Living Life Alive in Summary

I am thrilled to be writing again!

Over half a year has passed since I last posted on my website. In that time, I have been doing less cooking, less writing, and no posting—all, mostly on account of the excruciating pain in my left leg, which has yet to resolve, however, in the past month, at last, I have managed to strike a balance between the pain relief medication, the pain level, and the distressing side effects of that medication.

So, with no resolution in sight, and no evident cause for the pain—which, admittedly, feels like a tooth ache throughout my whole body, all day and all night, every single day, sometimes easing into a feeling of walking on broken glass while having a barbed wire pulled through the inside of my foot (and I don’t think that I’m exaggerating much when I say this)—thanks to the pain relief medication, with all its own troubles, I have been somewhat more functional and eating more in the last month.

Amazingly, through all this time, I feel fantastic in my mind and heart. Funny things happen when I choose to feel content, regardless of my physical circumstance.

Being barely functional, I have managed to live some fantastic experiences:

Camping by the Rustic Skookumchuck Hot Springs

I camped by the rustic Skookumchuck Hot Springs near Pemberton, pampered myself at the domesticated Harrison Hot Springs, and enjoyed catching the sun with some long-time friends in Vernon;

I cycled with the new Mobi shared bike system we now have in Vancouver, as well as cycling with our own bikes a few times with some friends to the lovely cabin on the majestic Galiano Island;

Cycling With the New Mobi Shared Bike System

Cycling, Hiking & Being Around the Majestic Galiano Island

The Writer in Her Native Europe–Dubrovnik, Croatia

my friends, relatives and eager readers of my story (hand-delivered to them in the Boobs anthology) in my native Europe were such a joy to visit with again, as was seeing the Pet Shop Boys in concert when I returned to Vancouver (they were the first band I ever saw back in high school in Toronto), and, while it was nearly impossible for me to write while standing up, with the pain from my leg screaming in my brain, reading several books—such as Pope Joan—while standing up at night, proved to be a sanity-saving proposition. I have also never taken so many baths, which together with the hot tub and steam room at my local YMCA, were comforting to my body and soul in general.

The Writer at the Pet Shop Boys Concert

Historical Fiction Novel, Pope Joan, Gives the Writer Reprieve & Healing Tips

Temporarily losing my ability to speak more easily during this timeframe has been disappointing; realizing that I am able to choose not to feel frustrated and to feel curious instead has been wonderful. With more sleep again, and while managing the number of sources and intensity of my pain, I feel encouraged in my approach to retraining myself to speak more fluidly–in that, my less dystonic speech is more consistently back again.

Yesterday, on the last day of February, the world observed “Rare Disease Day“—and although I don’t consider dystonia to be a “disease”, presently referring to my diagnosis as a condition, the effects of my condition do cause some “dis-ease”, to me and to those in contact with me. Hence, I do appreciate that one day in the year is designated for raising awareness of less common conditions that many people live with, while some thrive more than others.

“dystonia

a neurological condition that affects movement and speech

it does not affect intellect or ability to enjoy life if given the opportunity”

The Writer, Living Life Alive, Maggie’s Way

For the occasion, I am penning a 500 word summary of my dystonia story—a remarkable feat in light of my having embarked on telling my story in over 100,000 word book. The synopsis was inspired by the Chicken Soup for the Soul – Dystonia Edition writing contest by the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation Canada. My good writer friend, Rena Graham, offers her editorial skills to help improve my summary-story, as does another good friend from Belgium..

Today, on the first day of March, I begin my 2017 birthday month celebrations. My day was a lovely balance of working on my income taxes, receiving another installment of my acupuncture trial, and visiting with a lovely friend.

Feeling grateful for all who’ve reached out in mutual support.

living life aliveMaggie’s Way

First Literary Publication in Boobs

Boobs, 2016

Boobs, 2016

I am now a published author! My “Reclaiming My Thorns” story appears in the anthology, Boobs: Women Explore What It Means to Have Breasts, which is now available in paperback.

My story in this anthology, “Reclaiming My Thorns”, is a poignant reminder that ”life, even with thorny challenges, can be beautiful.” (p.177)

Purchase options:

Buy directly from me* (the only way I can receive a royalty!), but only if we can meet in person—or if you don’t mind paying an extra $10-15 in shipping.

If shipping is needed, please purchase through Amazon, Chapters, the publisher: Caitlin Press, or a local bookstore (please request it if not already on a bookshelf).

Copies will be also eventually available at public libraries.

Please look for a copy, with shipping to:

Maggie's Thorny Rose Tattoo

Maggie’s Thorny Rose Tattoo

* If you would like to order through me (so that I can receive a royalty and if you don’t require shipping), please let me know, so that I can place my order with the publisher. I can personalize this copy for you: signed Maggie’s way!

$25 cash, cheque or e-transfer will be great … although I’m also considering creative exchange offers, just because I’m me.

I invite you to read it and share your reflections by writing a book review, either in a Comment below or on one of the Amazon / Chapters websites.

Thank you!

“I can choose what makes me feel normal, even if I can’t always choose what others see!” (p.179)

Enjoy!
<3

Update on book launches:

Please re-visit for future Boobs book events.

Past Events:

2016-06-04—Maggie’s Boobs Book ‘Signing’ Party

Maggie’s Boobs Book ‘Signing’, Poetry Reading & Friends For Life Community Engagement Party is on June 4, 2016. Please email me to receive your Eventbrite invitation.

