The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Ponderings (page 1 of 8)

Hit by a Mack Truck — Chemo Week 1

(I’m trying something different. Please be patient while I tinker a bit to make updates and blog posts and notifications easier for me to write and easier for you to receive. As you likely noticed, I mostly disappeared during Chemo Week 1 when I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck and was horizontal for much of the time. This iteration, I am summarizing multiple days of mini updates as a blog post. That way each of you who have subscribed to email notifications will receive a direct link to this post. I will still post a mini update occasionally by changing the intro page for Health Adventures on this website. (In the virtual world a page and a post are two VERY different animals!) To get the latest news immediately, you must bookmark the intro page and check it for yourself—no automated notifications for changes to webpages are available. Then every week or so, I will combine those into a blog post, and you WILL receive notification of new blog posts if you have subscribed to the email list.  Is that all clear as mud?! All rightee then… let’s get rolling!)

smashing through cancer in a VW bug

Earlier in this current health adventure, I captured in my art journal the perfect image of how I wanted to interact with cancer. I would be a classic VW bug running right through a white picket fence labeled “cancer.” Sure, there would be some owies here and there and a bit of mess to clean up, but I was going to charge forward, choose my own path, and avoid being a victim. (In case you missed it, I wrote previously about choosing to label myself as a Cancer Navigator rather than a Cancer Survivor HERE and HERE.) That image of pushing right through the obstacles, has been mostly accurate so far. I have surgery. I recover. I have scans. I have surgery. I recover. I have scans and scans and scans. I have tumors too big for surgery. I start on a low side effects targeted treatment. I’m still doing mostly fine moving forward.

But then…

         But then…

I got smashed emotionally by learning that the “easy” path was no longer mine. It was time for all the anxiety and worry and fear to get triggered by choosing chemotherapy as the right next step to try as we continue the search for what will stop the growth of these specific tumors, perhaps even shrink them. Suddenly, the “I got hit by a Mack Truck” of cancer experiences was an accurate description for me.

hit by a Mack truck called cancer

In addition to emotional wreckage, in the past week I have experienced being hit by a Mack truck in the physical realm as well. Here are a few recreated mini updates that I might have written in the past seven days, had I not been completely flattened by pain, anxiety, utter fatigue, lack of appetite, and more. Chemo is no joke, I tell you!

Monday pm, May 3, 2021 – I had the final (voluntary) biopsy for the meds trial researchers today. I was surprised to feel better than I did after past biopsies…but perhaps that’s because I’m comparing this post-biopsy day with the horrid days I had on the weekend rather putting it in the context of feeling decent on this day before next chemo infusion. Rah! Rah! Tomorrow morning it’s time for the next dose of poison to drip through my veins!

WEEKEND, May 1& 2, 2021 – I feel best first thing in the morning. That is both shocking and disorienting for a night owl. (Who? Who!!) A more accurate statement would be I feel a bit better in the morning. Chemo side effects have leveled me! But I do seem to have a bit of extra energy and interest first thing when I get up. I tried two ways of using that morning energy. One day I got up, did a bunch of things right away, pushed myself hard, and soon “crashed” again, laid flat by exhaustion, pain, and brain fog. Unfortunately, by doing this, I had no energy left for the rest of the day to do other activities. On the other day of the weekend, I tried using the morning burst of energy to do a small task slowly and gently, go rest, then try to complete another enjoyable activity. By pacing myself, I accomplished more than I did when I worked harder, worked faster, and overworked my energy.

FRIDAY pm, April 30, 2021 – Did anyone happen to get the license plate number of the semi that just leveled me? I got hit by a Mack truck of chemo side effects again! (Same list of “joys” as on Wednesday’s update…)

THURSDAY pm, April 29, 2021 – A friend asked me if I was taking care of myself by resting today. My reply was: I took a nap then took some meds. I took a nap then slowly drank some bone broth. I took a nap and woke up feeling much better. And now I’m tired so I’m going to take another nap!

WEDNESDAY pm, April 28, 2021 – First day of chemo infusion is finished. I felt fine the entire drive home. Supper still tasted yummy and I still had an appetite. But then, I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck. I was exhausted, nauseous, with a low fever, sore side and low back (I think I pulled a muscle getting up this morning), stuffy nose which means dry mouth is worse. I’m taking pain meds, muscle relaxer and nausea meds by the clock. I’m seriously hoping a good night’s sleep will help me feel more human in the morning.

