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.

Kayaking to Inspire Health – Congratulations Maggie’s Way Team

The Writer Kayaking at English Bay to Inspire Health

The Writer Kayaking at English Bay to Inspire Health

Kayaking to Inspire Health was a fantastic day! I felt the energies of all who supported me—relying upon them especially on the way back when the mid-day winds picked up and made the water more choppy—and I made it all the way (4.5 nautical miles, or ~8km, about 1hr 15min in each direction). This paddling adventure supported a fundraiser for InspireHealth Integrative Cancer Care Centre in BC. A group of about 30 kayakers and 20 stand-up paddle boarders descended on Vancouver’s Jericho Beach in Kitsilano on a sunny Sunday morning and paddled to Third Beach in Stanley Park, supported in spirit and with funds by hundreds of generous donors and friends.

The Writer with Her bc Mentor and Their Team Mascot: The Cat

The Writer with Her bc Mentor and Their Team Mascot: The Cat

My friend and breast cancer mentor, Cathy, joined Maggie’s Way Team in person. We made “the cat” our team mascot, in honour of all the cat lovers who supported us. I was glad to have such an experience paddler at my side, keeping a watchful eye over my weakened strokes, and adding the proverbial wind to my sails when the wind gusts and choppy waters threatened to sink my spirits on our return. I thought also about everyone who I knew was thinking about me, sending me their energies, and cheering me on from afar—and I drew on their strength to support me in mine. Of course I had the option to rope up with Cathy or one of the event guides if I really needed it, but it felt good to challenge myself a little and to feel the strength of my well-wishers support my own paddling experience from over-night kayaking trips around the West Coast of BC from days gone by.

The Writer with Her #1 Fundraiser Winnings, Sporting Her Radiotherapy Dress

The Writer with Her #1 Fundraiser Winnings, Sporting Her Radiotherapy Dress

The food throughout the day was superb: handmade raw chocolate and oat balls for snacks, and BBQ’d to perfection salmon, delicious veggie skewers, and colourful coleslaw, Japanese and beetroot salads for lunch. I can hardly believe how hungry I was—even more than usual!

Both Cathy and I won raffle prizes, and I look forward to my first shiatsu massage.

Organic Food Gift Basket Winnings from SPUD for #1 Fundraiser

Organic Food Gift Basket Winnings from SPUD for #1 Fundraiser

And Cheers! to all of my supportive donors for making me the #1 fundraiser for this Paddle with InspireHealth event, and for winning me a gigantic gift basket from SPUD.ca, Vancouver’s organic grocery home delivery. It was too big and heavy to bring it back home on my bike, so thanks to Cathy for hand delivering it to me!

Together, the 12 of us fundraising on Maggie’s Way Team contributed $730 to programs offered at InspireHealth. On the day of the event, we had over $27,000 raised for this year’s Vancouver event. Donations can be made throughout the year, and Paddle with InspireHealth events are also taking place in Victoria and Kelowna, where InspireHealth currently has two regional Centres.

Organic Food Winnings from SPUD for #1 Fundraiser

Organic Food Winnings from SPUD for #1 Fundraiser

The rest of Sunday, I spent vegging out on my couch, applying various lotions, savouring my bounty, recalling the moving tales of all the inspiring people whom I had met during the day, and being grateful for all the support that ebbs and flows in my life when needed.

I am thrilled to have kayaked once again—and to know that a number of people on their cancer journeys will directly benefit at InspireHealth because I said “yes” to this adventure!

Thank you for saying “yes” with me, with your funds and your spirits.

Kayaking to Inspire Health

Support me to stay active, live a rich life, and support InspireHealth!

The Writer Kayaking in Desolation Sound, 2006

The Writer Kayaking in Desolation Sound, 2006

I’m going kayaking!

I am excited at this occasion to kayak again, while spending time with some pretty amazing and inspiring people—offering moral and financial support to InspireHealth Integrative Cancer Care Centre in BC. Join me in person or by sponsoring me! Or paddle with me in spirit!

I have been waiting to see how I am faring before committing, but with one week to go, and with every day turning out to be a surprise, I am jumping in with both feet—knowing, of course, that if I really don’t feel up to paddling on the day, everyone will understand.

The paddle is next Sunday, August 24, 2014, in Vancouver, crossing English Bay from Jericho Beach in Kitsilano to Third Beach in Stanley Park for a snack pit stop and back again. I estimate it will take an hour to paddle each way. With nutritious snacks and lunch provided, I plan to cycle to Jericho Beach—whether I end up paddling or not—to contribute to this fun event and worthy cause. InspireHealth has brought me innumerable benefits, and continues to be a great source of inspiration for so many!

Thank you for all your support! And read the highlights of the day.

Some more information about this event and my pledge:

InspireHealth is a not-for-profit society that provides integrative cancer care across British Columbia. The 2014 Paddle With InspireHealth will be hosted in each of the cities that are home to an InspireHealth regional centre: Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.

