Author Archives: activeagstcancer

Sometimes I Remember

When I was in chemotherapy treatment, eleven summers ago, my oncologist liked to try to cheer me up by saying something like this: “Some day, years from now, you will look back and not really remember most of this. It will seem like it wasn’t even real, and you will forget about it.”

I appreciated the intention, but honestly, I didn’t believe him. I was in the midst of the weirdest medical melodrama called “chemo” and I was alternately anxious, worried, and terrified. I was able to handle the pain. What I didn’t like was the uncertainty and weirdness. I thought, when he said I would forget the ordeal, that he was wrong: Not me, I thought, I will always remember all of this in great detail.

However, he knew better than I did. He was right: I did forget. Most of the time, if I happen to think about having had cancer at all, it does seem unreal. It does seem like it couldn’t be true. It does seem like it happened to someone else. I have, in other words, not only re-gained my health and kept cancer-free eleven years, but I have also outlived the trauma.

I don’t worry about recurrence. I don’t feel any difference between who I am now and who I might have been without the cancer-at-age-48 terror. Cancer survivorship doesn’t define me. I wrote a book about cancer recovery, but now I find even that book a little hard to relate to as my own.

Recently, however, I had a week where my own cancer history came back to mind. I recalled it more vividly than I had in many years. Why? Someone whose background I could relate to was diagnosed with cancer–and I found myself remembering the weird time when I went from being super healthy and fit to being a cancer patient.

We all like to think that our choices, like good lifestyle, good nutrition, and good amounts of exercise, will protect us from cancer–and they do, statistically. But even the best lifestyle choices don’t guarantee that cancer will skip by you. Sometimes it picks you, and there may officially be no reason why. You did nothing wrong. You did almost everything right. There is no reason. As an old friend of mine once said, sometimes in life, you have to admit “Why not me?” is about as much logic as you can find in a bad circumstance. “Why not me?”

And there you have the path towards letting go of the “Why me?” when the answer doesn’t appear available. You let go of wondering why it happened, and you just start dealing with it, day by day, bit by bit. You look for how to cope. How to conquer. How to prevail. You look for allies. For tools. For good nutrition, good rest, and good amounts of exercise. You ask for help with pesky side effects; you take the pain and the indignities. You go bald and develop a sense of humor about bald jokes. You get humble; you stay proud. You hang on to close friends, and you learn to enjoy the other members of Club Survivorship, even though it’s a lousy club to be selected for. You DEAL with it.

Because, as my dad once said of his chemotherapy course, what choice do you have?

It turns out both my oncologist and I were right. I did forget, and I did move on, but when something triggers me to remember, I do remember being a cancer patient. It was strange and terrible, but it did not go on forever, and I do not remember most of the more gruesome details any more. The pain has been erased from mind.

I wish all the other cancer patients hope, strength and a full glorious recovery. Keep your eye on re-gaining your health. We’re pulling for you.

Peace,
Nancy

 

A Lap As Caregiver

This past winter, I took a lap around the track as a Caregiver. Not for a cancer patient, but for my husband who shattered his tibia in a skiing accident. And not literally a lap around the track, but hundreds (it seemed) of laps up and down the stairs of the house. It was, overall, a humbling but rewarding time. I learned what it was like to be helping someone who couldn’t keep up with normal activities. I learned things that many caregivers to cancer patients will already recognize. Here are a few highlights.

Pacing. Pacing yourself is key, when you are thrust into doing more than you are used to doing. Winter chores in Vermont include driveway snow removal, stoking the woodstove, bringing in the wood to the house, and mitigating the ice on the driveway, when it appears. When I became the only fully mobile person at our house for a couple of months, those were my jobs, as was cooking, cleaning, shopping and getting rid of trash. Everything could get done, every day, along with taking care of my husband’s care, but I had to really pace myself. It was like an endurance event. I counseled myself: “Don’t go so hard that you can’t get up and do it all again the next day.”

Sometimes it takes a Team. I literally couldn’t do everything that needed to get done some days. We had a few neighbors and friends who pitched in with help with the wood carrying or other things. When I got the flu (!), my husband found a local high scholl baseball team that sent volunteers to the house to help shovel out from a late April snowstorm. Brilliant!

