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Life Rerouted

Let’s do a family video chat soon,” Mom wrote in her email. “Let’s pick a time when you can all be available next Sunday.”

How lovely, I thought. We haven’t done a group chat with Mom in ages! A moment later, a pang of fear struck me. Something is wrong, my gut warned, We haven’t done a group chat in ages.

Dave chided me for being so dramatic. “She just wants to talk to you guys, is all,” he assured me. “Don’t assume the worst.”

Still, the next day I sent Mom a text. “Is something going on that you need to tell us?” I remembered at Thanksgiving she had mentioned that she and Kathryn were working on their wills. I told myself it could just be an update on that.

Maybe they’re going to take us on an all-expenses paid trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? I joked with my youngest brother, after I’d stirred up his anxiety by texting him and asking if he knew what was up.

Mom wouldn’t cave under the pressure of my probing texts, much to my frustration. “Tell you what,” she wrote. “If you can wrangle the boys, we can do a call tonight and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”

By this point I knew it couldn’t be good. If it was a benign thing, like going over details of a will, or discussing plans for next summer’s family get-together, why wouldn’t she just say so and alleviate my worry?

After a flurry of text messages between the siblings, we agreed on a 7 pm call. Whatever it is, I hope it’s treatable, I thought to myself.

Just a few months before, Cara’s uncle had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He went from having a pesky cough to being in the ICU at Dana Farber in Boston within a month. His condition quickly deteriorated and he died the day after Christmas. It was shocking that it happened so fast, and left us all pondering just how abruptly life can be taken away from you and turned upside down for those left behind. This was still fresh in my mind as I fretted over what could be going on with Mom.

At 7 pm, I began dialing and connecting Mom and Kathryn to Kris and John and Nick. We greeted each other cheerfully, happy to hear those familiar voices across the miles. I can only assume my brothers all waited on the edges of their seats, as I did, for Mom to tell us why she’d wanted us all together.

“I have breast cancer,” she said.

“Fuck,” I breathed, my voice colliding with those of my brothers, all of us releasing exclamations of dismay at once. I thought first of my brother John, whose wife had just lost her uncle to cancer, and whose two close friends were also battling cancer. Just a few months before, they’d been talking with some concern about how many people they knew had cancer.

I leaned against the wall and stared at the familiar features of the kitchen, suddenly recalling similar anxious phone conversations with my siblings when Dad had been unexpectedly hospitalized years before. Why are kitchens always places of such intense emotion? I wondered.

We all held it together on the phone, as each of us expressed our concern and our support, and our promises to help out however we could. She explained that they didn’t know much yet, other than that they could tell it was cancer from the x-rays. It had spread to her lymph nodes, but they didn’t know yet if it had spread further. She would be going for a biopsy the next day to determine what kind of cancer it was.

After hanging up, I sat numbly. I knew it would take some time for the news to sink in. Cancer. It’s what I had feared, although somehow breast cancer seemed a little less scary. Breast cancer is so common! Breast cancer is pink ribbons and t-shirts and it’s something that can be beat, right? I realized then just how little I actually knew about it.

The days slowly turned to weeks – each day spent waiting for something else. I can imagine that for Mom these days of waiting were absolute agony. We tried to help keep things light by sending funny text messages and emails, and mailing cards for her.

I cautiously googled information about breast cancer. I remembered a young woman I knew who died from breast cancer in her early 30’s. I reached out to my former boss, who had just finished up chemo for her breast cancer. I mentioned it to a couple of friends and learned that both of them had breast cancer in their families – that their grandmothers and mothers and aunts had gone through chemo or surgery and had come out the other side.

While of course, I still nursed the lurking fear that Mom’s cancer could have spread and become more deadly, or that her particular kind of cancer would be incurable, I did find comfort in realizing just how many women have been through this.

Finally, after weeks of scans, x-rays, MRI’s, blood work and whatever else they could think of to check, it was clarified. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma that had spread to the lymph nodes, but, hallelujah, not anywhere else in her body.

Last week she had a port installed, and tomorrow she begins chemo. She will have to do chemo, followed by surgery and then radiation. I wish they could just do surgery and leave it at that, but I trust that her doctors know what is best. Obviously I don’t, as I literally just learned about breast cancer from Google in these past few weeks.

So, that’s where we’re at right now. I am focusing on keeping a positive attitude about it, and trusting that this will be yet another interesting chapter in our lives. Writing about it is therapeutic for me, but I’m trying to balance it with respect my mom’s privacy, as she is not the kind of person who would blog about her problems and post it all over the internet like I do.

For those of you who know my mom and want to follow her progress, she has created a Caring Bridge page, which is kind of like a blog.  Just go to www.caringbridge.org and type in her name. Or, ask me for a direct link.

