(This is supposed to be a) Surprise!

Many, many moons ago, J and I were on vacation, and we stayed at an inn with a very fancy coffee machine. Push one button and a latte came out. This was years before the creation of those wasteful K-cup machines, the detritus of which are now occupying our landfills. The machine used real coffee beans, ground freshly for each cup, and real milk, steamed. The result was a hot, fresh latte.

J. loves her coffee. She has only one a day, but that one coffee wakes her up and gets her moving. Coffee is a critical part of her morning ritual. Knowing how tickled she was by this machine–she broke her one-cup rule while we were there–I decided to buy her one. It was an extravagant purchase, and trust me we are not extravagant people, but over the years it has saved us thousands of dollars in coffee shop visits. And this gift was the ultimate in self sacrifice because I don’t even drink coffee, except on special occasions.

Picture of Jura coffee machineNot only did I buy the machine, I got it into the house without J.’s realizing and set it up so she would wake up to it on our anniversary. I even tried to watch the instructional videos that came with it (that’s how old it is) so I could instruct her in making the perfect cup of coffee. I managed to pull all this off without J.’s knowing a thing.

This machine is J.’s baby. She won’t let anyone touch it; I have to put in an order with her if I want a coffee. She pouts when she can’t take it with her on vacation, and rejoices when she is reunited with it upon our return. In fact, she told me after she received it that I had reached the apex of gift giving with this gift and would never have to aspire to such heights again.

Now, if you know me and you know J., you realize the significance of “without J. knowing”. J. always knows everything. She’s got the mind of a detective. And I have a complete inability to lie without detection, so I can’t get anything past her, ever. Often I sabotage myself because I get so excited, I can’t hold the secret in. Or I think J.’s figured out my surprise from all the clues I’ve left, so I just tell her, when in fact she had absolutely no idea.

I’m telling you all this because I need your help badly. I have come up with the perfect birthday gift for J., but her birthday is not until late April. I will have to keep this secret for weeks. A certain amount of subterfuge will be needed in order for me to pull this off. I would tell you what the gift is, but unfortunately, J. follows my blog, and I can’t really ask her to skip any of my scintillating posts.

So, in the meantime, I desperately need your help. Could you please send along your best secret-keeping tips? The closer her birthday gets, the more desperate I’ll be. I need a strategy to get me through. Thanks for your help, yet again. I know I’m asking an awful lot of you guys lately.

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All bad things must come to an end

Workmen removing door damaged from break inThank goodness for our wonderful wedding reprieve this past weekend, the best possible distraction from our break in. Still, that darn damaged door had been nagging at both of us. I know that the 2 x 4 holding it closed probably makes our entry more impenetrable than it’s ever been, but it also serves as a constant reminder of bad people doing bad things. I was becoming increasingly unsettled by that reminder, as was J.

So you can imagine my excitement when Allan at Alberta Windows and Doors contacted me unexpectedly yesterday to let me know that, if I could make myself available, his men would be over pronto to install our new door. Would I be home? You bet your butt I would! Eddie arrived a few hours later with his hardworking crew, and, abracadabra, we have a beautiful and secure new door.

Workmen installing new front doorI’ve written before about health-challenged people’s medical blips that land us at the doctor or in hospital. This story begs the introduction of the emotional blip, which I’ve had in response to the break in. I will explain.

Just after I moved to Calgary many years ago, I suffered a series of break ins by a fellow who had a master key to my suite. He would come in to my apartment during the day and hang out. More than a few times, I wondered whether I’d left that item in that spot. But because the intruder was a drinker, one day he made the mistake of leaving a newspaper behind. The following day, having found a business card lying around, he called me at my workplace. Needless to say, this attention was unwanted and made me feel very unsafe, so I moved. Following these events, I suffered from what we psychologists refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder: I had my first and last experience of not being able to eat because of stress, became extra vigilant of my surroundings, replayed the incident over and over in my mind, and for years had nightmares of an intruder in my home. Those nightmares had dissipated more recently, but they returned with this break in. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I know I’ve probably sounded a bit melodramatic as I’ve talked about our break in, but for me there is a history and a context for my reaction. I don’t need to tell you about this history for you to understand how violating a break in is–I’ve received an unexpected outpouring of kindness and support from many of you who know nothing about this past experience. Maybe I’m telling you this story because I’m embarrassed at how overwhelmed I’ve been by the incident. The recent intrusion was nothing like the ones I had gone through years ago, yet it was similar enough to spark a similar reaction.

