Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a few little extras

I've always loved "outtakes" the best... the snippets from movies that just weren't quite splash enough to make the big marquee. I'm a show-off. I have been given wondrous gifts and as well simplicities that I wish to share before moving on to next musings.

For those dear friends not from California, my friends here are standing in front of one of the redwoods at Muir Woods here in Marin County. These are REALLY tall trees!

So here's that fun "extras" Gallery: CLICK, my friends!

The soirée was of course a great success; their stay at the villa was mostly wondrous; and we got around the local area, even while I whined about my puffy cheeks (down now every so slightly with the reduced Dex!).

We managed to feast at the three local restaurants I'd eyed, BOCA in Ignacio being one of them. I need to point out that dining out in Scotland is not normally a pleasant occasion. The food is expensive and less than ideal quality... unless you make it to the likes of Boath House out which is, oh, heaven. Trust me. Go there. You'll NEVER forget it. Otherwise, even the likes of the Ramnee in Forres is sorta like a local fish-'n-chip shop with strong pints at the bar. But I gotta tell you - they make some extremely luscious fish-'n-chips!

So we BOCA'd... and we made it to a wholly ordinary Mexican Taqueria on Grant Street here in Novato. We're Californians; we're locals. We do Mexican. NEVER had they before. I think more energy and bug eyes went into the size of the portions than anything else, and with enough homemade guacamole and other various salsas (including a side of molé sauce), we feasted. The two others were a surprise luncheon at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley and our last meal at the Harmony Dim Sum in Strawberry. What can I say? YUM!

One of the most delightful excursions was having being given a personalized Garden Tour by Nanette Londeree, my kind landlady Master Gardener. SHE was born gifted. She even brings me vases of cut roses as I'm on her healing path radar - bless her. However, Tony & Ali & Ruthie are no slouches in their respective gardens... but wow. Nanette normally saves her tours for 150-200 people.

We were then treated to delectable cut farmer's market fruit and bubbly pear juice on their patio. What a blessed morning!

"So whatcha up to tomorrow?" piped in her husband Bill. Both retired after decades and now into their various heart paths, Tony responded, "Not sure. Think we'll just explore the area."

"I can take you all up Mt. Tam and then to Muir Woods if you like," he quipped. Now Bill is not only a bit on the shy side but VERY busy. While Nanette's eyes widened slightly with surprise, Tony said, "That would be GREAT!"

And so it was. You can see some of the photos here in the little Gallery. It was AMAZING.

There was also an open-top City bus tour while I had a rest day. I'd loaded 'em up with AAA maps, the Ferry Schedule and my blessings.

I cried and laughed every day with delight to have had my friends come all this way to spend an entire week with me. I give such great thanks to God.

But what's this little black kitten face at the end of the Gallery? You'll have to wait and see, won't you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

looking a little more deeply

This glorious variegated rose belongs to my gifted Marin Master Gardener Landlady Nanette, also a Master Rosarian (U.S.). It symbolizes yesterday's hospital visit of Tuesday, September 20th... with intricacy, complexity and ultimately beauty.

I had not a small amount of anxiety for this particular visit. One, it had been a month since my prior checkup jaunt, which I now have learned is not all that unusual. As my blessed friends from Scotland were here in Marin County for a WEEK of joys (woo!), I had not the slightest intention to commit any of that time to getting my blood drawn and having the other oncologist give me the once over before shoo'ing me off. "You seem to be doing well. See you in a few weeks or a month..."

This time I saw Dr. Wolf. Hot shot in the joint, a zillion years of experience. This is the man who had walked into my ICU room in July and given me my "terminal" diagnosis. He's not a wretch - he simply had demonstrated a bedside manner that I would not have chosen. "There, there now" - how many oncologists do YOU know who have that in their back pocket? He and I had gotten off on a really rough footing back in July and he was on my "you keep your distance, buster" list. In fact, since having been sprung on August 3rd, I had not seen him. He had been out walking the forests of Laos. ("I work hard and I play hard."). Dr. Olin - the other oncologist - was a dear. I like dears.

So my anxiety levels were up a bit. I was asking and begging for prayer. I was RECEIVING prayer! And I had asked a friend's mother, a retired cardiac nurse, to accompany me as advocate. Two sets of listening ears in that tiny office were better than one.

The drive in was interminable. Note to self: No more appointments after 8am or much before Noon. I had a page-full of questions. I KNEW he'd be kicking my butt - that was his job, wasn't it? There she is, the little "I won't do chemo this time" refusenik. In spite of prayer, my own and others, my friend the brain was having a field day with me.

