Life and Death… What would you do?

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I have a lot of fun, hopefully interesting and much less serious things to blog about (and absolutely no time in which to do so), but I read something on a friend’s page today that got me thinking about this.

Said friend just got back from the hospital after a scare that involved chest pain. Nothing conclusive was shown (that’s a good thing) and returning for another test (right away) was recommended.

This got my friend thinking about what she would do if it turned out to be something serious enough to require invasive surgery such as a multiple bypass; (an uncle had one) Would she, at her (retirement) age put herself through such an invasive and recovery intensive procedure such as that, or accept that life is finite and just go on about the act of living?

Hopefully, it is tendon/muscle/ligament and/or irritation of the pleura or pericardium, perhaps/most likely something that is easily fixed by a shot of antibiotics, some mild medication or just rest and recovery and this will all be a mute point for my friend.

Since my cancer scare a year and a half ago, I’ve thought a lot about such things.  What would I do if it it was ovarian cancer?  Would I have chemo?  Would I accept localized radiation?  Or would I just tell everyone I love that I love them, live my life with as much zeal as possible and then go into hospice on a morphine drip when that was no longer possible?

I’m pretty sure that in that case, I would chose the latter. As a matter of fact, I am as positive as one can be without actually having to make that decision.

Like my friend, I do not have any children relying on me; if I did, I would most likely feel a different responsibility to them.

During that time, I also watched my close friend Houston battle stage four prostate cancer.  For a year and a half after the diagnosis (when they told him he only had a short few months to live) he was mostly confined to bed in a nursing home and was in and out of hospitals for surgeries and complications of his disease and treatment.

He fought; he fought valiantly and up to the end remained positive and determined to beat it.

With my medical background, I knew that the prognosis and the likelihood of that happening was so miniscule that statisticians would not be able to quantify it. Granted, I have seen miracles, but did not really expect one in his case.

But this was his fight, not mine, his decision, not mine, HIS… NOT MINE. As long as my dear friend wanted to fight, I would be there with him, holding his hand (even when it required a gloves, gown and a mask to do so) and would support his decision 110%.

I know death. I know death all too well. In addition to having danced with it myself on more than one occasion, I have been with people when it came. I have seen the beauty and peace one feels when ready to end the pain and pass over, I have seen and felt the horrible struggle of those clinging to life they were not ready to let go of as it was traumatically torn from them, and I, as as medical professional have had people beg me to let them die in peace with dignity when the law would not allow it. That is the most heartbreaking thing of all.

So while my friend pondered what they would do and I watched mutual, concerned, loving friends beg, plead and demand action, I remembered a choice I made a year and a half ago.

A little known fact about surgery, about general anesthesia. More people die from general anesthesia, than from the illnesses and injures that require the surgery.

When I went in for my first surgery a year and a half ago, I updated my will and my advanced directives.

The most difficult choice, was finding someone to carry out those directives.

I needed someone (and a backup) that “loved me as much as they loved their dog”

That sounds weird.

I needed someone that loved me enough to pull the plug should things go bad.

I could not choose anyone whose religious beliefs would preclude them from doing that.

We take our beloved fur children to the vet and have them “put out of their misery” when their short lives are going to be filled with nothing but pain, misery and suffering, yet only in Oregon and Washington states, do we have a death with dignity law in which we can make that choice for ourselves.

Whilst that choice would be made by only me and my doctor, well ahead of time, the idea behind it is the same.

Do you love me as much as your dog?

Do you love me enough to pull the plug and end all of our suffering?

Luckily, I have dear friends Janet and Betsy who agreed to do that for me should it come to that.

My advanced directives are clear…

WHAT! You don’t have advanced directives?

Fill them out, have them notarized, DO IT NOW!

Having worked in emergency medicine for well over a decade, I (and most, if not all of my colleagues) would prefer to just have “no code” tattooed on my chest.

Since that is not an option, my advanced directives are clear.

No respirator, no feeding tube. If I can’t be brought back with basic CPR and a zap with a defibrillator, save my loved ones and the staff the hassle of trying to bring me back from a vegetative state.

You see, the brain dies after 4-6 minutes without oxygen. You can “save” someone and get their heart beating again, but it does not mean that they will “live”

As a paramedic, I experienced this far too often.

The expectation, the legal mandate was to “save lives”.

In the absence of “no code” orders signed by the patient and the physician (and not expired), at the bedside, we were required to do what we were trained to do.

Yes, it sounds exciting and exhilarating to bring someone back from the dead and get their heart beating again.

The harsh reality is, that in most cases, they “come back” brain dead, only to code over and over again in the ICU as their family mourns their death many times over, and is driven to bankruptcy in the process, or they “live” in a vegetative state in a nursing home being fed through a tube and have their diaper changed by underpaid staff.

I cried far more often for the patients I “saved” than the ones I lost because I did not feel like a hero, I felt like Dr Frankenstein, only prolonging pain and suffering.

I am not afraid of death. I’ve been clinically dead once as a child with a severe allergy/asthma attack brought back to life with an intracardiac injection of epinephrine and as an adult made peace with the fact that the most likely scenario is that I was going to die after a river guiding accident that fractured my spine and pelvis.

and please in the name of all that is sacred to you, harvest my organs and give them to people who need them. What! You don’t have an organ donor card/endorsement on your license? If you are so inclined DO IT NOW!

What I am afraid of, is having a stroke or an accident and not having a choice, putting my friends and loved ones through hell on earth and being a drain on the system.

