June’s “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom” is a success, particularly when I think of it as a “week of pursuing what brings me peace”. Not surprisingly, I never do achieve boredom, but I do stick to the #1 item on my daily “just being list” and give myself a lot of permission to do what I feel like doing that day. Other than the few appointments related to my tooth crowning and breast cancer management, for me “just being” during this week primarily revolves around reading (a most fascinating and empowering book, called “The Biology of Belief”, and to offset the technical parlance but nonetheless still be enlightened, “The Princess and the Goblin”), writing emails (almost as frequently as reading), and meditating (a whole of five times in one week) on par with visiting with friends and family (in person and virtually), followed by general writing and buying food. Out of interest, I keep track of the number and variety of activities that I spend my time on—a most insightful exercise—and find myself engaging in about 20 different types of activities, a total of 75 times. The one more rare for me activity that I manage to enjoy—and on the first day of the week, no less—is to see the “Maleficent” movie at the theatre. I also begin a new Thursday night relaxation ritual of Inspire Health online-lead meditation followed by take-out sushi (in my own container and with my own chopsticks) enjoyed at the beach. At the end of the week, I find it refreshing to be ok with not getting everything—even from the enjoyable list—done, and to be ok with what is. I realise that a lifetime of developing and practicing stressful habits will not be undone in one week!
Generally, since the surgery, with my reduced expectations for my energy levels and with the assistance of the few post-operative osteopathic sessions, I am feeling well. My nausea is mostly gone, helped by my healthy appetite and light Pilates and cycling exercises. The waiting around for the elusive scheduling of the radiation treatments makes me a bit antsy, although in time I learn to appreciate the time I have without these daily trips over the bridge and up the hill to the BC Cancer Agency. For the time-being, they are weekly, to various measuring, fitting, planning and tweaking appointments. I am grateful that I am afforded such care, with 3-D CAD (computer aided design) models of my body and the radiation beams, and that I am given—and naturally, take—the opportunities to give my input to these designs. I very much feel like an engineering project! I take the extra time to conduct various preparations for nutrition (including fermented foods), skin care products (containing just few pronounceable ingredients), and protective yet stylish garments. I also develop a new sleep-more-and-earlier strategy, which involves a spreadsheet log (until my new habits set in), and I find a new and familiar from my childhood spot for daytime napping: under a tree, in my own apartment no less!
Shortly after my surgical time of need, a number of my caring assistants and moral supporters experience their own accidental physical calamities. I desperately want to be there for them, to return the help that they offered me, and which, by wanting to maintain my independence, I struggled to accept in the first place. Some don’t need me because they have others in their lives to meet their needs, and others would not let me, thinking me too fragile so shortly after my surgery. My frustration at not being able to help gives me an opportunity to realise that it is easier for me to receive assistance from others when I know that, even if I cannot pay it back, I can always pay it forward to someone else who needs or wants my assistance.
And this realisation further helps me to be grateful, if not always entirely gracious, in receiving continued well-wishes and gifts (including some knick-knacks, which I have no affinity for and am, thus, least gracious about). I happily connect with friends and family over email, phone, Skype, and in-person during visits with out of town friends, spending some afternoons at the VanDusen Garden and on the sunny outdoor patio at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café.
I also spend a lovely weekend perched up at a cabin on Pender Island with my relatives, being treated to some delicious meals and spectacular views of nature.
In the mail, I receive more loving cards; a delicious-sounding personally made recipe book (to be tried, with the results documented in the Special Dish for the Week thread); a dozen home-baked dark chocolate, walnut, banana bread muffins; another Desigual dress, most fitting as a summer radiation dress (as it covers the sun-sensitive areas); a nearly complete collection of Julia Cameron books to augment my “Artist’s Way” book; a cheque with financial support offering; and a birthday card extending the celebrations to six months of birthday! I am also personally hand-delivered some tasty and nutritious treats, including saskatoon berry pies (saskatoon berries being even higher in antioxidants than blueberries); a jar of homemade raspberry jam; and a live basil plant, carefully planted in a bamboo pot.
A friend paints me a picture to complement an affirmation:
“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.” (Walt Whitman)
Another friend risks my still sensitive reaction by dedicating her affirmation “To Maggie, My always in motion friend”:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)
I am very moved that a friend is inspired by the “bird trusting in her own wings” affirmation that I shared, and makes it into a ceramic tile for hanging on the wall. Knowing that I am not one for knick-knacks, she shows it to me during a visit, declaring that it is destined to another loved one. With tear on the verge of spilling from my eye, I ask her if I may have it instead, so that I may hang it on my wall and be reminded daily of its message to “believe in myself”, and to be reminded of the inspiration that I brought to my friend—a friend whom I encouraged in her decision to take up pottery once again, which she enjoys creating so much.
Last week, July 14th marked my 5 year anniversary of my (first) breast cancer surgery. In the cancer world, this means something. According to the breast cancer medical establishment, and held onto by some with the breast cancer diagnosis, 5 years of “survival” typically indicates that the risks of dying from this condition are lower from that point onward; that you are no longer of much statistical interest to be followed, and you can say goodbye to your Cancer Agency doctors and regular check-up visits for good. Other statistics are slightly less optimistic, indicating that individuals diagnosed with breast cancers labelled as hormone receptor positive can have recurrences sometime after the 5 year mark. For me, with a second diagnosis in the six months before the 5 year mark, the occasion is a bit anti-climactic, though nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable and worth celebrating—because I am still alive, and life these days is better for me. To celebrate, my breast cancer mentor and long-time friend invites me to join her “cancer survivors” team’s “Boat to Nowhere” Saturday morning dragonboat paddle, and on the actual anniversary date, she joins me for an organically, locally and seasonally sourced dinner at the Exile Bistro in my West End neighbourhood.
This weekend, I consider my answer to the question that I am asked at a social event not particularly conducive for the potentially heavy news of my breast cancer: do I have any plans for the summer? I reflect on whether to focus in my reply on “treatments and recovery from illness”, or on “taking it easy and celebrating life”. I think the next time I am asked this question, I shall focus on the latter, and in the meantime, I have decided to make each day of the next 6 weeks a celebration of something that makes that day special.
Today, I celebrate the Eve of Radiotherapy Start Day, with tomorrow (Monday) marking the beginning of the six-week-long daily slow bike rides to my radiation sessions. Later in the week, I plan to celebrate a Call with a Waterloo Friend Day, and a Visit with an Injured Friend Day, followed by a Farmers Market Day and a Pilates Class Day. In August, I celebrate my 30 years in Canada on the 10th and my 17 years in Vancouver on the 26th. I welcome ideas and participants for “Maggie’s 40 Days of Celebrating Life”.