35 years…and Counting

Thyrold survivor 35 years 2

35 years ago today I opened my eyes from a hospital bed and saw my dad sitting stiffly in a plastic looking, avocado green chair with round wooden arms. His eyes were red and full of tears. I knew without asking but still had to hear it, so I asked, “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good, but you will be alright.” Immediately, images of my 5 and 7 year old boys flashed through my head and I began to cry. And that’s when I became a thyroid cancer survivor.

Cancer took something from me that day, but, unbelievably, gave to me as well.

It gave me the strength to leave a one-sided marriage, despite my love of our farm and the desire to keep our so-called family intact. Cancer made me realize that, if I was going to have a short life, those years, and those of my children, should be happy ones. I was eroding from the inside – and not just from hungry, malevolent cancer cells. Of course, divorce is never easy and the aftermath and emotional turmoil for my kids was worse than I could have known. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would have done things differently, but I would have still left. Otherwise, I would have lost myself, with or without cancer. Cancer gave me the power, the ability, to see what was happening to me. I just wish that somehow, the children could have been unscathed. That is my biggest regret.

Cancer reinforces my optimism for life and gives me the ability to face whatever life brings. It helps put everything into perspective, too. After all, does it really matter if someone doesn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, it’s annoying day after day — but, in the giant picture, it’s a pretty small annoyance and not worth getting my panties in a knot.

I became a great-grandmother Feb. 19th. Me. I never thought I’d live to see my children grow up, let alone dance at their weddings…or my granddaughter’s wedding. And now, a great-grandson.

Our family picture from Jan:
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And our newest family member:
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I have been given enormous joy. Countless blessings. More love than I deserve.

I am a cancer survivor. Every moment is a gift.

My Couch Dweller

I just read a facebook post from an online friend who enjoyed a two mile run with her husband. She quipped that, for him, it was a long run. It was not long for her but she cherished every foot fall because they were together.

Following her post were a number of comments, all saying how great it is when couples run or workout together and how it helps make their relationship stronger.

I read through them all and felt the strong urge to add my perspective as the triathlete wife of a couch dweller.

But, rather than put it directly on her facebook page and reach – oh, I don’t know – the thousands of people who LIKE her page – I came here, to my personal blog, to share it in more detail with you, my nearest and dearest devotees.

In the beginning, when the world was younger and I had no need to look for hair color that ‘covers all the gray and doesn’t fade’ (which is a lie, by the way), I often thought it would be fun to have a husband who shared every interest of mine.

I pictured us laughing our way through everything together. No matter what either of us suggested, the other one would say, “Sure!” and off we would go, under cloudless skies, enjoying whatever we did in perfect harmony with no disagreements of any sort along the way.

Did I hear you snort out loud just now? It’s okay if you did – I totally understand…now.

It’s not that I really thought it would happen that way. It was just, as they say, my inner fantasy. And, from the very start, I never thought it would extend to physical activity.

After all, I married a man who was never interested in physical fitness. I knew that going in. This is the man who joined the health club nearest to our home simply to enjoy the sauna, steam room and hot tub. Seriously. When he went there one day and found all three of those “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS” he marched out of the men’s locker room and asked the buffed young athlete behind the front desk how long they’d be out of commission. When the man told him it would be indefinitely, my husband asked whether or not they planned to issue any refunds for that time. Why would we, the man asked my husband? You didn’t join just to use those, did you? My husband took a step back from the desk. He stood there in all his glory, extending his arms out and down, and said, “Look at me. Take a good look at this body. Do I LOOK like I work out? YES, I joined just to use those.” And, while you are coughing through your laughter, I will add this footnote: he DID get a refund.

I worked with a woman whose husband was/is totally devoted to healthy eating and fitness. We ended up seated across from them at a company Christmas party and the man listened as my husband ordered a medium rare steak and cheesy potatoes and watched him devour a roll slathered in butter. I watched the man’s face and knew he thought he could/should try to enlighten my husband. He was known for trying to change people’s lives and eating habits – and my husband presented him with a great opportunity! Within minutes, it began. He told my husband the benefits of healthier eating and then boldly told him he wouldn’t live a long life if he kept his current eating habits. You want to live longer, right? he asked. “Listen,” my husband answered in between bites. “Living longer doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’. It doesn’t mean you’re going to live more years like you are 20 years old. It probably means you’ll have more years sitting in a wheel chair, drooling on yourself. So, no, I don’t want more of those years. I’ll go out younger, knowing I savored every bite instead of eating tasteless food and sacrificing that for a couple of extra years.”

As you can see, he’s pretty set in his ways and more than willing to be vocal about it.

He’s overweight and knows it. He’d like to lose weight, but also wants to find that magic pill, the magic potion that will make it easy to do that. (Boy, don’t we all?) He’d like to have our doctor “just liposuction it all out of me, ok, doc?” Again, if it were only that easy…

Then there’s me. My fitness and health goals are fueled by self betterment and the need to stay physically active because I know, for myself, how much better I feel and how much I need to be active and healthy to maintain my well-being. That’s me. That’s how I roll. I want to be a great example for my children, grand children and great-grandchildren. I want to be able to do things with them rather than just watch them from the side lines. That’s just me.

Two divergent lines, to be sure.

I do not try to change him. He does not try to change me. I do not push him, although I will always invite him to go with me on a walk, snowshoeing, swimming, whatever. He does not rudely refuse – and, in fact, sometimes he does join me. I cherish those times, but I don’t resent him if he doesn’t go. It’s not his ‘thing’. He doesn’t like it. Why would I try to force him to do something he doesn’t like?

Do I think he’d feel better if he were more active? Absolutely. Do I think he’d lose weight and ultimately have less health issues? Without a doubt.