But back to my friend.

I fully expect her to live a long and productive life and have strongly recommended that she get back in for the tests ASAP. After all, you can’t make a decision if not given all the information you need in which to make it.

But if for some reason, that is not the way it goes and she makes a choice not to undergo something so invasive.

I support her decision.

I will be there for her.

~L



stat tracker for tumblr

Full Circle

Six months ago, I was faced with the possibility of cancer, and had surgeries scheduled.

It became apparent that I was not going to be able to heal while dealing with the corporate job I was working at the time.

So I did the insane (but only sane thing I could do) thing, paying for COBRA insurance and turning in my two weeks notice.

It was a very scary, stressful time even before adding in two surgeries and recoveries.

I often doubted the decision I had made, doubted myself, and wondered if I’d find work in this economy once I was ready to look again.

There was a time, late in the winter when many, if not most of us battle Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was in significant pain, during which I battled some mild depression. (this is when I started posting my “daily gratitude” each day, which helps a lot)

What it boiled down to is that I had to trust in the universe; I had to trust in myself. I had to take that risk, because nothing will show you what does and doesn’t matter in your life, like the possibility of losing it.

I also made other changes. Changes in my diet (getting off the holiday food and back to healthy real food) not going to alcohol centered events or hanging out with people who habitually drink to excess, avoiding people who added unreasonable stress to my life, getting back to my art, learning new arts, and of course (once healed) easing back into a regular workout schedule.

When I was finally healed enough to consider working again, I made my intentions known to friends (and the universe) as to what I was looking for.

I did not want to be back in the corporate world, nor to deal with unhappy/unpleasant people stuck in a cubicle all day. I did not want to commute, I wanted to work right here in Tacoma again so that I could spend those wasted commuting hours with my animals and in my garden/farm. I wanted to ride my bike to work.

Most important, I wanted to do something that I loved, not something that I put up with because I thought I needed a certain amount of money/benefits, and I wanted to work with nice, happy people working towards a common goal.

First, an environmental non-profit organization that I have volunteered for over the years contacted me about a part time job they had just gotten a grant for. It was a perfect fit. I am now working with students and interns at Puget Creek Restoration Society helping to conserve and protect one of three salmon bearing streams in the city of Tacoma, and preparing them (the students and interns) for jobs in the environmental science field.

Next, I was made aware of another opportunity to “manage” (I like to refer to it as coordinating) the Tacoma Proctor Farmers’ Market, another part time opportunity doing something that I feel strongly about; promoting sustainability and supporting local farmers, healthy eating and building community.

So here I am, with the best of all worlds. (and full time work to pay the bills)

Educating, protecting/restoring the environment, and promoting sustainability, fresh healthy food and local farms.

I am riding my bike to work (well, OK…. not on days that I have to schlep booth displays around). I’m working here in Tacoma-no nasty commute wasting time I could be spending playing with my dog, working in my garden or creating art.

I am working with great people who love what they do and are passionate about it; and I feel good about what both organizations stand for and what they do.

No, I’m not going to get rich doing this, but since I’m big on living sustainably, am willing to be a bit more frugal. (and if I want extra cash, I’ll just have to pitch more magazine articles and/or do more performances)

I did not reinvent myself.

I decided to be true to myself.

I came back full circle, and couldn’t be happier.

I want to thank those who kept their eyes and ears open for opportunities, those who provided references for me, and most of all, those who supported me and held me up when I doubted myself.

~L

The End of the Ovarian Chapter (and hopefully the whole saga)

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Between snowmageddon, the epic ice storm and life happening, I haven’t updated the blog in a very long time.

[queue old timey film reel music]

“When we last left our heroine, she still had tumors in her ovary and no scheduled time for them to be removed…”

After getting my dangerously high blood pressure under control, I was rescheduled for surgery.

I was initially pretty freaked out at the delay with no reschedule date in sight and insurance benefits running out (it was supposed to have been done on the 6th of January but it may have turned out for the best in the long run.)

Had it been done on the 6th, I would have missed Frodo’s graduation from doggie class.

Who's a GOOD DOG

It was also just too close to the holiday chaos. As much as I love the holidays, I tend to over do and end up exhausted.

I went in last Tuesday to have the tumors (and maybe the ovary) removed and “since he was in there” to have my tubes tied since a pregnancy after an ablation, although unlikely, would be life threatening.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, at nearly 50 years of age, I got “fixed”. It probably shouldn’t make me giggle as much as it does.

This surgery (which I believe was fit in so that I could get this done by the end of January) was not scheduled at the reasonable 8:00 in the morning, but at 4:30 PM. It didn’t happen until 5:00 PM because my doc and anesthesiologist were both tied up in other procedures that ran long.

Since I hadn’t eaten since 6:30 the night before, I was beyond starving. Had it gone on much longer, they wouldn’t have needed to give me much anesthesia as I was close to just passing out.

I woke up to a room full of smiling folks in recovery who told me that it went very well.

The tumors appear to have been endometrial tissue (not good, but not cancer so I don’t even have to wait for biopsy results this time)

Of course, nothing is ever that simple.

I had been experiencing significant pain the week leading up to the procedure. I wasn’t sure if it was the tumor in the ovary or my uterus trying to expel blood and tissue that wasn’t there in an effort to menstruate. I just knew that it hurt like heck, especially trying to sit up and was actually looking forward to being put under and cut on. This of course, had to happen the week before surgery when I was not allowed to take any ibuprofen so I had to just suck it up.

