Feeling the vulnerabilities in ALL the ways

This virus and our current situation has a way of leaving a gal feeling all the vulnerabilities.

Today was the first time I attempted to leave my house since chemo a week ago.  A quick drive to town to pick up some local take n bake pizzas and swing through the pharmacy drive through. Armed with gloves, disinfectant wipes, antibacterial gel and an epic playlist-my daughter Grace and I hit the road. Only to get five minutes into the trip before I felt it, that oh-so-reliable feeling of a stomach upside down. Dry heaving and nausea forced us into a quick trip back to the house. I knew I needed an anti nausea medication and my bathroom STAT and all would be fine. Or so I thought? And then I saw it as I glanced over at my almost 15-year-old’s sweet face – horror. Oh man. While this has been my norm since early December, it hasn’t been hers, or her siblings, I typically try to get my shit together when they’re at school. This damn virus and this current sitch has me feeling vulnerable in ALL the ways. I’d do just about anything to wipe the look of helplessness and horror from her face.

Quarantine time has been ok. My three teenagers are handling things surprisingly well. I’m so proud of their innovative spirits and resilience. I am so grateful to sink into some endless, schedule-free time with these humans whom I utterly adore. I should add how thankful I am that we have what we need while so many do not. But knowing they are seeing ALL my post chemo weaknesses has been sobering.

They’ve shown nothing but solidarity as many of their friends are finding creative ways to “get together” from six feet away. It’s been impressive to see them stand their ground and be okay with it. I’ve heard the whispers of their really sick mom, the one with the compromised immune system.

If I’m being honest – it breaks my mom heart a little. Breaks me that even during a pandemic (an insanely unifying moment when we feel our humanness together) they are aware their lives are a bit different. And then, in all this vulnerability I’m feeling so grateful that they’ve got me. They understand their movements can carry a heavy burden. They have a responsibility to their grandpa with COPD, their cousin who has had multiple heart surgeries and compromised lung tissue, or a friend with asthma or their own mom wading through cancer treatments. They understand things on a whole different life/death level. They understand on the most basic level that their decisions impact others. While this is not how I pictured teaching empathy, compassion and social responsibility,  there it is.

Earth Day love

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson dreamt up the first Earth Day. As a matter of fact, I had no idea how much the day meant to me until I woke up and the memes, posts and news stories conjured up so many memories.

As a kid in Chicago in the early to mid-eighties I remember planting seedlings on this day (often the seedlings would double as a Mother’s Day gift), I remember going outside and picking up litter around our playground. I remember learning about Sen. Nelson from Wisconsin. (At about the same age – I remember being a card carrying member of Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no club” – I got the tshirt!)
I remember this day being exciting, empowering as a kid. Maybe it was because we got to be outside on the playground or planting those seedlings – fingers in the dirt? Maybe it was the collective pause in just enjoying the outdoors? Spring is certainly illusive in our parts – sun today, snow tomorrow kinda illusive. There was all this hope on teacher’s faces, on my parents faces, on adults all around. It seemed universal – who could dislike Earth Day? There was an underlying unity in saying thank you to this earth, our planet, our beautiful Pachamama that sustains so much abuse from us. But, here she was nurturing. It was almost as though the Earth could feel us trying, trying to do better.

Earth day reminds me of all those little things my dad preached throughout my childhood. His utter love for this Earth of ours. Sure there was the recycling, shaming litterbugs, growing a garden (and subsequently RAVING about how much better the homegrown veg tasted) repurposing items ( the man was upcycling long before it was cool). But it will always remind me of the way he loved a big old tree and it’s far reaching canopy and ability to protect. The way he shuffled in an almost full on skip when a tree seedling needed to be planted. The man couldn’t wait to get it in the ground and marvel at what this beautiful tree would look like in 5 years, 10 years…For a city kid, the guy always had a respect and love for nature and all things wild. Maybe his city upbringing is what allowed him to thoroughly love and respect the pristine, clean water we got to swim in Wisconsin? Or maybe it was the kaleidoscope of stars that were unveiled at the end of the pier on Berry Lake – a whole universe not accessible under the bright city lights? Whatever it was – I am thankful.

Happy 50th Earth Day. All I can ask is that the day continues to inspire hope amidst the chaos. The hope of doing better, the hope to keep trying, the hope of respecting this highly remarkable Mother Earth, this beautiful, forgiving Pachamama.