Mack Truck vs fun VW Bug

So, making a short statement into a long story, I am forced to admit that no matter how much I choose to pursue adventures and live exuberantly, sometimes it is just a reality that I will get hit by a Mack truck. The bigger question is what I choose to do after being flattened…

Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

________________________

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this intro page to read frequent mini-updates OR you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new full-length blog post (not just an update to the intro page) which will include stories, photos, explanations, and a weekly summary of mini updates.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, little gifties and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Storytelling to Calm Anxiety

Background:

Learning to calm anxiety can be a huge challenge for the cancer navigator who is spending time in Cancerland. This debilitating emotion is way beyond simple worry or frustration. It tends to appear when the world is careening out of control, when life feels tenuous, when it feels like a fight for survival itself. When I started having anxiety meltdowns and panic attacks this past fall (because of family reasons, not cancer at that point), I started taking meds plus making regular appointments with a variety of therapists. This weekend, while waiting for the results of yesterday’s CT Scan, I’m struggling big time. (Good morning, Honey. Thanks for making breakfast. Now hold me tight and let me soak your shirt in tears. And no, I don’t have any words to explain my outburst. Sigh… )

man calm anxiety of crying woman

I expected it to be difficult waiting to learn if this current treatment is working or not. Based on past timing, I expected the radiologist’s reports to be posted online sometime early next week. But… at the end of the workday on Friday, the test results for the chest CT scan were posted. Whew! No changes, no evidence of disease. And then… nothing… the report for the abdominal CT scan was referred to in that first report, but it has not yet been posted. Oh NO! This sent my anxiety through the roof, imagining horrible reasons for the delay.

Storytelling as a Tool to Calm Anxiety:

Off and on all day today, I’ve been using a tool I learned from my music therapist. The human brain is wired to collect stories, be guided by stories, and organize the world via stories. These stories are the way our brains resolve any uncertainties. When we only get a tiny bit of a story, our brains fill in the gaps to determine what is happening based on past experiences, similar stories, small details we notice, our feelings, and predictions of future outcomes. As you might imagine, those guessed-at-but-now-feeling-true stories will often be very skewed and might not bear any resemblance to what will actually happen.

1950s woman on phone

Using storytelling to calm anxiety can be done in many different formats—music, art, talk therapy, journaling. I initially learned about our brains’ preference for stories through an exercise of listening to a piece of instrumental music and writing down what I imagined was happening. The therapist and I then shared our stories, laughing at the huge differences. We discussed what experiences, details, and feelings led each of us to imagine that particular story. Then we did the exercise again, using the same music but capturing a different story than we chose the first time. As homework, I have been asked to practice this exercise regularly, coming up with at least 3-5 different explanations each time. (This is an entertaining activity to try with family or friends.)

A second exercise is closely related and has the same goal of building flexible thinking. In this assignment, I had to state the terrible thing I was anxious might happen. I had to identify which bits were known facts, then build on those things with a worse scenario, followed by an even worse outcome, until I had come up with 3-5 outlandish stories. This never fails to make me laugh!

Today’s storytelling:

With both of those exercises, I’ve been building flexible thinking in my brain, rather than simply clinging to one “catastrophizing” story. So, here’s the scenario for today’s therapy:

The radiologist posted the report for the chest CT scan. He has not yet posted the results of the abdominal CT scan. Why not?

My Anxiety-induced Story: Last night and today, I am fighting against doomsday assumptions. Obviously, he did not post the abdominal scan report because it shows significant tumor growth and additional tumors. The radiologist is concerned for me. He wants my doc to be the first to see the report. My doc will give me the bad news at my appointment on Tuesday.

anxious woman peers through hands on face

As I recognize my anxiety and remember that I have no way of knowing what is actually happening, and as hubby reminds me to use my storytelling to calm anxiety, I have come up with the following:

Story 1: The radiologist has worked extra shifts this week and is exhausted. The chest CT report was easy, so he posted that. But he could not keep his eyes open long enough to deal with the abdominal CT report. So, he left it in his to-do folder and went home to bed. He will be ready to handle it when he comes back to work on Monday.

Story 2: The radiologist is shocked when he looks at the abdominal scan and compares it to the images from 4 weeks ago. There is no evidence of any tumors whatsoever. He hesitates to post this as a report, however. He decides to have his co-worker look things over on Monday to verify the miraculous results.

Story 3 (worse version): The very expensive scanner malfunctioned. There is no abdominal CT to report on. I will have to wait another few weeks for an appointment to have the scan redone.

Story 4 (even worse scenario): The radiologist completed the abdominal CT report. However, he was so excited to be leaving for next week’s vacation to the Caribbean that he didn’t notice he pushed the button to delete the scan and the report rather than the button to post it. Nobody notices the error until he returns to work in another 10 days.

