Do you really need to pack that?

Because of the new charges for checked bags, people are trying to pack lighter when they travel. I am guilty of packing more than I need when I go away, but not when we went away last weekend. In fact, we left out a few things that we’d been schlepping along the last several trips, specifically, sick and tired. Why drag them along when we didn’t really need them? In fact, we thought the trip would we better without them.

How did I decide to leave sick and tired at home? Something shifted last week and I started feeling mildly perky, all without the use of drugs, prescription or otherwise. This mysterious perkiness didn’t just last a day; it lasted right through our time away. My bruises are gone, my stitches are healing, my gout has vanished, I’ve had no fevers to speak of. Furthermore, both my white and red blood counts are approaching the normal range for the first time in a long time. You might not recognize me!

Since I’ve been feeling relatively good–let’s say I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, just like I’m sure you are of reading about it–I saw no point in dragging those killjoys along. Rather than limp around town and come down with a fever like I did last gouty, flu-ey trip, I walked and walked and walked every day until J. begged for a break. We covered more ground than we have in years. It was almost like the old days, except for the short afternoon naps.

So I left sick and tired behind, but found room for hope in my bag. I figured it was worth making space. Even though I’m always grateful when I have hope along, I don’t always remember to pack it. We figured we’d never find room for hope again, but aren’t we glad we did. Hope got us thinking about all the possible vacations in our future, vacations free from sick and tired, and had us believing that our days of travel weren’t over. Who wouldn’t want to make room in her bag for something like that?

Sure, tired was in the house when we returned, but that’s a small price to pay for a great vacation. And trust me, if tired gets to be an annoyance, I’m throwing it out already. I think I’ve done my time. Hopefully no one decides to recycle it.

Poppies blooming with picture of Eiffel Tower in background.

Paris in the springtime, anyone? And no, sick and tired, there will be no room for you at the inn.

Happy birthday to me, and many more

Child from 60s blowing out candles on birthday cake, surrounded by friends

My friends look miserable, don’t they?

I imagine that, even as a young child, I disliked my birthday. I don’t remember much, but knowing me, I probably worried about whether the kids I’d invited would show up and, once they did, whether they’d have a good time.

As I got a bit older, I began to dread The Birthday, probably because I was so afraid of dying. And I wasn’t even sick yet. Each passing year I was another step closer to the grave. I never much felt like celebrating, and would hem and haw about a get together until the day passed without fanfare. Let’s just skip my 40th birthday, which fell in the middle of a three-week hospital stay. Just in case you were wondering, candles don’t stay up in Jell-O.

But my perspective on birthdays changed when I was diagnosed with leukemia, and then almost died. It was a miracle that I was alive to celebrate my 48th year. Thereafter, I decided to shift my focus from when I was going to die to how long I was going to live. Birthdays became a reason for celebration.

This year’s celebration has already started: the cards and emails have been flooding in, the well wishers phoning. Today, as I turn 51, we are heading out of town for the weekend on our “consolation vacation”. We won’t be going as far or as long as we had planned to go on last month’s cancelled trip, but we’ll be away, which will be very nice. I am gout and hematoma free, so we should be able to travel unimpeded. I will even be carrying my own bag, if not Judy’s too, since I am not so easily bruised anymore. Oh, and I’m leaving the cancer at home; no room in the suitcase.

We have a reservation at a lovely restaurant tonight so I can indulge in a rarity: a high-sodium meal. Barring a special that blows me off my feet, I already know what I’ll be ordering. I like to plan ahead for some things.

Finally, I can assure you there will be cake involved. Even during all those years that I was a birthday hater, I remained a staunch birthday-cake lover. Carefully selected, changing with the years–usually mocha in some form or another now that I think of it–this perfect cake is always something to celebrate.

Unfortunately, I won’t be home to receive your good wishes today, but feel free to leave a message. We can plan a get together when J. and I are back. Who says a birthday has to be limited to 24 hours?

If you’re in the birthday-hating camp I once was, I urge you to consider J.’s wise words: “The alternative isn’t great.” Indeed, it’s not.