Stay Upbeat. Staying positive was a surprisingly natural reaction to seeing how badly injured my husband was. I became a cheerful caregiver and kept up a good attitude. I am often a real worrier, but I felt so protective of him that I wanted to keep his spirits up by giving him confidence. Now, I’m not perfect at this, and sometimes my worries overflowed a little bit, but I did my best. We picked funny TV shows to binge watch late and night, and we kept his (and my) spirits up through a difficult time.

Celebrate the Little Stuff. There’s nothing quite like a major illness or severe injury to make you realize how good you had it all along. “Boy, it sure was nice when I could walk.” In the next instant, though, you might also realize that you still have it pretty good. My husband and I celebrated the little stuff like sharing good meals, spending extra time together, being able to see healing advancing, and trying to find the humor in the whole medical adventure. It occurred to us often to say: “Well, it could have been worse” and mean it. There was still a lot to celebrate, and doing so kept us appreciating every day, despite the limitations.

Overall, I liked caregiving. I could have done without getting the flu, but overall, I liked my turn at caregiving. It was interesting to find that it wasn’t actually overwhelming, even though it was very demanding and tiring. The main goal was helping my husband heal and it was good to know that I was making a big difference every day in his healing. And, it was good to take a turn in the Caregiver role. But I won’t mind having his help with snow removal and woodstove filling next year!

 

 

Still Active Here…

September 12, 2017

The summer of 2017 included water-skiing every weekend, and I progressed my form a lot from this photo through to late summer. Hips up!

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It continues to be a great joy to be physically active and strong. I celebrated 10 years post-ovarian cancer last April, and it was humbling and not without a few tears.

My book, Active Against Cancer, still continues to be available on Amazon, and people keep finding it useful, which is heartening, but also sometimes sad.

In the last couple of years, as I near 60 years old, more friends have had their struggles with cancer, and not each of the struggles end the way we would like. I quietly grieve, when needed, and I am deeply humbled.

I lost a dear friend to cancer this past year, and I find I can still not write about it at length. Maybe as time goes on, I’ll find the right words. He was a champion of optimism and strength.

Wishing you each health, long life, and happy trails. And if the trail turns out to be challenging and difficult, wishing you outer support, inner courage and a heart full of love.

Peace,
Nancy

 

Spring in Stowe: Weekend of Hope 2016

In Vermont, the daffodils are patiently waiting for the snow to stop falling and the migrating songbirds are keeping their distance, generally, until some warmer weather returns. But, based on the thawed dirt backroads (aka mud season) and the maple sap running, it’s spring in Vermont again–and that means Hope, the Stowe Weekend of Hope, more exactly.

This year’s Stowe Weekend of Hope is April 29 to May 1, and you can find all the details at www.stowehope.org. This year, a busy schedule with my own business kept me from scheduling my usual “Walk and Talk” on the Stowe Rec Path, Friday morning. Sorry! But I want to give a shout-out to loyal attendees: I’m fine, and I’ll miss seeing you there!

Hey: I’ve got an idea, if anyone is around, take each other for a walk by meeting at 10 a.m. behind the big white church in Stowe, and amble away on the Stowe Rec Path, talking with each other about your cancer recovery and your plans for the weekend of hope.

Hope. It’s the best choice that I made when I was in cancer treatment. I was scared, really scared, but I put my trust in the power of the medical treatment, the power of a positive attitude, and the power of a holistic approach to self-care and complementary care during my treatment. I included acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and counseling. And I included my daily dose of exercise.

And I followed my doctors’ treatment plans, although I admit I was a questioning and highly involved patient. (Okay, maybe I was even confrontational and a pain-in-the-neck at times, but I had read that patients of that ilk survived longer, so… sorry, I was going to ask all the questions I had.)

The best hours of my cancer treatment period (about 6 months of chemotherapy, post-surgery) were ones when I could forget that I was bald (yes!) and forget that I was sapped of my usual strength. I found enough strength to swim–or proto-swim, really just float. I found enough energy to walk outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and birds. I found enough energy to yell “hit it” which for a water-skier means “get going with that boat and let me ski along the lake surface like magic!”