Story 5 (an outlandish story): The radiologist was just getting ready to post his report when Russian operatives kidnapped him. They were certain this was top secret information, so they made him save the scan and the report on a thumb drive they handed him. They then smuggled both him and this contraband information out of the hospital and to the airport where a super sonic jet transported them back to Russia. In the meantime, the US government learned about the kidnapping and heist. They insisted that both the doctor and the information be returned to the USA at once. When Putin laughed about it, a nuclear war began. It did not take long for the entire earth’s population to be wiped out… all because the radiologist dawdled on posting my results.

Your Turn: I would love to read more outlandish stories to calm anxiety while I try to not completely freak out this weekend! Please, please post your short “explanation” of why the abdominal CT scan results were not posted online with the first report! I’m certain many of you have even better stories than the ones my anxious brain came up with.

Thanks for taking time to read my silly stories! Please add your version in the comments Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

________________________

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site to see frequent mini-updates or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new blog post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Hold Tight! It’s Gonna Be a Crazy Ride!

Welcome to Cancerland, a theme park for the unamused. We wish you a magical stay. Unfortunately, we seem to have misplaced the magic wands so there are no shortcuts to getting through the park quickly. There are so many decisions you must make with an overwhelming number of things to keep track of. Everyone has their own path through Cancerland. Sorry! The general map will not be of much use to you and your loved ones. Eventually you will find a guide who most likely is a real character but who can help you figure out how to survive the rides. Hold tight! It’s gonna be a crazy ride!

crazy ride with flashing lights and whirling fun

Gravitron – Scan Results

Before fully entering this unamusement park, each patient, er, I mean visitor, must regularly take a ride on the Gravitron located by the park entrance. This is where you will be scanned to verify your credentials for being here. The first few times, this feels like a harmless ride, simply spinning you in a whirling circle. Many times, there will be “No Evidence of Disease” and you will be released from Cancerland. Don’t forget to return for your regularly scheduled crazy ride on the Gravitron. Eventually, cancer will show up again. The floor will drop out beneath you and  your mind will be spinning with what-ifs and why-mes. When the ride stops and the doors open, stumble your way further into the park.

ferris wheel gives big picture perspective

Ferris Wheel – Get Your Bearings

It is strongly suggested that guests return to this simple ride any time they feel lost. Although the Ferris Wheel is rarely exciting, it is easily accessed from most of the park. The best thing about this ride is that it gives you and your partner an opportunity to relax for a few minutes. Take this time to look back on where you have been before and after entering this unamusement park. From the top of the wheel, it is possible to see the food booths and most of the other rides. Decide which direction you will explore after you are back down on the ground. Return as often as you lose your bearings and need to reconsider where you are on the map.

Ride a horse, up and down and all around

Carousel – A Whirl of Emotions

Each guest (and their loved ones) who enter Cancerland, initially believe that the carousel is a gentle, relaxing ride. They think they are in full control of their emotions. What they don’t understand is that this crazy ride spins you gently in circles while it lifts you up and down and up and down. Every time you come back to the Carousel, your emotions will take you for another ride of crying, laughing, scowling, exhaustion, ranting, loving, and more.

Bumper Cars – Bumpy Relationships and Expectations

So, you think you know your friends and family well. When you enter Cancerland, you assume they will react with the same patterns they have in the past—and that you will do the same. Some have already disappeared, uncomfortable with this unamusing park, or afraid they will do or say the wrong thing. Getting in bumper cars with the remaining loved ones who are still with you shows you just how wrong you can be. Bump! They say things that irritate you. Crash! They hover as if you were an invalid, or worse, they ignore what you are going through. Smash! You expect them to read your mind and immediately respond to your ever-changing needs. And they expect the same. Take a deep breath! Remember, this crazy ride is not forever. It’s just one part of visiting Cancerland.

Tin Lizzie Kiddie Cars – Round and Round To & From the Cancer Center

We know you might prefer to avoid this slow, putt-putt ride. But you will inevitably come back to the Kiddie Cars over and over. Your calendar will fill with appointments, blood draws, labs, and scans. It will seem, at times, like you are on an endless loop track of going to and from the cancer center, over and over again. Try to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of routine and unavoidable repetition.

River Boat Ride – Floating Along Through Scenes of Danger and of Daily Life

At times you will be exhausted from all the walking, standing in line, trying new rides, and eating greasy fair-food. Sometimes it is nice to go on this simple ride, floating down the peaceful river of daily life. Be alert, however! You never know what’s around the next bend. It might be another peaceful scene. But at any moment, you might face something terrifying—a storm, an attack, a scene of desolation. This crazy ride demonstrates the new reality of being in Cancerland: expect the unexpected!