My latest coming-out shirt

White t-shirt with dog prints in a rainbow colour.

My first coming-out-as-a-dog-lover shirt.

Don’t tell me you think I’m going to talk about that again. Haven’t you heard enough about that side of me? It’s no secret. You’ve seen my very comfortable dog-walking shoes, my plaid park shirts, my fall vests. So no, I’m not talking about that kind of shirt. I had one of those once, when I was just coming out, if you know what I mean. The shirt shouted out to the world how much I liked girls dogs. I donated that once-beloved shirt to charity many years ago.

No, I’m talking about another shirt altogether. Remember that Light the Night Walk to raise funds for blood cancers? With this walk came a snazzy blue shirt specifically for those of us who are either patients or survivors. I consider myself both, since, although I still have the disease, leukemia hasn’t killed me yet, and I don’t expect it to for a while. Although many people checked one off, I left the boxes by “patient” and “survivor” blank. (We’ll just skip my ruminative struggle over this decision.) The women pictured below, who are sporting said shirt, were more confident in their status, as you can see:

Two leukemia survivors with dog sporting light the night t-shirts.

Two happy survivors with shirt.

Let me remind you that leukemia is a fairly invisible disease. There are many people in my daily travels I know by face if not by name, but I don’t know them well. Most of these people don’t know I have leukemia because I haven’t told them. Were I to wear this shirt in public, I would be telling them, wouldn’t I? Do I even want them to know? Will their knowing foster questions or pitying looks? If I wear the shirt, I can’t walk around with my precious little secret, and sometimes I like having a secret. I think my secret makes me mysterious.

As we often do, J. and I have very different views of this whole shirt-wearing thing. (If all our views were the same, we’d get kind of bored of each other, don’t you think?) I view the shirt as a call for pity, which I really don’t want, not at all. Why else tell the world I have leukemia except to evoke pity? Would it not just be attention seeking to wear the shirt proudly, just like I came out all over as a (gay) dog-lover when I wore my rainbow paws shirt many years ago?

J.’s outlook is much more positive, as always. She believes that by wearing this shirt, I’d be showing that there are people around who are living–and living well–with leukemia. I  know I’m not the only one; I’m just not astute enough to spot the others without their blue shirts on.

Maybe we leukemia survivors need to develop some way of recognizing each other. There’s gaydar, which I was definitely born with, by the way; could there be something equivalent for leukemia? A spontaneous offering of blush to mask the anemia? A fatigue-revealing irrepressible repetitive yawn-fest? A secret handshake–fist bump?–followed immediately by compulsive hand sanitizing? There must be something, just like there were vests and comfortable shoes in the day, to help us recognize each other without the help of a t-shirt. Let me know if you have any ideas.

 

A doctor by any other name….

I’m not a short-term relationship kind of gal. Sure, I had my share of disastrous dating experiences in my early 30s when I first dabbled in romance–okay, maybe I started a bit earlier than that–but for the most part, I’m an all-in, stick-with-it, never-say-die kind of gal. In relationships of all kinds. Let’s just say that once we become entangled, I am hard to get rid of.

So you’ll understand that my relationships with physicians are no different. Here, too, I’m in it for the long haul. A poor doctor is saddled with caring for me until retirement or death (the doctor’s, not mine, so far). I did ditch a doctor once but that is a long, unfortunate story for another day. Let’s just say the relationship had been failing for years and, had I had any self-respect, I would have turfed him years earlier. Isn’t that always the way?

Dog dressed up as doctor reads X-ray of dog dressed up as patient

Rapport takes time to develop.

As a high-maintenance patient, I log so many years with my physicians that at some point it becomes awkward to call them “Doctor [Last Name]”. Over time, we have developed a certain rapport. I have come to know about their families and children by asking intrusive questions during my appointments when I should really be discussing my own health. I’ve made it clear that I respect my physicians’ expertise, that I visit for guidance, support, and, of course, prescription renewals. We both know that I am and will always be the patient.