I told my surgeon that the area (directly over my uterus) was tender to palpation and that I wasn’t sure if I was projecting because I knew about the tumors, but that it seemed to be more so on the right side.

As it turns out, I had a cyst in that fallopian tube which accounted for the pain (at least I wasn’t being a hypochondriac; if anything I under stated the pain) and which would have been a medical emergency had it ruptured. One more reason that the timing on this was likely for the best.

My total rock star surgeon had managed to do all of this through only one incision instead of the standard three. It’s in my belly button, and once it heals won’t be noticeable when I belly dance. (I was all set to get a belly jewel to disguise it)

I had many plans in place for my recovery and just about all of them fell through.

I never should have agreed to host an out of town house guest the day of (and two days prior) to having this surgery, especially after the ice storm delayed a lot of my preparation.

No matter how much a guest tries to not be an inconvenience, it’s stressful and kept me from fully preparing. Add that to the fact that neither one of us switched gears from host/guest to caretaker/patient (I am not the easiest person to help) I ended up with a sink full of dishes, a full trash can (added bonus, a bag of trash in the guest room) and all of my leftovers eaten instead of being helped/taken care of.

I had tried to buy chicken feed the day before surgery as I was almost completely out but the truck with the layer pellets hadn’t arrived yet so they were going to be kind enough to deliver in the next day or two. Well the truck didn’t arrive then and there I was recovering from surgery with hungry chickens I was worried about. It all worked out, but I was super stressed.

The two people who said they would come over the day after surgery didn’t (doesn’t matter who or why but I was feeling super sad/bummed out about it) so I was doing too much on my own (because I’m a dork and won’t ask for help)

To make an already bad situation worse, the dog (Corgis are a high energy working breed) who didn’t get walked/worked out for two days like he was supposed to went absolutely nuts yesterday chewing through the power cord on the hot tub I’d just payed to have fixed, because I put him outside because I just couldn’t deal with him being a hyper puppy, chewed up my slippers, ran though the house like a maniac when I tried to get my slipper back (the more I yelled and got mad, the more he wiggled his happy little but and the faster he ran/played) he tripped me and then accidentally pounced on my incision thinking we were playing.

This was when everything that had hurt my body and feelings/pissed me off/stressed me out (along with the fact that I hadn’t eaten or taken pain meds all day) combined and I lost it.

I started yelling and screaming like a Beansidhe and then broke down into hysterical, uncontrollable sobs. This would be when I broke open the glued surgical incisio-I can’t even blame it on the dog.

Yep, complete and total melt down and it was not pretty.

My dear friend Daniel (aka Monkey Boy) called about this time, and knowing I was in a bad way, came right over, ran the dog, picked up the emergency chicken feed the store made available until my bag came in, took out the trash (had to go to the alley as today is trash day) and did a few other things around the house.

My equally awesome friend and neighbor Dana came by later that night to help me with the 50 pound bag of chicken food which had been delivered. The very nice guy who brought it by didn’t want to disturb me by knocking, so he just went around back and put it on the back porch (which sadly is nowhere near the chickens, and then I couldn’t let the dog out as he’d destroy the bag)

When I told her about my meltdown, she asked, “But don’t you feel better now?”

Well yeah, maybe a little, but mostly embarrassed.

I’m putting that part of the story out on the blog because I know other women who do too much and are bad about asking for help and who can be overwhelmed by kids/pets/responsibilities/being let down by people at these times, in hope that they will learn from my mistakes and make better choices for themselves and their care. (and know that if they do melt down, they aren’t alone)

The night before, I had done some serious thinking and soul searching and come to some decisions (which as my friend Megs pointed out, is not a good idea when still under the effects of general anesthesia, but I’m going with it)

When I got the diagnosis and left my job due to the actions of my “manager” I never got time to recover from what had basically been a huge source of stress due to the nature of the job (which I’m sure was a major factor in the blood pressure problems) but which due to her attitudes and one or two insecure/gossipy/backstabby co-workers was more like escaping an abusive relationship.

I moved from that (which I was dealing with while in pain and hemorrhaging every month) into the constant pain (and fear of cancer) of the uterine surgery and later the ovarian/fallopian tube surgery, getting all my dental work done including three crowns, a mouth full of painful periodontal work, oral surgery/wisdom tooth extraction and having braces put on before my insurance ran out (and fighting with the insurance company/Cobra folks about my orthodontic coverage which they kept denying. My doctor looked at me as if I was insane for putting myself through all of this at once and after all my cardiac, thyroid, metabolic tests came back clear is pretty sure that stress is the main culprit in my blood pressure spike.

Let it suffice to say, that I have not done any relaxing nor healing since I left that place in October.

My big decision is… [drum roll please]

that I am not going to jump right back into looking for a day job now that the surgery is over.

I’m getting a refund from the orthodontic payment I made since the insurance finally kicked in and will get a nice tax refund due to my income being drastically cut and paying an insane amount of deductible medical/dental/insurance expenses and having paid my mortgage including interest ahead several months.

I’m going to take a couple of months to relax and heal and make sure that whatever I do end up doing for steady income, be it more assertively marketing my writing/photography/wedding officiating/performing or finding a “day job” won’t suck the life and soul out of me like the last experience did.

I’m going to get back onto my regular workout schedule (well in a few weeks when I’m physically healed) and do all that hiking, dancing, exercising and playing music that I was hoping to have already done by now. I expect that this along with being back on my regular healthy eating will get me off the blood pressure medication.