But now the story has a happy ending. Last night I slept through the night for the first time since that fateful day. I imagine I may have a few more nightmares in the coming weeks, but, like any blip, time will heal this wound. I’m a psychologist, so I know how these things work.

View of new door following installation

 

An affair to remember, and celebrate

At some point, staring at a damaged front door secured by a 2 x 4 becomes boring–a watched door never…oh, you know–but it’s hard to move on with this constant reminder.  Luckily, we had a very special wedding to attend this weekend, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Frankly, we were grateful to have such a happy event to divert our attention from our own situation.

I’ve told you before about my Sister in Liver Disorders, my dear friend, D., who is still with us today but for the grace of God and the generosity of an organ donor. When D. had her terrifying medical crisis a few years back, she was head-over-heels in love with a wonderful fellow, B., who, it just so happens, was head-over-heels in love with her. Their relationship not only survived but thrived through her liver transplant and recovery. And it also survived and thrived when B. experienced his own series of challenges, including the tragic premature death of his brother from cancer last year. Such experiences can either break a couple or make them stronger, and, without question, D&B chose the latter.

On Saturday, D. walked down the aisle during the big-ass wedding she decided she’d earned upon surviving her near-death experience. And what a wedding it was. Gorgeous setting, moving ceremony, delicious food, and lovely people cheering the couple on. D.’s love for her new family was apparent through her teary wedding speech. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

This may be the best wedding I have ever had the privilege of attending. Not because of the food or the setting or the music, but because it was a celebration of two very special people who have endured so much and have supported one another so lovingly through very thick and very thin. D&B embody the deep love and an unwavering commitment that marriage is supposed to represent. After all they have faced during their time together, they deserve to be happy. And you could feel that sentiment from every single person in attendance. There was a lot of love in that room.

The wedding may be over, but I hope it’s not too late for one more toast. So please join me in raising your non-alcoholic drinks (no one need know it’s liver-cleansing water in your wine glass): To my Sister in Liver Disorders and her special and adoring husband. You are an inspiration to us all. May you always find reason to be joyful. Together, you are a happy ending. As we Jews say, “L’Chaim! (To Life!)”

Wedding picture, husband and wife standing in snowy park

 

Fast forwarding through the what ifs

Dear Kind Therapists:

I know you’re probably thinking I should be over this whole break-in thing already. I’m trying, I really am, but as I told you, some issues take time to work through. Our front door is still not repaired, and today, when I went to retrieve a file, I realized the bad guy had tried to open my locked cabinet. In light of such ongoing challenges, I ask you to bear with me a little longer. Your support has been critical to my progress thus far and I thank you for that. I’ll be my chipper self again soon, I promise.

When something bad happens, as it did this week, I find myself wondering whether I might have changed the outcome somehow by doing something differently. I have been preoccupied with thoughts of whether I could have done anything to prevent the break in. I don’t think these thoughts are very helpful.

That fateful day, I was out for three hours, more than enough time for someone to break in, take stuff, make lunch, heck, even do a load of laundry. What if I had allowed my friend to pick me up and drop me off, as she had initially planned? What if I had come straight home rather than running errands after coffee? Had I been out for a shorter time, would I have greeted the intruder? What if I were home when he tried to break in? Would he have left upon hearing someone in the house? What if he hadn’t realized I was home and broke in?

Here’s the what if I’m stuck on, though: The day prior to the break in, I thought I heard someone outside our back door, but I convinced myself it was an animal. My mind flashed to whether I’d forgotten a booked client, but I quickly realized I had none booked. What would have happened if I had checked the back door? Would I have scared the bad guy off and prevented the next day’s break in?