No, we haven’t ever hung out over dinner or gone to a movie; that would be grossly inappropriate, don’t you think? But we have spent a heck of a lot of time together, and I believe at some point it’s time to dispense with formalities. And so eventually I ask each doctor if I may call her by her first name. She’s been calling me by my first name for years, which I much prefer, by the way. No Mrs. for me, thanks very much.

Why not just keep calling each physician by her formal title? I could, and I do with doctors I don’t know well, but I’ve learned that using first names helps me cope. It reminds me that over time I have come to trust that physician with my health and with my life. I am always anxious walking into a doctor’s office because I’m always anxious. Calling the doctor by first name reminds me I’m in good hands.

So, dear doctor, when you introduce yourself, please don’t forget to include your first name. Many years later, when I ask if I can call you by this name, at least I’ll know what it is. I’ll practice it when I talk about you over dinner, so it will roll off my tongue when I finally make the request. (You don’t really think I call you “Dr. [Last Name]” when you’re not around, do you?) Thanks for your consideration.

 

 

Call anytime. I’d love to hear from you.

Being a psychologist is not without its stresses. Sometimes it can be hard working with people who are struggling and aren’t hopeful things could change. Some people find themselves in very difficult situations, of no fault of their own, and have to find a way to keep afloat. I sometimes wish I could wave a magic wand to take a client’s distress away, but it’s never that simple.

It’s always great to hear from an old client but most often clients don’t call to share good news, however much I might encourage them to do so when we part. Usually, old clients call when they are going through a rough patch and feel a refresher might help. It’s great to hear from them, and often I’m fired again after a visit or two.

If I bump into a former client on the street, I might be lucky enough to score an update. But I can’t call old clients up to check on them; that’s not in the job description. I have to wait for them to get in touch.

That’s why last week’s phone call from a former client was so touching. I picked up the phone to hear the familiar voice of a mom who had sought help for one of her children when I was hospitalized and had to close my office. I had helped the family previously, and everyone was doing well when we first parted. Because I was ill, I gave her the name of a very capable colleague. It was hard to pass her on, not because I was turning down business but because I had developed a good relationship with the family and felt sad I could not help.

Usually, when I send former clients elsewhere for whatever reason–maybe a colleague has greater expertise in an area, or I’m heading on vacation when a crisis strikes–I don’t hear from them again. Not in this case, however. The mom called last week to tell me how much she liked the new psychologist and how her child was again thriving. She was so happy to be able to call me with good news, and I was thrilled to hear it. She was also kind enough to ask me how I was, since I had acknowledged I was unwell when I sent her elsewhere. I gave her a brief update and off we went.

It’s been over a week, but I am still happy when I think about that call. The mom took the time out of her busy day to let me know her family was doing well. What more could I ask for? I’m happy knowing that a client I once saw is thriving, with or without my help. And that that client cares enough to take the time to let me know.

I shouldn’t speak for all psychologists here, but I’m going to anyhow. I can’t help myself. If you’re ever wondering whether to call your former counsellor to tell her you’re doing well, know she’d love to hear from you. I can’t be the only one who would appreciate that call.

Woman with big smile talking on cordless telephone

I’m so glad you took the time to call.

Alpha aspirations abandoned abruptly

Despite my love and knowledge of dogs, you might as well know that I’ve never been alpha. I’m a pushover, and dogs can sense that a mile away. Come to think of it, I may be the anti-alpha. I’ve been to dog classes, I’ve watched the Dog Whisperer, I know that if I want dogs to respect me, I have to assert my authority with them. Not everyone does what they should do; we’ve had this discussion many times before.

Beagle jumping up to kiss woman leaning down.

I’m glad you’re the anti-alpha.

Rarely are dogs aggressive with me, however. Rather, they bestow me with effusive affection. If a group of us humans are standing together at the off-leash park, I’m invariably the one who gets jumped on. I know, I know, the dog is sensing my submissiveness. I should do something about that.

This loving jump would not be an issue did I not have a propensity for bruising. These affectionate dogs inevitably leave their mark, which has only made me shrink back all the more when approached. My park friends have become so sensitive to this issue that they intervene, jumping between me and the leaping pooch.