I can’t move on to the next phase of my life until I can heal; so for the next two or three months, I’m doing just that in hopes that I can get the “old me” (before all the stress/medical stuff took me down), back.

When I was in the glass studio last Sunday (that will be another blog post in its self), I discovered this beautiful piece of locally crafted glass art.

That very morning, I had been looking online for a new tree of life pendant to replace one that I used to wear regularly as a way of reconnecting with spirit. This fabulous and perfect piece magically appeared an hour or so later.

I think it is a fabulous symbol of healing, renewal and reaffirmation. (even if the crappy cell phone photo doesn’t do it justice)

From Drop Box

Moving forward, it symbolizes everything that I need and want in life.

Now to go make it happen.

~L



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Take My Uterus… Please…

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The first part of my medical saga began with what seemed to be the typical onset of perimenopause

My periods became heavier and heavier (even while I was on hormonal birth control which is supposed to keep them light) to the point that I was actually bed (or recliner) ridden two days a month.

I know some women have had bad issues from the onset of menstruation, I never did. I have run full marathons while menstruating. It never negatively impacted my life until I entered my very late 40’s.

I also had bad cramping and back aches for the first time in my life.

When I talk about bad cramping and/or being bedridden, I’m not being a wimp. I completed a full marathon with an resolved UTI that had gone into my kidneys, was up on skis teaching (that’s how I earned my living in the winter) seven weeks after fracturing my spine and pelvis. I completed the 10K portion of an Olympic Distance triathlon on a badly sprained, swollen, bloody ankle (with a chipped bone) from a bike crash in transition.

So how did such a psychotically “tough” woman end up bedridden over a simple biological function?

At perimenopause, the ovaries start kicking it into high gear, seemingly in a last ditch effort to get you to reproduce before it’s “too late”. I could almost hear the little buggars saying, “come on… you know you want to… it’s not too late…”

All of this increased and random activity creates heavy irregular bleeding and discomfort (oh, and it does wonders for one’s mood)

This is what I thought I was dealing with.

I tried diet, exercise and vitamins (in addition to being on the Nuva Ring) to see if I could get though it to no avail.

I decided to talk to my doctor about an endometrial ablation to get me through menopause. It’s an outpatient procedure in which the lining of the uterus is (burned/frozen/cauterized) so that it wont build up as heavy a lining that needs to be shed every month.

I know several women who have had this done and it has changed their lives. I also read hundreds of testimonies, both good and bad on various forums.

Of course, there was testing to be done prior to this procedure.

The pelvic ultrasound (which requires a painfully full bladder) shows an overview of the uterus and ovaries; then the trans-vaginal (they let you pee before that one starts) gets a closer view of everything from the inside.

Techs aren’t allowed to tell you anything, and the one I had was not a particularly good communicator but it was obvious from the number of pictures taken and the timing and type of questions that it wasn’t good.

I got the call the following Monday (test was on a Friday) that I had several fibroids (no biggie, while uncomfortable they are benign) and lesions on my ovaries. They did not know if the large mass on my (now extremely large) right ovary was hemorrhagic or solid. (solid is not good they are the ones that even if not cancerous, can turn into cancer later) I also had hyperplasia, unusual cell growth/thickening of the uterine lining which needed to be biopsied.

I would find out later that I had all three kinds of fibroids including the weird ones that twist on their stalks and that the largest one was pressing on my bladder (that would explain the UTIs I was getting)

So the game was changed before I even stepped on the playing field.

I was no longer just going in for a routine procedure to help my quality of life, but perhaps fighting for my life considering my bad family history.

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to heal while dealing with all the stress, drama and politics at the day job so for my own well being, I left.

Life’s too short to allow oneself to be treated badly.

The last thing I needed at that time in my life was more stress. I cashed out a CD, took a bit out of retirement, paid my mortgage and utilities several months ahead and prepared to take on the task of dealing with the issue at hand.

I have other (granted smaller, less regular) income and can decide what I want to do career wise after all of this is said and done.

My doctor was kind enough to not do the biopsy the day I went in for it (having a scope and instruments jammed through your cervix is a nasty thing to have done) and rather to do it while I was under general anesthesia for a D & C.

The fibroids did not preclude ablation (a much easier procedure to recover from than a hysterectomy) but he chose a different method than the Novasure which involves a wire mesh being expanded in the uterus and radio waves being used to burn away the uterine lining. Instead, he chose the Thermachoice which is a balloon that inflates (conforms to the shape of the uterus around the fibroids better) which is then filled with liquid that burns away the lining.

First, the D & C (scraping away the lining with a surgical instrument) was done and the contents of my uterus sent off to pathology to be biopsied) was completed, and then the ablation. D & C is the treatment of choice for hyperplasia anyway, so it was a great way to avoid the painful in office biopsy.

Recovery was not bad at all, I even went to dance classes four days later (no abdominal work in jazz, no leaps in ballet) I did not have the next regularly scheduled period (just a few days later) and there was nothing much left other than a couple weeks of blood tinged discharge as is normal after such a surgery.

The biopsy came back benign which is a great relief.

This meant that if the fibroids behaved themselves and the ablation worked, I would not need any more surgery if the follow up ultrasound on my right ovary showed it was a cyst not a tumor.

No matter what it is or isn’t, I am not pleased that even while on hormonal birth control, my ovaries are firing off eggs like a machine gun. Ideally, hormonal birth control suppresses ovulation.