Surprise: It was a great visit. Here are the three chunks of good news delivered by Dr. Wolf in a surprisingly warm manner:

1. The Dexamethasone HAS shrunk the main tumor slightly. This brutish oral steroid that has been sending me through a tilt-a-whirl carnival ride every morning since late July has in fact had an effect on the little monsters in my lung/chest area.

2. The fluid in my lungs - both the left working and right "non-working" one - has lessened as noted on a recent CT scan of Sept 2nd.

3. The best news of all for me personally - Dr. Wolf and I are going to experiment with me taking LESS DEX. I almost cried when I heard this news. I had almost begged, frankly. I've been shattered on this steroid, from hand shakes to all-morning disorientation to my bulbous face. We're going from 20mg to 12mg/day. (In the hospital I was on 40/mg day). Twelve!

This morning I cried as I pulled out THREE 4mg/pills rather than my five. Placebo effect or no, I can already feel a difference.

I do not live my life between hospital visits, of course. I pray for the discerning grace to integrate levels of guided wholesomeness. This Friday, for example, after weeks of fiddling with getting an actual prescription for the priviledge, I will meet privately with a licensed physical therapist at the Osher Marin JCC for an evaluation for their hydrotherapy program. No, it ain't free or part of my membership costs! However it'll help get my somewhat resistant heinie back to the gym for gentle and even FUN use. Woo! In the meantime I take walks.

My priest Fr. Thomas is a source of great Godly wisdom. I am reminded to stay "...bigger than my vital statistics," as any fixation on them can rob me of the present which is where CHRIST MY GOD lives. "The present is jam packed with myriad of clouds of witnesses... who are never separate, no matter what the facts are... CHRIST IS THE LAST WORD."

I go back to UCSF on October 18th. In the meantime, I am given the grace to say to my True Great Physician, "Lord, here I am."

Your prayers have blessed me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feasting in God's Love

These two photos are from the early evening soirée which had bubbled up from one of my 4am musings. YES! - my precious friends from Scotland are HERE and have been so since Wednesday, Sept. 7th! I will share a snippet of the incomparable JOYS in which I have reveled since their blessed arrival only days ago. There is often a slightly more fleshed out Gallery for you to muse over... via which if you're somewhat clever, you'll find a way to see even more photos, many taken by wonderful Stacey and her lovely artistic eye.

I sip tea. My heart murmurs and sighs. There had been a few coattail tuggings around my friends' presence here... to which I'd initially responded by clasping my territorial arms to my chest and saying as politely as possible, "Well, they flew 5000 miles to see me (me me me!)... and we're going to BE together as much as time and my funkomatic energy levels can manage." However that 4am musing Whom I call The Holy Spirit added, "Hey. You can loosen up a bit here. Find a very few ... ask Tony, Ali & Ruthie, would YOU enjoy a small gathering?" Yes. That is part of our depth of intimacy over the years; we ask, we "attune," I pray, we seek Godly agreement. I didn't want a raucous party of fifty. Small, quiet, intimate... some very close friends from St. Paul's and my Sunday Night Oikos Home Church. Our feasting danced far beyond the sumptuous delectables that adorned tables and laps.

The Moroccan-themed vacation home - my friends' holiday villa right on the lagoon - was bursting with Godly love. I didn't "do" this party. Jesus did. I had given it to Him from the start. With a sheer blessedness that defies my own controlling when I Let Go, The Lord's Grace arose and did so mightily!

Saturday, Sept. 10th... a celebration banquet amongst beloveds. At 4pm the first friends arrived, toting exotic IPAs and scrumptious food. Ruthie, Ali & Tony had set it all up and out "English Style" while I napped in the Master Bedroom. They worked; I recharged my energies. Whole Foods Novato had been giddily raided for the finest imported sheep milk cheeses, olives, fresh baguettes, Icelandic butter, organic Mexican chorizo, crudités with Toby's feta dip... and of course the homemade yums from our guests, from Kari's quiche to Stacey's fat & luscious farm stand strawberries. The dessert table winked with Dilettante truffles from Seattle (Chris & Alice!), double duty Oreos, Two-bite brownies, fresh organic fruit. Bevvies galore.