No longer. It’s been a month now that I’ve been off blood thinners, the primary reason for my bruising. I have marvelled at my black and blue body returning to a healthy pink. I even walked into a wooden table last week (not on purpose, of course) and, abracadabra, nothing to show for it.

Golden retriever jumping on woman in a field.

I see I’m not the only anti-alpha.

You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that recently I was at the off-leash park and a very rambunctious golden retriever started bounding my way. One of my walking buddies warned me that this dog was a jumper and offered to intervene, but I told her there was no need. Rather than cowering in fear, I put out my arms and welcomed him.

And then I realized how much my fear of bruising had been affecting my everyday life. For years, I carried the light grocery bags and left the luggage for J. to haul, all so as not to bruise my extremities. My sleep was often disrupted when I rolled onto a bruise. I modified my yoga practice and quit playing contact sports. (Okay, I never played contact sports, but I would have quit them if I had.) I visited the Emergency Room many times and once was hospitalized because of complications related to my thin blood. I required monitoring and poking and prodding more times than I can remember while I took these drugs.

In that moment when the dog jumped up to say hello, I realized how much my proneness to bruising had been hanging over me, moving me from carefree to cautious over the past several years. And how freeing it felt to be rid of this fear. And I realized there have been many other such burdens over the years, often unrecognized as such until they were gone.

I doubt I’ll ever be alpha–GET OFF THE COUCH, JELLY!–but it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?

Cancer survivors’ guide to car buying

Purple sports car.

I assure you that this is not my new car.

If you’ve been following my blog over the past few weeks, you know that I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. There was the extended couch time, followed by the computer’s repair, and then a week of not having to cook. In order to fill that free time, I bought a new car.

Why would someone with cancer buy a new car, you ask? Well, I wasn’t sure myself. I’ve considered how many novels I’ll get to read before I die and how many new clothes I’ll purchase, but I figured a new car was not in the offing. J. seems to think I’ll be around for a while so she encouraged the splurge. Guess whose cup is half full?

I should be able to manage without a car, but I use the excuse (reality?) of chronic exhaustion not to. Calgary isn’t New York City or Toronto and public transit is not easy or quick. I’d use transit more if it were, and I know I’d be saving the earth if I did.

Instead, J. and I took my elderly car to the dealership, and bought a perky, fuel-efficient new car straight from the showroom. J. negotiated a great deal for me. (I know, all the hard tasks are hers. She has been cursed with unlimited domains of competence.)

Mike from Cars movie new yellow car, with two characters hanging out of it.

This is Mike’s new car, not mine.

Before we left, the finance fellow tried to sell me an extended warranty, but I nixed that idea pretty quickly. “I have leukemia,” I told him, “so I don’t know I’ll outlive the current warranty.” Yes, I pulled the leukemia card to shut him down. He was so flummoxed that he failed to mention I can purchase this extension right up to the expiry date of my current warranty. I plan to be alive and well then, so I may reconsider at that time.

In the meantime, J., who had much less time on her hands–she is our primary breadwinner, after all–sold my old car. A nice young fellow will hopefully get many more healthy and happy years out of her. She’s been a good car, a reliable and handy car, but I think it’s time for someone else to assume her care. Keeping my own body in one piece is work enough; I can no longer manage an aging car as well.

There’s only one problem with the new car: I’m terrified to park her. Shopping carts and car doors were inexplicably drawn to my last car, rendering a mashup of spots and dings on her once-pristine body. My new baby’s virgin black body will never get her first ding. As a bonus, I will likely lose weight from parking at the farthest end of every lot.

Front corner of black car with big red bow around it.

Could I handle a car like this? Maybe.

When you’re sick, it becomes especially important to set goals for the future. If you have cancer and you need (or want) a new car, just do it if you can. You could be around for a while yet. Me, I’ve now got a five-year warranty to outlive. No problem.

The best fast food ever

Dog with chef hat holding wooden spoon in mouth.

I long for opposable thumbs.

I am not much of a chef. I like to cook but I can’t just throw a meal together, unless it’s a five-minute hot meal, say a tuna melt, a pizza bagel, or poached eggs. My motor skills slow my chopping–I’d probably lose a digit or two if I sped up–and I measure, weigh, and combine just as the recipe tells me to. Several hours later, dinner is served, with no help from the dog.