One month later, the ultrasound showed not only the large tumor, but a new smaller one.

The good news is, the fact that it didn’t substantially grow made the likelihood of it being cancer small, but the chance was still there, and there was a new one. Even if the tumors aren’t cancerous now, solid tumors are the ones that can turn cancerous later.

Normally, they would watch it for another cycle or two, but I really don’t have that option as my COBRA benefits will run out soon and surgery needs to be done with insurance, and my recovery needs to be over with in time for me to work.

Besides, who wants a tumor factory and what is basically a ticking time bomb in one’s body?

So on Jan 6th, I will be going back in for a more invasive surgery, this time to remove the tumors from the right ovary (and maybe the whole ovary if anything looks off)

If all goes well, this will be done laparoscopically which will still not be the full six week recovery for a hysterectomy. (if somethings too big, they could have to open me up)

In the mean time, I’m still in recovery mode with the uterus. My menstrual period begins today (according to the no NuvaRing in place for a week schedule, similar to a placebo week on the pill) so I’ll know in a day or two how well the procedure worked (although full results aren’t seen for three months) Of course, anything less than being bedridden on Wednesday and Thursday will make me happy.

Now here’s the best part…

At my last appointment my doctor asked me if I wanted to have kids.

Incredulously, I said, “Are you Crazy? At my age?”

He was required to ask because although the ablation technically makes it almost impossible for me to get pregnant, if there is enough tissue left around the fibroids for implantation to occur, a pregnancy would be life threatening (a dangerous tubal pregnancy is also possible)

So yes, at almost 50 years old, I am getting fixed (hey, go ahead and tie the tubes while you’re in there…)

How can you not laugh at that?

So now I have a break from medical, dental, oral surgery and orthodontic appointments (another post and saga all together) to enjoy the holidays and look towards early next year and my next surgery.

Heck, I could still have them take the uterus and right ovary out and be done with them. I could totally get through menopause on one ovary, I just don’t want the six week recovery time.

I can always buy a new uterus 😉

or knit one.

~L


Sharing My Journey – Being True to Myself

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I’ve agonized over this decision for a very long time (since Oct 10th to be exact)

I’m dealing with some career and health issues that have thus far been shared only with those in a close circle of friends.

As a writer, one of the qualities I have been most admired for is the fact that I’m willing to “open a vein”, be honest even if to my own detriment and write in a manner which the reader can relate to.

Just last week, I received an email from a reader, who said that one of my essays “changed their life”. (I receive a lot of these emails)

The sad thing is, I had recently removed that essay’s direct link from my website because it showed too much vulnerability, too much pain, too much… the real me. (which I have been told over and over by cubicle dweller lower management is “just too much”).

I did this because In early October I left my “day job” (which I never blogged about, nor mentioned on any social networking site, as it’s bad form) because I was dealing with a potentially life threatening medical situation. (one surgery down, one more to go).

It (and the people I was forced to interact with on a daily basis) was sucking the life and soul out of me.

When one is faced with a potentially life threatening diagnosis (so far so good, but am not out of the woods yet), what is really important becomes crystal clear.

I knew I was in trouble prior to this when I received an invite for the department “holiday party” (which would require some after hours interaction). My initial (internal) response, was, “Ugh, I don’t want to have to spend any more time with these people that I am already forced to.”

Yeah, that’s a bad sign.

I won’t go into any details (for a number of reasons) but let it suffice to say, that I wasn’t going to heal while I was under that sort of stress.

So, at the time I needed (alleged) “security”, insurance, money and benefits the most, I quit because I knew that even if it wasn’t cancer, in order to heal from the surgery (now surgeries) I needed to decrease my stress level.

This was not uncalculated.

I knew that if I cashed out a CD and took a bit more out of my retirement so that I could deal with all of this with lowered stress. Stress kills. Hating to get up every morning kills.

In addition to the former day job, I have a magazine contract (writing and photography) and do well with my fire dancing when I actually promote myself.

Perhaps if I push and promote my creative work, I’ll never need a cubicle dwelling day job working for people who find genius (sorry, it’s true but also makes me unpalatable to some folks)/artist/creative/adventurous/non-traditional people distasteful again.

If not, putting my real self out there for “background check purposes” (deeming me undesirable by the insecure/narrow minded) will allow me to find a “day job” that won’t suck the life and soul out of me.

You don’t get anywhere in this life by not taking risks.

I am going to be true to myself and I am going to be true to my readers and supporters.

Expect posts about surgery, biopsies, adopting a Corgi and the “joy” of adult braces (getting everything done before my COBRA benefits run out.)

I’d rather help and interest people than hide who I am.

~L



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rapture? (not what you think)

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This post is not what you think it’s going to be.

While there has (and will be) plenty of fodder for those who disagree with and/or mock certain religious sects and/or warn against false prophets and scheisters, there really is a greater message that kept popping up through out this whole (non) event.

Many times, from people of many different faiths (or lack thereof) I read the following statement.

“We should all treat every day as if it was our last on this earth”

Regardless of one’s faith and belief in the afterlife (or lack thereof) those words ring true.

Time and time again, I have seen people taken from this life unexpectedly, traumatically and with regrets. As a paramedic, I saw people panic and fight the inevitable, only to lose their battle for life in a way that I would not wish on anyone.

It is not always sudden.