Namaste, friends.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans!

We just got back from a hearty Thanksgiving meal at my dad’s house. Kris and Grey came too, so it was a nice little gathering. Of course we prepared too much food, but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I am always grateful for quality time with my loved ones.

This time last year, Dave and I were holed up in our hotel room in Costa Rica, waiting for Hurricane Otto to pass by. After that unique experience, I no longer have any particular expectations for how a Thanksgiving should be.

I used to feel like Thanksgiving had to meet certain requirements in order to be right. My whole family had to be there. We had to have turkey, stuffing, gravy, broccoli casserole, creamed onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and biscuits. We had to have apple pie and pumpkin pie for dessert. If it could snow, even just a little, that would be nice.

Last year, Dave and I decided to use the Thanksgiving holiday weekend as a way to extend our Costa Rica trip. I hesitated at first – did I really want to be away from my family during this most-cherished of holidays? It had been weird enough to stop eating turkey on Thanksgiving once I became a vegetarian, but skipping the holiday altogether was really pushing some boundaries. Perhaps being stuck in a hotel room as a hurricane passed by was the price I had to pay for skipping Thanksgiving, but it was worth it. That trip was amazing.

This year, when it became apparent that one brother was going to do this, and another that, I accepted that we would not all be together on Thanksgiving day. Instead, my brothers and I had a pre-Thanksgiving weekend with my mom, and then today, Kris, Grey, Dave and I shared the day with Dad.

When I think back to Thanksgivings of the past, I feel so lucky to have spent the day with so many wonderful people and in so many cozy homes. Above all, I’ve come to realize that the holiday is about the experience of being together with people who are important to you.

This is what I’m grateful for today:

Dave.
Time spent with my family.
My two fuzzy children.
That my dental journey is nearing an end (or, a resting point?).
Our cozy little house.
That I’ve been able to meditate for 110 days in a row!
That we live in a safe place and I can go through my days without fear.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

September 25th

Today’s date is a significant one for me – it is Gram’s birthday, first and foremost. She would have been 95 today. If she was still alive, the McKelvie clan would have gathered together to celebrate with a nice dinner, and, more importantly, a nice dessert. I suppose we could have gotten together anyway, and had a celebration in her honor… but it’s not the same without her.

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Gram’s 85th Celebration… nothing like a little sprinkling of heavy metals on your cake…

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Gram’s 80th Bash – We were all looking young and spry here.

In other news, four years ago today, I started this blog!

Today was a good day for me – perhaps Gram was somehow guiding my hand, but I actually did everything on my to-do list! I made an appointment with a career coach, and an appointment with a nutritionist, AND I took care of my dad’s big birthday gift which we will present to him in a few weeks.  I think I’ll take the rest of the week off.

Out of curiosity, I googled today’s date and came across a page which lists everything that has happened on September 25th… here it is, if you want to look for yourself:  http://www.onthisday.com/events/september/25

Some highlights include:

  • 1492 Crewman on Pinta sights “land”-a few weeks early (look out Native Americans…)
  • 1780 Benedict Arnold joins the British  (traitor!)
  • 1836 HMS Beagle anchors at St Michael (aww, Darwin)
  • 1878 British physician Dr. Charles Drysdale warns against the use of tobacco in a letter to The Times newspaper in one of the earliest public health announcements on the dangers of smoking (damn! and people STILL smoke.)
  • 1919 US president Woodrow Wilson suffers a breakdown in Colorado, his health never recovers (I didn’t even know this happened!)
  • 1926 Henry Ford announces 8 hour, 5-day work week (Dammit Henry… couldn’t you have gone with 5 hours per day, or perhaps a 3-day work week? I have hobbies!)
  • 1965 Children find trunk with corpse in Amsterdam canal (WTF.)
  • 1974 US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site
  • 1974 Scientists first report that freon gases from aerosol sprays are destroying the ozone layer (1974 was a bad year…)
  • 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor sworn in as 1st female supreme court justice (woot!)
  • 1993 Action TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger” starring Chuck Norris debuts on CBS
  • 1997 “ER” is performed live on TV (I remember that!)

There’s a ton more events on the actual page… a lot of it is related to sports and politics, so bleh.

Before I sign off, I’ll mention that I have been working on a post entitled “Losing my Religion” where I get into all the things that happened on my way out of Christadelphia. It’s been interesting for me to look back at everything that happened, and now that it’s been more than a decade, I can actually see everything so much more clearly. I almost wish I could travel back in time and rescue myself much earlier… but I suppose that I needed to go through all that ish in order to become the person I am now. It is also draining to rehash all those feelings and emotions I went through. It will probably end up being a series of posts, otherwise it will be so long and unbearable that no one will read the whole thing.