But for those of us on a low-sodium diet, those with bum livers and a propensity for fluid retention, there’s no way around cooking. All the time. For every meal. No cereal for breakfast, no KD for lunch, no Lean Cuisine for dinner; it’s homemade all the way. We cook all our meals, make our own soup, and bake our own bread. If you take a gander at the sodium counts on prepared foods–beware the canned soup aisle!–you’ll understand why. I may sound righteous, but trust me, if I could pawn dinner off on Mrs. Michelina, I would.

So it’s no surprise that restaurant fast food is out, completely. I can get a baked potato at Wendy’s or maybe a yogurt or undressed green salad somewhere else, but that’s about it. I do long for fast food, though. By “fast food”, I mean healthy, nourishing, low-sodium fare that shows up on my table at mealtime, food that I haven’t had to prepare.

We are lucky enough to have many friends who provide low-sodium options when we come for dinner. Such an effort is going above and beyond, since I’d be easier to feed were I a vegetarian gluten intolerant gal with soy, nut, and shellfish allergies. Please be aware that I do not expect modified meals when I come to your home. I will eat anything that is put in front of me with gratitude that I have not had to make it myself. I also know, from repeated experience, that the consequences of a higher sodium meal will sort themselves out in time.

Picture of messy kitchen sink, dishes piled high.

The kitchen when Annie is cooking.

And so it came to pass that J. and I had a low-sodium feast bestowed upon us last Sunday by two generous and caring friends we’ll call The Groovies. The Groovies went to the trouble (and expense) of procuring and delivering two multi-course low-sodium meals from a personal chef. We have been slowly consuming this food–more like four or five meals than two–all week. What an absolute pleasure it has been.

I’m sure J. has been pleased to be eating food that is not of my making. I don’t think she minds my cooking; she just minds the way I cook. The mess I make, the time I take, the excessive precision and rigid recipe adherence. Sometimes she takes over just because she knows our meal will be ready a heck of a lot faster and with less kitchen chaos in its wake.

Spotless kitchen, nothing on counters.

J.’s kitchen in the midst of dinner prep.

But this week, both of us have had a true break. We have popped prepared food in the oven or microwave and consumed the spoils with glee. There have been fewer meals to assemble and fewer dishes to wash.

Thank you, Groovies. You made our week. All my fingers are intact, our kitchen is not a disaster zone, and meals have been peaceful and yummy.

Have I ever mentioned that we have great friends?

Lighting the night, followed by a little disrupting the peace

To my faithful followers: I’m sorry to abandon you so unexpectedly. I was not in the shop–well, I was a few weeks back, but not since I’d last written. Since my cancer diagnosis, I have come to understand that unexplained disappearances are often assumed to be health related, or a sign that I’ve died. So I am here to reassure you that I am alive and well, leukemia notwithstanding.

Rather, my computer was in the shop, and I can’t recall how to write by hand anymore. How does one edit obsessively without a computer? There must be many landfills overflowing with the eraser shavings of yesteryear.

My computer’s ill health was untimely because I’ve had so much to tell you. My posts have been whirling around in my head with no avenue for expression. This must be blogging withdrawal. There’s the inspiring leukemia walk we attended Saturday night, followed by the best fast food I’ve ever tasted, and, wait for it, the new car. I’ll get to all of these things but you’ll have to be patient.

People with red lanterns raised at Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma.

Look at all those red-lanterned supporters.

Saturday night, J. and I and Jelly and our wonderful, spirited, up-for-anything friend, S., participated in Calgary’s 10th annual Light the Night Walk for leukemia and lymphoma. Supporters’ t-shirts were white while sickies’ shirts were blue. Supporters’ lanterns were red and the sickies’ version was white. The golden lanterners were there in memory of someone who had died. It was quite moving, and dramatically beautiful, marching amidst 1,500 lanterns, me with my blue shirt and white lantern, J. and S. with their white shirts and red lanterns, and Jelly with her special attachable flashlight to prevent marchers’ missteps. (Bassets are low to the ground.)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure noticed the blue shirts. Sadly, there were too many little blue shirts on small children. (I didn’t know until that day that leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer.) There were also blue shirts on parents with white-shirted partners and children, which made me unspeakably sad. Those folks better pull through along with all those kids. And then there were people like me, childless (but dogful), yet surrounded by the support of my family and special friend.

