction surgery has taken up the gauntlet to practice lymphedema surgery in the U.S. His presentation, titled “Combined Lymphatic Liposuction and Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer for Treatment of Long-term, Non-pitting Lymphedema,” raised many questions. After surgery, the patient must continue with the self-care portion of complete decongestive therapy. And most patients must still wear a compression garment the rest of their lives. An interesting discussion ensued on the risk of transplanting healthy nodes from the groin area to the axilla–whether lymphedema could develop in the leg as a result of removal of the nodes.

Friday, Sept. 7:

We had to select in advance our workshops on Friday. I chose “Developing Research Competence,” “Unraveling the Mysteries of Insurance,” “Living with Lymphedema – Impact on Self Care,” and “Integrative Approaches to Lymphedema Management.” Through these seminars I learned how to conduct an evidence-based research study, how to navigate through the Medicare quagmire, how to ensure I give myself the optimum self-care regimen, and how to eat properly and relax. During the last workshop, the lavender scents passed around to us and the lilting voice of the Canadian speaker lulled at least have the audience to sleep, I among them.

Jan relaxing at cancer survivor exhibit in Dallas

Saturday, Sept. 8:

The plenary sessions took over once again. This time we learned about yoga for breast-cancer-related lymphedema (a good thing), body image for those with head and neck lymphedema, and lymphatic abnormalities in contralateral arms in breast-cancer-related lymphedema revealed by near-infrared fluorescence imaging. I don’t have lymphedema in the arm where surgery wasn’t performed, but I know people who do. I plan to be as careful with that arm as I am with my affected arm. No sense taking a chance in view of this new study.

Saturday also gave us two lively debates on lymphedema surgery and on the surveillance model for breast cancer rehabilitation. We got to hear pros and cons for each modality and make our own decision on who is right, or if anyone is right.

Sunday, Sept. 9:

Unfortunately, I had to leave early Sunday morning. But the lectures continued, including some on pneumatic compression for lymphedema.


The Exhibit Hall was open for business up through Saturday. This year the hotel ballroom hosted more vendors than I’ve ever seen before. The options for compression garments are overwhelming. Whether you want to be a fashion diva or blend into the environment, whether you have leg, arm, head-and-neck or truncal lymphedema, there’s a product designed specifically for you. And of course pumps and FlexiTouch devices were on display for all to see. Early one evening I was able to get a neck and shoulder massage from one vendor. After that experience, I wanted to go back each evening for an encore performance!

If you are a member of the NLN, the next issue of LymphLink that you receive will contain articles about the conference by all the new 2012 patient-advocates. They will present their impressions and take-home messages from all that they digested.

This conference outshone all the previous NLN conferences I’ve attended. And that’s hard to do!

Now for some pictures of downtown Dallas that my lymphedema therapist took at one of the rare times when we had free moments to spare:

Cattle statues near conference hotel

A cowboy with his cattle in Dallas

Dallas skyline from our hotel

Hotel with Reunion Tower restaurant in view

Old courthouse in Dallas near JFK assassination site

JFK Memorial


Texas Fun – Deep in the heart

  • Posted on September 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm

My recent visit to Texas confirmed the cliche that everything is bigger there.  My time spent in this special state well exceeded my expectations, which were already big.

After my son Josh picked me up at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport two weeks ago, we sped away to Waco, home to Baylor University where he’s a senior. That night we caught the last half of the first Baylor football game of the year.

The next morning, Labor Day, after I enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to Homestead Heritage at Brazos de Dios near Elm Mott, TX.  That particular day they celebrated a Sorghum Festival with demonstrations in so many ancient crafts: blacksmithing, weaving, grist milling, pottery making and farming. Complete fun, and an escape from all things California.

Hungry, and unable to wait 1.5 hours to get a seat at the Homestead Heritage cafe, we made our way to Cracker Barrel, where we had to wait only 20 minutes for a table.  No worries. We easily spent the time scouting their gift shop for the perfect birthday present for his girlfriend. Only a mom could help him solve this problem.