It’s human nature to wonder if we could have changed the course of events, especially the bad ones. What if I’d taken a different driving route, what if I’d taken my child to the doctor sooner, what if I’d not gone home with that guy…the possibilities are endless. The what ifs allow us to maintain an illusion of control in a situation where we may have none. And because we believe we should have been able to alter the outcome, we often feel guilty or sad or distressed that we didn’t. I don’t know about you, but I have never met anyone who could change the past. That’s why we have to let go of the what ifs so we can process what has happened rather than remaining tortured by it.

Jos. Louis snack cake with bite taken out

Did these evil cakes cause my cancer?

I tell myself that I am not responsible for the bad things that randomly happen to me. That’s why I feel so strongly that my cancer isn’t my fault. If someone gives me definitive proof that I’ve done something to make myself ill–it must have been the Joe Louis snack cakes I overconsumed as a teen–I’ll have to change my thinking, but for now I maintain that I did not bring this illness on myself. Same for someone breaking in to our house and taking our precious belongings and, with them, our feelings of safety and security. If I can believe that I really couldn’t have stopped the break in from happening, I’ll probably be able to let it go sooner.

Thanks for your patience as I work through these issues. I’ll be able to manage without your support again soon. Hey, I forgot to ask, what’s your hourly rate? I don’t want to be surprised when the invoice arrives.

With gratitude,
Annie

 

 

I wish it were “just stuff”

Door knob knocked askew during break in.

Things like this are constant reminders.

I’ve been trying to get my head around last week’s break in, but I’ve had a few stumbling blocks. It certainly could have been worse, I tell myself. Thank goodness J. and I weren’t home so neither of us got hurt. I’m so relieved that Jelly was in her crate or who knows what the bad guy might have done to her. Our home could have been left in greater disarray, and a lot more of our possessions could have vanished. And hopefully soon, insurance will address the damaged door and frame so we can rid ourselves of the 2 x 4 currently securing us inside.

Who cares about a stolen iPad that was so old it crashed all the time? The replacement, which we bought this weekend, is quite a step up. Booze is easy to replenish too. I can buy another knapsack–a constant companion on my last several vacations–and a new pillow case. All that is just stuff.

Would we be sailing through this had we lost our television or computer, items that we didn’t have the same connection to and that could easily have been replaced? Stuff that’s just stuff? Maybe. Unfortunately, what we’ve lost is much more special than that. It’s not the monetary value of what the bad guy took; it’s the meaning and memories associated with it. Recreating a list of these lost items for our insurance company has not been easy. Sure, we will receive some money to cover the losses, but what we’ve lost isn’t replaceable. Can anyone put a price on sentimental value? I can’t.

Our jewellery is part of us and our history. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not adorned with jewels daily, but what I had I cherished and wore on special occasions. J. adorned herself every day, however. Each morning, just before she’d leave for work, J. would dip in to her jewelry box to find something to go with her outfit for the day. And because she has a remarkable memory, her selection would take her back to where she was and what she was doing at the moment she acquired that piece. There were so many associations with trips and special occasions and there were beautiful finds in unlikely places in those jewelry boxes.

If I didn’t have cancer, if it hadn’t been such a stressful year, if we weren’t unable to travel, would our losses feel so huge? Probably not. Now that we’ve lost these precious items, how much time do we have to create new memories? I’m trying not to think about that.

Thankfully, J. and I are solid in a crisis, and we can count on one another for support. Visiting sleazy pawn shops and flea markets would be a lot harder on our own. Nothing has turned up yet but you can bet if it does, we’ll find it. Detective Annie is on the case, and Kijiji is my new bestie. I’m not especially hopeful that we’ll find anything, and at some point, I’ll probably give up the search, but I’m not ready to do that yet. Neither is J., who is, by nature, a persistent little brat. I do love her for that.

I can’t find my happy place today

I was just settling in to a fairly easy month. Since I have just a few medical appointments, I can spend the majority of my time navel gazing. No, really, I’m watching my outie become an innie, remember? I’m also doing the stuff that I didn’t have much time or energy to do last month. You know, the usual stuff. I’ve even hoped I might hear from a client or two since I’m a little bored.

