Saturday, February 20, 2016

My Dark Clouds Always Have Silver Linings...

Or Even the Lousiest Day Can Have Some Good News.

Almost exactly one year ago, I was mistakenly diagnosed with pneumonia and started on a medical journey which has brought me to this revelation. This very dark cloud which has hung over me for the last twelve months does, indeed, have many a silver lining.

First, I managed to weather the worst of the IV chemo side effects so that I could plan on being down for the count (extreme fatigue and nausea) the first week or so after the two day drip. Soon after week two, I was able to get into the studio and actually work, at least the last week before the next drip when my energy levels were almost normal. I didn’t get to any more A’s games but I did have some lovely visits with friends who came by with all manner of treats - including desserts, three course meals and most importantly, their upbeat encouragement. 

Berry Galette from Alice
Cauliflower cheese pie from Tyrell
Raspberry Linzer Tart from  Sydney
Then, more Good News came from my dear friend, Ricki, landscaper extraordinaire, who spent a day planting a lovely bunch of veggies in our raised garden bed. I managed to get in 3 new tomato plants before I went down. But Ricki put in squash, purple peppers, tomatillos, and cucumbers! What a treat! 

Our lovely raised bed with Ricki's beautiful plantings.

But even more Good News came in the form of dog walkers. Our dog, Obie, needs a good long walk pretty much every afternoon. And while I was at my most incapacitated, my dear husband, Jürgen was relegated to walking him 3 times a day. When I’m well, I usually take Obie out in the afternoons and just before bedtime. So up came our wonderful neighbor Alice (who also brought some really delicious treats) and took Obie every Sunday afternoon on a long walk with her dog, Vyvyan. The two of them became best dog buds. Soon, every Saturday my dear friend Scarlett came by to walk the Ob. And filling in when it was just too much for Jürgen, sometimes two or three times a week was our regular dog walker, Heidi Bendorf, who was so very gracious and generous with her time.

Sadly, adding to our dark cloud was the death of my dearest mom-in-law, Gerta, who passed away in September in Germany. The only silver lining was the timing of the funeral which allowed Jürgen to go back to Berlin while I was two weeks past my August chemo and could manage to be alone with help from friends. Still, it was a very disheartening time.

Soon after my last chemo at the end of October, I began to wonder how I was going to thank all these wonderful people who stepped in when we needed them most. By then I had enough strength to work regularly in the studio. And, voilá! The work started to flow out of me. 

Sixteen pieces glazed and ready to be fired.
The pieces glaze fired and ready to be gifted.
I was thrilled with the results and only hoped my dear ones would be as thrilled to receive a small token of my deepest appreciation for their amazing good-heartedness.

Unfortunately, another huge cloud came over me at the end of November when I went in for a CT scan which we all hoped would show the enlarge lymph nodes had shrunk and I could be pronounced in remission. This was not to be. Instead of 50%-100% smaller, they were barely 20% smaller than before I started on the chemo.

This didn’t dampen our Holidays in December, as we were invited to a lovely Chanukah latke party at our neighbors, Sharon and Jim. They had another interesting couple there, Iliana, textile artist, her husband, Steve, and Sharon’s sister Jackie. It was such an enjoyable evening, one of the first social engagements we were able to attend since I had started chemo in June. And then we went to the Break Bread concert to hear the Oakland Symphony Chorus perform along with a stage filled end to end with other choruses and the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. It was such a boost to see so many of my dear chorus chums before and after the performance.

Break Bread Concert December 2015 at the Paramount Theater

But after we rang in 2016 very intimately with a quiet evening at home, we had to decide what to do next, medically speaking. In order to deal with my enlarged lymph nodes and the increased fluid which had now settled mostly in my abdomen, my oncologist gave me a choice of several different chemo regimens. The one he thought would be the most effective and the least disruptive is a drug called Imbruvica. It’s in pill form and I began taking it mid January. I will be taking 3 pills once a day for at least 3-6 months. The major side effects I’m having are extreme fatigue and acid reflux.

I started taking the pills first thing in the morning which meant that anytime between 1 PM and 3 PM the fatigue would hit me so hard I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I would be done for the day. This kept me from getting behind the wheel and driving myself anywhere because I couldn’t plan on being awake in order to drive myself home. So again, I had to count on the “kindness of strangers”  - really, on my husband and dear friends - to schlep me here and there. 

Not what I wanted to continue to be - dependent. 

But just a few days ago I had a Great Idea! Maybe I should be taking these pills right before bed so the fatigue will hit me while I’m already asleep? This is exactly what’s been happening! I’m getting a good night’s sleep and find I’m not as tired during the day. Sometimes I have to pat myself on the back when I realize just how brilliant I am


Every time I take one of those pills, I talk to it and say, “Get in there and do your job!” I’ve also begun to see an acupuncturist and have started on a meditation program - POEM: practice of embracing each moment - offered by Kaiser to help cancer patients on chemo with the side effects as well as over all anxieties. As you can see, I'm doing what I can to keep those dark clouds from darkening too many of my days.

Here's what I know now: Every day has its Good News. There’s always something which will
brighten the sky, make you smile, make you feel you are on the right path to good health, that you are in the best of hands, that you are loved. 

All you have to do is look up.

Believe me.

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