Maggie's Boobs Book Signing Party Notice

Maggie’s Boobs Book Signing Party Notice

2016-04-29—Official Boobs Book Launch Party

The Official Boobs Book Launch Party is on April 29, 2016. Please RSVP at the Eventbrite link provided at https://www.facebook.com/events/1677791172484141/.

Official Boobs Book Launch Party Invitation

Official Boobs Book Launch Party Invitation

Can’t make the 29th? No worries! I plan to have a personal book launch & ‘signing’ party after this one…details and invitation to come.

Poem of the Week: “Ceremonies” and Taking a Leap: Going Public

Choose the words that you use;
treat your fear as a muse.

Taking my own advice from my recent poem on “Befriending Fear”, I am taking a leap! After hanging out on the edge of my self-constructed cliff for years (decades?), looking over the edge to measure myself up against WHAT will be IF or WHEN I finally jump, at last, I am jumping! And it feels like it’s happening in slow motion, but I am in motion now!!

Update on My Social Media Presence:

Margota, Poetess and Writer

Margota, Poetess and Writer

I am starting a public Facebook Page (Margota, Poetess and Writer) and an Instagram account (@margota.ca), for starters, adding to my semi-secret website*, www.maggiesway.ca (also accessed through www.margota.ca).

I invite you to Like my new Page and follow my Posts!

*Some of my website posts remain under lock & key for various privacy and contest publication reasons—thank you for understanding!

With all that, and my impending publications, I am trialling a pseudonym / pen name / nom de plume: Margota. A dear friend who helped me rediscover the poetess inside me, calls me by this name, and I love it. It combines the letters from the myriad of versions of my first name, in my native Polish and my chosen English varieties, and includes letters from my surname. Although I like my existing names: Maggie / Margaret / Malgorzata Wojtarowicz, they are a mouthful to pronounce and are complicated to remember for my publication purposes. Simply Maggie works for me as well, but it isn’t very original for readers to recognise this Maggie and for anyone promoting my writing to be specific enough. Margota is unique!

Update on My Publications:

The Writer on First Bike Writing Retreat on Galiano Island

The Writer on First Bike Writing Retreat on Galiano Island

I am thrilled to announce that my first literary nonfiction story has been accepted for publication in the Boobs anthology, by Caitlin Press. It is expected to come out this Spring 2016. I drafted this story, originally entitled “My Vampire Boobs” and edited into “Reclaiming My Thorns”, during my first bike writing retreat to Galiano Island last Summer. I’ll be publishing this story under my full name while my nom de plume gets trialled out on social media. I would love for anyone interested, to join me at the book launch in Vancouver this Spring and any other celebrations I organize for it! I feel so grateful to my friends, nearby and from across the continents: A.K., B.S., C.L., G.F., M.C., M.F., M.L., N.P., S.M., S.M., and V.K., for helping me shape my story through the first 5 of the eventual 10 drafts and for creating the space for me to draft it.

Update on My Readings:

The Writer at Her First Open Mic Poetry Reading--definitely in the spotlight!

The Writer at Her First Open Mic Poetry Reading–definitely in the spotlight!

I have now given three readings of my poetry during Pandora’s Collective open mic part of their Twisted Poets Literary Salons (how appropriately named!). I had so much fun at the last one after a great brainstorming session with the amazing SFU’s Writer In Residence and Poet, Jordan Scott (so creative in his poetry and presentation!). We chatted about strategies to help me reduce my voice-restricting anxieties and to help audience members understand my own words better. It was so wonderful to receive such great feedback from the audience during and after my performance. I was so touched by one man’s teary eyes as he professed that seeing me read my poetry that night has motivated him to do something more with his life. Wow!

A few days later, a new friend from the Kitsilano Poetry Group in which I participate, has similarly shared with me that my poetry presentations at our group meetings have inspired a poem from him. He dedicated his poem, entitled “teach me to whisper”, to me on his Philosopher/Poet website.

Update on My Submissions to Writing Competitions:

The Writer with Her Poem Postcards

The Writer with Her Poem Postcards

I continue to make my poetry contest submissions, having submitted to the following Writing Competitions since my last update:

My latest submission was super fun: the 2016 Postcard Story Contest by Geist Literary Magazine out of Vancouver. I created my own poem postcard, as I am trialling this idea of sharing my poetry as a source of income (possibly to sell on Etsy.com website marketplace), and I wrote my “Seeking Life” story to accompany my poem (by the same title) about this darling hummingbird that got trapped in my apartment.

About This Week’s Poem:

And with my first poem of the week for 2016, I will give thanks for all these wonderful literary happenings and for all the people who have contributed to making them possible. I wrote my poem, entitled “Ceremonies”, on a sunny afternoon while I sat on a rock in the middle of a river surrounded by terraced rice fields during my self-directed healing retreat in Bali last Fall 2015. It was inspired by the daily rituals of the Balinese people to offer gratitude for absolutely anything and everything (sometimes it seemed that they were making up reasons to celebrate–which felt rather familiar!).

(Please CLICK on the image for a larger version.)

Rediscovering the Poetess Inside

"Wine is Bottled Poetry"

“Wine is Bottled Poetry”

My book writing, of recent, is augmented by poetry that keeps pouring out of or through me, inspired by images, sensations, and various approaches to life that I am exploring. I experiment with translations, usually from English to Polish or French, occasionally writing the original poem in Polish or French with subsequent translations into the other languages. I seek assistance from my relatives and friends—benefiting from the social interactions this allows—to make the translations sound more native. I am also inspired by other poetesses and poets, some still living and some long passed, to reply with a poem to theirs. I have, thus far, amassed 50 poems in my collection, half of which I have written this year, while the first one that began my collection dates back to pre-1992 (about 25 years).

