Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, little David

Today, June 29th, my little brother David Jeremiah Luboff would've turned fifty-one. He was buried on his 9th birthday in 1967 after a tragic accident from which he never recovered, partly due to his heart condition and the remainder to the dinosaur days of medical care. There weren't even CAT scans back then.

That's him with my beloved father David in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California. Was it 1960? My Dad passed away in 1988; my mother in 1997.

I've lit a candle in my room for little David. It's from Pluscarden Abbey here in northern Scotland, with an image of Our Lady of Grace. My little brother's grave is at Mt. Olive Memorial Park in Los Angeles, not far away from my father's grave. I speak with them both in my mind's eye and heart on a regular basis. I felt that they both visited me while I was hospitalized and frightened.

He was so young when he died, and I remember so little from our childhood. When I speak to him now, I imagine him joshing back with me and saying, "I'm NOT little now!" I feel that his spirit is huge.

Life and death and linear time and Beyond.....

Friday, June 26, 2009

It turned out less scary than we thought

As we approach the end of June, I'm less than elated to acknowledge that I've been fairly unwell now for most of this month. Earlier was what I term the "Mystery Illness" for which I took the seriously unpleasant Ciprofloxacin for 10 days while my oomph was almost nowhere to be felt and seen. I'm pretty good at looking towards a hopeful horizon - I'm gettin' better, you betcha! I had a 3-day reprieve, roughly, until this latest round arrived earlier in the week. Dang, I was even starting to jog again!

"They're seasonal allergies," I pondered hopefully. "Everyone's got 'em now. Pollen is everywhere!" I took an antihistamine to no avail.

Please. I don't want another illness. This sucks.

I spent the week watching it and logging in two 12-hour consecutive sleeps. Fevers came and went for which I dosed with Paracetamol. I saw a doc on Tuesday who said, "If you notice such-and-thus symptoms, come in Friday." I didn't want to keep piling antibiotics in my system.

This morning a serious symptomatic turn said, "Call the doctor now." (I don't like talking about gross things, so email me if you really want to know). Tony & Ali & I trundled over to the local GP's office, suitcase in tow. It was seriously possible that I'd be asked to hightail it to the hospital in Aberdeen. I didn't want to but at least I knew to be ready. Not fun! No no!

Gratefully, I was not asked to go. This seems to be a gnarly case of sinusitis and, well, when you have a funky immune system like mine, you get stuff. I'm moving very very slowly. Very. Taking drops of menthol to hot water and steaming my face 'n sinuses with a towel around my head. Today I will begin Doxycycline. I so prefer natural remedies. In this case, when scary stuff says, "Excuse me, we need some big guns here," I do my best to listen.

Not everyone who reads this blog is on Facebook. For those of you who ARE and leave me the sweetest and most supportive little notes, Thank You. When I am afraid and tired, this cuddles up in my heart. Bless you!!

In the meantime, I'll take my medicines and slow it all down.

Our Mind Map happened on Thursday afternoon - yesterday. I need to incubate such depth and I will do so over time. My grateful thanks to Ruthie, Tony & Ali for their wisdom, love and support.


A lingering illness is taking a side trip - I'll keep you posted. Please pray.

Friday, June 19, 2009

the constant is change

Go ahead - ahhhhhhh!

Right at this moment, Friday mid-afternoon just days before the summer solstice, it is POURING rain. Not a light drizzle. (Don't get me going on my laundry and the line and electric dryers and the like). An absolutely rattling the windows downpour. If you are reading this from an area experiencing drought, you're probably not a small amount jealous.

The rainbow is from a few days ago - it's a double rainbow if you look closely. What is it about them that stops whatever you're doing while someone yells, "Look! A rainbow!" They elicit such delight and coos of awe. 

They come and leave so quickly. 

I didn't really think I'd be spending a corner of my midlife nose-to-nose with "how much TIME do I have?" And I am. Not 24/7 but it's there while I pray for a way to BE PRESENT with enough awareness to not feel that I am a ticking bomb - the latter a term used by the good doctor yesterday. A ticking bomb. 

"They keep moving the goalposts," said Tony yesterday. "It's one of the things that makes this so infuriating."  I'm not going to unpack every game change other than to say it was a long day, a reasonable visit with the oncologist and we are now gearing up to look at things through different lenses. Next Thursday a group of us will sit down and create a "Mind Map." Having such wise assistance with The Options is a gift. "... and behind Door #3.....!" 

Today the rain lessens. Soon I leave for an early dinner gathering at Pauline's and then a Step Study at 1 Leask Road. Tomorrow is another day. Yesterday we DID stop at Morgan McVeigh's and while our minds were more clouded than during our visit of the prior month, it was still tasty and fun. Tony treated. 