Each year, over 20,000 British Columbians are diagnosed with cancer. When a cancer diagnosis comes, we all want the best care possible for our families, ourselves, our friends—our loved ones. At InspireHealth, the medical doctors and other health professionals recognize that standard cancer treatment is only part of optimal care. Inspirehealth offers integrative cancer care with a whole-person approach to care, by integrating nutrition, exercise, emotional and immune support into conventional treatment. InspireHealth programs and services are backed by research.

100% of the proceeds raised through this event will go towards offering integrative cancer care for patients living with cancer across British Columbia.

I have committed to raising a minimum of $300 for InspireHealth, and I am hoping to raise even more before the event. Thank you in advance for your support!

Wishing you well,
Maggie

Please follow This Link* to visit my personal fundraising webpage and help me in my efforts to support InspireHealth.

* If the link is not redirecting to the fundraising page, please copy and paste the following into your browser:

http://paddleforinspirehealth.kintera.org/faf/r.asp?t=4&i=1109392&u=1109392-411287361&e=7875250494

Rose Thorns in Waiting and Celebrating

Thursday Night Sushi on the Beach Ritual

Thursday Night Sushi on the Beach Ritual

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!

The Writer Donning Protective Yet Stylish Radiation Treatment Garments: RT Scarf, RT Dress, RT Desigual Dress

The Writer Donning Protective Yet Stylish Radiation Treatment Garments: RT Scarf, RT Dress, RT Desigual Dress

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!

The Writer Napping Under Her Ficus Tree, and Her View from Below

The Writer Napping Under Her Ficus Tree, and Her View from Below

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.

The Writer with Visiting Friend at VanDusen Garden

The Writer with Visiting Friend at VanDusen Garden

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.

The Writer with Friends at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe Patio

The Writer with Friends at the Vancouver Art Gallery Cafe Patio

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.

The Writer Perched Up on Pender Island

The Writer Perched Up on Pender Island

Basil Plant, Glass Art, and Personally Made Recipe Book Gifts

Basil Plant, Glass Art, and Personally Made Recipe Book Gifts

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)

Gifts of Painted and Quoted Affirmations, Books, Home-Baking and Homemade Jam, Cards, and Stylish Dress

Gifts of Painted and Quoted Affirmations, Books, Home-Baking and Homemade Jam, Cards, and Stylish Dress

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.

Ceramic Version of Trust Your Own Wings – Believe in Yourself, and Its Display Location in the Writer's Kitchen

Ceramic Version of Trust Your Own Wings – Believe in Yourself, and Its Display Location in the Writer’s Kitchen

The Writer and Her Breast Cancer Mentor Celebrating 5 Year Post-Surgery Anniversary

The Writer and Her Breast Cancer Mentor Celebrating 5 Year Post-Surgery Anniversary

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”.

The Healing of Rose Cuttings

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Beacon Hill Park

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Beacon Hill Park

Since my surgery 2 weeks ago, I am feeling much better—now that some of the sticky layers of the wound dressing have come off, and now that my nausea has passed. I am up and around since day 1, getting some light exercise through walking and looking after myself—as well as through returning all kinds of caring hugs that I have been receiving (in person and virtually)! During this time, I treat my back to a massage to make up for no Pilates exercises for a couple of weeks, and I do some osteopathic treatments to help increase the range of motion in my left shoulder and to reduce the pain in my upper left chest area that occurs every time I move my left arm and when I lay down to sleep. Skin, fascia and muscle have been cut, after all. Generally, though, I feel even more tired these days, if that is even possible. I am most happy to get back on my bike for some slow and gentle riding, as the 5 days of walking everywhere was wearing me out!

In preparation for dealing with my broken tooth, I also pile onto my plate a bunch of research and decisions. Having been rewarded with a crown, I knew that its installation would inevitably disturb, and release into my body, some mercury vapours and dust from my old amalgam filling in that tooth. And having lived most-probably with the neurological consequences of systemic heavy metal exposure throughout my life, I decide to take heavy metal chelating precautions to prevent further exacerbation. One could very well do a PhD thesis on the subject, of which I only scratch the surface once more, but my cursory research and discussions with naturopathic doctors lead me to conclude that food-based chelating will likely be my best option at this time. Stocking up on garlic, cilantro and chlorella (green algae), I load onto my iTouch some more of my favourite tunes, pop a muscle relaxant to help me keep my jaw open, and head over on my bike for the 2-hour round 1 of the tooth crowning. It even proves to be a relatively relaxing experience!

I have been feeling quite fortunate and supported by my family, friends and colleagues nearby and from a distance since I decided to share my most recent health challenges more widely.