Yesterday morning, I had coffee with a lovely friend, and ran a few errands. A typical excursion. But something was awry when I got home: I could not open the damaged front door, a light was on, and the floor was a mess. Yes, someone had broken in. Because I wasn’t sure if the bad guy was still there, I called 9-1-1 and went over to the neighbour’s house to cry while I waited. My greatest concern was Jelly, whom I’d left in her crate when I departed.

The very nice policeman managed my initial hysteria well and then ensured that the bad guy was gone. And, despite whatever she had witnessed, Jelly was resting comfortably in her crate. In fact, she was excited to have police company and didn’t seem nearly as scarred as I was by the intrusion.

Turns out the bad guy wasn’t a smart guy. He took our very old iPad but left our much more expensive and useful computer, which was in plain view. He showed a clear preference for scotch over gin, while missing the expensive wine J. leaves downstairs. He messed up the house a bit and, with no respect for our electricity bill, left lights on. If that were all, we’d be laughing.

But we’re not. Sadly, he threw both of our jewelry boxes into one of our pillowcases, and with those boxes he took many items of great sentimental value. Thankfully, J. was wearing a favourite pair of earrings that day, but she neglected to put on her mother’s beautiful engagement ring, or the beautiful star sapphire ring her mother had given her for her graduation. (Keep your eyes peeled to Kijiji, would you?) He took jewelry we have bought for one another or received as gifts, and, with that jewelry, many precious memories of our vacations. Maybe this blow hit a bit harder because we’ve been unable to travel for so long now.

Happy stick figure with hands and feet

Jelly thinks he looked like this.

Fingerprints were taken, fresh footprints in the snow photographed, and the insurance company was called. Jelly was the only witness, but her work with a composite artist was completely unsuccessful. (She wouldn’t stop licking the artist’s face.) Later in the day, a very nice fellow secured a 2 x 4 across our door frame so no one could enter until the door was fixed. And today another kind fellow came over to start fixing the damage. Completing a list for the insurance company of all we have lost has been wearying, as has visiting nearby pawn shops to check out their wares.

Since I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, I’ve believed, naively it seems, that nothing else bad should happen to us. We’ve had more than our share, haven’t we? What if I had posted a note on the front door: “Cancer lives here. Go bug someone else.” Do you think we’d have been spared? No, I don’t think so either.

It may take me a few posts to deal with this one, so I ask you to bear with me as I move through my negativity and self-pity. When I’m dealing with a tough issue, sometimes one session with my therapists–thanks guys–just isn’t enough.

Radiation: the new liposuction

Today marks 4 weeks since my first radiation treatment, and two weeks since my last. Those rays should now be coursing through my body at full strength, attacking the heck out of my larger-than-life spleen. And maybe it’s working.

I had planned to sail through this process with no side effects at all, but I’ll admit to exhaustion. Yes, radiation has zapped me of energy. According to my wise and knowledgeable friend, Dr. Mike, patients are often most surprised by the fatigue radiation causes. But I guess it takes some energy to kill off part of your body. On my scale of 1 to 10, I was at a 12 or 13 for a few weeks there, but I believe I may have turned a corner. As J. recently noted, I no longer look like a walking zombie. That’s progress.

Despite all the warnings, the gastrointestinal side effects have turned out to be mild. I hope J. would agree that my toxic cloud is slowly dissipating. I still have my anti-nausea medication at the ready–$20 per pill, thank goodness for drug plans–but I have not needed to dip in to my stash. I’ll hold on to these pills because you never know when you might get nauseous. I’d even consider sharing them with you if, unlike me, you are a puker. Scratch that, since sharing drugs is considered drug trafficking and I’d rather remain out of jail for however long I have left.

Woman in black top and yoga pants measuring waist circumference

I will never look like this. How sad.

Most importantly, I am pleased to report that my girth appears to be shrinking. As of this morning, my waist has gone down by one full inch, and I can assure you I haven’t lost weight. I hadn’t noticed much change on the belly front until late last week, when I took that dreaded side glance in the mirror and said: “Behold! I only look second-trimester pregnant now! It’s a miracle!”

