This and That

Musings on Being a Writer and My Life
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Dog Tales–Welcoming a Dog Into Our Home

  • July 31, 2017 2:42 am

When I think about how happy I am to have my delightful dog Sparkle in my life, I am amazed.

For a long time I resisted having a dog. First of all, I am allergic to dogs, and I feared that I would be sick all the time. Secondly, I knew that a dog would tie us down. My late husband, Dan, and I loved our freedom and being spontaneous—often deciding to take an overnight jaunt to the beach when we got up in the morning. Dogs are very social, of course, and need to be around people—especially their “parents.” I didn’t see how our lifestyle would accommodate a dog.

True confession: I really didn’t like dogs—I thought they were a nuisance and I avoided them as much as possible.  And then there was my fear of dogs, which started when I was just 3 years old. Our family had an Irish Setter—a puppy. My Mom had her hands full with my brother and sister and me—and she was expecting her fourth child. So, I’m sure she had no available time to train a rambunctious puppy. My Dad worked shift work and had a long commute, so the dog sort of trained himself. I remember playing in the backyard and the dog knocking me down and tearing the sash on my dress. (I refused to wear pants when I was little. I told my parents that “Pants is for boys.”) Shortly after that, the dog (whose name I can’t remember) went to “live at the farm.” The result of my interactions with this pet was a fear of dogs that stayed with me into adulthood.

Sparkle came to live with us after my husband’s first cancer. Seeing his transformed face when he cuddled a dog at the hospital during his recovery, I knew we had to find one I could tolerate. People suggested a French poodle, claiming that they were “hypoallergenic.” But quite frankly, I found poodles to be cloying. And I thought that they were probably high maintenance princesses. But,  mixing a poodle with another breed, results in a    delightful dog that I could tolerate.

Finding a reliable, caring dog sitter who charged a reasonable fee to keep our pet in her home when we wanted to travel or had a busy day, made having a dog easier.

With all of the obstacles to including a furry “baby” into our home overcome, we found a little Yorkie-poo puppy that we named Sparkle.

My husband adored Sparkle. I credit her with helping him to recover from his first cancer surgery, which was a brutal operation following chemotherapy and radiation. She gave him great comfort and he loved to take her out for walks several times a day. Dan trained her with love and gentleness, and she was housebroken by the time she was only 3 months old. Walking Sparkle got my late husband back into life and he even met several other “puppy daddies” every day to chat and occasionally go out for coffee. After Dan’s death, Sparkle helped me mourn my terrible loss and I know that she misses him.  I cherish Sparkle as my connection to my late husband.

I’m astonished by how much I enjoy being a dog parent. Here are a few of my insights:

 

What I learned from my Dog, Sparkle

It is easy to love an animal.

A 14 pound,  one foot tall dog can be in charge of a household!

Petting a dog is soothing and helps to deal with stress.

Taking care of a dog is a job— and is a lot like having a toddler.Daddy's Girl

Kissing a dog does not lead to a fatal attack of “dog germs” (ala Lucy in “Peanuts”).

Playing with a dog is not only fun, it is comical and relaxing.

Dogs are a great comfort when you are sick, stressed or lonely.

Dogs love to eat—all the time.

Dogs have the most pathetic way of begging for food—all the time. And it is very easy to give into them.

You can learn “doggie-talk.”  For example, I know the difference between a bark that means, “I want to go out” and “I want a treat.”

Walking a dog is a great way to get to know people.

A dog can quickly learn that if she sits just right, you will give her a treat.

Living with a dog brings new energy into your household.

It’s easy to spoil a dog.

You can give your dog a cute name, and she won’t mind.

Stuffed dogs and dog books are no substitute for the real thing.

A dog will find a place deep in your heart and, at some point, you realize how grateful you are that she is there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Feel Blessed

  • July 10, 2015 3:35 am

 

 

I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people.

Trite? Maybe.Friendship chinese-676654__180 Pixababy

But consider this: my life took a drastic left turn on August 25, 2012 at 10 p.m.

My husband died.

I thought I was ready—six months of watching him die in bits and pieces should have prepared me. But it didn’t.

I went through the motions, appearing to be in control for several weeks.

Then I laid down on the couch and stayed there for months.

What dragged me out of my monumental funk?

Family and friends.

First it was my sister and sister-in-law who made me accomplish the important tasks necessary when someone dies.

I joined two key groups—a Widows Club and the Singles Club. These were the people who got it; the people who understood my pain and let me talk. I continued to participate in my Writing Group: a gathering of intelligent, vital, and interesting women who shared my passion for writing. Through that group I had opportunities to express my creative self.

The next three years brought challenges I couldn’t imagine: three surgeries, two bouts with MRSA, and then cancer, the deaths of my beloved brother and sister, in addition to several friends and other relatives.

