Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loving the gift

Cancer changes your life. It brings a sort of new reality to the foreground. An awareness of your own mortality. I had a sudden glimpse of what might have been while I was walking the beach last week in South Carolina with our son Scott and our granddaughters, Chloe and Livy. Just a fleeting thought that if my diagnosis had been grim and unforgiving eight months ago, I would not be leaving footprints in the sand at that moment.

Seven-year-old Livy had asked me what the word memories means. I explained that memories were like photographs, stored in our brain, of places we had been and things we had seen and how sometimes, out of nowhere for no discernible reason, they would pop up, recalling something sweet and wonderful, and make us smile. Fortunately, we tend to recall good memories more often than bad ones. Or so it seems to me anyway.

And, for a fleeting moment, I thought that it could have been different. Someday, one of those darling girls might have called up this memory: "Remember when Grandpa went to Myrtle Beach with us so he wouldn't be so lonely at home." But it didn't happen that way. I'm still here. So lucky. Present and accounted for, enjoying the gift of life. Enjoying being included in the memories our granddaughters will carry forward of our vacation together in Myrtle Beach.

And thus my memories, so fresh and clear (well, yeah, true -- they're barely a week old), include: Livy giving a dead baby crab a decent burial in the wet sand; Chloe's excitement at finding a shark's tooth; Scott getting slammed by a wave that knocked off his sunglasses; Chloe finding the sunglasses ("I saved Daddy a hundred bucks!"); watching my son, at sunrise, carve out "Chloe and Livy" in giant letters in the sand so that his girls would wake up and see their names from our 12th story balcony; hearing the girls giggle at the incredibly funny and gifted Cirque du Soleil MC; watching them both pet a baby stingray at the aquarium and seeing that same curious stingray swim back to them time after time for another pet; teaching the girls a new card game; being there as Livy learned how to swim; tossing quarters in the pool for the girls to dive after.

Floating along in the lazy river, I was totally relaxed. I had found my "happy place". I can close my eyes and recall that tranquil feeling. If, after cancer, every day is a gift -- and it is -- then I have just unwrapped the mother load. Sweet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Life is a beach

Sometimes in life you just need to get away and recharge. Our son Scott revved up the amps with a simple invitation. He wanted to take his girls Chloe and Livy on a vacation to Myrtle Beach and would we like to come along? I was on it like a bee on watermelon.

Beginning when Scott was seven years old, we began an annual trek to Myrtle Beach in combination with attending the Southern 500 at the Darlington Speedway. Sticking with a "tourist town" theme, we'd spend the first night in Gatlinburg, TN, and ride the Ober Gatlinburg up into the mountains, and then drive to Myrtle Beach the next day. It was always a very kid-centric trip: go-karts, bumper boats, riding the ocean waves on a rubber raft, swimming pool activities, miniature golf, and of course, lots of seafood and the usual sunburn. I believe we went about five times and usually stayed at The Breakers Resort. Now that resort has become a complex of about five towers, all oceanfront.

Scott wanted to recreate those same memories for his girls, so here we are at The Breakers after spending the night before in Gatlinburg (and yes, we rode the Ober Gatlinburg). We've already been slapped around by the ocean waves and we've tested the new circuit of swimming pools, including a lazy river and a pirate's ship pool, that The Breakers offers. We took a drive down Ocean Blvd. and remembered some of the existing resorts and marveled at some of the new ones. There have been changes -- like even more super-sized beachwear stores -- but enough remains the same that prove the memories are accurate.

Just like Scott and us, the girls love sitting on the balcony and listening to the surf and watching people walk the beach. They love playing in the ocean and shelling. Scott loves watching them have the same great adventure he remembers so clearly. And we love watching him watch them with such delight.

We've only just begun here, and my battery is already fully charged.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I could have danced all night!

It's now going on three weeks since I completed my radiation therapy and this past weekend was quite the barometer reading of the progress I've made toward finding my old battery pack. On Friday, I hit my work desk at 6 a.m. and spent four solid hours of putting out fires, creating ads, completing paperwork and answering questions, before dashing out at 10 a.m. when Jeff arrived to pick me up, and we began the trek to St. Louis. We had a wedding to attend that night at 6 p.m. and with all the construction delays, we were lucky to hit town at 4 p.m., get cleaned up, dressed up and to the cathedral in time to find a parking spot, before the other 350 guests all arrived.

Ordinarily, this would be about the exact time that I would be face down on my bed and out like a light for a nap just long enough to confuse me when I woke up and wondered if it was day or night. But there was no time for a nap on Friday.

The cathedral Basilica in St. Louis is reportedly the largest structure in the city. It utilizes more mosaic tiles than any other structure in the world and its size and acoustics are responsible for the priests' words echoing to the gathered guests. It's an impressive church, but that was just the beginning. The wedding service was at least an hour long, but I'm proud to report my head didn't nod even once.

This being a "black tie optional" affair, the assembled guests looked like a designer's fashion show. At the reception, the Four Seasons Hotel's large "cigar bar" balcony offered amazing views of the nightlife along the Landing and the Mississippi River. In the ladies' room, there were fresh flower wreaths hanging from a ribbon on every stall door and size-designated baskets of "dancing shoes" (flip-flops) for female guests to take and wear.

The band (orchestra?) had six or eight instrumentalists and eight singers -- four men, three women. They were called the Motown Review. We just called them amazing. The music was wonderful. The food was wonderful. Everyone danced and had a wonderful time. Bad knees and all, I danced most of the evening. We left about midnight and I had to drag Jeff out of there. He wanted to keep dancing as long as the band was playing. But, eight hours late, I finally hit that wall that I usually hit at 4 p.m.

It's only been a few weeks and my energy is truly ratcheting back up where it used to be. To tell the truth, I could have danced only about half the night. It was Jeff who could have danced all night. And let me tell you, there's something really wrong with that picture!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ten days later...

Ten days since my journey ended and I reached my destination. Ten days of free afternoons. Ten days of stopping after work to shop if I so wished (and I frequently wished). Ten days of not speeding down the expressways (yes, I am a law breaker) in a beat-the-clock race to my radiology appointment.

So this is what freedom feels like. I'd forgotten after seven months of treatments and doctor's appointments. But I remember now. And I like it.

It didn't feel like seven months. Seemed to go by faster than I thought it would at the outset.

But, would I want to jump right back into that routine? Absolutely not. I had the occasion to think about that when a lovely woman at church emailed and asked me where I got my wig (oops, "cranial prosthesis"), as the ovarian cancer she fought a year ago has reoccurred. Just as her hair returned to the thickness and length that she used to enjoy, she is preparing to lose it all over again; to feel nauseous and fatigued all over again; to give up her personal time all over again.

Cancer hijacks your life and resets your schedule. There's no denying it. But there is living with it. And now that it's no longer the engine that drives my life, I can focus on hoping and praying for the return to normalcy of a brave woman who's starting her own journey on an all-too-familiar path.

God speed, Diane.