You likely wouldn’t notice any difference, but I do. In fact, I don’t feel so bulky anymore, even though my belly is far from petite. Still, I don’t feel like I have a balloon inside me that could pop at any moment. Would you believe my outie is even reconsidering becoming an innie? Maybe I’ll be back in a bikini sometime soon. Or maybe not, since I have never owned a bikini and don’t plan to buy one even if this treatment works.

But the best part is that my belly doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Maybe my littler spleen is no longer knocking my other overly sensitive internal organs out of the way. Whatever the reason, I feel better day by day.

I’ll admit I was feeling a bit discouraged last week when I had not yet noticed any changes. Then I reminded myself, “Dr. Radi-o does not even want to examine me for at least another 4 weeks because this process takes time.” I’ll undergo a CAT scan soon and Dr. Radi-O will determine whether my spleen is indeed melting away. Since I can now see and feel progress, I can be a patient patient for a while longer.

Who knows? You may not recognize me the next time you see me, but you probably will. The rest of me looks pretty much the same, except for my new zombie strut. But, as I said, even that is lessening with time and lots of naps.

You, me, and my blogaversary

Dear Loyal Followers:

Exactly one year has now passed since my first post. Some of you have been with me in blogging from the beginning, while others have joined up somewhere along the way. Thanks to all of you for supporting this venture.

I started this blog hesitantly because, well, it’s all about me. How could I ask anyone to take the time to read about me and my life ad nauseum? You may regret agreeing to follow my blog, but I have no regrets for writing.

Blogging has made a huge difference in my life. It’s been my therapy, when I haven’t been seeing my therapist, that is. Somehow, in 500 words every few days, I’ve been able to keep you abreast of what’s going on, health-wise and otherwise. I have had the chance to sort through what I’m dealing with publicly, to make sense of it, and to deal with my feelings about it. That makes you, simply by virtue of reading, my key supporters.

Border collie with reading glasses looking at computer screen and typing with one pawYour comments and questions and emails and interest have all been so deeply appreciated. I have loved hearing that I made you think or understand or laugh. All are signs to me that you’re still reading. I love it when you tell me that you’ve related to a post in some way. We all go through similar challenges on a day-to-day basis, don’t we? Many of my challenges might relate to cancer and illness, but I hope there are other aspects of my experience that resonate with you.

Acknowledgement of the editorial support of my bestie, J., is long overdue. Without her, I don’t know whether I would have undertaken this project at all, let alone shared it with you. J. has wisely advised me against publishing many missives that were truly in bad taste, or at least encouraged me to tone them down. (I’ve still managed to sneak a few posts about bodily functions by her.) Since I don’t often think before I act, I’m lucky to have J. as my voice of reason. J. has also infused her wry humour into some of my best posts. Thanks sweetie.

If it’s okay with you, I’m going to keep writing for as long as I can. Writing is a reminder to me that I’m still alive and that my brain remains one of my few fully functioning organs. Feel free to opt out of reading if I start repeating myself or I get boring or depressing; I’ll never know. Still, I’ll try not to get boring or depressing.

I feel like I should be doing something in return to thank you for your loyalty. I’m afraid since I’m not working I can’t afford to pay you. I can always offer my thanks in baked goods, however, if you let me know what you’d like. I’d hate to throw dried cherries into your batch of brownies only to find out you’re a brownie purist.

With my love and deepest gratitude,

Annie

Beware the dinner invitation

As we approach the anniversary of my blog, I thought you, my faithful readers, had earned a story about someone other than me. Nothing especially interesting has happened to me this week, so thankfully someone told me a story that I felt worth repeating. The story made me think about the negative motives we sometimes ascribe to people, and how often we’re just plain wrong. All names are changed to protect privacy.

Esther and Hannah used to be good friends back in high school, but they moved in different circles as adults. In recent years, they’d happened upon each other in the community on occasion, and each time Hannah suggested they get together. After many such meetings, Esther invited Hannah for dinner. She also extended the invitation to Hannah’s best friend, Rachel, whom Esther also knew.