After a lovely lunch we took a break to read in the campus library for a couple hours–I with my i-Pod reading “Invisible Man” and Josh with some kind of textbook.  Eager to meet his roommates, I implored him to take me to his apartment where his friend told me they would be.  They are just as charming as Josh’s description of them, polite and modest.

Off we then headed to buy us some bubble tea (with black tapioca in the bottom). Mine, an almond concoction, was divine in every sense of the word. We took our drinks over to a famous suspension bridge that crosses the Brazos River. Following tradition, Baylor students throw corn tortillas over the side to see if they land on a concrete pier. If not, the ducks dive and swoop for them. Everyone wins.

Next on the whirlwind tour was a visit to a local park laced with trails and views. Josh coaxed me into climbing the 89 stone steps of Jacob’s Ladder. The problems?  I’m out of stair-climbing shape, the temperature well exceeded 100 degrees, and almost every step was higher than a standard step. The next day my legs paid for it, but it was worth the exertion. Anything to have fun with my son in the sun.

The next park destination was Lover’s Leap, which overlooks the river. A fun place to take photos of the view–and of us!

The afternoon wasn’t complete without a kayaking excursion. The Baylor Marina sported all kinds of water craft that day when the students were off from classes. We headed out onto the river and explored inlets. A thoroughly magical excursion, especially when I thought I might never kayak again because our lake house must be sold.

The day still hadn’t ended.  We feasted our eyes and taste buds on a local Thai restaurant, a favorite haunt of Josh and his girlfriend. The evening wouldn’t be complete without topping it off with a frozen yogurt complete with delish condiments: fruits, syrups and candies. Fun stuffed us to the gills!

We ended the night watching the movie “Madagascar” at his apartment, a flick requested by yours truly. When he took me back to the hotel, I still had energy for a short swim and hot tub immersion in their indoor facilities.

If this wasn’t heaven, I don’t know what is.

The next day Josh had classes, so he picked me up late morning and we ate lunch at the college dining hall. This place was food court heaven, with any type of cuisine you might desire. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity, I filled my plate high with salad, main entrees, and wraps. Then I went back for a big bowl of soup. You’d think I were a starving refugee.

After lunch Josh dropped me off at Common Grounds, a popular coffee and music hangout adjacent to the campus. I reveled in the funky nature of my environs and the college conversations all around me.

When Josh picked me up he gave me a leisurely tour of the campus, including the building where he spends most of his time. Of course we had to make our obligatory trip to the college bookstore, where I purchased a Baylor University Mom decal. Then we stood in line for root-beer floats at the afternoon Dr. Pepper Hour.

Soon enough, it was time to be dropped off at the campus Starbucks while Josh attended his last class of the day. Sipping a skinny vanilla latte, I listened in on various conversations as I tried to read my book. Soon Josh came and we went out for TexMex at a dining establishment with hubcaps on the ceiling. We finished the night watching “Madagascar 2″. What else could we watch but a sequel?

The next morning, after a hearty omelet breakfast at his dining hall, we headed for Dallas, for my lymphedema conference. More on that experience in my next blog post.

For this post I decided just to focus on the time Josh and I could spend together. I had been looking forward to this trip for two years, since the last National Lymphedema Network conference in Orlando.

And it finally came to be.

The campus visit was far more than this mom (with all the physical and emotional pain she has experienced over the past year) had anticipated. I probably gained five pounds in two days. But I was deep in the heart of Texas, where my son resides and my heart belongs. Where bluebonnets spring up along the roadside at certain times of the year. Where else would I want to be?

Where do you enjoy going when you take a trip? Do you often see family?

Celebrating the Ordinary – Seventh Day

  • Posted on September 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

In extraordinary times, the ordinary takes on a glow and wonder all of its own. Mike Lancaster

The final day of Marie’s challenge dawns upon us. I’ve thrived throughout this exercise of paying tribute to the ordinary in our lives, in these times that truly are astonishing. Eye-popping, even.