This week I began jogging again. I had not since my bone marrow biopsy on April 28th. Also a medical professional had suggested that I not jog but take walks instead, which I have done. And I missed jogging and sometimes I don't like feeling weak and ineffectual. I'm slow on the trails and yet I can thank God that I am out amidst the trees and bracken. The river sounds are not far away. This beats pounding an urban pavement. 

I was elated to find my blood counts reasonable after having had such a wretched illness for two weeks. Those neutrophils and white cells are workin' it! I am SO proud of them! Yes, they're down from two weeks ago but they're holding gamely considering the laboring they've done: WBC 1.8, ANC a suspected 1.1 and platelets 63! 

What happens when a ticking bomb goes off? And how does one live when you don't know when it'll go off? As Fr. Tom says, 'left foot, right foot, breathe'. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

one piece of wood at a time

It's the day before we three venture forth to my now-monthly trip to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to consult with kindly Dr. Culligan. A mixture of familiar pre-trip nerves greets me, the lessened edginess possibly chalked up to stroppy denial as well as the chance for Growing Through Adversity. Giving myself credit for anything affirming remains a learned activity rather than something embedded in my DNA. Another breath and I can take a little bit of credit for growth and Grace.

Sometimes it is hard for me to lovingly embrace an awareness of God's Grace. Sometimes it is hard for me to interpret cause-and-effect without reducing my perceptions to Kindergarten simplicities. "If this Goodness comes from God, how do I slot in the awfulness? If something sucks, am I being abandoned by God?" In my darker episodes of self-judgment, I bewail my lack of commitment to Christ and then flog myself for those times I just glare at my icons while growling inwardly. And then my heart melts and I reexperience a loving connection. "I'm a fair weather Christian, Lord," I sometimes sigh. "How do I love You unconditionally? Please help me to do this." 

When questions such as these assault my psyche, I find comfort in present moment activities like the one in the photograph above. I step out of the box of anything with the leukemia label attached and simply pay attention to one whisky barrel slat at a time... from chaos to order, from an upended pile of wood for the fire to its neater placement one slat and one row at a time. From bottles of Highland single malt to an emptied whisky barrel to broken slats to a roaring fire, ordinary life moves and changes. And since I'm a long time Friend of Bill Wilson, the scents of the whisky waft into my nostrils as I lay the wood. I smirk. I rather liked a fine bit of single malt in the distant past. I am far more grateful today to have set it down with the immeasurable help of God as I understand God, 12 Steps and a beloved Fellowship. That leaves more for the balanced enjoyment of "normies" and gives me a shot at a life worth living. 

Tomorrow is a day trip out to Aberdeen with a mid-afternoon luncheon stop at Morgan McVeigh's. I'm smiling to imagine it. Yum yum yum! Oh, and we'll also sit down with that lovely Dr. Culligan and talk more. I'm experiencing pleasure imagining the fun rather than awfulizing myself into a debilitating round of what if?? Whatever the latest news and continuing array of options, I am not alone. This is pretty amazing. "Yes, really," I can say to my grateful heart.

I'm here now. I feel pretty darn good now, emerging from an often exhausting two-week illness and 10 days worth of unpleasant antibiotics. I am trying to receive today's gifts, like having headed to Inverness with Ruthie to see the astoundingly brilliant film The End of the Line and walk along the banks of the River Ness in the 20 minutes of sunshine amidst a day of dreich and rain. 

Today there is enough wood for the fire. 

Today there is enough.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

if you think that the grass is greener ...

...then make sure you can get at it without adverse consequences!

An old 12-Step axiom is, "Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans." (No, I'm not saying that "God" is a "He" per se; bear with me here). To me now this is an eyes rolling duh. Perhaps the duh quotient is more bittersweet as one of my core lessons includes having desires without trying to staple them to my forehead. It's truly one of the running conundrums of the leukemia dance, the Here Now! doing its gyrations with "... and then I'd really like to...." 

An example is the morning when I had a number of Important Things pencilled in. (I've learned that much at least - to use a pencil in my Day-Timer). Tony got off the phone and said, "One of the sheep is stuck in a fence and we can't reach the farmer. I'm going up the track to get it unstuck." He then looked at me. "Do you want to come along?" 

"Well, yeah!" I chirped.

"Bring your camera," said Tony and off we went. 

You'd think that momma sheep would have been close by, maternal urgings desperate to find her offspring, well, sprung. She was nowhere in sight. Little lambie was there with its head in the fence, lunging and bleating like a broken record. Well, you can see the photos. I needn't belabor the process - Tony came to the rescue and the little clueless one went scampering back to the farther away grouping of its fellows. Next time you enjoy a lamb chop, consider the transmission of intelligence. Not!