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference…try sleeping with a mosquito in the room” – Dalai Lama

Engineering a comeback is complicated

Everyone loves a great comeback story. The more I think about it, people don’t really care about the magnitude of the comeback? They just love a comeback story. Perhaps it’s more about the human spirit. The forward progress – has us all yelling – “Keep going, keep going, you got this”. Whether it’s the kid who has never made that shot on a basketball court or the adult that finishes a marathon hours after ALL the spectators have left.

This latest round of treatments has me begging for mercy and at times contemplating whether this is “it”. Is this where it ends? I’ve had a hell of a run – this year marks a full decade.  So many treatments, so many amazing memories I never thought I’d see or be part of.  So many phases with the kids that were preschoolers when we started this and now, now they are teenagers, they are driving, they are going to proms, they are getting first jobs…and I am soaking it all in.

But, this comeback. The comeback that I am still not totally certain is happening – man, this comeback is different in all the ways. Turns out ten years of cancer treatment will kick your ass physically but it’s the mind, the spirit that really takes the brunt of it.

Weekly treatments with a newly minted “triple negative” status have beat me down. Scans not favoring me as a victor have allowed all that uncertainly to sneak into my psyche. I’ve always proudly, lovingly accepted my status as an “exceptional responder”. Yes – I am one of the lucky ones. Each new torture method (treatment option) always had me rolling out like a champ. Yep – beaten and battered but still with two feet firmly planted on this earth (picture Rocky, a bit roughed up but still here again….and again! How many Rocky movies did they make?). This newest weekly chemotherapy/immunotherapy combination has been different. First off, there’s all the uncertainty -will it even work? Secondly, will it work fast enough? This has never been a concern for me – because along with being an exceptional responder I have also had the pleasure of being owner to a fairly disoriented cancer. You know the kind that takes a minute to get his friends onboard with marching forward and taking over full organs and bones. Like a little dysfunctional gang with questionable leadership. This new triple negative regime is a different beast all together. They have militant-style leadership ready to march to victory.

So all that gets into your head. Into your thinking. And while that is tough, I tend to lean into intuition more often. And it was what my intuition was telling me that has been freaking me out A LOT. The idea of a comeback seemed as far away as anything. My intuition, my gut – it was telling me to get my shit together because, yes, this could be it. This could be that illusive end that has been chasing me for a decade. You can only run for so long before you’re found. Now, I have to say the mouth sores, the body aches, the nausea, the inability to eat, to sleep, to get my ass out of bed for days at a time – pretty sure all those things were playing into my “gut”,  into my “intuition” as well.

The hope needed for a comeback felt so far away, so not available to me. I can’t say that I have ever felt this way. Ever. I found myself hesitant to fully drink in joy and happiness, love and possibility.  Distancing myself from all those things that make us human – connection, laughter, love. If I slowly eliminated all these things that make being human so freaking epic – well, it would be easier to leave. It would be easier for me to say goodbye. It would be easier for them, for my hubs and kids to peacefully, logically usher me to the next place. They could say things like, “She was ready” or “she’s at peace now” or “she’s out of pain”. Honestly, this is NOT how I pictured my last months? I pictured total excess. Yes, absolute excess in the immediate weeks, months and days preceding my impending death. Excess laughter, love, travel, friends, food – my final farewell. The idea of hope felt too cruel to even consider. It was easier to come to peace with the end for so many reasons. I had come to some sort of understanding with my impending death being sooner rather than later. Again, a damn good run.