Log Flume – Intermittent Pain & Fatigue

This ride can be deceptive. There are ups and downs and occasional splashes of pain or fatigue, but, overall, it feels like you are coping just fine with Cancerland. Don’t get complacent! There will likely be steep curves or sudden drops when you feel like you might drown in the flood of pain that covers you. Yes, talk to your guide about changing meds or adjusting your routines, but most likely there is little that can be done to avoid occasional rides on the Log Flume.

Spinning Tea-Cups – Watch Out for Nausea and Other Side Effects

Everyone has heard about this nasty ride! The spinning teacups will swirl you in circles—causing nausea, dizziness, vomiting, hair loss and more ugly side effects of your trip to Cancerland. Perhaps you will be one of the lucky guests who are guided on a different treatment path and you will avoid this ride altogether.

Flying Swings – Watching Life go by When You are On Your Side

This crazy ride is very disorienting. To begin with, it seems like life goes on the same as it was before you entered Cancerland. Sure, there are some swings and dips, but, in general nothing has really changed. You still feel like yourself. Eventually, however, your swing gets pulled higher and higher until you are flying on your side. You don’t have energy to do anything more than just hold on. As you look around at the park, life is still going on below you, but all you can do is just rest until the ride ends and you are back on your feet again.

Pirate Ship – Practical Tension between Planning and Healing

You hear about this ride from many of your friends. They tell you to focus on the positive, on moving forward, on the eventual excitement of an unexpected ending. But once you get on this ride, you discover that reality pulls two different directions. You get jerked back and forth between planning for a possible future when you will be gone and longing for a possible future when you will be fully cancer-free. Sure, the full circle, upside-down, exhilarating end to the ride is delightful. But most likely you will wish you could avoid this ride altogether.

Roller Coaster –Worst News/Best News

Some guests prefer the tower ride. They only want to hear positive news and best-case prognoses. They are willing to take the risk of a huge emotional crash if the worst-case happens instead and they are dropped back to earth. Others prefer the more frequent but gentler direction changes on the roller coaster. They ask their guide to give them a full range of possible outcomes. As they ride, they experience the upward pull—click…click…click—as it seems like good things are happening, with good response to treatments. But then—whoosh!—there is an unexpected drop toward negative outcomes. Up and down and around steep curves! Choosing this ride is closer to experiencing the up and down realities of a trip to Cancerland.

Tunnel of Love – Sometimes there are no words/Just hug each other tightly

There are moments in Cancerland when no words can express the confusion, fear or sadness the guest is experiencing. At those times, the best thing to do is to grab your partner or your close friend and take a ride through the tunnel of love. Hug each other tightly and remember how much you are loved. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop before you leave, to pick up a photo to remind you that you were not alone in the dark!

Once again, we are glad you are here as our guest in Cancerland! We hope your stay is brief and that you will have no need to return at a future date. But if you have an extended stay, please let us know what other crazy rides we should add to make this unamusement park better match your experiences in the real-life world of cancer treatment. We are constantly researching and developing new therapies, I mean, rides!

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Thanks for taking time to read this light-hearted analogy. Please let me know in the comments if there are additional “rides” I should add to this unamusement park! Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

________________________

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site to see frequent mini-updates or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new blog post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

**Illustrations are royalty free for personal use from Google Images**

I am Unique!

We all know that I am quirky and artsy and nerdy, all at the same time. I’m happy to announce that medical science has now authenticated how unique I am. Really! I’m not joking! Let me explain…

Unique in my Family

First of all, did you know that I am the “Queen Bee” of my family? A few years ago, my newest daughter-in-law asked what we wanted to be called. I told her that I had ALWAYS wanted to be called the Queen, but for some odd reason, none of my kids had ever agreed to do so. From that moment on, she calls me QB. And gradually a few other younger friends have started doing the same. How many moms are acknowledged for being the Queen? That’s one evidence that I’m certainly unique.

queen bee, unique chocolate box

Next, we have a large family (7 kids, most now married, with 1 who has given us 3 grandchildren). I thrive on helping my kids pursue their individual interests. This was a major reason that we chose to homeschool most of our kids for most of their K-12 education. Perhaps that does not make me “unique,” but it definitely proves I’m unusual.