My life raft through all this turmoil was family (of course) and the friends who stepped in and became a safety net.

Yes, I feel blessed.

 

 

An Unwelcome Visitor

  • June 6, 2015 4:48 pm

 

 

The most unwelcome of all visitors called on me recently.

This visitor is never welcomed and usually not greeted with any enthusiasm.

If fact, when you, your friends, and family find that it has called upon you, they, like you, are worried concerned and fearful.

The visitor was cancer. The “Big C.”

It intruded into my life sometime in late January with the “incidental” discovery of a (thankfully) small tumor in my right kidney. Unbeknownst to me, it had been there for two years—but recently had started to grow.

I felt overwhelmed at first with the myriad decisions I had to make. Where to seek treatment? Should I go back to where my family is (now that I am a widow) in Buffalo? Stay here in Florida and lean heavily on my circle of friends? Could I still go on my much anticipated trip to Hawai’i? Would I survive? What would be the financial and emotional cost to me, my daughter, family and friends?

I finally came up with a plan—and after much consultation, thought, and prayer, I decided to stay in Florida and seek treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in nearby Tampa.

Happily, my surgeon Okayed my Hawai’i trip and I blissfully spent some magical time there.

My friends have rallied around me, doing all of the things I need. My family supported me in my decisions—and best of all, the surgery was a great success—so far.

I still have weeks of recovery to look forward to, but I’m trying to do more and more every day.

Writing this blog post is a huge breakthrough for me. Up till now, I’ve kept the “news” of my cancer limited to family and friends. I did make a onetime status update on Facebook as a courtesy to those who correspond with me on that venue.

Sometimes I wonder why I was  so reluctant to go public (as it were) with my cancer diagnosis.

I wonder if by not announcing it, I’ve made it less real to myself. Or if I was  trying to fool myself.

No matter what, I’m looking forward to being a cancer “thriver”—which is what my many friends who have looked this unwanted intruder right in the eye, and stared it down–call it.

 

 

 

 

April Tenth

  • April 11, 2015 1:39 am
Joanne Poth Joyce

Joanne Poth Joyce

There are certain dates that are more meaningful than others. One of those dates is April 10,1983. That was the date my Mom passed away after almost two years of coping with lung cancer.

I remember that day with crystal clarity.

It was a Sunday—a week after Easter. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny. I had attended noon Mass and then rushed to my parents’ home to see my Mom.  It was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. When I got there, it was obvious that Mom was dying. I helped my Dad change her nightgown and then kept vigil with him as she left this world.

The priest came and gave her the Last Rites.  At one point, shortly after she died, I was aware of her soul—her anima—leaving the room.

My brother Michael was there with his wife and boys and I remember my sister Susan being there, too.

Eventually, the rest of my brothers and sisters (except for my youngest sister who was in Honduras doing research for her doctorate) assembled at the house.

As the daylight waned, we sat on our parents’ bed and talked about our Mom and our loss.  It was both sacred and comforting to be able to be together in that way.

Now, all these years later, all that’s left is memories. I wish I could hear Mom’s voice one more time, or sit and talk with her again.

So much has happened since then. Our Dad died only a year and half later, babies were born, my sister and another brother got married, one of my mother’s children died too soon, my husband died, the grandchildren grew up and great-grandchildren were born. The family faced many crises and survived.

While time has tempered the grief, I still mourn for my Mom. She was only 60 years old when she died. We never got to see either of our parents grow to be old. They are preserved at a certain age and time in our memories.

Yet, I still yearn to spend one more minute, hour or day with my mother.

 

Happy Birthday Mom

  • July 2, 2014 5:58 am

Today would have been my Mom’s birthday. She would have been ninety two years old—which, no matter how you figure it, is old.

I often wonder what she would have been like as a really old lady. I’m pretty sure she would have been as feisty and sarcastic as she was in her younger years—and under it all, still a big softie.

I’m sure she would have been delighted with her grandchildren and now, great grandchildren. She would have taken pride in the accomplishments of the grandchildren and her own children.

I am sure she would have been exasperated with the political gridlock in Washington and I can imagine her expressing her opinions quite readily.

I am six years older than Mom was when she died from cancer.  That thought is sobering for me. By the time she died, the disease had taken a terrible toll and her death was sad and painful, but the comfort was that her earthly suffering was over. Now that I am older than Mom was when she died, I understand better how awful it was to lose her then. ( The picture with this post was taken two weeks before she died.)

Like everyone who has lost a loved one, I have many memories of my Mom.

One memory that I cherish is of her reading to me all by myself when I was around 4 or 5 years old. I can still picture the book and hear her voice as she read from a beautifully illustrated Nursery Rhyme book while I cuddled next to her. What was most remarkable to me was that she read this book to only me—even though, by that point, there were 4 children in the family and another one on the way.