I should probably insert here – no matter how dark or paralyzing the cancer or the treatment side effects have been I have had the joy of quite literally bathing in light showered upon me from friends and cousins near and far. They’ve lifted me up on their shoulders (picturing Rudy here – another epic comeback or maybe Rudy falls under “Possbility/Hope”). They’ve helped me fulfill my bucket list Oscar night get together in pajamas (even though I had to kick everyone’s ass with the winning ballot!!), they’ve driven my kids around, they’ve delivered meals, they’ve reached out in beautiful emails, texts, messages,  they’ve sent heartfelt cards. They’ve not given up on me. They’ve bought me crazy beautiful headwear for this bald dome, they’ve crocheted and knitted beautiful headwear, they’ve sent spunky socks, mouth sprays, ice packs, great books, notebooks, protein drinks, they’ve spent hours in the car driving me to chemo and hours with me at chemo.  They’ve offered their skills and energy with reiki and massage. And most importantly – they let me say the things I had to say without judgement, without trying to make it all better. They held buckets and buckets of space for me. And when I missed my family so much it hurt – these friends and cousins loved me unconditionally. They showed my kids compassion and love. And it’s been painful, so painful to see and feel all this love and keep myself numb. Numb because damn, that’s a lot of humanity right there man! I am trying to prepare myself to leave this place!! 
It took a two week break. Two GLORIOUS weeks without treatment. Two weeks in a row to feel me! I AM STILL HERE! For two weeks I have slowly felt my knees firmly hold me, my mouth sores healing. My stomach free of the bad kind of butterflies, the ones that flutter right before the anti-nausea med goes down the hatch. The me, that could wake up in the morning without begging to get right back in bed – exhausted and beaten. It’s been humbling and frustrating to feel every part of my body scream, rage against each treatment. This break, it was my savior. Familiar old friends have emerged – possibility and hope. If I have to leave – I gotta go on a high note. Imbibing in all THIS HUMANITY. ALL. OF. IT.

So – while I am still cautiously contemplating letting this hope in – the light, awe man – it feels so damn good, so freaking HUMAN. I miss this feeling. I need this feeling. Today – it was back to the “dreaded chair”, the chemo chair. But, I am happy to report something felt different.

 

 

An October to remember — A Terminal Case of Hope

What does pink mean to you? Or maybe a better question what does the month make you think about? I’ve had the pleasure of having many reach out to me as October is upon us. Just checking in on me. I wonder if I am what they think of when October rolls around? Whatever the […]

via An October to remember — A Terminal Case of Hope

An October to remember

What does pink mean to you? Or maybe a better question what does the month make you think about? I’ve had the pleasure of having many reach out to me as October is upon us. Just checking in on me. I wonder if I am what they think of when October rolls around? Whatever the reason – the love is welcomed and humbling.

I have a unique perspective living with Stage IV breast cancer for almost nine years. November 1st will mark a day that I never thought possible – nine years since I was told that I have terminal cancer. My life expectancy at that point was 1-3 years. I was 32-years-old with three small kids. I am grateful. I am grateful that research has provided options. As a matter of fact, my current treatment didn’t exist nine years ago.

Over the past nine years I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most brave, amazing, compassionate and determined women living with metastatic breast cancer. That’s stage IV terminal cancer. They are all living in varying degrees of grief and illness every day. They are all in constant treatment while working jobs, raising families and living with knowing that this monkey will always be on their back. They will bear the burden of marching forward while mourning the pre-cancer life they led. These women have provided me with so much inspiration I can’t even begin to articulate the amazing grace I have witnessed. Right now I am thinking of so many. 

My beautiful sister in Syracuse, the one and only Mrs. L. She changed my life with her grit and determination as she endured mind numbing treatments all to share more time with her beautiful son and incredible husband. She’s no longer on this earth. Or the tough-as-nails Ms. B, who was a single professional woman going through treatments while continuing to shatter ceilings in her professional life. Ms. B lived big and joyfully – December will mark 4 years in heaven, I can still hear her laugh. Or the sweet loving Ms. S who was divorced raising two beautiful kids with the help of her parents. Each day she woke up and endured this disease to see the next (maybe her last) afternoon at the beach with her babies. She was stunningly beautiful with a HUGE heart. She’s been an angel since 2016. Or the radiant, gentle Mrs. W who calmly, thoughtfully shared pieces of her treatment to educate  – all while loving every minute with her two daughters and loving husband. This summer marked three years without her on this earth. Her family continues to live a life of service contributing time and money to BC organizations. And more recently the soft-spoken, big-hearted, single mom Ms. R who left this earth yesterday. She left behind the most precocious, hilarious, kind, loving five-year-old that I’ve ever met. There are so many more. Sadly, I could go on for days.

Then there are the women who have somehow found unicorn status. Yes, you read that right – unicorn status. These are the women who ask their oncologist about this or that. And the answer is, “We don’t know? No one has ever lived as long as you on that drug? We don’t know because no one has had this exceptional response on that drug?” Oh yes, my pachamama soul sister out on the West Coast – the compassionate Mrs. B – she gets it,  the gratitude for life while balancing the struggle of side effects and treatment while raising a family. Or the determined Mrs. M who travels the world advocating for breast cancer patients while balancing treatment and side effects.