The last words spoken to me by my own mother when I (rather forcefully and emotionally) indicated that she needed to follow post surgical instructions and take care of herself were angry, “I’M THE ADULT, You don’t get to tell me what to do!”. After those words, she took the phone off the hook, barred the doors and windows, refused to answer the pleas of her best friends and neighbors (and the police who were called for welfare checks) through the doors and windows and screamed “GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE”. Legally, no one, not even the police could force entry under these circumstances.

Just as I predicted, just as I told her would happen if she did not at least try to do something, anything to improve her health (not in her psychological makeup to do so, then or ever), she died alone, in her home. I will spare you the details relayed to me by the medical examiner, but they will haunt me for the rest of my life.

While this event (and the life and events leading up to it) were traumatic and will take a lifetime to work through, I do have to give her credit for dying on her own terms, in her own home.

Thank goodness, it does not always end that way.

During my 13 years as a paramedic, I saw a lot of people die. The fact is, if it’s someone’s time, if the injury (and illnesses cause injury to the heart, brain and cells) is too great, even the best and most swift medical intervention can not stop the inevitable.

I have watched a lot of people die.

When someone is ready to die, to move on, to be released from pain and is at peace, it is a truly beautiful thing to watch, and this may sound weird, but I consider myself blessed to have been there for these moments.

Today, one of my very best friends from high school was there when her best friend, father of her children and husband was released from these earthly bonds after a courageous battle with cancer.

I have been privileged over the last year and a half not only to witness this courageous battle, but to experience the love, faith, laughter, tears and finally acceptance of the inevitable.

Even from across the country, I knew that if not today, it could be tomorrow or the day after.

When today’s email came, I did not need to read it to know why it was sent.

This journey was truly amazing, not for the medical treatments and remissions, but for the love and faith Craig and his family displayed even though the most challenging of times.

While he fought the good fight, he and his family also prepared themselves for the end of that battle.

They lived every moment as if it was their last.

While he still had the strength, the family reinforced connections and made memories.

When he could no longer do so, they made sure he had friends visit and call and constantly, they made arrangements to be with him 24/7 and let him know how loved he was.

My amazing friend Nina, almost daily, shared her joy, her sorrow, her fears, her courage and her vulnerability with her friends and loved ones. I’m pretty sure she never slept.

In his last moments on this earth, Craig was surrounded by loved ones (friends, family and pets) in a peaceful place with a beautiful view.

Sometimes we look at other beliefs with skepticism at best.

I can say that the honest, giving, loving, non-judgmental way in which Craig and Nina lived their lives is as “Christ like” as I have ever seen.

I honestly don’t know if there is a heaven or not.

Even though we are of different faiths, I thoroughly believe that if there is one, that Craig is there and he will be joined by Nina and the rest of his family.

I love this photo of their family. What makes it even better is my friend Nina’s statement, “The irony of this photo is that Craig isn’t exactly a fan of the dog.”

For those who are interested in the physical and spiritual journey, Craig’s Caring Bridge website is available here

My heart breaks for the loss my dear friend suffered today.

But there is also joy for the life they lived together and knowing that his last moments here are the best that anyone could ever hope for.

~L



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What Kind of Person Would Use a Planned Parenthood Clinic Anyway?

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With heated legal and political battles raging around a woman’s uterus and the current vote to de fund Planned Parenthood, many conservative (and often financially well off) people are asking, “What kind of (trashy) person would use one of those clinics anyway?”

Putting the abortion issue aside so as not to confuse the issue, let’s talk about women’s health care. Let’s talk about the fact that these clinics save lives.

There are many women who work full-time who do not have health insurance.

Women need annual exams and screenings, not only of their overall health and wellness, but specifically of their reproductive systems.

One of the important screenings that women are recommended to receive every year is a pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.

If detected and treated early, cervical cancer is virtually 100% curable.

If not caught early, it can spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. As you can well imagine, the prognosis once that has happened is not as good.

Back in the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s, I was one of those women who worked full-time (and volunteered in my community) but did not have health insurance.

With no insurance and a very modest income, I depended on Planned Parenthood and their sliding scales for my annual exams.

There was a period of a few years when I just stopped going as I was living in SE Utah where there were no such clinics in existence. I was young, healthy and nothing was going to happen to me right?

Wrong.

After having some odd spotting, I drove nearly 200 miles to Glenwood Springs Colorado (which was the closest Planned Parenthood clinic at the time) for an exam. A few days later, my results came back.

I had an abnormal pap smear, a follow up test confirmed that I had a pre-cancerous condition.

I was stunned, I had suddenly transformed from being young, healthy and care free to worrying about biopsies, cryosurgery and possibly cancer.

Not only did I have to worry about the fear, pain (anyone who tells you that there are no nerve endings in the cervix obviously has never had pieces of it torn/cut out for a biopsy) and logistics. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it.

Thankfully, Planned Parenthood worked on a sliding scale and I was able to pay based on my income.

I am convinced that the detection and treatment of my condition in the early stages saved my life.

Since that time, I have fought wildland and structure fires, saved lives as a paramedic and search & rescue technician, taught others to save lives as an instructor, protected the lives and safety of visitors to public lands, taught children environmental science, raised a child not born to me as my own, and volunteered for numerous organizations that support women, children, the environment, our community and cancer research.

THAT my friends, is the “kind of person” who would use a Planned Parenthood clinic.

I would like to think that saving lives and providing basic health care to women who can not afford it anywhere else, might be more important than funding a few missiles/bombs, tax breaks for the wealthy or corporate bailouts.

~L

Mood: WTF?



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Swim Sistah Swim!!!