Since Esther does not entertain much, she planned a twofer, i.e., she invited friends for dinner two nights in a row, intending to serve the same meal. (A great idea, I thought, but not the point of the story.) Hannah and Rachel were invited for the second night. As Esther was preparing her first dinner, Rachel called to tell her that Hannah was feeling unwell and would have to cancel. Although Esther extended the invitation to Rachel on her own, Rachel declined, suggesting they rebook when all three could make it.

Suffice it to say that Esther was pissed. (Those were her words; I would never use such vile language.) She had prepared a lot of chicken, and now she had no one to feed it to. She resentfully ate the excess chicken all week so it wouldn’t go to waste. And then, four days after the cancelled invitation, Esther learned that Hannah had died in her sleep. And, in addition to feeling sad, Esther felt a bit guilty. As she said: “I guess Hannah really was sick. And I guess she cancelled for a reason.” Funny, Esther’s resentment vanished.

Despite what you might think, I’m not telling you this story because the last time we were invited for dinner, I cancelled at late notice because I was feeling unwell. So long as I am up and walking, any unreliability is inexcusable, unless I happen to be in hospital. Then I trust you would give me a pass. Or at least I hope you would.

No, I’m telling you this story because it made me think of the many times people have been unreliable with me, and I, like Esther, have been resentful. Because my energy is limited, maybe I had planned my day or even my week around the invitation. And I’ll admit with shame that I often felt similarly when my clients cancelled at late notice or did not arrive at all. Many times, I failed to consider that maybe there was a valid explanation.

So the next time someone bails on a plan with you at the last minute, consider what happened to Esther. Also, you also might want to refuse any invitations from Esther, since her dinner invitations may be lethal. At least Esther can rest assured it wasn’t her chicken.

Large plated of roasted chicken.

It’s chicken for dinner again tonight. Ugh.

If you’re itchy, are you scratchy?

The beauty of an intimate relationship is that couples can be honest with one another. I probably wouldn’t tell an acquaintance or friend if I didn’t like her outfit (although you never know with disinhibited me), but I’d be sure to tell J. And I trust the same of J.: I can count on her to tell me what she’s really thinking.

You won’t be surprised, then, to learn, that on Saturday morning, J. said: “You look like you have cancer.” She had never said this to me before, even though I’m sure there were many times she’d thought it. I wasn’t looking my best around the time I was diagnosed with leukemia and for the following two or three months. Anyone would have known I had cancer back then.

When we go to the Cancer Centre, many of the people who are there for treatment don’t necessarily look cancerous. J. can easily tell who has cancer, whereas I’m not always so sure. Maybe there’s a cancer equivalent to gaydar, and J. was born with more of it than I was. Or maybe she’s just more astute. Yes, that’s probably it.

J.’s comment on Saturday wasn’t hurtful since I do have cancer. If she’d told me I was fat or unsightly–she never would, mind you–I might have been upset but she just told me something I already knew. When I asked her what she meant, she noted that I was especially pale, had black circles under my eyes, and looked unwell. I glanced in the mirror and agreed wholeheartedly.

On Saturday, I obviously looked like I had leukemia, but I actually wasn’t feeling half bad. I managed a fairly full morning and early afternoon, and I didn’t even slow J. down all that much when we went out to run a few errands. But I had certainly lost steam by mid afternoon, and my nap didn’t revive me as it often does. Maybe J. could anticipate something I couldn’t based on how I looked. She is quite remarkable that way.

It was dark when J. left this morning–she starts work at dawn–so she made no mention of my cancerous visage. Had she turned on the light, she might have said, in her honest way: “What the hell happened to your face?” That’s because today I look like someone who got punched in the eye. I had an irritated eye over the weekend, you see, and I was a bit too vigourous in my rubbing. My platelets are very low right now, so I had no difficulty giving myself a nice bruise. Really, it was a selfless act: I was just trying to give J. something other than my cancer to focus on.

How could I injure myself this way? Well, if I have an itch, I scratch, just like a five-year-old child with chickenpox. And just like that five year old, telling me not to scratch doesn’t stop me. In fact, J. has compared me to our itchiest and scratchiest canine, Grover. Now, that hurts.

Labrador retriever scratching himself, back foot on face

Just a little bit to the left.