Cancer Lesson #78: How to Create a Legacy

This cancer lesson is from a post on my other blog. 

Cancer Lesson #78: How to create a legacy

How do you create a legacy? If you’re a philanthropic billionaire, you might donate money to a school or a hospital or a children’s home in the hope they’ll name it after you. If you’re an earthbound saint like Mother Theresa, you give up your worldly goods and spend your time ministering to the poor.

And if you’re my friend Pat, you create a legacy by being who you are and sharing your gift for quilting by making them for others. Pat has created quilts for new babies, weddings, the Guthrie Center (she’s a huge Arlo fan), and for charity auctions including Relay for Life and the Ovarian Quilt Project. She even made one for me, which I wrote about last April, though I’m still not sure what I did to deserve it. friendshipquilt

However, a big part of Pat’s legacy is the way she’s dealt with ovarian cancer — continuing to live her life with laughter and fun, through its trials and pain, exhibiting more strength and grace than most of us could muster.

Now, she’s receiving hospice care, which you already know if you read either of my blogs. What you don’t know is how the quilting community has rallied round to make sure Pat’s legacy continues.

First, two  women in her quilting guild and another friend offered to help finish the quilts Pat still had in progress. Then, the rest of the guild volunteered to take charge of the fabric in Pat’s sewing room — a huge task since there’s enough to open a small quilt shop. The group plans to use the fabric to make quilts to donate to charities in Pat’s name.

I have to pause to compose myself whenever I tell people this because it always makes me cry.

<deep breath>

But Pat’s legacy is bigger than that. Like me, she started following “Tall Tales from Chiconia,” the blog of a fellow cancer survivor and quilter who lives in Australia. This blogger was organizing a quilting event called Foot²Freestyle, where 12 members from around the world (USA, UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Australia) were assigned a month to receive three blocks from each other member and make three of their own to compose into a quilt. The blocks are 12″ square (the “Foot²”) and could be made in any design the quilter chooses (the “Freestyle”). The recipient could choose three colors for her quilt.

Pat was to be “Miss May,” and her colors included teal, which is associated with ovarian cancer support. But things changed.

<deep breath>

The group responded by bumping her up. Not only are they making the quilt for Pat, who will donate it to the quilt project, they somehow through the magic of computers, created a virtual quilt for her, in case it isn’t done in time. (There’s an awful lot of mailing involved with quilt squares coming from three continents.) Here it is. Gorgeous, don’t you think?pats-virtual-quilt

There’s more. Kate, author of “Tall Tales of Chiconia,” has asked her fellow bloggers to share this story, along with information about the symptoms of that sneaky bastard ovarian cancer and a link to their country’s national ovarian cancer support organization. In the US, that organization is the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. 

The symptoms, alas, are equally vague no matter where you live. As Kate put it:

“We urge you to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of ovarian cancer — symptoms which are so common and so ephemeral that many don’t consider them symptoms at all. For this reason, ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed in its early stages, often leading to a poor prognosis. Some of you reading this are men, in which case, please pass the information to your mothers, wives, sisters or daughters. It’s important.”

Here are the symptoms, quoted directly from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance website: “Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms.

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you.

Kate has also offered to make a quilt for the Australian Ovarian Cancer organization and invited her fellow bloggers to either join her or make a similar offer to the organization where they live.

And now, I have a favor to ask. To help spread Pat’s legacy, I hope you will please share this post, or at least the symptoms and a link to the Ovarian Cancer Alliance.

Because we all have Pats in our lives.

<deep breath>

And it’s very hard to lose them.

Cancer Lesson #77: It’s Not Always All About Me

I feel guilty writing this post because this lesson is the kind where someone else gets the pain, and I get the lesson.

Clearly, this isn’t fair — which makes it partly a repeat of Lesson #43 — but it’s different too, because this post is about a friend just reached the stage where it was time to call hospice.

This seems very wrong, especially since she was diagnosed after me, and yet, we’ve known for some time it would come to this.

Up til now, I’ve managed to not think about it, reasoning (or rationalizing) quite logically that I would deal with it when it comes.

Except it’s not me who has to deal with it; it’s her.

I can only do and be whatever my friend needs or wants. And sometimes she doesn’t know what that is. After all — as she’s pointed out several times — she’s never done this before either.

“Put yourself in her shoes,” I think. “What would you want?”

But I am not my friend, and this has nothing to do with what I want — or even what she really wants, for that matter. That option is no longer on the table.

So, I will visit when she is up to it, bring her sundaes and applesauce for as long as she can eat them, make stupid jokes, and sometimes cry. I will try to remember to listen more and talk less, to continue to enjoy the friendship we have shared for more than fifteen years.

And I will send this post into cyberspace, asking you — my friends and followers — to spare a moment for a prayer, or a wish, or some positive thoughts that my friend will go out of this life with all the love with which she’s lived it.

I will remind myself that it’s not about me.

Still, here I am writing this post, making it about me.
And in the end, it kind of is — just a little — for I am losing my friend.

Stats-31-300x186Stats-1-300x251

These tables are from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, an organization that raises awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and supports research for a cure. Ovarian cancer is a particularly sneaky disease, rarely diagnosed in its early stages.
I hope you will take note of the symptoms.

Cancer Lesson #76: We are not in control.

 

For most of my life, I’ve deluded myself into believing I am somehow in control.

Getting cancer swept that illusion away, but the lesson proved astoundingly easy to forget once I started feeling better.