I mourn my bloated steroid face. Cheekbones Luboff has always been a source of Slavic pride for me. I don't look like myself today. I cried last night about that. And as the E-Ticket bliss of this heavenly visit slowly shifts to the awareness of their (sob!) departure on Wednesday, I look ahead to more doctors' appointments with more questions piling up. There are places between awakening each morning and saying, "O LORD! You have given me a new day!" with the left-brain need to know what in the billy blue blazes is going on. The earth and Heaven "balancing act" if you will shall continue without fear. I rebuke that dark side in the Name of Christ. And yes, it slithers in... sometimes so subtly I am caught off guard. I remember; this "life" of mine is not mine - it is GOD's. I am His. I breathe in that knowingness as often as my one strong lung can inhale His Grace.

Each day of this week is a Gift from God beyond compare, and to Him I give thanks and praise for the love that cascades all around me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

For the first time in eight years...

... I went to my fave hairstylist in the world, plopped down into our chair for a two-hour posh spa event, and said, "Charlene, do me. Let's play."

"Well," you might muse. So? People with leedul teeny smidges of control issues don't tend to talk like that. Charlene responded with, "Do you want me to tell you what I'm going to do or do you want me to surprise you?"

Surprise me.

And so it began... as one of the most pampered, luxuriating treats I have given to myself EVER.

Charlene Stratton (the ArtBeat Salon owner) and Genevieve Palogan (a superb master stylist) have been cutting my hair all this time. But NO color! No messin' wid dat! I think my ego was amusing itself seeing how little gray would come in, and frankly I liked my dark ash locks. I kept it all pretty simple.

I gave myself an utterly pampered spa day. It was not a hospital day. You can see my steroid face - puffy as all get out even with my post-hospital weight loss (10 lbs that!). "That makes the lines on your face less visible, you know," said Charlene simply. I love you! You are nice to me and always have been.

After the amazing coloring excursion, Charlene shaped 'n gracefully blow-dried... then said, "And now I have two presents for you. One, I would like to have Rachelle trim and gently tint your brows. Would you like that?"

I have never tweezed nor touched my brows in my life. "Yes, please!" I said. Rachelle is a Master Esthetician from whom I have received THE most AMAZING and healing facials EVER. (Do I sound like a Valley Girl or what?). We went back into the healing room and... I emerged... with lovely brows. And hugs. And peace.

It was now almost 5pm. Three hours of glorious pampering!

The other gift echo'd a series of "girl giggles" many of us had shared that day with new folk being semi-auditioned at the salon. Cute guys. My eyes still wander. In a simple paper bag, Charlene handed me...a dark chocolate butt. Yes - buttocks, bahunkus (made up semi-Yiddish word), gluteous yummulous! Earlier snorts about "skinny black butt jeans" took on another realm.

I show up for my medical appointments, too. I take the pills I have agreed to take, over which I often remember to pray. The Dex still kicks my butt every single morning with shakes and disorientation. Today's gallop through UCSF based on a CT scan I'd asked for was fairly exhausting on many levels, with the added edge that for the very first time I drove there myself. Normally I've made a big game of it being dropped off and even - praise be to God - chauffeured. Today's maiden solo flight took a few notches out of my fairly limited stores of "whatcha got in Felix the Cat's magic bag, girl?" Parking was hell. Trying to find "11Long" (in the 505 Building) baffled me, but when I handed over my old wig and one scarf in a gift bag at the Nurses Station and said, "This cost $250 and has about 6 good months left on it - please find it a good home," my heart danced a lighter step. The CT scan took 5 minutes although getting my own CD copy will include the Post Office since the Film Library didn't have it together. I picked up a paper prescription for A Controlled Substance that sometimes helps my lung to ease and nighttime brain to chill. One 5mg. tablet seems to do it. Beats the IV-Dilaudid I was getting in ICU! (Of course I had 3 tubes in me then, so "need" was not a nebulous concept).

I go back on the 20th to meet with the other oncologist, Jeff Wolf. I will ask a friend to accompany me for that, as what few words this doctor dishes out err on the side of not so pleasant.

And this coming Wednesday the 7th, some of God's BEST healing medicine of all will arrive from Scotland- Tony, Ali and Ruthie! Love and fellowship... and best friends. I'll stock up their Moroccan Villa the day before. And we will take each blessed day as we are given that week. Oh I breathe happiness just writing this!

Lord God, You are so good to me. Let me share the bounty of Your heaven each day as You direct me. When things are tough or tiring, please give me faith and deeper trust in You. And thank You for hugging me with my new hair, gracious Lord.