And then – there are those that are recently diagnosed. The women who welcome your cancer expertise as a long-time patient. The women who are dragging themselves through this new world of cancer treatment, this new world of uncertainty. It doesn’t matter if it’s stage O or stage IV it is terrifying and has a grip on every aspect of their lives. The lovely Ms. K comes to mind. Living her best life traveling, writing, while grappling with a second cancer diagnosis. Or the incomparable Mrs. S finding her footing while raising kids and balancing treatment.

And of course, there are those women that have their diagnosis and physical treatment in the rear view but are still grappling with the body the disease has left behind and the fears that grip them. The amazing Mrs. E who reached out to check in on me today comes to mind. Or the fiercely resilient Mrs. P who leapt and moved her family across the world for a change in perspective. Or the beautiful Ms. K who is always near and dear to me as she finds her footing in her post- cancer life (can it ever be post?!?). There is the soft, sweet, determined oily goddess Mrs. V who is raising four kids while finding a stunningly beautiful balance between eastern and western medicine. And then there is the incomparable Ms. W who decided to launch a non-profit organization after her diagnosis. An organization to help all these bc patients to find themselves after cancer, in the midst of cancer or while living with cancer.

These are some of the women I love, I have loved and lost throughout my nine years. These are the women that I could share my fears with, these are the women who understand scanxiety, treatment fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, loss of mobility, loss of hair, brain fog, lymphedema, new treatments, running out of treatments, fear and anxiety for themselves, fear and anxiety for their loved ones. These are the women I could get on the phone with and go straight to the heavy shit. How are you doing? How are you REALLY doing? Cut the shit – it’s me. These are the women that have and have had an innate ability to make me feel accepted. These are the women who offered genuine compassion in a judgement-free zone. My cancer wasn’t the elephant in the room, it wasn’t the thing we didn’t talk about. Hell, it was front and center and we connected and loved each other in spite of it. And when cancer takes me down a rabbit hole – they always come looking to fish my ass out. They knew and know when to push. They knew and know my silence is fear and isolation. I know and knew each time I connected that one of us was going to have to say goodbye prematurely. We both knew it. But, that human need for connection is so strong, it knows no limits.

So this October – To all the ones I’ve loved and lost I will make sure to love those you left behind extra hard this month. I will make sure to let them know “I SEE YOU. YOU MATTER” and your loved one mattered too. I will let them know I am sending peace and maybe a funny story about “their person”. And for all the ones that are still here – trudging through their days – bathing in the light that is another day while balancing the darkness of managing their disease, I SEE YOU. I ADORE YOU and I am so GRATEFUL and PROUD to call you my friend and my family. THANK YOU. I will take October to reach out to as many of you as I can to show you my LOVE and APPRECIATION.

Radiation Day 5

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Radiation day 5

I’m back in the hot seat –  quite literally. I’ve been struggling to update this blog because what is there to say? I’m still here, I’m still doing this. 

I don’t feel shiny and unicorn-y and courageous. I don’t feel any of that lately. I feel worn, tattered and a wee bit dull as I drag myself to daily radiation treatments. 

I find the further I go – the more I turn inward. The more my energy needs a reprieve. The more lonely it gets. 

And last week just as I was putting on my hat-the one that says put your head down and get through this…the most wonderful little surprise happened. My lovely radiation onc (who has been with me all the way since 2011) stared me right in the eyes and said – “I see you”. Nah, she didn’t use those words but that’s what I heard. She sat me down and she acknowledged all this. All these years, all these treatments, all these scars, all these side effects, all this trauma. And in that moment I realized it’s ok to turn in. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to resist the urge to PUFF up and tell cancer to eff off. I’m tired. I need a break. I need a quality churro (thank you steroids for the pain management and the absolute NEED for carbs!), a cup of coffee, a chat with a friend on the lanai, I need a good book, a good song, a minute. Damn-I need a nap or several. 

I need good vibes and understanding as this palliative piece is draining me. I’m doing my best to honor it all. Some days I feel as I am literally dragging myself out of bed. I’m doing my best. But, the light is quite literally impossible to bathe in without acknowledging the dark. 

The excruciating pain in my leg is easing – I’m not sure if it’s radiation or the steroids. I suspect it’s steroids. I’m overjoyed I can walk without wincing in pain. 

So – as I navigate the remaining radiation treatments I just want to say thank you for the good vibes, the understanding, the delicious chicken pasta Parmesan, the wonderful happy oily blends, the texts, the memes and all the good shit. 