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Saturday, I was up at the buttcrack of dawn to get up to Genesee Park to watch the sun rise over Lake Washington.

And a lovely sunrise it was.

Swim Sisters!!!  Trek Womens Triatlhon 2010 003

Saturday was the 2nd annual TrekWomen triathlon which empowers women, encourages health & fitness and raises money to fight cancer.

In addition to being a Swim Angel for the Danskin Triathlon, I also volunteer as a Swim Sister for the Trek triathlon.

Our job is to support and encourage the women on the swim course who might be nervous.

One’s first triathlon swim can be very scary and intimidating.

Seriously though, it is scary the first time, especially for those new to swimming, new to events or new to viewing themselves as an athlete. We also have women who are cancer survivors and/or in active treatment.

A woman who is experiencing anxiety or is just unsure of her ability can request a swim sister to go around the course with them. We also go out behind each wave to make sure no one who didn’t think they needed one of us might change their minds once they’re out there a while.

I finally got to spend some time with my good friend Julie (we’ve had a difficult time connecting this year)

Swim Sisters!!!  Trek Womens Triatlhon 2010 005

We all squeezed into our wetsuits did the morning briefing thing and waited for the first waves to start.

Swim Sisters!!!  Trek Womens Triatlhon 2010 002

There was some fun music playing at the start line and I started doing a crazy dance with my noodles. Much like this awesome sister…

Swim Sisters!!!  Trek Womens Triatlhon 2010 004

Ardis grabbed me and a few other silly sisters and we headed up to the start line where there was a Zumba demonstration going on.

So there we were, a half dozen women in full wetsuits (some of us with halos, tiaras and silly hats on) waving swim noodles around doing a Zumba dance performance.

It was hilarious and I hope, made the women waiting to start a little less nervous.

For what it’s worth, I do not recommend wearing a full wetsuit for this type of activity. I couldn’t wait to get into the lake and let some nice cool water into my suit.

After a turn working the start line, Julie and I got to go out and swim behind the last wave.

I LOVE the last wave!

Just after I passed the first bouy, Sally Edwards swam up behind me as asked how I was doing. Yes, she is as nice, down to earth and caring as she comes across in public appearances.

My reply was, “Well now I’ve been passed by Sister Madonna and Sally Edwards on a triathlon course, so pretty good.”

We chatted for a bit and ended up spending the last third of the swim course with an awesome 12 year old girl, Mikayla who was doing the triathlon with her great aunt.

The water was cold as we haven’t had any sunny weather to warm it up and the poor thing’s teeth were chattering.

But she kept going and going and going…

I made sure her aunt knew to make sure she dressed warmly on the bike course (and that her mom needs to get her a wetsuit for next time) and out of earshot, to tell her what signs of hypothermia to look for just in case.

This little girl was AWESOME and she finished that swim, cold, exhausted and smiling; seriously, she was all determination, no complaints, no whining, what an inspiration!

Sally went back out for the last swimmer.

Sally is always the last swimmer, rider and runner in a triathlon.

No woman will ever be in last place in one of her races.

We created a tunnel on the exit ramp with our noodles and did some “voguing” through it while waiting for the last swimmer (the race photographers were loving us for this and our pre race zumba performance.)

As the last swimmer came in, we chanted the “official” call of TrekWomen“YOU GO GIRL FRIEND… YOU GO GIRL FRIEND…”

She came in, just ahead of Sally, tired and smiling, and off she went to finish the event that would change her life and make her a triathlete.

All the women were awesome.

But there is always one who becomes your hero.

This time around, it was Mikayla.

I checked the results page and she finished. She was,the youngest person in the race and was bordering on hypothermia in the swim. She even finished 11 minutes ahead of her aunt.

Once again, I am inspired by those who put on and participate in these events and I am left with a warm feeling in my heart after having been involved.

~L

Mood: Happy



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Why I did it

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Today I took part in something that was bigger than myself.

Even though I was sore and tired from the triathlon yesterday, I couldn’t say no when asked to volunteer as a medical rider for the LiveStrong Challenge in Seattle today.

I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer.

I hadn’t stopped to think about how many people I care about are survivors or actively fighting this disease.

As I wrote names down on my “in memory of” and “in honor of” cards, I started to cry.

I started to cry because there were so many, I kept remembering people and going back and filling out a new card.

It was getting close to start time, so I had to just grab the names of friends who were in the forefront for me now (I actually forgot my best friend whose cancer was a long time ago and a co-worker who just got the “all clear”) and get going.

LiveStrong 2009 004

Here are the few (of sadly too many) who were on the card today. Next year, I’ll think this out in advance because I feel bad that I missed so many. (I feel bad that there are so many)

My friend Diane Rooney died at the age of 34 after a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer (the types that hit younger women are fast and deadly) Diane and I jumped out of helicopters together and fought forest fires.

She was a warrior. After her diagnosis, she sold everything she owned and moved to Arizona (one of two states that recognizes naturopathic doctors) to study. She became an activist and battled companies genetically modifying food, spraying toxic chemicals and injecting milk cows with bovine growth hormone.

Before her cancer was diagnosed as coming back, I went to visit her in Phoenix. We took a road trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. I had a fiend from the academy who worked there, so we went and stayed with him and enjoyed “special” spots that most tourists will never see.

After she died, her father called me to let me know that her ashes were being scattered as soon as the area we both loved, Dome Rock thawed and the roads opened.

He mentioned that one of the last things she talked about before she died was that trip to the Grand Canyon. It was one of her fondest memories and a very special trip for her.