Today I feature my oldest son at 3 at the Oakland Zoo in California.

Nothing is as thrilling as being lifted by Grandpa!

Now I’m smiling because my baby brother is sleeping and I have Mom all to myself.

I love this ride. I can drive my own car without having to pay for loans, registration, maintenance and insurance.

Mom and I get to ride a horse that goes up and down. Hope I don’t get too dizzy. (Oh the joy of a carousel ride! This little boy’s great grandpa used to restore carousel horses for the City of Rochester, NY during the depression. He never lacked for work during that time.)

Aren’t giraffes crazy looking? How come his legs are so spread out? Does his neck ever hurt from straining so much?

And how about those tortoises? They may be slow, but, my, are they big!

And finally, the petting zoo, where I can beg Mom to buy food for these starving animals. How different this guy feels from the bunny fur and scratchy beard in “Pat the Bunny” that Mom reads to me every night at my insistence.


These had to be some of the happiest times of my life, when wide-eyed boys viewed the most ordinary as a miracle, when my parents were alive to witness it all. It’s been a pleasure to feature an extraordinary little boy awed by a world made wondrous by those who create zoos.

May we never lose that sense of wonderment!

Celebrating the Ordinary – Sixth Day

  • Posted on August 31, 2012 at 10:46 am

A potpourri of treasured memories.

That’s what I’m celebrating today as the ordinary for which I’m appreciative. And I’d be remiss not to pay tribute to Marie for starting this exercise, which has energized and revived the esprit de corps of those bloggesses who are participating. I believe all our posts are richer as a result of digging deeper to find treasures right under our noses.

The first marvel I’m featuring today can be found right in my living room: a collection of shells and ceramic rocks that my mother treasured, as well as a framed image of a younger me with my three sons. The pendant I draped over the photo, with the simple word “Dream,” came from a women’s retreat I attended last September. After I finished visiting all the prayer stations in one room set aside at the retreat for that purpose, I saw this lone pendant.  Next to it was a simple sign urging me to take it. Free.

This simple word “Dream” kept me going through all the dark days that followed. And now I have realized that which I’ve imagined all these months–an independent me making my own choices and charting my own course.

The other treasure, perched on my coffee table, is a clay-designed wine bottle from Del Dotto winery in Napa Valley. Last January I met my cousin and her husband from southern California in this lush location of rolling hills, lavish as much in the money spent there as in the acres upon acres of vineyards. Amidst these special surroundings we tasted superb wines and savored exquisite appetizers while catching up on our lives.

The wine bottle from Del Dotto was so unique that we both decided to save it as decor for our living rooms. To top it off, we both purchased a candleholder that fits into the wine bottle along with two candles that look like corks. We landed such treasures in Healdsburg, a charming town nestled in the heart of Sonoma Valley.

When I returned home I finished the wine, a delightful bouquet of aromas and flavors, and set the empty bottle down with its unique topper. Later I decided to place beneath it a painted tapa cloth made from bark in Rarotonga, a South Pacific Island that our family visited over a decade ago. It seemed only fitting to mix the cultures into an eclectic blend of recollections.

I plan to hold on to these reminders of joyful days, days of which I dream, days to savor and remember those who love me and whom I love.


Celebrating the Ordinary – Fifth Day

  • Posted on August 30, 2012 at 10:46 am

Well into the week of this writing exercise started by Marie, many of my fellow bloggers have noticed the S-factor, how we unintentionally sync our blog topics about the ordinary: bees, trees, flowers, moves, food, kittens and more. AnneMarie pointed this out in her recent post better than I ever could.

Today, at the risk of diverting “off-sync”, I choose to feature my two sons enjoying imaginative play in the cockpit of a jet. How considerate of pilots and co-pilots to give little boys the opportunity to sit in the commander’s seat. Maybe a pilot gave them this same opportunity when they were little, and inspired them to pursue their dream of aviator careers. All I know is, judging from the smiles on these boys’ faces, they surely appreciated the opportunity to assume the role of captain of their airship.