Medically Unique

Finally, we get to the medical reasons why I am quite unique. According to the latest data, in 2019, there were 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer. Among the many possible types of cancers, I was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma (LMS). Sarcomas make up less than 1% of all cancers, which makes me part of the <17,000 who have this broad category of cancers. Among those sarcoma patients, my specific type of cancer is 10-20% of that category. Thus, I am part of the 1700-3400 individuals who are diagnosed with LMS each year. Genetic mutations are found in only 6% of those with LMS, which means I belong to a small group of 100-200 patients nationwide. (I also have two different types of DNA mutations which drops me to an even smaller group, but there are no percentages available for that.) So according to medical data, I am a unique cancer patient.

unique, woman wearing tiara
I am the Queen Bee of cancer and everything else!

Unique Treatment

The downside of having a rare cancer, is that most of the available treatments are only 40-50% effective in halting tumor growth. That is a discouraging number, especially when considering chemo, which has such awful side effects. I will likely have to try these different treatments eventually, but hopefully not for a long time.

The intriguing thing about being part of the < 100 people with DNA mutations in their LMS tumors is that there is a brand-new treatment drug which targets one specific mutation that I have. I am in a Phase 1 research study to see how effective this medicine is and to get an idea of what side effects it might cause. This is preliminary to future studies to eventually get FDA approval for this drug. And the best thing? So far, there are virtually no side effects. This is an 8-week study of which I am in the 3rd week of taking pills each morning and evening. At the end of this clinical trial (in 5 more weeks), I will have a CT scan to verify how effective the drug is for me—whether the tumors have grown, have slowed to stay the same as they were at the beginning of the study, or perhaps have even shrunk. If tumors have grown, I will have to try one of the less effective treatments mentioned above. However, if it is proven to be a good fit for me, I will be able to remain on this drug for the long term. Sometimes, there is great benefit to being UNIQUE!

Thanks for taking time to read this explanation of how I am “Unique” in the world! Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

________________________

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Becoming a Cancer Navigator — Part 1

When you are exploring a new place—in the car or on foot—how do you find your way around? You might simply follow a clear path to discover where it leads. But more often, we want precise directions. Take the left fork, turn here, stop there. Do you prefer to follow instructions from someone you trust? Or do you prefer to be the navigator—figuring out where you are, where you want to go, and how to best get to that place? I HATE being passive and definitely prefer to be the decision maker. It’s the same for me on this health adventure. I much prefer to be the Cancer Navigator!

I Prefer to be the Navigator

In the previous post, I explained why I dislike being called a Cancer Survivor, Victim, or Thriver. I told you that I am happy to be called a Cancer Navigator… but what, exactly, do I mean by that? And why do I prefer that title over more common labels?

selfie, middle age woman

To me, becoming a Cancer Navigator implies taking an active role in making decisions. The name has positive vibes which encourages me to stay engaged and involved in my treatment rather than becoming a passive victim or survivor. And the term acknowledges the importance of continued learning and questioning at each stage along this journey.

Youngest daughter and I have backpacked almost 500 miles of the AT (Appalachian Trail). (If you look in the archives, that was why I first started this blog before our first long trek in late summer 2015.) Taking a multi-week hike requires significant amounts of advance planning to choose which section to hike, gather gear, plan when and where to resupply food, and more. On the other hand, because it is so well marked, an adventure on the AT does not really require many navigational skills. We just had to follow the trails and landmarks on the map, look for white blazes which show the way, and read trail signs. The AT is well-traveled enough to generally be easy to follow without getting lost. (Click HERE to read about Getting from Point A to Point B Without Getting Lost on the AT)

backpackers, hikers, fall woods
AT blaze, backpacker on trail

Sometimes, a health adventure is like those trips we made. The patient goes to the doctor, then follows the clear path that is standard protocol for that particular illness or injury. Honestly, most illnesses or injuries do not require navigational skills to help with decision making. Unless something unexpected happens along the way, the patient simply follows the path that is laid out for them by their health care provider.

Call Me a Cancer Navigator

So why would I call myself a Cancer Navigator? Can’t we just follow standard protocols for my treatment? Nope! My cancer journey is not a simple “walk in the woods.” It is more like bushwhacking through unknown territory while trying to keep from getting totally lost! I have an exceedingly rare cancer which means there are few standard treatments available and many of the possibilities have a low success rate for survival. In the past, this diagnosis would have been considered terminal. Research offers new targeted treatments which move this diagnosis from terminal (death in a few months or years) to being an incurable, chronic cancer (something I will hopefully live with for many years to come). In my case, I am clearly not on a well-traveled trail. To keep from getting lost in the deep woods, I must hone my navigational skills and figure out which route is more likely to help me live the longest time possible.

masked patient in pre-op, stuffed sloth

Fortunately, I am not alone on this health adventure. I have a supportive husband who helps me sort through information, think of more questions to ask, and make decisions. I have a medical oncology team who communicate clearly and whom I trust. And I am getting treatment at a cancer center known for its compassionate care and cutting-edge research.