A year of changes

I’ve been putting off updating this blog. Putting off taking words to paper (computer screen). The past year has been so life-altering. Putting even parts of it on paper seems to make it real and I really hate to upset this very joyful balance that we have recently found. To be honest I’ve been enjoying the peaceful afterglow of absolute chaos. A year’s worth of chaos and change all culminating to this place. When I really think about it, it’s way more than a year’s worth of chaos. This suitcase has been with me for some time and I’ve finally started to unpack it. Feels like a dream. A little too good to be true. But, the past year has taught me that maybe we should just revel in these little miracles instead of waiting for the bill. Maybe a big strong inhale – grateful and blessed right now in this moment better suits a joyful life? Suck it in.
A year ago this month – I had the opportunity to head to Peru with an organization called A Fresh Chapter. I leapt at the opportunity and with the help of a whole lotta generous souls I found myself in a whole new world in Lima, Peru. For two weeks, I was far away from my everyday reality and surrounded by 23 others affected by cancer (my tribe). I volunteered daily and saw another way of life. Volunteering in another country allowed me to get out of my head (funny considering that I didn’t know the endless loop I had created). I stopped planning the carpools, the dinners, the grocery runs, the cancer treatments, the scans, the every.single.detail. And you know what I noticed in the moment? That despite extreme poverty around me, I was witnessing, I was feeling, joy. The people of Lima, Peru showed me so much joy. And a different kind of joy – an untethered, calm, beautiful, simple joy. It was a back to the basics – stripped down appreciation for life – for every little moment, even the gritty ones.

 

It allowed me to truly experience the moment. Honestly, this was new. Eight years of cancer treatments, loss, grief – it had changed me. This tribe of mine, they accepted me – broken, exhausted, uncertain. They actually embraced me. They showed an unconditional love that makes my eyes teary and my heart full. Each one of their beautiful, imperfectly perfect souls has lifted me up during this past year of changes. While only we can make the changes in our lives, having a circle of support like this tribe it changes what is possible.

 

And you know what else I found – a whole bunch of peace. That illusive emotion. I felt it strongly. I felt peace knowing that my family, on the other side of the equator, they could live without me. Yep, I found so much solace knowing for two weeks they were ok. When my time comes, I know they are going to be ok. Why I didn’t even know I needed that? I found peace knowing my deep grief was accepted by this tribe, embraced – instead of swept shamefully under the rug.  I found that the wall of isolation that cancer creates, it can be penetrated by the right people, the right circumstances, the right organization, the right time. I’m filled with gratitude and my tribe, they are family.

 

So, how did I get here a year later? Turns out, my time in Peru taught me that I might have a bit more life in me. That paralyzing feeling of not being able to make changes. That paralyzing fear, that fear of the “other shoe dropping” – I learned to push it away and move forward. I must say, I am a work in progress – onward. My lens changed. Yes, I still had possibilities. I still had moments to create instead of worrying about the moments I wouldn’t get to create. Or standing still hoping that the universe didn’t notice that I was still here after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer eight years ago (GEEZ Kate, don’t draw attention!).

So, one year ago I landed back in the USA and began plotting the changes. My hubs happily embraced the change, the possibilities and you know what – he took my hand and we leapt! We leapt full of fear and uncertainty, we leapt in spite of  it. We leapt. I need to stress how very, open-minded and full of love my little family has been through this metamorphism.  We set sail on a life changing year. We sold the only home our three kids have ever known. We painstakingly negotiated to buy the other half of my family’s lake house. It was so hard. Hard actually doesn’t even describe it. There are no words. Every time I thought we needed to quit, there was someone there to push me forward, to help me reclaim my Peruvian vibe. We moved the kids and embraced country living, living on a lake.
Surrounded by a ridiculous amount of beauty each and every day has certainly shifted my lens. Waking up to this type of tranquility every day does that. Beauty, miraculous beauty assaults the senses first thing. Quiet, calm it’s almost overwhelming the quiet, the solitude. And then there is this glorious little town that has adopted us. They have embraced our little family, they have helped show us the ways. They’ve so very generously let us be a part of their way of life. In many ways, this town reminds me of my Peruvian tribe – they’ve accepted us, judgement-free with open arms. This type of warmth is pretty special all by itself but, when you are moving three teenagers to a new place it’s magnificent!
Grateful, blessed and humbled are just a few words that come to mind.
Today was my first time making the trek to a new hospital for cancer treatment. While we’ve lived here since late July ( I had been driving the hour back to my old cancer center the past few months) today, this one single act seemed to clearly define this life altering move for me. I suspect the kids felt this immediately and if not, those first days of school sealed the deal. And I know my very patient hubs is feeling it daily in his commute.  But, for me – this land that I have been coming to all my life well, it has innately felt like home.