This ordinary gesture of kindness became extraordinary to these two pre-teen adventurers. And it helps remind me, a newly anointed captain of my own ship, to find opportunities to spark the imaginations of the young people all around me.

Celebrating the Ordinary – Fourth Day

  • Posted on August 29, 2012 at 9:12 am

“The greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”

Famed landscape artist Francis McComas hit the nail on the head in thus describing Point Lobos State Natural Reserve on the California coast, featured above.

Day 4 of this writing challenge instituted by Marie at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer has dawned upon me. And with it a new idea for my “ordinary” to celebrate. This time it’s Monterey and Carmel, California, special bays with special memories.

The first company for which I worked when I moved to California from the East Coast sent me (in place of my manager) to Carmel on a boondoggle. What an honor to be invited into the likes of such esteemed company! Quite pregnant with my second son, I still managed to run with the big dogs, literally, down Highway 1 and around Point Lobos. When I left this company for a better opportunity, my new employer would hold retreats at Asilomar and the wharf in Monterey. My taste for this area only grew the more I visited.

Later, during happier times, my husband and I would make trips down to this spot on the California coast. We rode our bikes around the coastline and dug our bare feet into the sand, exploring all the wonders of the bay. How could we not enjoy tidepools teeming with orange starfish, hermit crabs and sea anemones?  We balanced ourselves on the rocks, snapping pictures like the one above and enjoying the sounds of surf and sea, the screeching of the gulls as they swooped, looking for prey.

We encountered many other explorers on those trips, including artists who, like Francis McComas quoted above, weren’t shy about setting up a tripod easel and painting while the public watched. While I didn’t paint on the scene, I did capture in acrylics a portrayal of the photo above. That’s why it has paint spots on it. I just loved the blues and the fact that the gull was watching over everything, not so afraid of humans.

I don’t want to be afraid of humans either.

I cowered in fear at the thought of leaving my family home. Yet somehow I mustered the courage to do it. Like the gull, I now look over the seascape of my life, searching for new possibilities, watching the ebbing and flow of the tide, ever mindful of the slippery rocks, the foam, the riptides. Ever watchful. And ever in awe.

And that’s the ordinary in the aquatic and avian life of the Monterey Bay. I’m transforming it into the extraordinary today.

Celebrating the Ordinary – Third Day

  • Posted on August 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.” ― P. J. O’Rourke

It’s Day 3 of Marie’s challenge to celebrate the ordinary, to find the gems in everyday living.

For this exercise I’m continuing to go back through my archived photos, roaming down memory lane until I find an image that pops out at me as being ordinary, yet extraordinary.

Today I choose to feature the dozen red roses my oldest son Cliff gave me last May for Mother’s Day.

Now this seems like a very ordinary gesture, almost a “Duh” kind of event. But let me tell you the backstory.

At 28, Cliff has not recognized this holiday for many, many years. At lunch every year he would tell me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” but that’s only because he was reminded of the day by the church sermon that morning. Perhaps he had been jaded by other family members that Mother’s Day is simply a Hallmark holiday and not worthy of celebration. Perhaps he just refused to admit any weakness that sentimentality would entail, as the above quote might suggest. Whatever the reason, he has not given me any cards or presents to acknowledge this day since his elementary school days when his teachers forced all the students to craft a homemade gift to honor their mothers.

Before Mother’s Day this year, Cliff emailed me to ask if he could drop by my apartment at 1 pm on the holiday. Of course I said yes. When the doorbell rang at the appointed time, I expected to see his smiling face. What I didn’t expect was his offering of a dozen red roses to mark the occasion.  Being a part-time cashier, his budget is quite limited. So I beamed from ear to ear.

The flowers extended to me in a large plastic cup were a bit droopy when they arrived, because they had been sitting without water for a while.

But that didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that my son who first opened my womb those 28 years before had been thoughtful enough to buy a gift for his mother. How ordinary is that? How extraordinary!

Precious roses from a precious son