The Basics of Being a Successful Navigator

We rarely stop to think of it this way, but building strong navigational skills is important in many aspects of life. It applies every time we try something new, whether by choice or necessity. Learning how to successfully sort through options and choices applies to concrete activities such as driving, backpacking, and boating/cruising. And it applies to less tangible tasks such as effectively working with the education system, the workplace, and the healthcare system.

homeschooled students at table
We spent many years navigating the home-school world

At its simplest, building effective navigation skills in any setting can be summarized with three simple questions which must be answered:

  • “Where am I currently?”
  • “What location or goal am I aiming for?”
  • “What’s the most effective way to get there?”

It might take awhile to clearly define the answers to each step. In addition, the goals, and methods of reaching them are frequently changing. This requires flexibility on the part of the navigator and his/her team. Finally, the navigator must keep in mind the specific needs and desires of the individuals who are participating in the adventure.

The Basics of Being My Own Cancer Navigator

When I consider these questions as a Cancer Navigator for my own journey, my answers look like this:

  • The chronic cancer I was diagnosed with 2+ years ago, has recurred. This time it is aggressive and growing quickly.
  • Obviously, I would prefer the goal of being completely cured of all cancer. However, we must face the reality that this is a “chronic cancer” and will continue to recur for the rest of my life. So, the current goal is finding a way to live fully for as long as possible while co-existing with this cancer. (I will write another post soon to explore this concept more fully.)
  • My doctor presented several options for treatment this time around. We assumed surgery would be scheduled asap. However, both my doc and the oncology surgeon made it clear that surgery was not a viable option until the current cancer is under control and the multiple tumors are shrinking. We had to consider the pros and cons of each route as we decided which treatment option to pursue first.
masked patient in exam room, stuffed sloth

As you know, if you have been following this most recent health adventure, we chose to participate in a research trial of a new, very targeted medication. By trying this option first, we can easily move to another treatment if this fails to control my cancer. But if we had tried either of the other options first, we could not have gotten into the trial later. I am starting week 3 of an 8-week study. If the medicine is as effective as we hope, the trial sponsor will provide me with these pills for as long as I need them after I finish these closely monitored two months in the study.

Please let me know if there is something you want to know more about from my cancer journey! I’m happy to answer questions… In upcoming posts, I will compare being a Cancer Navigator to being a Navigator on an ocean-going ship. I will describe how this Phase 1 drug trial works. I will  explain how most cancer treatment has moved away from being an all-out “war on cancer.” And I will share a few short, hopefully entertaining stories from this cancer journey path.

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I cannot imagine doing this alone…)

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Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

I Refuse to be a “Cancer Survivor”

There are several titles given to people who are fighting cancer: “Cancer Survivor,” “Cancer Warrior,” “Cancer Thriver.” It’s fine with me if others choose to identify with any of these groups. However, I refuse to accept or use any of these names. They don’t fit with my experience of living with chronic cancer.

“Cancer Survivor”

woman with IV walking down hospital hall; Cancer survivor

Prior to the mid-1980s, anyone dealing with cancer was called a “cancer patient” or a “cancer victim.” In 1985, Dr. Mullan introduced the term “cancer survivor” to be used from diagnosis to end of life. He felt it was more encouraging and that this new title would better empower patients. Whether they had a poor prognosis or a good one, they were all dealing with cancer.

Don’t get me wrong! I definitely want to live for many, many years after being diagnosed with cancer 2+ years ago. I dislike this phrase because it sounds like I’ve been the victim of some terrible trauma. In my imagination, when I hear “cancer survivor,” it means others have been destroyed but I’m still standing, with ragged clothes, bandages everywhere, and a far-away gaze that is fixated on the horrors I’ve been through. This vision does not fit with my experience so far. I’ve had two surgeries (recovery wasn’t fun but it also wasn’t traumatic) and am currently taking a targeted medication that causes very few side effects. This is certainly a difficult path to walk emotionally, but I don’t feel like a “cancer survivor.”

“Cancer Warrior”

woman with bandaged arms wearing mask, cancer warrior

At first glance, this might be a good description for me. When facing challenges, I tend to stand strong and fight through to the other side of the obstacles. With chronic cancer, every few years I can expect another round of battle. The problem with this label is that the cancer world is changing its focus since the 1970s when President Nixon declared a “war on cancer.” My oncologist often reminds me that our goal is to figure out how I can live in balance with this cancer. (I will explain this more fully in a future blog post.) We want to slow tumor growth and calm its aggressiveness. I am on a (hopefully) long journey. I am not just a soldier in a one-and-done war. I am not a “cancer warrior.”

