Remembering Darren …

Just a quote today:

“Grief can destroy you –or focus you.

You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it.

But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it.

The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss.

And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

Dean Koontz, Odd Hour

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Visits

It’s been quite a busy week for me as a trainee Breast Cancer support volunteer! I have been on a few patient visits with my handler and have just recently begun to fully grasp the intricacies and responsibilities of the position I have taken on.

One of the visits this week really struck a chord in my heart…

We received a call from one of our local hospitals inviting us to visit a patient who had undergone a mastectomy the day before.

When we arrived our patient was already sitting up (on her own) in her bed and I felt decidedly in awe of that fact – I was a rather pathetic patient in comparison, especially on day 2.

Unfortunately she was not able to communicate in English so we had one of the sisters interpret for us – to explain to her exactly why we were there and for us to hand her one of our care packs.

There was very little that I felt could contribute so I stood next to her bed and nodded and smiled encouragingly at her as my handler demonstrated how to position the little comfort cushion under her left mastectomy arm, how to put the drain in the little cloth bag and how to hook it over her arm so she could keep her hands free when going to the bathroom etc. And in the background the translations were taking place.

She still looked rather shell shocked and more than a little unsure of us and our “gifts”. I was worried that some important details may be lost in the translation process and that she may not receive the full benefit of our visit.

So I continued to smile and nod idiotically the whole time and a whole lot more, trying to convey some reassurance. Which I’m sure must have confused her terribly especially when my handler was explaining to her how to use the soft prosthesis in her bra – even the male sister interpreting for us looked a little uncomfortable!

But when my handler asked him to explain to the patient that both her and I had had similar surgeries she turned her gaze back towards us – initially with undisguised shock and then with the biggest brightest smile. She grasped our hands in turn with her right hand and planted a robust kiss on our palms.

I was taken by surprise – firstly by her strength: she was quite strong for a small woman only a day out of surgery! – and secondly exactly how that brief outburst made me feel (it may or may not have brought a tear to my eye…).

I had always thought the bags, the pillows, handing out the boob prostheses, helping to provide a semblance of dignity and support to our patients, saying the right things and exuding positivity were the most important functions of my job as a volunteer… And I finally understood EXACTLY why the organisation relies only on breast cancer survivors to visit breast cancer patients ….

There is nothing anyone can say or do, even without language barriers, to make you feel better – like you are ever going to be normal and ok again.

Those first days post-surgery are the lowest, loneliest and most awful times as a woman – you are sore, uncomfortable, sad, angry and completely insecure. I had always felt that perhaps it was not the ideal time for volunteers to try and provide support. Most women were still suffering from the shock of the situation they found themselves in, often trying to come to terms with the death of their previous lives and waiting for the results of tests which would possibly confirm whether there will be a future life, to be open to “hear” how things are going to EVER get better….

But looking at that woman smiling for the first time since we arrived as interlopers at her bedside, I realised everything else we brought with us was pretty irrelevant to her.

The only thing that really mattered was that at that very moment two women were standing in front of her having gone through a similar trauma, carrying on with what looked like normal lives, walking around and looking just like any other “normal” women. But even more significantly, I’m sure, was the simple fact that we were able to do so because we were alive…

volunteer

“Circumstances in life often take us places that we never intended to go. We visit some places of beauty, others of pain and desolation”. Kristin Armstrong

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labours of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” Albert Einstein

“The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed is the nourishment the soul requires.” Albert Schwitzer

*sigh* Being a Martyr

This week saw me heading back to Gillian for a regular, or rather a not so regular, physio tune up.

Let me explain: I have been visiting Gillian’s office regularly since the end of Sept 2013. And when I say regularly, I mean at the VERY least, 2ce a month since then. Even during radiation I managed to coerce her into seeing me……….. not once but twice!

So after visiting her rooms early-ish in December I went straight to her receptionist and asked when I could make another appointment – fully intending to get at least one more in before the end of the year. She calmly glanced at Gillian’s diary and said she could squeeze me in on the 14th …………, well that was kind of soon I thought to myself, until I realized she hadn’t finished her sentence,………… of JANUARY…..WHAT??? I won’t lie – there was a moment of sheer unadulterated panic! I counted it out on my fingers just to make sure – THAT WAS IN 5 WEEKS TIME!

Who was going to keep the lymph draining and stop my right side turning into something resembling the consistency of a waterbed AND who was going to stop my right bionic boob (RBB) from migrating North for Christmas? I mean WHO – it’s not like I could * slosh * into any old place with uneven boobs and say “fix me please”.

But seeing as though it would be deemed rather Scrooge-like to berate her for taking time off to spend with her family over the holidays or resent her for actually having the nerve to see other patients, I belligerently pulled up my big girl panties and left her office without making a scene.