All I did was take a friend to a cool place where I had “people”. It was a simple act of friendship to me. To her, it was the last memory she held on to and took with her when she passed.

We never know when our actions might (or how) profoundly affect someone.

I met my friend Karen when I was a Ranger at Canyonlands National Park at the Island in the Sky. She was staying with a mutual friend of ours at Dead Horse Point State Park. Bonnie (the friend she was staying with) was gone for a couple of days.

It was around Thanksgiving and since Karen and I already “knew” each other through Bonnie’s loving stories, of course invited her over for Thanksgiving.

It was the first meal she had eaten since being released from the hospital where she had received some truly horrible chemotherapy.

I also gave her injections to help her body recover from the treatments (she was too shaky to do it herself)

Years later, when I was in the doctor’s office having a cervial biopsy, she sat with me and held my hand while they ripped bits of my cervix off.

Lizzy has fought a difficult and painful (emotionally and physically) battle with Ovarian and Colorectal cancer.

She is a marathoner. She has turned this marathon into an opportunity to fight this disease, even going to Washington DC to lobby.

My friend Annette has had her cancer come back at a truly horrible time in her life. (of course, there’s never a good time) and yet she keeps on keepin’ on by working and taking care of her two children giving them a loving home and good memories while going though treatments that sap her energy and make her sick.

I called her today to let her know that I was thinking of her; so I pulled off to the side of the road and gave her a call, “Hey, did you know that I’m in your neck of the woods riding with your name on my back?”

I cried after I made that call.

My beautiful “little sister” Megs has had so much taken from her by this disease.

After being to hell and back, she has finally found happiness and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and watch that be taken from her.

I can’t find a cure, I can’t donate a bunch of money.

But I could volunteer to support those who can.

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With that said, here’s the ride report.

I got up to Seattle bright and early and scored free (Sunday) street parking a block away from the Seattle Center.

I checked in, picked up my medical pack and got my cards (as mentioned before, incompletely) filled out.

LiveStrong 2009 001

With much fanfare and emotion, we lined up in our starting waves.

LiveStrong 2009 003

I had no business riding at all today after yesterday’s triathlon and my legs (and general sense of well being and energy levels) made that very clear.

I chose the 45 mile route in hopes that I at least wouldn’t bonk.

It was weird riding through the streets of downtown Seattle at 7:00 AM with no traffic. I’ve ran the streets when they are crowded with marathon runners for the Seattle Marathon; this was different, quieter, more purposeful.

As a sea of bikes, many riders wearing yellow LiveStrong jerseys moved down the streets people cheered.

Some asked, “What are you riding for?” Needing to give a short answer, I merely said… “Cancer”.

“Cool!” they said and they too began cheering on riders.

We got to ride on the I-90 express lanes (once again, I’ve only been on them for the marathon) which was pretty cool.

LiveStrong 2009 005

We headed out across the bridge for a loop around hilly Mercer Island.

LiveStrong 2009 007

People on Mercer Island sat or stood in their driveways or yards to cheer us on.

We looped over to Bellevue, down the lake to Renton and back up the other side of the lake back towards Seattle.

There were plenty of well stocked rest stops staffed by friendly volunteers.

The last one had a band and there was much dancing and toe tapping.

LiveStrong 2009 008

We needed that rest break because things got ugly from there.

The elevation gain on the course is listed as just a bit over 1,500 feet.

That’s true if you move from sea level to 300 feet above sea level (etc… etc… only once) but in a place like Seattle where there is no flat ground and you are up and down hills many many times, it’s much greater than that.

My Garmin shows that I climbed 6,043 feet in 45 miles today (I also rode down 6,061 feet)

Throughout the entire ride, my legs burned, complained and cramped up. They alternating between feeling like lead and rubber.

The ride was hard, damn hard.

And then I’d see a survivor ride by, or someone obviously going through treatment out there doing the same thing.

Now that’s hard.

So I kept pedaling and shut the heck up about it.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve cursed the hills on the route up to First Hill from the lake while on the marathon course.

Let me tell you, I will never complain again.

Not after doing it on a bike.

Relentless hill after relentless hill turned even strong riders, already hilled out into walkers.

LiveStrong 2009 009

The scariest part of the ride was once we got up the hills.

We had to ride down 3rd in downtown Seattle.

I have an increased respect for cyclists that run that gauntlet on a daily basis to commute. All I wanted was to get the heck away from there (I don’t even like driving a vehicle down those narrow crowded streets)

It is not a safe or bike friendly place to be; the need for the advocacy work that the Cascade Bicycle Club and other groups do is apparent.

We rode in tight little (single file) packs to make ourselves more visible and were all greatly relieved when we pulled safely into the Seattle Center.

We crossed the finish line to the sound of cheering and thank yous.

Luckily, the only medical “incident” I had today was someone asking for a band aid at a rest stop. Basically, I answered questions, gave directions, explained group riding techniques and encouarged safe riding. No illnesses, injuries or accidents. That’s the way a ride should be!

We had a choice of a burger (there were veggie options) or pizza and a Chipotle Taco. Mmmmmm tacoooooo. I went for the pizza and taco with apple slices as my side. I enjoyed them up in the beer garden on the Fischer Pavilion deck while talking about triathlons and training.

Now I’m at home on the couch getting ready to take some Advil and a nap.

It was a good day and even if it hurt (and I do), I’m glad I did it.

~L

Mood: Exhausted



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