We did get our daily hooting fix of "Sheep Shaggers Monthly" jokes. I wouldn't upload the photo at first for that reason. "Tony. I can't post THIS!" I said. "Oh go ahead," he grinned. There is a holy solace in not taking yourself too seriously. 

Later that day a swarm of bees was part of the diem interruptus. But wait a minute here... what was being interrupted? My thoughts? My intentions? My desires? A little lamb was given a few more months of life (you do know why these are bred and it's not for the local pet store).... a garden with two beehives became one with three. Who interrupts what? I was busy frowning over my age spots and how to treat them when leukemia struck last October. Now I see the sweet elders shuffling along the High Street or in my tiny new parish church and think, "Yes, I want to be like you... older, slower, alive." And aware.

To recap a few of my lessons:

1. If you yearn and go for it, try to minimize the adverse consequences.

2. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Yelling is allowed.

3. Don't be afraid to mess up your Day-Timer by giving help. 

4. If you see a swarm of bees, keep walking. 

Thoughts and options change. Life is full of curve balls. I used to judge myself more harshly for being easily distracted. Now I pray for flexibility... and awareness...

...and humor!

Friday, June 5, 2009


One of my favorite parts of writing here is choosing which photo to upload and why.... and how to weave in themes and parallels. This shows the three beekeepers Barbara (our neighbor and my friend from Church) with Tony & Ali. Recently one of the hives was moved eight miles away for a few days and then to Barbara's up the hill. Bees I am told either have to be moved three feet or more than three miles away, else they'll immediately navigate back to their home base. As Barbara is less than a mile away, the bees would've been back here in no time. So far they have acclimated well to their transit adventures.

The bees are cared for by a team. With the right conditions, they flourish. The busy little creatures exemplify community-mindedness. And they allow in helpers - if the helpers do the right dance!

A few days ago I began getting the symptoms of the cold/flu that's been working its way through the local region. I wasn't unduly alarmed, despite the terrorizing threats from former oncology nurses about what wretchedness could befall someone as neutropenic as myself. (Neutrophils are the bits that fight infections; I have precious few of them as well as other things). Oh please. I'm paranoid enough without hearing all of that. Undaunted, I lumbered through my days. I sniffled, I drank teas, I began to cough, I slowed down. "It's a cold. I'll live." Yesterday a fever hit of 102.2. After being space brained in bed for the late afternoon, Tony and Ali stepped forward and let their angel wings fully unfurl. First Ali made me a tea with freshly chopped ginger root in boiled water with just-harvested honey; Tony peeked into my room and reminded me, "We're here for you, no matter what, don't you forget that." I cried. I was afraid. And I was comforted. 

By 8 pm they'd phoned the NHS Helpline. By 10 pm Ali had driven us to Dr. Gray's Hospital in Elgin with an appointment (hah!) to see the doctor. By 11 pm we were ushered in. We left at 12:30 am (long past our respective bedtimes) after tests and with Paracetamol (Britain's answer to Tylenol) for the fever plus Ciprofloxacin for the mystery infection. 

The Paracetamol works like a charm. My temperature is back to normal. I'm being spacey on me own and looked after by these two precious ones. As well there are those in the outer community (like Pauline and Ruthie) who've phoned and texted us after Tony let them know last night. I don't have to toughen up and make sure I ask for help here. I am surrounded with it. 

Because of my underlying condition (the effing leukemia), it was suggested with bright eyes and bushy tails that I head to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary that night for 2-3 days of IV antibiotics. "You can also take them orally, if you wish, but we would strongly suggest that," intoned the doctor. "There is no way in hell I'm heading to the hospital right now," I thought. I looked over at Ali, whose eyes were bugging out slightly. "I'd prefer to take the oral meds and go back home," I said as evenly as possible. Ali nodded. If I couldn't stand up, which for 2 minutes after my fevered blood draw was admittedly true, sure. Wheel me in. I wasn't completely delirious. And I hadn't even packed a bag with my laptop! 

Ali drove us back in the rain. We three debriefed after 1 am by the fire and then staggered off to our bedrooms. And while exceedingly woozy, I can rest in a safe and loving space. I can exemplify a smirking sluggard. 

Extra good news aside from making sure you know that I am looked after by angels: I had a blood draw yesterday (my once a fortnight until I next see Dr. Culligan on the 18th), the results of which had been fed into the computer that last night's doctor checked. My WBC and ANC are seriously UP! The whites had been hovering in the 1.2 to 1.5 range - sadly, my pathetic norm. (Normal is 4.0 - 10). The test from June 3rd showed WBC at 2.5! And my ANC (absolute neutrophil count) had been floating in the .5 to .6 (500-600) range. They should be 1.5 -7. Last night they doubled to 1.7! I am attempting to be grateful and more miracle-minded than suspicious. My psyche is a work in progress. 

Today is a restful day.