“Cancer Thriver”

woman in hospital gown with oxygen tubing in nose, cancer survivor

Nope, I am also not a “cancer thriver.” I suspect this less-used title is an attempt to show the changing outlook toward treating cancer. It does have a positive vibe to it—thriving, not fighting—but it feels too Susie-Sunshine-Always-Happy. A constant refrain of “be happy,” “be positive” “claim your victory” gets very tiresome. Most of us who deal with any chronic disease face frequent challenges. Sometimes life is difficult. We keep walking but aren’t necessarily skipping or dancing along the path all the time. As an optimistic realist, I am not a “cancer survivor” but I am also not a “cancer thriver.”

Other Titles for Cancer Patients

couple in snowy woods

I’ve tried to come up with other names for those like me who are dealing with chronic cancer. Cancer winner, cancer conqueror, cancer victim, cancer hero, cancer fighter—all of these phrases fall flat for me, for reasons similar to what I’ve expressed above. Quite honestly, most of the time when I’m talking about myself, I am more likely to acknowledge homeschooling our large family or being a Nature Therapy Guide or being an artist or a writer. Cancer is only one facet of my very full life. However, for times when I want to acknowledge the health adventure I’m currently going through, my hubby helped me find the perfect phrase for ME!

I am a Cancer Navigator!

Thanks for taking time to read this nerdy post! I love choosing just the right word to describe something. And I enjoy learning about the origins of words and phrases. Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

________________________

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Homeschool Reflections

We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!

Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”

family history, homeschool reflections

Thoughts from Parents

We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!

When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.

From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.

As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.

There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!

CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”

We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.

The most memorable [thing] for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still remember it.

I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.

Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”

RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”

We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.

RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.

RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings

Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.

RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.

RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.

RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.

JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family

JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling.  In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!

As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.

JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.

JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”

Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.

family portrait

JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!

Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia.  JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.

JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.

JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.

AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!

AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.

AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.

AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:

“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”

AP, our youngest child

If you identify with this lifestyle, I would love to hear YOUR homeschool reflections about the benefits and challenges of your education. Please share in the comments below…

For other information-based posts about homeschooling, please read 10 Myths of Homeschooling HERE and learn about getting started with homeschooling HERE.

Sunrise-Sunset (Part 1) — Seasons Change

Sometimes (many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?

A year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful day.)

sunset over lake with reeds, nature immersion, forest therapy

All of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself: in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these challenges are forever…

My training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE. I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in the middle of THIS season.

seasons change, winter, stream, dead leaves, nature immersion, forest therapy

For the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

from “Fiddler on the Roof”

Sometimes it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas; staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.

vintage wedding, love, seasons change, in the beginning

Just like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day, year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.

sunset over frozen lake, winter, seasons change, nature immersion, forest therapy

(Read other posts about TIME and CHANGING SEASONS)

Changing Season: which season describes YOUR life?

It’s autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?

We live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!

1—the year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:

farming, plowed field,

The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.

Disc Harrow, plowing, farming

The farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the fields to plow one more time before spring planting.

2—Spring brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):

Farming, Spring, New growth

Finally, the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears across the empty fields.

spring floods, farming,

Some challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and replant entire fields.

3—Time for LUSH GROWTH:

farming, summer fields, soy beans

Finally, the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons. There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.

soy bean closeup, lush growth, farming

In this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are progressing.

4—LOOK AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:

golden fields, farming, soybeans

Late summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.

soy beans, ripening, dying, farming

But this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.

5—now it’s time for a PAUSE:

dry fields, soybeans, farming, harvest time

Slowly, slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.

soybean pods, farming, harvest time

The farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…

6—CHAOS & NOISE are not always bad!

Harvest Chaos, Farming, Noisy Combine

It’s time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!

7—the year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:

Country Road, Farm field, Farming

After the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over. The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered. The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can be improved for next year’s projects.

What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?

As I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising, finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder how they might apply in your life?

Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.

It helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives. Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…

Can a Health Crisis Be an Adventure?