In part to test the waters and partly in response to encouragement to honour my gift of writing, I begin sharing some of my work by submitting it to writing competitions. Earlier this year, I submit a creative nonfiction piece to a CBC Canada Writes contest—a story about communicating my approach to my breast cancer recurrence through a poem that was inspired by a Shakespearean soliloquy writing contest from the year before—and subsequently, I submit that poem as part of a 4-poem collection to another CBC Canada Writes contest. While awaiting those results (which can take up to 6 months), I enter 6 more poems to literary magazine writing contest by the Room Magazine and 1 poem to the Walrus Magazine writing contest, where voting for Reader’s Choice Award will begin on September 1 for shortlisted entries (fingers crossed).

While all written works submitted to contests must be original and not previously published anywhere (including on personal blogs), the Writer’s Relief resource advises that sharing one’s work with a few close friends and family members in a password-protected section of one’s website—for the purposes of testing the waters and receiving some feedback prior to wider publication—is permissible as “not previously published”. Hence, I create such password-protected sections on my website—one for a poetry selection and one for a nonfiction selection—to provide a flavour of my work, and I invite those interested in perusing it to share with me how my writing is resonating with them.

The Writer Composing Her Works at Bowen Island Yoga Retreat

The Writer Composing Her Works at Bowen Island Yoga Retreat

To assist me with slowing down and practicing more *being* and less *doing*, I take myself to Bowen Island on a yoga retreat organised by an amazing yoga instructor and founder of Ocean Breath Yoga. Serendipity that brought us back in touch for last year’s yoga retreat connects me this year with another poetess and encourages us to exchange our poetic expressions. She shares with me her freshly printed photo and poetry coffee table book prototype, and I spur her on to enter her poetry in the CBC Canada Writes contest. Various exchanges and self-reflections over the weekend also inspire me to read some of my poetry after dinner to a generously captive audience of fellow yogis. Though appreciation of poetry naturally varies among individuals, my initiative turns into an invitation for others to also share their writing projects, and the entertainment that our collective readings provide is more universally appreciated.

The Writer Crossing the Oceans to Write and Yoga

The Writer Crossing the Oceans to Write and Yoga

I continue to indoctrinate myself in the world of writers and poets by attending various events frequented by these types, their readers, and their publishers. Together with another writer friend, we encourage each other’s efforts to connect with others of our kind by attending monthly prose and poetry readings offered by Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) The Writing Studio (TWS) program at a local artsy restaurant, the Cottage Bistro. Another new monthly event I try out is the Kitsilano Poetry Group, which is a combination of poetry instruction, readings and critiquing, and I participate by sharing and receiving feedback to my short poem entitled, “Pillow Talk”, that I dedicate to a poetry-connoisseur friend who is barely holding onto life in the hospital when I visit earlier that day.

Earlier in the Spring, I have the pleasure of attending a writer friend’s book launch, where she reads an excerpt from her chapter in an anthology entitled ”This Place A Stranger”—a book about women of all ages travelling the world on their own. This indoctrination introduces me to several resources in the publishing world, including a call for story and poetry submissions for an upcoming anthology entitled “Boobs: Explorations of Women’s Relationships to Their Bodies”, and a connection with a publisher who expresses an interest in possibly assisting me to shape my book’s manuscript—an opportunity which I am following up on with some more of my writing samples.

The Writer Enjoying Warm Summer Patio with Friends

The Writer Enjoying Warm Summer Patio with Friends

The Writer Connecting with Literary Friends

The Writer Connecting with Literary Friends

Taking advantage of some highly unusual warm summer weather in Vancouver, I join some friends for a patio seafood feast at Bridges Restaurant on Granville Island, sharing and receiving feedback to some poetry I am submitting to a writing contest. I connect with another poetess—one who has published her poems in the “Breaking the Surface” anthology—and a couple of other prolific reader friends at the ACME Café in Gastown for a tasty—iron and protein rich—Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich brunch.

My travels thus far this year take me nearer to home to a tranquil sanctuary on Pender Island—thanks to the generous invitations from a good friend—as well as inward, inside myself, to practice more *being* and less *doing*, both paths inspiring several poems out of me in the process.

In March, a lovely lake-side walk through a forest at Roe Lake on Pender Island inspires the poem “Blanketed in Love”.

A Sun-Kissed Pender Island Cemetery Stroll

A Sun-Kissed Pender Island Cemetery Stroll

In April, a series of serene promenades through nature and among human creations—including tranquil a sun-kissed stroll through the Pender Island cemetery, a still chilly walk on a calm rocky beach, and familiar-looking tall, erect, winged statue nearby—evoke the poem “Standing Tall with My Soulmate”.

The Writer Absorbing Serene Calmness of Pender Island's Coastline

The Writer Absorbing Serene Calmness of Pender Island’s Coastline

Winged Statue Inspiration for “Standing Tall with My Soulmate” Poem

Winged Statue Inspiration for “Standing Tall with My Soulmate” Poem

Delicious Outdoor Meal at Pender Island's Sanctuary

Delicious Outdoor Meal at Pender Island’s Sanctuary

The month of May brings more sunshine to this part of the world, allowing for deliciously fresh outdoor meals and gorgeous sunsets while travelling to and from Pender Island on the requisite Pacific Gulf cruise, which together with thoughts of good friends and an image from Granville Island’s Dragon Space entreat me to compose the poem “Revived”.