The Boots

The Boots

Christmastime is hard for me, it’s hard to have a terminal illness. I sit and wonder if this is my last? This type of pressure is daunting, it’s stifling. And when people ask me what I want, it can be difficult to answer. After all, what should I want – shouldn’t I be death cleaning? I actually did death cleaning before it had a name or was a fad. Yep, I knocked that one out of the park. As a matter of fact, I think I have done death cleaning at least twice in the past 7 years. And despite the prep – I keep living? What the hell? You told me I was gonna die and here I am, yes, here I am.

So, on Christmas morning when my three magnificent kids are ripping through gifts, I can’t help but sit back and just appreciate that I get to be here – that’s a helluva gift. You see when you’re 32 and someone tells you, that your expiration date is sooner rather than later – that shit stays with you. And now, 39 is upon me and while I am still here I don’t get to think like a 39-year-old. While my peers are thinking about their kids in college, retirement savings, professional growth and how they will spend their golden years – I never really allowed myself to even think about still being here to see, well, to see this Christmas let alone retirement or any of those milestones.
For the past five years or so, I have had my eyes on these winter boots and every year my hubs has asked what I wanted for Christmas. My response has always  been little stuff, stuff that the “house” can use – after all, my time here is temporary and more stuff, it feels like such a colossal waste. But, these boots, oh these boots how I dreamed of them.  Could I really justify these pricey boots? Would I ever get to use them? With my knee, that actual doctors have told me isn’t worth fixing (nice huh? how many 39-year-olds hear that??) with my bad joints, with my treatment side effects, would these boots ever see the damn snow? Nope, I simply couldn’t risk spending so much on a pair of boots that may never see any “action”.
Then a crazy thing happened this year. The opportunity of a lifetime was dropped in my lap (that is an entirely different blog post). I climbed Machu Picchu on these legs with this bad knee, with joint damage, with all the things wrong with this body that has been ravaged by almost 8 years of cancer treatment. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t easy and without my life-altering tribe around me cheering me on, carrying my bag and encouraging me this whole Machu Picchu deal wouldn’t have happened. But, in the midst of it all – a crazy thing happened?? I started to believe that I might be worth it? Yep, I might be worth those damn boots. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of life buried deep within me. (And if not, my middle kiddo is already sharing the same size as me. Ha.)
And on Christmas morning  – when I opened up these sweet boots, tears welled up in my eyes. First that I lived long enough to get these damn boots and commit to them seeing a ton of freaking action! Secondly, I was so thankful that my Peruvian tribe entered my life, they influenced this decision in every way, whether they know it or not. And lastly, those tears were for my hubs who believed in me, who believed I would rock these boots, he pushed and pushed until I believed it myself. The man actually drove me to the store to try them on so he could wrap them up for me.
And I am happy to report these boots have already seen snow. They’ve even had a candlelight hike through our local nature preserve. Clearly, these boots were made for walking!!

Extremes

 

Just a week ago today I was fully mesmerized by the beauty of the Sacred Valley region of Peru. I had only been with my “tribe” of 22 others from around the world for a mere six  days. We had completed four days together at varying volunteer job sites in the city of Lima. While we shared those first long days, we also shared cancer. And while A Fresh Chapter had brought us together, I think we all knew that our fearless leader, Terri, had really been the fate whisperer –  as she personally interviewed each and everyone of us.

The week had been amazing and daunting at the same time. It seemed as the week wore on I felt as though all I was capable of seeing and feeling were extremes. There was the beauty of the Lima coastline and then there were the people permanently “camping” on those coastlines with little more than tents to call home. There was the litter covered dirt roads to the preschool and the smiling faces with Pikachu backpacks inside the school. There was the absolute chaos of city traffic and then there was the most tranquil, peaceful man behind the wheel of the small Nissan keeping us safe each and everyday.  There was my extreme homesickness as I battled missing my “hub”. And then there was the strong sense of comaraderie I felt with my current “tribe”. A collection of different personalities from all over the globe.