I decided to feel like one of many guests of honour. I got many smiles and greetings, more than my share. When I asked the cost of the red plastic bracelet–kind of like the yellow cancer-fighting one but without the ethics scandal–the volunteer gave it to me for free because, in her words, “You’ve suffered enough.” And at the end of the walk, as a blue-shirted white lanterner, I received a white rose.

I’ll admit that we skipped out after the short (3-km) route rather than completing the long (5-km) route. Dear S. had friends to meet–boy does that girl have energy!–and both Jelly and I were pooped. But our drive home fortuitously tracked the route of the more ambitious walkers, so I leaned my white lantern out the window while J. shamelessly honked the horn. Never have we so disrespectfully disrupted the peace. We garnered cheers and hoots and hollers from the walkers. What a wonderful finish to a moving evening.

So next year, feel free to join us. I thought it might be fun to get a group together, and I’ve been racking my brain for a catchy team name. I’ve decided that Annie’s Anemics doesn’t have a great ring to it. Team L’Chaim anyone? I’m open to your suggestions.

People holding different coloured lanterns at night.

The night alight.

A friend in need has a friend in deed

I’m not one to ask a lot of other people, as you know. But sometimes I have to because I’m physically constrained–recall the recent couch confinement and a need for significant support with dog walking. And sometimes I have to for purely emotional reasons. I am so lucky to have so many kind friends to share the wealth of my neediness.

Today I happened upon unsuspecting Coleen, the kind acquaintance, and now friend, I’ve met through my yoga class. I hadn’t seen her at yoga for some time because I’ve had a few physical restrictions. Recall my recent physician-imposed couch time.

When I saw Coleen today, she told me, somewhat sheepishly, that she was leaving shortly for a family trip to Quebec. Now, if you recall, J. and I recently cancelled our trip to Quebec. Coleen was feeling guilty about going somewhere that I had planned to go but couldn’t, at least not on schedule.

There were many things that were disappointing about that trip cancellation. But the biggest downer for me, because I am a food-focussed Jew, was not tasting my first real Montreal bagel. Not a fake one, not one that claims, or even aspires, to be a Montreal bagel even though it’s not from Montreal. A real Montreal bagel from Montreal, warm out of the wood-fired oven. I was so looking forward to that bagel.

And so I sheepishly asked Coleen–if she was going to be sheepish about going on my trip, at least I could be sheepish in asking her a favour–whether she might bring me back one of those real Montreal bagels. Actually, I asked her to bring back two, so I wouldn’t have to share mine with J. (Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say here, “so J. could have her own.”) Without hesitation, Coleen said yes. Not only did she say yes, but she told me it was no big deal because she’d probably be able to find them close to where she was staying.

And with those words, all of the sudden, I didn’t feel quite as down about missing that trip. It’s not that I want to send my friends all over the world to bring me back things I can’t procure myself because I’m stuck in Calgary. Not at all. I want to travel to these places; I just couldn’t a few weeks ago. Coleen’s gesture will soften the blow of our recent trip cancellation.

So what Coleen doesn’t realize, and what I didn’t really consider until after we parted, is that it doesn’t really matter now whether she brings me back the bagel(s) or not. All that matters is that, even though she is a fairly new friend, she is more than willing to try. She didn’t respond to my imposing request with resentment or frustration or annoyance. That generosity of spirit is what I needed even more than the darn bagel.

Don’t get me wrong though; the bagel would still be nice. (I’m just saying this in case Coleen is reading.) I can just taste it, slathered with  a generous schmear of Winnipeg cream cheese and topped with some high-sodium Nova Scotia lox. Hey, does anyone happen to be heading to Winnipeg in the next little while?

Hand holding poppy seed bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

This is my idea of perfection.