My Mom encouraged all of us to explore our talents and interests. She was an intelligent and intellectually curious woman.

And even all these years after her death, I still miss her and love her.

 

Joanne Poth Joyce

Joanne Poth Joyce

The Beach

  • February 12, 2013 10:02 pm

 

Stress has been the constant drumbeat in my life for a long time. For the last several years, I helped my husband cope with cancer—the first one almost 6 years ago— the one he survived. And then about a year ago he was diagnosed with a second, new, cancer that ultimately took his life. Sprinkled in those years were some other health issues, deaths, and usual problems of daily life. Like most people, I did the best I could to cope.

Both my husband and I loved the beach—I found the action of the waves as they send watery fingers reaching out to the shore to be soothing. It’s as if the ocean is taking my anxiety and pulling it away and washing it out to sea.

Whenever one of us needed a break, Dan and I would head to the beach

Both of us slept better at the beach, and reveled in the soothing sounds of the ocean and breezes. It was our haven and a place we delighted in. We went to the beach because we loved it, too. Not just to deal with stress, but for renewal and to revel in the power of the ocean and the sun playing on the waves, shimmering like diamonds.

We often talked about moving closer to the beach—imagining a beach-bum existence where we would spend days digging our toes into the warm sand and learning the moods of the ocean. We dreamt of watching the full moon rising over the sea; something we happened upon serendipitously at Vero Beach, a favorite destination.

We never moved to the beach—it was a dream unfulfilled. When my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago, we vowed that we would make that dream come true when he recovered. Alas, that too, was a dream.

I still go to the beach when life gets to be too hard—when friends disappoint, when I am faced with situations that I can’t control, and especially when I need to connect with God. That’s where I feel God’s presence most strongly.

I often go by myself. In some ways, I prefer the solitude. Company would be nice, especially at dinner—but I like to be able to set my own schedule or lack of it.

When I was in Catholic grade school, we sang a hymn that had this refrain, “Shoreless ocean who shall sound thee, they eternity is round Thee, Holy Trinity, Holy Trinity.”

Sitting on the beach, or walking along looking for seashells, that hymn becomes my conscious thought.  And then peace washes over me and I find I am energized to face another day, another week, another month and maybe even another year.

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers

  • July 9, 2012 4:09 am

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Tennessee Williams, American playwright

 

Kindness. Being kind. Qualities that I value in other people.

Maybe I’m unusually lucky, but I have many kind and understanding people in my life: husband, daughter and daughter-in –law, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews. I have a loving family and many caring friends. I know that not everyone can claim that—in fact I have firsthand experience with a less-than-kind sister-in-law. And her behavior toward me frequently brought me to tears and made me question myself. But thankfully, she was an exception.

So when my husband and I began his battle for survival against the monster called cancer five years ago, we were sustained and lifted up by many kind acts by a myriad of friends and family. After several years of relatively good health, my husband faces another cancer battle—one that is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Yes, the cancer is gone—he survived the surgery, but cancer has devastated his body to such an extent, that his very survival is in question.

For the last five months, we have tried to bring him back to health. The results are uncertain. He may survive, but there is a question of how long and what kind of a life he will have.

As part of that battle, he has spent the last month in either a hospital or Hospice. And that’s when I, too, depended on the kindness of strangers.

When he was in the hospital, I lived away from home, alone in a hotel near the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

The hotel staff greeted me by name every day. The waitress and restaurant manger remembered that I like iced tea. They asked how my husband was and promised to pray for him. The restaurant manager, Sylvia, chatted with me every morning, offering her moral support. The front desk staff treated me to a lovely cheese and fruit plate one afternoon which was delivered to my up-graded room.

They became my support system and their many kindnesses helped to sustain me every day that I stayed there.

The doctors, nurses and nurses’ aides at the hospital comforted and informed both my husband and me at our bleakest moments. They were gentle and nurturing in their care of my husband. The social worker was an unending source of information and support.

Family members of other patients reached out to me when I sat in a darkened room weeping. One patient hugged me—her body as frail as my husband’s, her thinning hair covered with a bandana. Her sister looked for me every day and we chatted about the burdens we were both carrying. The hospital chaplain saw me and opened the door to allow me to talk about my fears.

When Dan was moved to Hospice House, we were surrounded by the love and nurturing of more strangers, the nurses and staff of Hospice House, who soon became our support system. Their compassionate care and gentle support will never be forgotten.

The presence of these strangers helped me and my husband cope with some of the darkest moments of our lives.

They were all perfect strangers in every sense of the word.

 

 

Hotels

  • June 14, 2012 5:59 am

 

I’ve always loved staying at hotels—especially more upscale ones like the hotels we vacationed at when our daughter was little. Our favorite vacation place was Disney World and we made a point of choosing one of their hotels because they were so wonderfully decorated. As you may know, Disney specializes in meticulously replicating furnishing, staff costuming and décor to carry out a theme. The effect can be quite dazzling.