Sunset on Pacific Gulf Cruise

Sunset on Pacific Gulf Cruise

Dragon Space Fairies Inspire “Revived” Poem

Dragon Space Fairies Inspire “Revived” Poem

The Writer in Her Natural Environment

The Writer in Her Natural Environment

And over the Canada Day (July 1st) long weekend, during another sojourn on Pender Island, relaxing beaches, exotic hors d’oeuvres, romantic moonlit sunsets, and nature abound, give rise to the poem “Entangled”.

Exotic Hors d'Oeuvres Whet the Culinary and Poetic Palate

Exotic Hors d’Oeuvres Whet the Culinary and Poetic Palate

Moonlit Sunset Ignites Poetic Imagination

Moonlit Sunset Ignites Poetic Imagination

Intertwined Rosebush Reflects Inspiration for “Entangled” Poem

Intertwined Rosebush Reflects Inspiration for “Entangled” Poem

These days, I am guided by some pretty simple yet profound approaches to life that keep me feeling content:

I live because I can.
I write because I must.
I share to honour my gift.

Portrait of a Writer

Newest Rose Thorns Turn One and Six

Having celebrated well over a month of birthday events from February into April, I make a concerted effort for month of April to prioritise sleep (or at the very least, restful relaxation), with some success of reducing my goals and the intensity with which I tend to live my life. But as life-long habits that make one feel alive are challenging to change, my Thorny Roses anniversaries celebrations continue—this year many of them are marked with a newly composed poem or with some form of sharing my poetry with others.

Reminiscing and Celebrating Past Loves

Reminiscing and Celebrating Past Loves

This April marks my second year of enjoying single life again, and I celebrate it reminiscing about past loves, reading a top-secret message from an old love, and writing a poem inspired by a new one, entitled “Our Quieting”.

In May, I celebrate 13 years of enjoying my high-perched abode in the West End of Vancouver, with its spectacular views and location. It is a home with by far the deepest roots that I have ever set.

Sunset Views from High-Perched Vancouver Abode

Sunset Views from High-Perched Vancouver Abode

In June, on the heels of having my contributions to the creation of BCIT’s Sustainable Energy Management Advanced Certificate (SEMAC) program recognised at the 5-year reunion of its first graduates, I celebrate the 1-year anniversary of completing my last contract in a series that spanned my 3-year tenure at Natural Resources Canada.

Garden Fairy Inspiration for "Releasing" Poem

Garden Fairy Inspiration for “Releasing” Poem

June also marks the 1st year since my last breast cancer surgery. This was the 5th surgery related to my breast cancer, and I celebrate it with a life-affirming visit to a gardening store, where a garden fairy statue inspires a breast cancer-related poem out of me, entitled “Releasing”.

A month later, in July, I celebrate the 6th anniversary of my 1st breast cancer surgery—the one to which the 5-year cancer survival statistics would apply had I not been diagnosed with my recurrence few months shy of 5 years. For this occasion, I share my myelin sheath-healing bone broth Tomato, Basil, Kidney Bean and Chicken Livers Soup with a lovely dinner companion, and we spend the evening contemplating the 6-poem submissions that I make to the literary magazine poetry contest by Room Magazine. Also for this occasion, I treat myself to a unique and enjoyable healing touch experience of professional cuddling from The Cuddlery, which also inspires a poem—this one entitled “Strangers Embracing”.

Looking forward a little, in August, I look forward to celebrating 31 years of living in Canada and 18 years of living in Vancouver—both quite remarkable places to live out parts of one’s life.

The Writer Tour Guiding en francais on Bowen Island

The Writer Tour Guiding en francais on Bowen Island

Meanwhile, my recent tentative plans (or perhaps more accurately, dreams) of living in France for a year are presently and indefinitely on the back burner while I enjoy the life I have weaved for myself right where I currently am: in Vancouver, Canada.

My efforts for learning the French language, however, continue, although admittedly in less earnest—another goal I decided to deprioritise—in the form of occasional practice through the online Conversation Exchange portal, translation of some of my poetry into French, and playing tour guide to some Parisian couchsurfers by showing them around Yaletown in Vancouver and on a hike to Bowen Island.

"Meals on Wheels / on Bikes" Bone Broth Soup Creation

“Meals on Wheels / on Bikes” Bone Broth Soup Creation

I continue various healing modalities at the holistic wellness organisation, Friends For Life, including naturopathic, physiotherapy, counselling, massage, member brunches and other support opportunities. I turn my love of cooking, my recent re-discovery of bone broth soups, and my exercise-motivating need for cycling destinations into a healing touch for others when I play Meals on Wheels (or rather, Meals on Bikes to deliver my large (1L) peanut butter containers filled with healthful bone broth soups to some new friends who have received worse health news than me. When the opportunity arises to go for an afternoon sea kayaking paddle on Bowen Island, I gladly join a small group of my new friends, give my left electric arm a fun stretch workout, and contribute my skills of steering a double on a lovely and healing adventure.

The Writer on the Way to Bowen Island Sea Kayaking

The Writer on the Way to Bowen Island Sea Kayaking

In the 10th month of my painful neuropathy symptoms, which I affectionately refer to as my left electric arm, my neurological test results are confirmed by my MRI results that, so far, there is no permanent nerve or muscle damage along the arm, nothing is pressing on the nerves in my shoulder, and oncologically, no new cancer (or “tumour infiltration”) is evident in my shoulder and spine area—i.e., the site of radiation treatment from last year. The MRI does, though, show possible scar tissue in the top corner of my lung likely related to the radiation, “…however a metastatic deposit from…breast malignancy cannot be excluded”.