Today, though, I was reminded once again just how helpless we all are.

We fool ourselves into thinking there’s always something we can do to make things better, whether it’s for ourselves or for those we love.

And sometimes there just isn’t.

Still, I find it hard to give in, to surrender this illusion of control, though I know it is only an illusion. It’s just so damned hard to realize there are some situations you can’t fix.

Maybe that’s why we find it difficult to deal with terminal or serious illness.

What do we do when nothing we do will help?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe all we can do is admit we don’t know what to do and ask if there’s something we haven’t thought of.

And when we have the opportunity to do anything – however small – that will make someone’s life a tiny bit better, we should act.

Because there will be times when there’s nothing we can do.

Cancer Lesson #75: Tittoo Defined

Cancer Lesson #75: Tittoo Defined
Warning: This post may be a little TMI for some readers.
Tittoo: [ti-too]  verb, –tooed, -tooing, noun, plural -toos
verb: to color a reconstructed nipple by puncturing the skin and infusing dyes.
noun
: 1. procedure used to color the nipple on a reconstructed breast,
2. reconstructed nipple that has been colored by puncturing the skin and infusing dyes.

Sample Sentences
Verb: Part of the physician’s assistant’s job was to tittoo the breast cancer patients who had undergone reconstructive surgery.
Noun: Wow! My tittoo didn’t hurt at all — not like the tramp stamp I got in Vegas when I turned twenty-one.

Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to Be Here. Happy to Have Hair.

Cancer Lesson #74: Happy to be here. Happy to have Hair.

I find it hard to believe it’s been three and a half years since my last chemo. How could I have had surgery and treatment for cancer, and managed to emerge with a normal life once more?

It boggles my mind.

It’s a new kind of normal, of course. Though they’ve faded, I have scars to rival Frankenstein’s, and — like others who have gone through a bodily trauma — aches and pains I never had before.

For nearly a year, my chemo curls rowdily rioted around my face like the aftermath of a bad perm.

But I’m back to playing soccer, and last year I did a bike tour. I’ve also been known to attempt a cartwheel, usually in an ill-conceived fit of whimsy. The last one ended with me plopped on my bottom, but never mind.

Clearly neither my tumbling nor my soccer skills will ever win me a place on an Olympic team. And there are granddads (plenty of them) who zoom past me whenever I ride my bike.

The point is no one know if I’d ever be able to do any of these activities again, and I can.

That’s worth a cartwheel.

Having survived cancer, I know everything else is gravy. The icing on the cake. The cherry on the – well, you get the idea.

Being alive is a miracle, and I developed a mantra to remind me of that fact.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it whenever I start to stress over something stupid. Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated phrasing, and maybe I sound a little silly.

I say it anyway because I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’m still here.

“Happy to be here. Happy to have hair.” I say it in memory of those who are not.

Take a moment to think of them. And take some time to enjoy the life’s extras too – the gravy, the icing, and the cherry on that sundae.

I do. Especially the sundaes.

Cancer Lesson #73: Being Treated for Breast Cancer Expands Your Undergarment Wardrobe.

Cancer Lesson #73: Being treated for breast cancer expands your undergarment wardrobe.

Sorry, guys. I’m not talking Victoria’s Secret. Think Bridget Jones’s granny panties.

You see, while having tissue relocated from stomach to chest leaves a flatter stomach (Yay!), it also weakens the abdominal muscles (Boo!)

Hence, the temporary need for support knickers, aka “granny panties.”

For several weeks – or was it months? – these lovely undies were accessorized by a cotton contrivance of a brassiere with thick straps and Velcro closures. Sexy, this bra was not.

For a long time, even wearing a sports bra was painful because of my scars so I resorted to camisoles, and not the alluring lacy ones the word calls to mind. Mine were more like tank tops with lycra. Not bad, but definitely not the come-hither attire of a siren.

Then I had my “reconstruction revision procedure.” How’s that for a medical euphemism? (See Cancer Lesson #43 “A Glossary” for more and #57 “Sets Don’t Have to Match” to add to your breast vocabulary.)

Happily, the anesthesiologist knocked me out for the procedure. Unhappily, I work up wearing yet another surgical bra.

Sigh. I put on my big girl panties and got on with it.

Addendum: I would be remiss if I closed without sharing a link to “Otto Titsling” sung by Bette Midler. If you’ve never heard this paean to the subject of female support, click through and enjoy.

Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t Ignore the Lump.

Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t ignore the lump.

Each year when I go for my annual mammogram, I get a little nervous. Some breast cancer survivors find follow-up tests very distressing, but I always feel better after being checked. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away, especially when that problem is cancer.

If you’ve had breast cancer, you know people like to share their own close calls.

“I had a lump once,” they’ll say. “I was really worried, but it turned out to be nothing.”

Those are the good stories.

We also hear the other, not good stories. At least one person has told me “If I’d gone to the doctor when I first found my lump, my cancer wouldn’t have been so advanced by the time it was treated.”

The most heartbreaking of all was the man who said, “If my wife had gone to the doctor right away, she’d probably still be alive.”

You may be thinking I made that last one up.

I wish you were right.

So, here’s Cancer Lesson #72, repeated because it’s so important: Don’t ignore the lump, no matter where it is or how small.

If I’d ignored mine, I’d still have cancer, just more widespread and, oh yeah, more likely to kill me.

Thanks. I’ll take that mammogram.