Exercise, even a 10-minute walk, renewed my hope every time. I felt alive. I could sense the suffering, but it didn’t seem so bad if I could still move.

I remember reading about a cancer patient who visualized dancing, when too weak to dance. Did this raise her immune system function? I have to think so.

I found that I didn’t hope in proportion to my “percentage chance of recurrence”. I hoped wildly and thoroughly, every day, to get past cancer recovery into good health again. I leaned on other people’s hope, too. My husband was certain I would recover completely. Okay, let’s go with that hope.

There were sometimes doubters: I ignored them. “I don’t believe in being ‘realistic’.” I said. “I believe in optimism.”

Optimism is comforting. It’s encouraging. It rallies your will to eat those extra vegetables or nourish your yearning for a trip to the ocean to see the waves. Hope makes you walk another quarter of a mile to keep your heart strong. Hope makes you want to take every step with joy. The future is ahead, but in the present, there is always room for hope and for joy and for gratitude. The choice is ours.

*****

I’m quietly celebrating 9 years of cancer-free survival this April, while watching a few dear ones in the midst of their own cancer challenges. I’m humbled by their grace and I’m ever grateful for my own good luck.

I wish you all a good weekend of Hope, and every day, thereafter, as much hope as you can embrace. I may even make it over to the Stowe Rec Path Friday morning myself. Just informally, but that’s okay. I’ll be the one with the binoculars, looking for birds! Please say hello if you see me.

Peace and love,
Nancy

P.S. In looking at the Stowe Weekend of Hope schedule, participants interested in movement, exercise and healing may be interested in the all-day Friday workshop, described this way: Enjoy!

Hope and Wellness Through Movement for the Mind and Body
LOCATION: STOWEFLAKE RESORT – Room: Atrium
David Dorfman, Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Cancer Fitness Coach, and Other Instructors. All levels and abilities welcome!

  • 9:00 am — Full-Day Session Begins with Welcome and Overview

Join us for a full day of healing activities including yoga, meditation, biking, and much more! Pick what’s right for you and join us for our Weekend of Hope exercise program. All levels and abilities welcome!

 

 

The Time of Forgetting, The Time of Remembering

I kept my wig. I kept it, at first, because I didn’t know if I would need again. Then, after some time, I kept it hoping that I would never need it again and thinking maybe that was realistic. Some time later, I kept it because it seemed like “good luck” to keep it.

I wanted to humble in the face of the threat of cancer. I didn’t want to toy with the threat of cancer recurrence. I wanted to bow to it, humbly, and run hard in the other direction as soon as it wasn’t looking.

I kept my wig in a hat box. A pretty hat box. I kept it in sight for a while, but now it’s in the closet. I took photos of my hair growing in: white and straight, then curly as Shirley Temple, then longer and more like my “real” hair.

I’m going gray–or maybe white. I won’t be coloring my hair. I’ll be celebrating. I’m lucky — to have hair, to be here, to keep going. To be past 8 years post-treatment, 8 1/2 years post-diagnosis. I expect another cancer free birthday in 10 days. I’ll be 57. I’ll be lucky.

Cancer does seem like it was a dream now. A nightmarish dream with lots of love in it. Suffering surrounded by love; fear surrounded by hope; appreciation surrounded by worry. It was a lot. It was not all awful. I was so happy to be alive. So very happy just to be alive.

That was the feeling that I wanted to preserve, but it is hard to preserve it when things get more routine. Now is the time of casually forgetting all that cancer meant to my life. Now is also the time when it’s important to look back, on purpose, and remember.

Because one thing is true for almost every cancer survivor that I know: Your priorities become very very clear. Get healthy. Enjoy living. Love. Be kind. Do good work. Make the most of it.

I went for a foliage walk today. I’ve been working too hard on a project for several years. For several years, I have been making excuses too often for not taking time for myself, for joy, for exercise, for renewal. I think I’ll change now. It’s time to remember that life is journey, and it’s not meant to be just for work.

I remember when I am out in nature. I remember how I healed and what I wanted: to live. To live fully.