So, it is good news for the left arm, and neither my oncologist nor I are too concerned that the lung result is cancerous, but the possibility is there and naturally, it is a little stressful—but I know that stress will certainly not help the situation, and my option for monitoring the spot on the lung is to receive more radiation in the form of CT scans—so I am working on letting it go.

The Writer, Ever Pensive and Hopeful

The Writer, Ever Pensive and Hopeful

However, I am no closer to a resolution of this neuropathy problem, and my previous tricks from five years ago of increasing aerobic exercises for resolving my neuropathy following my chemotherapy treatments are not working this time.

Other than “give it time” (at nearly a year of the electric arm pain) and educated conjecture about possible damage to the myelin sheath around my nerves, my oncologist does not have anything else to advise, so on my way home from my oncologist, I stop by InspireHealth to get advice from the nutritionist for supporting neuropathy recovery with nutrition and supplements. I receive some good suggestions about sources of the building blocks for that (primarily proteins and fats), with specific ideas for enhancing my bone broth soups and for increasing my lecithin intake along with my doses of vitamin C and B Complex to help with collagen production (i.e., the tissue recovery substance).

I also plan to continue with semi-regular floating and neurospa (syncing sound and massage vibrations) sessions, energy healings and gentle massages, as those have been helpful at least in the moment and possibly extending into some decreases in electric pain sensations throughout the day since I have been doing these in the last several weeks.

As I try to get back to capturing my story in a book, my efforts are challenged this week by the uncertainty of being inadvertently exposed to the chickenpox virus during my MRI appointment. Since I cannot be sure whether I have had chickenpox as a child, which would make me immune to it, and thus not a carrier of the contagious virus, my main concern is for the friends in my support circle whose immune systems are more compromised than my own. I have one more week during which the virus may activate itself—just around the same time I am told I can expect to receive my chickenpox anti-bodies blood test results.

Blue Heron in Self-Imposed Exile on Man-Made Island, Pondering

Blue Heron in Self-Imposed Exile on Man-Made Island, Pondering

So, I go about my days, continuing my health recovery, feeling a little like a ticking time-bomb, learning what I can, and taking as many precautions as possible without completely quarantining myself, feeling grateful for my immune system once again, and reminding myself where true healing comes from—writing about it in verse and prose.

“The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.” Proverb

Rosy Celebrations of Birthday Occasion

Live because you can!

Celebrate every opportunity!

Make extraordinary out of the mundane!

That is how I like to live my life. Though I am not presently actively working on capturing my story in a book, I continue to write—submitting some pieces to prize-enticing writing competitions. I continue to generate content for current and future writing—healing myself from my breast cancer, dystonia, and other deficiencies in self-love.

I continue to “live life alive” by celebrating another birthday month.

For my forty-second year, with the participation of loved ones, nearby and from afar, I assemble another diverse compilation of life-affirming celebrations, that span mid-February to April.

The Writer and Waterloo Friend Launch Birthday Month

The Writer and Waterloo Friend Launch Birthday Month

A good long-time friend from Waterloo school and Ottawa work-term days launches the birthday month festivities with a visit from Virginia, showering me with feng shui insights, enthusiasm for the outdoorsy Vancouver lifestyle of inspiring walks and gentle bike rides, and loads of fresh, nutritious and delicious Daikichi sushi and homemade Thai Eggplant Curry.

The Writer and Waterloo Friend Celebrate Launch of Birthday Month with Sushi

The Writer and Waterloo Friend Celebrate Launch of Birthday Month with Sushi

Birthday Month Flower

Birthday Month Flower

Friends and family from around the world grace me with their presence-in-spirit through a multitude of well-wishing cards, phone calls, and Facebook messages, while neighbours and in-town acquaintances envelop me in hugs, kisses, chocolate and flowers.

Birthday Post TLC

Birthday Post TLC

The Writer's Red Streaked Undercut - Front View

The Writer’s Red Streaked Undercut – Front View

Always one wont to help others achieve their goals and dreams, I benefit from the skill and artistic delights of a friend studying hairstyling—and we unleash her on my already short do, creating a funky avant-garde undercut with a streak of colour red. I love it, she’s proud, we have fun and get a good grade!

The Writer's Red Streaked Undercut - Back View

The Writer’s Red Streaked Undercut – Back View

Sunny Beach Walk on Tranquil Pender Island

Sunny Beach Walk on Tranquil Pender Island

For my birthday week, I retreat to a friend’s tranquil sanctuary on Pender Island that offers lakeside meanderings, sunny and moonlit beach walks, relaxing heat of cedar sauna and hot tub, and invigorating exchanges of poetry readings and compilations. Naturally, delicious food abound, we enjoy my Special Dish for the Week: Creamy Carrot Soup, whip up Mediterranean feasts, and splurge on my birthday eve dinner out.

Sunset/Moonlit Beach Walk on Tranquil Pender Island

Sunset/Moonlit Beach Walk on Tranquil Pender Island

Pender Island's Roe Lake Inspired Poetic Compilation

Pender Island’s Roe Lake Inspired Poetic Compilation

The Writer on Sunset Pacific Gulf Cruise

The Writer on Sunset Pacific Gulf Cruise

While on Pender Island, I am inspired during a leisurely walk around Roe Lake to compose a poem, entitled “Blanketed In Love”.

For my actual birthday, I take a Pacific Gulf cruise with my charming Pender Island companion back to Vancouver, where we indulge in some South East Asian delights at U & I Thai—which I love, not only for its adorable name.