Visiting Family Join the Writer for Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry

Visiting Family Join the Writer for Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry

The Writer with Her Visiting Aunt in Victoria

The Writer with Her Visiting Aunt in Victoria

The Writer with Her Visiting Family in Lynn Canyon Park

The Writer with Her Visiting Family in Lynn Canyon Park

I have the good fortune of sharing my Special Dish for the Week of Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry with my relatives from Poland, who visited Vancouver for a week just days after my surgery. Given all that is going on with me cancer, surgery, tooth and energy-wise, I am still able to play mostly virtual tour guide for their adventures, joining them towards the end of their visit for some light site-seeing on a day-trip to Victoria. I am also glad for the chance to accompany them on a nature walk in Lynn Canyon Park. The walk over the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge makes me feel that I am definitely still holding on to life’s rope of steel.

The Writer Holding On to Life's Rope of Steel

The Writer Holding On to Life’s Rope of Steel

Quinoa Salad and Chocolate Bunny Gifts

Quinoa Salad and Chocolate Bunny Gifts

My other supports over the past few weeks have come in a multitude of forms, shapes and sizes. Along with good thoughts, prayers and well-wishes, I receive a number of lovely and life-supporting affirmations—posted on my website and shared with me by phone, email and snail-mail. I also receive a number of financial and culinary treats—including several lovingly prepared servings of tasty veggie lasagne, healthful quinoa salad, juicy local strawberries, and a chocolate bunny.

Roses, Strawberries and Chocolate Gifts

Roses, Strawberries and Chocolate Gifts

I am showered with friendly accompaniments to my pre-surgical La Brasserie dinner ritual, and to my post-surgical walks through Vancouver’s West End to the bank to make my deposits and via my secret garden to the downtown farmers market to help me carry my groceries home. A good friend wakes super early to accompany me by bike to my 8:30 am surgery, and later picks me up from surgery by car. Another brings me a bouquet of red roses and more organic fair trade chocolate. My supportive Developmental Editor conscientiously picks up for me a used copy of the “Finding Your Own North Star” book for my upcoming journey. One could get used to all the loving and caring attention!

A Guide Book Gift

A Guide Book Gift

I think what helps keep me going the most at this moment—energy-wise and low-stress-wise, too—is the knowledge that I have initiated a break for myself: while I undergo these harsher treatments of surgery and soon-to-start radiation; to make time for the multitude of immune system supporting and strengthening strategies; and in order to make space in my life for some revelation of how to better channel my life force so that it doesn’t continue expressing through my overzealous cancerous cells.

In the short-term, too, what gives me some reprieve is an upcoming event—inspired by an insightful conversation with my Developmental Editor a few weeks ago about child-birthing—that I created for myself, which I call “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom”. The basic idea is to limit the amount and variety of activities one does for a specified period of time in order to have the time and the space to better connect with one’s baby—or with oneself. I would like to use this time to continue discovering “what brings me peace”.

This week is just a trial run, though, because how can one really attempt to get bored when something is already booked-in for 5 out of the 7 days! Some of these are my last chance to take advantage of extended health coverage—to fix my broken tooth and to stretch my surgically disrupted fascia and muscle—before it expires when my employment ends at the end of the month.

Putting on the brakes on one’s activity level is rather hard and labourious work! I have been strategising—as much as I actually had time to strategise and prepare for this “Week in Pursuit of Boredom”—for how to actually pull it off, knowing myself well enough to know that if I don’t give myself some boundaries, rules and ideas for things to do, the event will be a failure. I will either revert quickly to my ever-present and ever-growing to-do list, or it will be an unsatisfying experience. I want to set this up as a win-win goal, where I cannot fail, because if I get bored at some point during the week, then I will have achieved my goal—and if I don’t reach the point of boredom, then I will have given myself evidence that I am still living a fulfilling life even at just a fraction of the activity level that I typically operate at.

So far the rules include:

  • 1 week: June 25 – July 1, 2014
  • Other than the 5 things already scheduled, no more scheduling.
    • If people want to call me, email me, or drop by on a whim—and if I’m around, and feel like answering, that will be great—but no more scheduled stuff into that week!
  • Maximum of 2 daily goals (other than getting up, washing, eating, and boosting my immune system).
  • Of course I have a list, which I am considering calling: the “un-do list”, or the “like-to-do list”, or the “just being list”—and perhaps the next time I try this, I will have advanced to the “no list” week.
    • Item #1 on my daily “just being list” is: to give myself permission to do what I feel like doing that day regardless of the even minimal goals I set for myself.
    • And my “un-do list” naturally includes my rather lengthy and well-overdue bedside table “book list”.
The Writer's Bedside Table Book List

The Writer’s Bedside Table Book List

This “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom” is also potentially a cancer treatment strategy. As one friend suggested, this could be the “bore your cancer cells to death” technique. After all, since cancer cells are more likely to be the fast dividing cells, with type A personalities, maybe boredom is the key?