Now, I prefer a hotel that caters to business travelers—they are generally understated and quieter. And because they aren’t trying to capture the family market, there rarely are noisy neon game rooms, over-priced cartoon character breakfasts or children’s program—all of which pleases me.

My hotel of choice is Hilton Garden Inn—a business hotel that I frequent when we travel to Tampa for my husband’s cancer treatment. They give us a discounted price and a safe, secure place to stay—even if I am alone in the room.

There are many hotels in the area—and so is Bush Gardens—a family vacation destination. So it would be possible to stay in a nearby hotel and be over-run by hyper-excited children—or worse, the school field trip!  I have experienced both of these unhappy phenomena is other hotels in the area.  Imagine my delight when I discovered the lovely Hilton Garden Inn!

Except a strange thing happened last weekend. Starting on Friday morning the place began to fill up with—you guessed it—families! Now, I like children and cherish my family. However, there is something about the vacation mentality that makes some parents forget that their children are much more delightful when they are being watched. I worried that my adult, business-oriented haven was becoming (gulp) a family hotel….What could I do?

Well, thankfully, the surge ended just as quickly as it began.  By Monday, the business suits arrived once again and the families went home with sun burn and souvenirs.  And, I hope, happy memories of a fun family vacation.

The weekend is approaching and I will be leaving—just in time. I saw the first group of families arrive today. Everyone was excitedly looking over the Bush Gardens maps and making plans for the next day.

Thankfully, Monday is coming. Soon.

 

Hope

  • May 21, 2012 3:10 am

Hope is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all

By Emily Dickenson

 

Be positive. You have to think positive. That advice is offered by well-meaning friends when someone faces a life-threatening illness or tragic situation. The “positive person” is held up as an ideal when someone is battling cancer. He or she is advised to be positive, think positive, and to speak in positive terms. What does that actually mean? A person facing possible death or at the very least a brutal and exhausting treatment plan, should only talk about how they plan to beat “this thing?” Why? So the people around them don’t have to offer comfort or solace when it’s needed? So the people around then don’t have to face their own mortality?

That advice is bogus. It robs people of their ability to share their fears and grief and denies the validity of their feelings. It forces the victim into the role of comforter and supporter.

We are in a battle for survival right now. My husband of almost 40 years has been diagnosed for the second time in 5 years with cancer. He is struggling to recover from surgery and to face his “new normal” which includes 24 hour a day oxygen therapy, debilitated physical condition and yes, an uncertain survival.

The only way I see us making it—surviving—is to cling to hope. Hope that he will eventually heal, hope that the surgery was ultimately a “cure” (if that’s even possible), and hope that the cancer will not reappear.

Hope sustains me when I wake in the morning and think about the rest of our day—filled with the trials that this disease has brought into our lives.

Without hope, all is lost.

 

 

 

 

 

A Soft Sound

  • October 23, 2011 6:55 am

                 

I lie in bed, waiting for the overwhelming fatigue of the day to finally settle in my bones and to quiet my racing thoughts. Tossing and turning, I grab the blankets and pull them toward me. The house is unnervingly quiet.

I hear a soft noise like a kitten’s mewl. I shoot up in bed, every sense alerted. I cock my head and listen. There it is again.

The noise, which now is an ethereal humming, fills my head. It shatters the preternatural silence of the house. I jump from the bed and cram my feet into my slippers. 

The hum vibrates through my body. Sensing that its source is somewhere other than the bedroom, I allow myself to be guided by it.

As if in a trance, I walk through the house, flicking lights on in each room. Nothing is out of place. The TV is off—no unearthly glow emanates from it. Every chair, every plant, every book is where I  left it earlier. But still the sing-song sound beckons me.

Totally exhausted, I fall into a chair as it grows louder and steadier.

I close my eyes.

A gentle breeze wakes me. The sound of waves pounding the beach fills the room. I breathe deeply.

 The last few days have  overwhelmed us as my husband faced ruthless tests and relentless prodding by doctors and nurses. His patience seemed to be infinite, even when every move he made wracked his body with pain.

I pull an afghan around my shoulders looking for comfort as I recall the doctor decribe  a torturous treatment plan to defeat the out of control cells that have taken over my husband’s body. His voice is disconnected and clinical.

Those  words hung between us that day, taking on form and substance. But we spoke only of recovery . We promised one another to not allow the thought of defeat to have any place in our lives.

The family room is cool and quiet. The ethereal sound has diminished and in its place is peace.

Dawn will soon color the sky like it has for so many millions days.

Later, I will go to the hospital and bring my husband to our home.

And for an uncertain number of days, we will be together.