Thai Birthday Dinner

Thai Birthday Dinner

Engineering Themed Birthday Dinner

Engineering Themed Birthday Dinner

The birthday month dining extravaganza continues with a fabulous and rich dinner at the now upscale Homer Street Café—a treat by my decade-long engineering friends and DAWEGing colleagues. I get my fill of peanut butter cookies as dessert to my scallop main dish, although they still don’t quench my craving for peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Cookie Birthday Treat

Peanut Butter Cookie Birthday Treat

More of my engineering world gets in on the birthday festivities when my engineering association invites me to a luncheon to award me with a Fellowship in Engineers Canada, the national engineering body, for my long-time “noteworthy” contributions to the engineering profession in Canada.

The Writer Awarded Fellowship in Engineers Canada During Birthday Month

The Writer Awarded Fellowship in Engineers Canada During Birthday Month

Oyster Surprise Birthday Dinner with Good Friends and Mentors of Various Sorts

Oyster Surprise Birthday Dinner with Good Friends and Mentors of Various Sorts

I share another Special Dish for the Week: Mushroom Risotto & Citrus Winter Greens Dinner with my good friends and mentors, chez Maggie, where I am lavished with their TLC of good wine, home baked cookies, apple crumble, birthday cake, and birthday wishes that include “May the dreams you hold dearest be those which come true”. I feel most definitely blessed as I blow out my birthday candle.

Naturally, my birthday month celebrations include more sushi cheer of sashimi, my favourite roll: salmon avocado, along with spicy tuna and gomae (spinach) salad, to which I am treated by my sushi buddy neighbour.

Birthday Dinner with Sushi Buddy Neighbour

Birthday Dinner with Sushi Buddy Neighbour

The Writer Boarding the Birthday Dinner Train

The Writer Boarding the Birthday Dinner Train

Another friend, knowing my love of train travel, organises for us a dinner train trip to the historic Billy Miner Pub in Maple Ridge by the West Coast Express, Vancouver’s regional commuter train. For our 45-minute journey, I make sure I pack a snack of the Special Dish for the Week: Savoury Fig Cake.

The Writer and Accomplice on Birthday Dinner Train Trip

The Writer and Accomplice on Birthday Dinner Train Trip

Pub Pitstop During Birthday Dinner Train Trip

Pub Pitstop During Birthday Dinner Train Trip

Still increasing my physical, mental and spiritual endurance with nearly daily bike rides, daily morning 1-minute pilates plank routines, weekly yoga and pilates classes at the local YMCA, energy healings at Friends For Life—the latest holistic wellness organisation I recently joined, where a special “nearer death” certificate constitutes the membership fee—I also ensure I incorporate an evening of dancing into my birthday month and attend the tantalising La Fête Corsete. Dancing to music that moves one’s body and soul proves to be a cure for many an undesirable condition, including dystonia, in me and in others, releasing us from the grips of painful spasmings and from the curious, cruelly judging eyes of uniformed onlookers, for a moment or two.

During my birthday month I even make my TV debut (at minute 9:10) of this Friends For Life fundraiser promotional segment on Breakfast Television by CityTV, not surprisingly involving food: Dining Out For Life.

Birthday Month TV Debut for Fundraiser

Birthday Month TV Debut for Fundraiser

Five weeks into the celebrations, a packet attentive to my celebratory needs arrives from Germany, containing cautionary words of wisdom: “Save Water – Drink Wine” along with vintage paper straws for those classy ones donning lipstick while dipping their nectar of the gods.

Birthday Month Celebratory Packet from Germany

Birthday Month Celebratory Packet from Germany

The Writer's Cook Street Village Workspace

The Writer’s Cook Street Village Workspace

A weekend getaway to Victoria, for collaborative sessions with my book editor and an energy healer whom I serendipitously met last fall, rounds out my birthday month celebrations. Naturally, eating while writing at a local café in Cook Street Village and celebratory dinner treat with my editor at Il Terrazzo are involved—as is the customary photo op shot with the BC Parliament buildings in the background, all lit up by night.

The Writer Celebrating Birthday Month with Her Editor at Il Terrazzo

The Writer Celebrating Birthday Month with Her Editor at Il Terrazzo

The Writer in Victoria by Night

The Writer in Victoria by Night

The Writer in Plush Blanket with Plush Pillow, Donning Plush Slippers

The Writer in Plush Blanket with Plush Pillow, Donning Plush Slippers

With month-long celebrations like these—and with generally finding it a challenge to do less—my birthday gift to myself shall be to prioritise sleep (or at the very least, restful relaxation) as my #3 priority for the month of April (contentment and looowww streeesss remaining in the lead). The tender loving plush (black) blanket and pillow, which are delivered last fall by my Wish Fairy Cousin, will contribute enticement towards this self-gift of month-long rest and sleep.

The Writer Loving and Loved by Her Plush Pillow

The Writer Loving and Loved by Her Plush Pillow

Homemade Apple Sauce and Dark Chocolate Treats

Homemade Apple Sauce and Dark Chocolate Treats

Remaining also from last fall’s showering of treats, just in time for Easter’s chocolate savouring traditions, is one bar of dark chocolate from good friends who joined me for a Special Dish for the Week: Peanut Sauce Stir Fry Dinner. Their delicious homegrown / homemade apple sauce is now but a distant memory—as is my Wish Fairy Cousin’s dark chocolate almond spread.

Feeling grateful for all the love that I receive, from others and increasingly more from myself. Though part of my health healing journey, it seems to me that we can all learn to give ourselves more love—and to receive it, too!

