From vacation to reality

Sally Jo’s apartment couldn’t be more perfect for my immediate needs. It is a comfortable, cozy and incomparably convenient one bedroom, garage apartment near Rice University and MD Anderson. I can find anything I need within a 2 mile radius. The bedroom is large enough to accommodate a king-sized bed, so the queen leaves plenty of unobstructed area around the room. A large window overlooks the treetops where birds and squirrels vie for real estate. There is an updated kitchen and bathroom; a sofa and desk occupy the living space. Wood floors run throughout. Ben sleeps on a twin xl mattress on the floor, as will any future guests. It’s comfortable, or at least that’s what I’m told. This weekend, brother, Patrick, shared the apartment with us, and it was doable. Not long-term doable. But, considering the limited time we were in the apartment, it was fine. In fact, it was fun…Although sharing this intimate space with more than 1 person would quickly wear thin for people who desire a little less togetherness. Personally, I like it. When I need privacy, I can close the door to the bedroom. And while accessing the bathroom thru the bedroom may not be ideal, it has not been an issue for me. This so far, short-lived experiment in HGTV “tiny living” complements my desire for orderliness and organization; a feeling of spaciousness is reward for keeping things tidy and clutter-free. It is exceedingly liberating to discover how little I truly need to live comfortably. In fact, I feel as if I am only just beginning to understand the authentic definition of the word “need.”

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In the beginning it felt as if I am here for another Houston vacation, staying at an airbnb, and catching up with family and friends. But while our sleep-overs, get-togethers, and visits in both the pre-cancer and post-cancer eras may ostensibly appear identical, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that everything has irrevocably changed. In the new post-cancer age, my future no longer feels as remote, or as certain. Being with people I love, and who love me, feels a little more urgent. What a luxury and blessing it is, I now realize, to live with a sense of certainty and security about life events still to come. It’s not that I believed cancer couldn’t happen to me, it just hadn’t…yet. So as the years passed, I suppose I secreted the possibility into some deep cerebral recess. The thought of dying before old age is so disquieting in the abstract, why would anyone choose to focus on it? I certainly didn’t. I took longevity and all its associated hopes and dreams for granted.

Now, the first round of chemo last week has awakened me. I’m definitely not on vacation. The first 2 days post chemo weren’t too bad. My stomach was unsettled and my appetite suppressed, but I made myself eat small amounts. On Saturday, I ate a good-sized, half sandwich at sister and brother-in-law’s, Jenny and Clay’s, home. The prior evening, the steroids had caused me to be wide-awake exhausted, so I snoozed off and on by Jenny and Clay’s pool, and on their screened porch. It was serene and comforting. On day 3 post chemo, the steroids really had their way with me. I became irritable and extremely emotional. I am told this is to be expected after each infusion, so I’m apologizing to everyone right now for any unhinged language and behavior.

Today, I had an appointment at the MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Department. The doctor spoke to me in general about nutrition during cancer care, then directed me towards a limited number of choices from a whole foods, plant-based diet. Basically, I am to focus on whole grains like oatmeal (not instant), brown and wild rice, whole wheat bread, cereals and pasta, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and millet. I was advised to include small quantities of vegetables, and wild, cold water fish like salmon and cod. Lamb is fine, too. While I have not been 100% observant, I have tried to remain as gluten-free as possible. A gluten-free diet is recommended for those with Hashimoto’s, or low thyroid. In the disease category, though, cancer trumps my autoimmune condition, so whole grains it is.

The doctor also informed me about other integrative tools offered at MD Anderson, such as yoga, acupuncture, oncology massage and meditation. I plan to take advantage of as many of these modalities as I can. I’ve been told by those who’ve already walked this path that it can help.

After lunch with nephew, Carl, (Sally Jo’s eldest son), and Ben, I returned to the apartment for a nap. When fatigue strikes, it goes to the bone. Following a prayer of gratitude for the luxury of napping when needed, unlike those who continue to have to work throughout their illness, I indulged in a peaceful hour-long siesta. Ben spent some time with his cousin, Carl, and returned later in the evening. He prepared himself some dinner, while I finished off the other half of a lamb burger from lunch.

Tonight we will watch an episode or two of Stranger Things before turning in. Tomorrow, Carl is driving us back out to Jenny and Clay’s home for another sleep-over. Being with the dogs, dozing by the pool, and snoozing on the screened porch, I think, will help normalize my life for at least 24 hours before the 2nd round of chemo on Thursday. That’s when this mini “vacation” makes another rendezvous with reality.

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