Alright – it’s off to bed for me… I promise to share more about the career coaching thing too, once I have more to share. 🙂

Namaste, friends.

 

How We Do Black Friday

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, those of you in the U.S. Ours went well, even though I joked the other day about being stressed out about the prep work. Cooking is really not my favorite activity. I like eating, but planning a menu, obtaining all the proper ingredients and assembling them into tasty dishes is a bit of a challenge for me.

That being said, I did put together a delightful pumpkin pie with a walnut oat crust, and my vegan creamed corn was a hit (they ate it all up!). My biscuits turned out flat and I made way too much broccoli casserole, but both tasted fine, as did my roast veggie mix. I had to recruit my brother Nick to take care of the apple pie because I ran out of time. My brother Kris brought mashed potatoes, vegan gravy, a very yummy seitan dish, cranberry sauce, and creamed onions. Nick made a sweet potato casserole with walnuts on top that was very good, and he made a delicious red lentil soup too. Our friend Grey brought green bean casserole. Dad (or possibly Nick) cooked turkey, stuffing and gravy at Dad’s house and brought that over to my house. So everything was vegan except for those last three items, obviously.

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The gang about to dig in! 

After we were overly full, we took a break and played a game called Quelf, which was pretty funny. Dad and Grey had to slow dance with each other. John had to lay his head on the table until someone touched him (which none of us did for ages because we didn’t know that touching him would do anything!), I had to crawl under the table for an entire turn. It was pretty funny.

Once we’d played two rounds of the game, we were ready for some pie. Both the apple and the pumpkin turned out yummy. It wasn’t long after that that we all headed to our respective beds and fell into deep slumbers.

This morning we met up at Giuffrida Park in Meriden for a hike. I lived in Meriden 10 years ago (excuse me while I wrap my head around that… wow!). When I lived there I would go over and climb Chauncy Peak like it was no big deal. It’s probably what kept me in shape. Today I thought my legs were going to give out.

The view from the top. Pardon my awkward panorama skills which gave Nick a Frankenstein head.

Once we’d caught our breath, we decided it would be a good time to pose for a family photo. Bruce did not understand and was not interested in sitting still, which resulted in some hilarious shots.

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It was a gorgeous day for a hike. It was really windy at the top, but the sun was so warm that most of us ended up in short sleeves for the duration of the hike. It had to be close to 60 degrees.

Bruce was so hot he had to bathe in a muddy puddle.

Looking West toward the Hanging Hills

During the hike, John mentioned something about geocaching. Of course I had heard of it before but I never really looked into doing it. He has an app on his phone that tells you where caches are hidden, and there were a bunch in the park. Most were off the beaten path but we found an easy one on our way out. It had been put there in 2008, so it was a bit weathered. It was just a little plastic box with various little papers in it. Nothing too exciting, but I’d still be willing to try to find more.

When we finished the hike, it was time for leftovers! Back to the house we went, where we feasted once again. Then everyone packed up and went their separate ways. It’s always sad to say goodbye to my brothers, but at least I know we will be together again in less than a month for Christmas!

Happy (Almost) Thanksgiving! 

Hello! Thanksgiving is two days away and Dave and I are hosting this year. Tomorrow is going to consist of me freaking out, panicking and most likely crying at some point as I prepare the house and the food. But I’m looking forward to it! Looking forward to Thursday, that is. It is my favorite holiday because it’s all about family and food. I hope that those of you reading this who celebrate Thanksgiving have a wonderful day with family and friends. 

So last time I wrote, I was in Austin. I had been looking forward to meeting Sonja the next day, after the meeting was over and before my flight home. However, she came down with a bad cold and wasn’t able to come out. So that was too bad. I ended up just hanging out at the resort with my work people and then catching a ride to the airport with a few of them.

My flights home were pretty uneventful. I had some deep thoughts as I sat there in the dark listening to Brené Brown. I’m thinking I need to find a therapist again because I really need someone to talk to about things. I need help. We all do.   

I had a window seat for once!

 

On my second flight home, the plane was super weird. I was in row 20, which was only about halfway through the plane. There was actually a bathroom across the aisle from me. I guess I’ve never been on that model of plane before because I’d never seen such a thing. I will be making a note to my travel agent to never book me in the potty row again, because ew. Luckily no one made any stinkies, but it was still gross to be in such close proximity to a toilet. It was especially annoying when people would walk out and the little folding door would stick open. It was so close to me that I could just reach across the aisle and shut it. Which I did, with gusto. 