Dark Chocolate Almond Spread Treat

Dark Chocolate Almond Spread Treat

 

The Wilting and Cultivating of My Roses

My summer radiation dresses have now been replaced by woolly layers, gloves, and funky tights, although the radiation scarf continues to protect me from the elements: now, the chilly wind. The seasons seem to be moving at a much faster pace than my health recovery and my return to writing. My website also repeatedly prompts me with notices of software updates, reminding me that it, too, is feeling neglected. Meanwhile, I rebuild my cellular self and reconnect with my soul—achievements, I realise, I knew very little about, but which I find fascinating and critical to carrying on.

Book-n-Chocolate Paradise

Book-n-Chocolate Paradise

Over the summer and autumn months, some of my loved ones fade out of my life, while others appear to embrace me. Into the fall, I feast my sweet tooth on a very generous selection of Purdy’s chocolates and nourish my hunger for distraction from my more daunting tasks with the final books in two favoured trilogies, all of which are delivered mid-summer by my Wish Fairy Cousin.

Satiating Peanut Butter Cookie Craving

Satiating Peanut Butter Cookie Craving

For months, I am unable to satiate my cravings for peanut butter in its raw form and in cookies—possibly yearning their magnesium and salt content, which I may be deficient in as evidenced by my recurrent leg cramping. My sweet neighbour bakes up a batch of his grandmother’s recipe just for me, while I continue to devour spoonfuls of the creamy peanut and salt sensation—with my growing jar collection serving as emergency water supply for my earthquake preparedness “kit”.

Satiating Peanut Butter Craving / Stocking the Earthquake Preparedness "Kit"

Satiating Peanut Butter Craving / Stocking the Earthquake Preparedness “Kit”

In mid-September, the spreadsheet that I use to organise my life gets corrupted, and my previous backup copy only reaches to the beginning of July. This means that I am not only flying without an organisational safety net for my current activities, but also that I lose the details of how I survived and thrived throughout my radiation treatments during the summer, including my list of events from “Maggie’s 40 Days of Celebrating Life”.

Backup Computer Generously Gifted

Backup Computer Generously Gifted

Fortunately, I manage to recover some of the content from the corrupted spreadsheet, but it is all jumbled up, and for months now, I cannot bring myself to untangle it into a coherent form. And for much of this time, I do not even have a reliably functioning computer with which to undertake this daunting task, since even the backup computer—supplied so kindly by a generous friend, as a potential replacement of my faltering regular one—eventually has a meltdown too and needs to be revived.

All this technological aggravation of the past months leads me to realise that, in the vast expanse of life, computer troubles can serve as a metaphor for ill health. As though reflecting the state of my health, my computer troubles continue to plague me since the spring. I realise that each of them is a tool, and when a tool isn’t working, it needs to be looked after, fixed, and maintained, before it can be used to accomplish the things that it was designed to do.

I can try to keep doing things with the computer while it is sort of working, but then it corrupts my files, or it takes longer to do something, or it requires constant vigilance and small frequent fixes—and achieving things doesn’t feel very rewarding; it feels frustrating, or at best, like a relief that something got done, but not at all rewarding.

And it seems to be similar with the state of my health. If I keep trying to push too hard and move forward with my life too much or too quickly, I run into roadblocks: something hurts; I don’t feel well; I can’t think; I get a cold; things don’t work out; I break stuff; I need to heel from small wounds; I am tired. Essentially, without my health tool in better order, I feel like I keep taking two steps forward one step back—and nothing feels good like an achievement; at best, it feels like a relief that a task can be crossed off the to-do list; life feels mechanical.

So, I conclude that I need to stop (or at least slow down), and fix the computer and my health for a while, so that when these tools are more functional, then I can get on with doing other things. “If you ain’t got your health, you ain’t got nothin’.” There are of course ways around broken tools, different ways of doing things—which I am quite familiar with—but then, one also might need to expect different results.

Mozart on Music and Life

Mozart on Music and Life

As though to answer my internal conflict about what level of activity and achievement constitutes the notion of living—and not merely surviving, administering self-care, and feeling like a burden on others—one afternoon, the dreams of other people’s lives contained in one touring band’s van greet me with an affirmation for mine:

“Music is not only in the notes but also in the silence between.” (W.A. Mozart)

Aunt and Uncle Visit from Back East

Aunt and Uncle Visit from Back East

Also in mid-September, I receive two separate family visits from back East. My Aunt and Uncle arrive on a marvellously sunny day and we spend it together strolling along the seawall; basking in the downtown views from the False Creek Ferries; sipping, munching and resting on a Granville Island patio; and treating ourselves to a morsel of truffle chocolate from the Public Market.

 

Mother and Aunt Visit from Back East

Mother and Aunt Visit from Back East

A few days later, my Mother and Aunt arrive by the transcontinental train, making the 4,500km journey from Ontario, to spend a week of taking in the Vancouver sights, rainforest weather, and sportive atmosphere, as well as filling up my freezer with freshly prepared Polish homemade food. In my kitchen, they are like two gears with perfectly fitting cogs. After days creating a grand total of 12 dishes, they are still smiling together whenever I arrive for a taste test. By the end of the week, they have miraculously stocked my freezer—which should nourish me at least till Christmas.