I even dropped off a tray of muffins for her as an end of the year “Thank You” gift to show there were no hard feelings and as a direct reference to how she likened post-radiation tissue to a muffin microwaved a little too long!

So over the last 33 days I have been even more studious about my manual lymph drainage and have taken to massaging my right pecs with the vigor and single mindedness of one scary-ass masseuse!

But despite my VERY best efforts and despite having managed to hold ground for most of the 33 days, I walked into her rooms on Wednesday like a battle weary soldier, with my RBB still stubbornly inching its way towards my thyroid.

Ahhhhhhhhh the relief!!!!!

But this little lesson has been a good exercise in letting go, especially of this particular crutch….! And an attempt in saving our Medical Aid funds for the year.

So I stoically left her office in a hurry (so I wouldn’t change my mind) without making another appointment, vowing to only contact her when I really, really, really, REALLY needed to.

I’ve had to fight the impulse since then to pick up the phone and make a “just in case” appointment.

Boy do I feel like quite the martyr.

Martyrs

“Being a martyr is highly overrated. ” Patricia Briggs

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” Oscar Wilde

“My grandmother always acted in other people’s interests, whether they wanted her to or not. If they’d had an Olympics in martyrdom my grandmother would have lost on purpose.” Emily Levine

“Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins”. Mark Twain

Sugar, Walks, Hair Washing and Marian Keyes

Nothing beats a 2.5ish kilometre walk and hair washing to lift a mood!

Ok, so maybe a trip to Disneyland, or an Island holiday OR being allowed to eat the entire jar of Christmas cookies we have in our cupboard (thanks to Nico and Mary-Anne) may also possibly lift a mood.

But travel and stuffing my face full of sugar is off the cards right now…so walks and hair washing it is.

I have always been a firm believer that no matter how awful I was feeling, whether it was from an annoying head cold or just a super bad day, washing my hair always lifted my spirits.

So when I first got out of hospital after my mastectomies when I couldn’t lift my arms or take a shower and get dressings wet, hair washing in general became a rare and rather stressful affair. Even with assistance from Kirsten and Pete it was painful and uncomfortable and left me feeling completely exhausted.

Hair washing was definitely made for post Chemo days! Hauling myself from bed and standing under a warm, comforting shower should have been sheer bliss. I remember raising my hands up to instinctively wash my hair with great anticipation – just knowing that all the nausea and my black mood would immediately be washed away by the lathering of my hair…. (cue the sound of squealing brakes) oh yes, I forgot, what hair?

For some strange reason rubbing my LBD with shampoo just didn’t have the same soothing effect. Cruel really….

So what’s the sugar issue you may ask? Weeeeell, not much to say about that other than my fat clothes need fat clothes…especially after the holidays! Christmas parties, New Year parties, going out for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, chips and (limited) cocktails at the pool have taken their toll!

And as everyone, including Google knows, sugar is BAD!  I have been warned that sugar can significantly increase hot flushes and acidity; AND sugar = fat and fat = an increase in estrogen levels and even more bizarrely shrinks my clothes. Which all = really bad news for me!

So this morning although I was very tempted to stay bed with my kindle and finish my latest Marian Keyes novel, I donned my walking shoes and headed out the door.

Ok, so I may or may not have finished my novel first!

But, and excuse me as I pat myself on my back, I completed my 2,5 ishkm walk despite a VERY humid ‘Maritzburg morning and aching, swollen feet.  I rewarded my efforts, not with a red velvet cookie as I would have done a week ago, but with a soothing and restoring hair wash.

Aaaah it REALLY is the simple things!

Marian Keys1

“Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you get what you need and sometimes you get what you get”. The Woman who stole my life, Marian Keys

“What doesn’t kill us makes us funnier.” Marian Keys, The Other Side of the Story

I think there is pressure on people to turn every negative into a positive, but we should be allowed to say, ‘I went through something really strange and awful and it has altered me forever.’ Marian Keys

“It was ironic, really – you want to die because you can’t be bothered to go on living – but then you’re expected to get all energetic and move furniture and stand on chairs and hoist ropes and do complicated knots and attach things to other things and kick stools from under you and mess around with hot baths and razor blades and extension cords and electrical appliances and weedkiller. Suicide was a complicated, demanding business, often involving visits to hardware shops.

And if you’ve managed to drag yourself from the bed and go down the road to the garden center or the drug store, by then the worst is over. At that point you might as well just go to work.”
― Marian Keyes, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married

“I couldn’t be with people and I didn’t want to be alone. Suddenly my perspective whooshed and I was far out in space, watching the world. I could see millions and millions of people, all slotted into their lives; then I could see me—I’d lost my place in the universe. It had closed up and there was nowhere for me to be. I was more lost than I had known it was possible for any human being to be.”
― Marian Keyes, Anybody Out There?