You aren’t imagining things. I indeed disappeared from the world for a month or so… I’ve had an unexpected health crisis and am slowly recovering. I’m finally clear minded and more even-keeled emotionally. So, while I spend much of each day physically recovering on the couch, I have plenty of time to ponder. Since I write about epic adventures, I’ve been wondering about the similarities and differences between a health crisis and an adventure…

Rather than leave you wondering, here are the basics before we move on to consider adventures. I had some slightly out-of-the-ordinary female symptoms for a number of months. My doc and I were quite comfortable just monitoring the situation with no action needed unless things changed. Then in early October, I started having a bit of spotting and aching. Things progressed rapidly—within just two weeks, I had 4 visits to the Hospital ER, multiple tests including a biopsy, was admitted to the hospital on day 13 and had emergency surgery on day 15. Whew! This health crisis wasn’t just a roller coaster…it felt more like a powerful, fast moving hurricane. (And I have the bruises to prove I was in a battle…HA!)

vampires, phlebotomists

I wrote a blog post in March considering whether my daughter’s robotics team was an adventure. (You can read that discussion HERE.) When I look again at the criteria I laid out, I think this health crisis was close to being an (unwanted) adventure:

Personally Stretching and having an Uncertain Outcome: Definitely true! It’s fine when I CHOOSE to step outside my comfort zone. And I’m okay with trying something new even when it’s not clear how I will do. This time, however, I was given no choice. I dislike being sick and I hate feeling like life is out of my control. If I didn’t choose the risks, it doesn’t feel fair that I’m stuck in the situation. Maybe someday I will get better about accepting these unexpected challenges as part of life…

Requires Perseverance, Hard Work and Finding Appropriate Mentors/Information: In this case, I kept pushing hard to get medical providers to take the spiraling pain and increased bleeding seriously. I finally found a specialist who is amazing at listening, researching, and acting. Good thing I did—having a tumor turning gangrenous would have had a very bad outcome if treatment had been delayed! Even when I was curled up and crying with pain, I’ve learned to keep fighting. (Thanks, Appalachian Trail backpacking trips for helping me deeply internalize these lessons! Read a post about the challenges of a long-distance hiking trip HERE.)

Makes a Good Story Later: Oh, yeah. There’s an amazing surprise ending to this story! Even the doctor was surprised… (Scroll to bottom of this post for more details…) For now, I’ll just comment that even my daughter’s dog knew something was terribly wrong. For the past three weeks, she has been glued to me, cuddling beside or on top of me while I have spent most of my time on the couch. Now, however, I must be mostly cured—the dog is back to spending all of her time with daughter.

guardian dog, healing cuddles

BUT…was it an Adventure? My criteria for something being an adventure also includes it being an “enjoyable activity.” Nope, nope, nope! Even with my comfy blanket dragged with me to every hospital visit, this health crisis was in no way “enjoyable.” Thus, I vote that although it had some things in common, this emergency was NOT an “ADVENTURE.”

comfort blanket

However, when I take a further look at the introductory pages on my blog, I think this past month might well fit the definition of a “Big Epic” (which is a larger category than just adventures). This crisis was certainly a change from normal routines. And it was a life transition. (You can read more about these definitions  HERE.) I am learning (again) the significance of making time to rest. I am learning (again) to set aside my independence and allow others to help. And I am learning how much I LONG to get back outside and continue building my new practice as a Forest Therapy Guide.

I would love to hear about YOUR unexpected adventures and life transitions! Post a comment here on the blog or on my fb page

(FURTHER DETAILS: (Saga started in early October) Pain was caused by a large tumor. Miracle 1it was determined to be benign. Tumor became gangrenous so an emergency hysterectomy was scheduled (just two weeks after initial ER visit). Miracle 2after I was in the OR, the surgeon discovered that my body had already “delivered” the tumor on its own so no surgery was needed after all. With a more accurate biopsy of the tumor, the surgeon referred me to an oncologist because a very few of the cells were determined to be abnormal. I argued against a hysterectomy (after all, a miracle made the previously scheduled surgery unnecessary), but the oncologist insisted we schedule the surgery after all. I had outpatient “robotic” surgery (in early December, just two months after all of this began). Miracle 3during the surgery, a very small tumor was discovered, hidden in the far corner of the uterus. This was sent off for biopsy. When the results came back, it was a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer that is never found before it has spread throughout the abdomen and become a Stage 4 cancer. Miracle 4the oncologist said this cancer was never found so early. She called it a stage 1 cancer, although there is nothing in the literature about early stages.Miracle 5the treatment? A complete hysterectomy…which had already been completed! No further cancer treatments needed! (Monitoring for the next few years…) Neither surgeon can explain how this series of events happened. Both agree that I am more than lucky….and both are comfortable saying that my outcome is indeed miraculous!)

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