Spelt Flour Pierogi with Sauteed Onions and Shiitake and Red Sauerkraut and Carrot Salad

Spelt Flour Pierogi with Sauteed Onions and Shiitake and Red Sauerkraut and Carrot Salad

The 12 pre-Christmas dishes include:

  1. spelt flour pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms
  2. spelt flour pierogi with kale, spinach and Swiss chard
  3. bigos (sauerkraut and sausage hunter’s stew)
  4. golabki (cabbage rolls)
  5. pasztet (baked meat pâté)
  6. salatka jarzynowa (potato salad)
  7. zupa pomidorowa (tomato soup)
  8. barszcz (beet soup)
  9. sos grzybowy (mushroom sauce)
  10. baklazanki (braised aubergine)
  11. nalesniki z serem (crêpes with sweetened cottage cheese)
  12. sernik (cheesecake)

Between the technological red tape and family visits, I reflect back on my experience with the radiation therapy that I took daily over the course of six weeks over the summer. I recall how the entrance to the radiation chamber cautioning possible annihilation, the noisy mechanised high-precision equipment, and the painfully hard bench and headrest—all reminiscent of the movie “Aliens”—causes me to chuckle ironically to myself that I consciously chose to put my body through this recommended “treatment”. Despite these scary and grim surroundings, for me, the most traumatic aspect of this “therapy” turns out to be the careless and dehumanising bedside manner of some radiation therapists. In the weeks that follow, I don’t take the anti-anxiety drugs that one doctor suggests as a way of dealing with what is rather a clinical personnel training and behavioural issue. I do, however, seek a counselling session that another doctor recommends—but I do it more as an awareness-raising exercise for the clinic’s support staff.

I also follow a third doctor’s advice and send a 2-page compliments and complaints letter to the clinic’s administrators, depicting my experiences from my 6-week-long daily encounters in the “torture chambers” of the radiation floor—providing commendations for a couple of attentive, considerate and warm-hearted therapists, and constructive suggestions for improved training of the more careless, disrespectful and hostile ones. I am rewarded in my efforts with speedy feedback about my “well-received, fantastic letter” and with indications of resultant strategising by the clinic’s operational leaders about the learning opportunities for staff to enhance their goal of “putting the needs of our patients first”.

Radiation Therapy Self-Care Kit

Radiation Therapy Self-Care Kit

A few weeks into my increasingly dreaded daily dosing sessions, I also take matters of my personal comfort and humanity into my own hands—and remembering that everything goes better with chocolate, a satin robe, and plush turtle slippers, I strap my panniers stuffed with these self-care supplies to my commuter bicycle, and henceforth, my experience becomes much improved. I am pleasantly amazed at how much the moods of grumpy therapists can be sweetened with a morsel of quality chocolate.

The Writer Visiting with Friends in Vernon

The Writer Visiting with Friends in Vernon

After 27 dosings with two types of radiation to my breast and lymph nodes, skillfully aligned to avoid most of my reconstructed-breast’s implant—thus reducing the chances of “capsular contraction” (a painful hardening and shrinking of the scar tissue that envelopes the implant)—I am treated by some good friends to a mini holiday in Vernon. There, I nurse my patchy, itchy and throbbing skin burns; nourish my body with delicious and lovingly prepared meals; and begin the slow process of re-cultivating my energy reserves. I also alternate my literary entertainment between vicariously following a young Canadian writer to France in her “Paris Letters” and devouring the mitochondrial nutrition research of a female physician who reversed her disablingly advanced symptoms of MS through diet and lifestyle changes documented in “The Wahls Protocol”.

The Writer Sporting Her Radiation Dress on the Beaches of Vernon

The Writer Sporting Her Radiation Dress on the Beaches of Vernon

Since the end of my radiation summer, I continue to ingest the vast knowledge and theories about the chronic condition of cancer contained in books, online resources, diverse health practitioners, and other highly experienced fellow winners of the cancer diagnosis lottery.

For some more dreamy distraction, I revel in the paths that others have taken to relocate their lives and passions to the cultural and culinary delights of France, reading their stories in English, and most recently, discovering the French translation of Peter Mayle’s “Toujours Provence” (having read several years ago the other two books in the trilogy of his life in Provence: “A Year in Provence” and “Encore Provence”).

The Writer's Vicarious Travels to France

The Writer’s Vicarious Travels to France

While my book writing is still on hold—not the least because of computer meltdowns, indicative of my tentative health and mental state—I continue to digest my thoughts, discoveries, and insights in my Daily Morning Pages (that are neither daily, nor morning, but still exceptionally supportive). I continue to also practice the craft of writing by reading other authors’ work with an awareness of what appeals to me, what doesn’t, and why. I think I am listening to the universe asking me to be patient while it conspires with my tools, as every time I express a serious intent to resume my work on my book, my computer seems to tell me that it is not yet time.

Some side-effects of my treatments are also giving me plenty of opportunities to practice being patient, mindfully observant, and compassionately attentive. A recent one is now even interfering with two of my favourite activities: cycling and cooking. In addition to the constant pins-and-needles along the length of my arm and across my hand, whenever I stretch out my arm to signal my intent to turn left on my bike or to reach for something to my left in my kitchen, it feels as though my elbow’s funny bone gets a hit, shooting an electric shock down my arm. After a few weeks of this painful and tiresome excitement, I must admit that it is getting on my nerves. As with a similar side-effect after chemo the first time around, I am hoping with some aerobic exercise, distressing in its own right, that whatever may have gotten plugged up, will clear up again this time—without the need for carpal tunnel surgery or copious doses of painkillers that tend to get offered when I seek professional medical attention. My complementary medicine practitioners advise that the itsy bitsy teenie weenie acupuncture needles might also help resolve this—and at this point, I am starting to seriously consider this milder form of self-torture.

Now that my surgeries and radiation treatments are behind me, I continue to dedicate my time and efforts to the other 80% of my cancer treatment and recovery plan, which includes doing less and loving more, and which I have captured in both verse and prose.