I got home very late. It was raining really hard so that added to the delays. I was surprised to find Dave waiting up for me. But it was a nice surprise. 

Over the weekend my dad and I drove down to PA to attend a life celebration for my cousin’s wife Jane. It was a beautiful day for a drive and we made good time. I learned a lot about Jane. She was a massage therapist and a lot of her clients came to her celebration of life and shared stories of how she went above and beyond her role as a massage therapist and genuinely cared for her clients. I wish I had known her better in life.  

Driving over the Susquehanna. When I was little, I thought that was such a pretty name and I intended to name my first daughter Susquehanna…

 

Well that is it for now. I wanted to post today since I expect I will be running around like a maniac tomorrow and will be hanging out with the fam on Thursday and Friday. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back to the Earth, I Feel It

Bonus points to anyone who can identify the song lyrics in the title.

It’s been over a week since we had our family camping trip in Vermont, but I wanted to document the experience for myself and all my fans. (Hi Suzanne, Terri and Janet!)

This post is going to be mostly pictures, because I took approximately 100 of them during the weekend.

It was a humid and sunny Friday night when Kris and I set out on our journey northward.

I applied several filters to this image but was unable to make myself not look like a ghostly apparition.

We drove for many hours and had deep conversation about the meaning of life, or at least the meanings of the current things that are happening in our lives. We stopped at the Vermont Country Deli  for dinner. It’s right off exit 2. We’re big fans.

After a few more hours, we arrived at beautiful Lake Champlain.

Sunset sky over Lake Champlain. Ah.

It was dark by the time we got to the campground, but we were able to get our tents set up quickly and then proceeded over to where the rest of our family had already gotten a fire going. We hung out for a bit but were soon sleepy and required some slumber.

Immediately upon lying down on the rocky ground, I regretted not bringing the foam mats that I usually have. Epic fail.

The next day dawned sunny and bright:

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Good morning, Lake Champlain!

Some family members immediately embarked on a kayak trip to the little island pictured above. It’s two miles away. TWO MILES.

And they got caught in a thunderstorm. Everyone survived, don’t worry.

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Innocently paddling away…

Meanwhile, back at the campsite:

They slept on an air mattress. 

It had been 10 days since the biopsy, so it was time to remove my stitches. Kris volunteered to play doctor. I gazed out over the lake and tried not to visualize what was going on. Of course it was over in an instant, and it did not hurt at all, even though I screamed dramatically.

Kris finally gets revenge on his annoying big sister.

One of our family’s obsessions is doing puzzles.  Ok, it’s mostly John and I who are obsessed, with Nick playing a supportive role, and Kris preferring to gaze out across the lake while holding a dish.

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Ignoring the gorgeous weather and scenery to focus on the puzzle.

Oh hey, it’s the American Revolution.

Despite failing to actually get to the Rally for Ally this year, John and I were granted lovely green shirts and we sported them proudly.

I spent part of one afternoon relaxing and doing some much-needed sketching. Oh, and there's my shy feet!

I spent part of one afternoon relaxing and doing some much-needed sketching. Oh, and there’s my shy feet!

Later, I relaxed in the hammock. Shy feet again.

Later, I relaxed in the hammock. Shy feet again.

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I built a little cairn. I like making them as precarious as possible.

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I found some interesting driftwood as we waited for sunset.

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We watched the sunset by the ferry crossing. Hey New York!

The final night it was down to me, Kris and Mom. After watching the sunset, we headed back to the campsite to make s’mores and hang out. As we sat there talking, I noticed a bright orange blaze in the sky. My first thought was that it was a fire, but it’s location didn’t make sense. Suddenly we realized it was the moon! It was peeking over the horizon like a ball of fire. I desperately tried to capture the beauty of it with my phone camera, but, if you’ve ever tried taking a picture of the moon, you know how that goes.

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I begged my phone to take a decent picture of the moon but this was the best it could do.

We took turns looking at it through the binoculars. The mountain that was between us and the moon has wind turbines across the ridge. Through the binoculars you could see the turbines silhouetted against the moon. It was SO cool.

That night it was so windy that I kept waking up thinking it was torrential downpour. When I woke up in the morning I could hear the waves crashing against the shore. We packed up our stuff and had breakfast with Mom before setting out on our journey home.

The weekend away was definitely a nice break. I didn’t “unplug” as I had intended to, mostly because I was using my phone to take pictures the whole time. Even so, it was relaxing to be in the wilderness…

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The Mazda’s first camping trip.

Ok, so it wasn’t really THAT wild, since we drove right up to the site, but once you get down to the lake, it’s very wild and unruly. And did I mention gorgeous?

Did you figure out the song lyrics?

Rusted Root, Back to the Earth.

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