And this first week, it took my breathe away. My mind was on autopilot and my body utterly exhausted as I struggled to keep with the pace of my tribe. Everything was new, different. All of my senses were on high alert and it took ALL of them for me to process minute-to-minute decisions.

Leaving Lima and seeing the beauty of Peru’s Andean highlands that surround Cuzco and Machu Picchu, again all of my senses were engaged and overwhelmed. As we arrived in our beautiful “commune” hotel/resort the immensity of climbing Machu Picchu began to weigh on me. Could I do it? Was my body capable? I was so tired. And I had lost all confidence my body had once afforded me to years of cancer treatment. And again, those stark extremes. Here I was in one of the most breathe-takingly beautiful places in the world and I was worried my body wouldn’t be able to take me where I needed to go to fully absorb all that damn beauty!

Thinking of a week ago, I can’t help but get a little teary-eyed, missing that beautiful collection of personalities that helped me get to the top of Machu Picchu. But, I am also appreciating these minor epiphanies that seem to be continuing to overwhelm my senses. Terri and her merry-making pals – Deirdre and Lisa – they were certainly fate whisperers. It was pretty humbling to watch them work.

Savor the flavor

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In my experience time and change go hand in hand – you can’t have one without the other.

My dad used to say, “If you’re not changing, you’re dying.” Little did his kids know that he had lifted the line from Big Tom Callahan of Tommy Boy! Sure the man had his kids thinking he was some sort of Confucious, Descartes or Kante. I think it’s fair to say, he was on to something or at the very least Big Tom Callahan was on to something. Without embracing change how can one possibly grow?

The way I see it change can come a few different ways -there have been times when change is healthy, natural and comfortable (that job promotion that you so deserve after towing the line for years). And then there have been times when change came as a violent jolt (your child gets their driver’s license? Ha.) And then there is that other kind of change, the kind of change you are in the midst of while being completely, utterly unaware of while it’s happening all around you.

This past summer I have found myself placed squarely in that last facet of change. It’s all around me and yet remains a bit illusive. It’s tricky to explain really. I feel the change, I am accepting the change but it feels so bittersweet! The change or changes I am talking about are my three kids.

With my oldest son’s 14th birthday approaching, it is becoming almost impossible for me to continue to ignore that this time, well, it is finite. This time, it is so incredibly temporary. I know you’d think a mother would get that right? You’d think after 14 years this would be very obvious. Good grief.

But, let me explain. For those first 9 or 10 summers, things were very similar. Sure, my three kiddos would grow and change from summer to summer but they were growing and changing with me right next to them.  They went from a stroller to training wheels to a bike of their own – all the while I was right with them. Having three kids in three years meant that I had a little mini-entourage of kids that were basically all about the same age. So, this summer all three kids have gained a ridiculous amount of independence, all at once. Yes, they can ride their bikes all by themselves, the newly minted neighborhood pool, yeah they will be doing that with friends not their ma.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a part of me that is loving this new independence but there’s another part of me that is in complete panic. Gone are the days of absolutes. There were “absolutes” in those elementary years – the kids reading program at the library and swimming lessons to name a couple.  At the time – sweating my way through the library desperately pleading with the kids to find a book ALREADY or watching their outdoor swim lessons in inevitably the summer’s most chilly, rainy temps had me on the edge of reason. Now, I look back and think damn, I miss “Goodnight Moon” and the front crawl? Where did it go? Where did the time go?

“The older you get, the faster time will go – savor the flavor Katie Mae” – my Dad.  I can remember where he was sitting and what he was wearing when he unloaded that little nugget of wisdom on me. I am quite certain this was a real quote from my Dad, not Big Tom Callahan. And again, he was right.

I am looking ahead to all three of my kids being in middle school this year, it’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. I am looking ahead to my babies becoming the babysitters instead of the babysat! I am looking ahead to shopping trips in the Young Miss department instead of the girls department (HELP ME!), looking ahead to first jobs, first dates…the list goes on forever.

So for now, in this moment I am going to savor those morning snuggles that I still get, savor those grocery store trips when one kid wants to spend quality time with me (or maybe just sneak a sugary cereal into the cart?), savor my “date nights” with individual kids when we get one-on-one time watching our favorite TV show together, savor that bike ride to the library, savor floating on a tube on Berry Lake while guessing what cloud formation looks like a dragon.

And while there is so much to savor with these incredible human beings whom I adore, I must remember this is just another chapter and I must embrace the change, the growth – not just in them but in myself as well.