Blessings, all. Peace,

Nancy

Walking for Hope in Stowe, May First

The Stowe Weekend of Hope begins on May first this year, and that’s when I’ll lead my “nearly annual” Walk and Talk for cancer survivors. May first is a holiday in many cultures. In my twenties, I used to dance at May pole dances with contradancing friends to celebrate the beginning of summer on May first, in the Celtic tradition. It was a time of merriment and anticipating spring.

As I write this, my Vermont home is still deeply enveloped by winter’s cold and snow. I was thinking how cancer survivorship has its own peculiar seasons. Although each person’s “weather” may differ, there are seasons that present challenges that seem never-ending, and there can be seasons of renewal and rebirth such as in a recovery that changes us from who we were to someone new.

My own seasons of cancer and cancer recovery seem to include the Season of Strong Coping, when I faced treatment with a courage that now seems, from a distance of eight years, rather surprising. Was I really that strong? I think when cornered by a health challenge, like cancer, we find strength (physical, emotional and mental–and spiritual) that we didn’t know we had.

Then there was the Season of Simmering Anxiety. My treatment had gone very very well, but five years of quarterly testing my biomarkers was exhausting to me. And I also suffered something of a let-down of the previous robustness. Everything seemed difficult: including getting enough sleep and keeping up routine exercise, which I had previously loved and had no trouble with.

After seven years, there came the Season of Celebration: My doctors agreed that I was no longer in need of testing. To me, that was the moment of victory. I had escaped!

At times, now, as I am eight years away from diagnosis, it is hard to remember that the whole of my cancer journey was real. I hesitate to say that aloud because I know when I heard people say that when I was struggling, I somehow felt a weird type of jealousy. It wasn’t really jealousy perhaps. It was a desire to achieve that status some day myself, I guess. And now I have.

It is remarkable how much the body can heal. I try to remember never to assume what others are going through in their cancer journey. So many similarities between our stories can come up, but so can many differences. This year, when I lead the Walk and Talk, I will try to be especially mindful of the fear and suffering that many people have, at some level, during the early or difficult parts of their journey.

May we walk together in celebration of the springtime and find solace in the fresh air and each other’s company.

Peace and strength to you on your journey,

Nancy

Still Active

I celebrated my 7th anniversary of my cancer surgery recently, and I’m humbled to say that I’m still healthy after all this time. Time: It’s such a gift.

I celebrated this year by buying a charm bracelet with a charm for each year that I have enjoyed since cancer surgery in 2007. Luckily, Danforth pewter is a Vermont business and I was able to make my bracelet at a Danforth store, choosing meaningful charms such as clover leaf, for the luck of the surgery going well, and a heart for the next year, where I married my boyfriend while still having hair-style challenges from the chemo. Other charms commemorated life events, and the joy that goes with being a long-term survivor.

Then, I celebrated the 4th anniversary of my book’s publication by meeting with two very special people at the Stowe Weekend of Hope. One is a local reader of my book, whom I’ve met and been in touch with. She’s an active cancer patient who humbles me with her compliments for the book and how it helps her now. And the other new friend is a personal trainer who is certified to work with cancer patients, and who is able to use the book’s approach with her clients. Doubly humbling. She’s including a copy of my book in the take-home package for a workshop on recovery.

We three wandered around the fields and trails in Stowe last Friday, and the weather was “interesting”. It drizzled, it poured, the sun shone, the wind picked up, and then it rained again: all this change in not a very large amount of time. Of course, that weather reminded me of life: as John Prine wrote in a song: “You’re up one day, the next you’re down; it’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re going to drown.”

John Prine is a cancer survivor, too. And so was the woman behind the counter at the Danforth jewelry shop who made my bracelet with me. Cancer survivors are not hard to find. They’re everywhere. We’re everywhere. We have been given the gift of more time.

We walk in the rain and smile. We have chemo and we go out to feed the horses even though we’re tired. We teach others how to exercise with meaning and joy. We show up at our doctors’ offices and wish for something to make all the little indignities or chronic pain go away. We wait for spring, we listen for birds, and we keep moving, still humble, still remembering the day we came to consciousness post-surgery and they said, “it was cancer”, and we replied, “what do I do next? how can I heal?”

Peace and strength to all,
Nancy

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