But I also realize he needs to do what he needs to do because HE wants it, not because someone else tells him he should. It’s like quitting smoking or any other unhealthy habit/lifestyle – a person has to want to change to make that change.

I also have to say that he is, without a doubt, my biggest fan and supporter. He is my sounding board – the person I can go to and express my inner most fears – whether it’s training related, race related, job related or something else in life. He is the one who buoys me, tells me how strong I am, tells me I am an inspiration to him and to our family. He rubs my back at night, lulling me to sleep, telling me he loves me. He kisses me as I head out for training and says, “Have fun!” and smiles at me when I return, always asking how it went. And when I tell him…he listens…really listens.

Can I ask for more than that?

Truth be told, yes, I probably can ask, but it probably won’t change the outcome. So, we move forward. I know I am very, very blessed to have this eclectic soul as my partner through life. My biggest fear is that he will be taken from me too soon. In the meantime, I just love him.

Newsflash: Fat Lady Is Singing “Auld Lang Syne”

Because we’re human, it seems we can’t cross over into a new year without conducting our own personal assessments of the one just ending. We need to strip off the make up and examine our bare faces (and other body parts – yikes!), complete with all our pock marks, scars and blemishes. We need to ask, Did we accomplish enough? Did we ‘make our mark’? Did we succeed?

So, as the numbers 2 – 0 – 1 – 3 swirl around the bowl one last time before ducking out of sight into the commode of life history, I’ll get mine out of the way now. It’s pretty heady stuff, so prepare to be amazed. Ready? Okay, here it is: We made it.

Deep thoughts, right?
I know!

As I was thoughtfully meandering through the past 11 + months, there were a lot of milestones that flashed up on my mental slide show. Our families and friends shared births, weddings and, sadly, funerals. We marked birthdays and anniversaries and celebrated joys and sorrows of our own and with others. Images cascaded through my mind, each with its own distinct memory. If I hit the mental ‘pause’ button at any given point, I could take a mental time-trip back to their exact moment and re-experience it all – sights, sounds, feelings and even smells. Ah, the wonder of our minds!

Going through it all, there are many, many moments I’d like to re-live and share and also more than a handful that I don’t ever want to go through again (although the life lessons remain). If I could, I’d place my hand against the side of your face and do the Vulcan mind-meld with you. I would watch the expressions on your face in splendid wonder and, at the end, we would both sit back and sigh, exhausted and exhilarated.

And that’s why I boiled it down to those three words.

We made it.

Now, enjoy some of the images from our lives this past year…
2013 year in review 2

Recipes and Life

Funny thing about recipes – some people follow them to a tee; others use them as a guideline and still others look them up and go off entirely on their own. Kind of reminds me of life…

Me? Well, I am a blend of the first two. You see, my mom was a good cook but somewhat lacking in the motherhood skills, so I did not know how to cook when I married my first husband. My mother in law at the time, a German farmer’s wife, taught me how to cook and bake. She used basic spices, cooked hearty lunches and dinners that always included desserts and spent many hours in the farm kitchen preparing meals that gave her family plenty of calories to burn for the hours spent outside in all weather. I learned those skills from her but was very young and quite unsure of myself, so I followed recipes diligently and was blissfully unaware of the culinary possibilities that existed outside my realm.

Fast forward to today. Re-married to a guy who grew up with a mother who was an awful cook; a guy who took cooking classes as basic survival skills and expanded that knowledge to every spice and seasoning known to man (or so it seems). He’s a guy who may start off using a recipe as a guideline but will almost always head off on his own, unfettered and unafraid. Because, as he says, if it doesn’t turn out, we can always make something else or go out. Recipes are more of a suggestion to him…again, that mimics life…

Over the years, he’s learned not to stand over me in the kitchen giving hints or trying to gently guide me (gently is the operative term there, as I am sure he thinks of it that way, whereas I feel a freight train pushing and pulling me toward a derailment). Leave me with my recipes and my instincts. I’ve developed into a more creative cook over the years but I still like a good recipe. I may deviate a bit, but when starting out in a new realm, I’ll follow one pretty darn closely to be sure I get the knack of it before invoking the ‘imagination clause’.

Yesterday, I went to my recipe box (I know, I know, pretty much ‘old school, right?) to look for my recipe for piecrust. We had been talking about pie crusts at my cousin’s last weekend during our Lefse Fest and someone asked me to share it with them, as it is extremely flaky and tasty. Now, before we go too far, I have to tell you, I do keep some new recipes on my computer and have entire CDs from Weight Watchers and other sources. So don’t think I am adverse to using technology for collecting my favorites.

But while looking for my piecrust recipe, I pulled out a chocolate crinkles recipe written by my first husband’s grandmother. IMG_2328_edited-1
It was one of the first ones she gave me. It’s written in her distinctive handwriting and I hear her voice as I read her words…she’s been gone many years… I found the rhubarb cake recipe from my ex Mother in Law (she’s now in an assisted living center and no longer cooks or bakes)IMG_2331_edited-1
…a Texas hash recipe from my husband’s Auntie Vi, in her handwritingIMG_2333_edited-1, recipes from my cousins
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IMG_2335_edited-1 and sisters in lawIMG_2334_edited-1, another aunt IMG_2329_edited-1 and my own handwritten (well used) ones as wellIMG_2330_edited-1.

I even have all the recipe cards from a friend’s mother who passed. His girls did not want the recipes, so I gladly took them. I cherish them all and think of her whenever I use one of them.

To me, recipe cards are more than just ‘recipes’, although even if that’s all they were, it would be sufficient. Recipe cards are ways to pass down traditions in the very best sense of the word.

And recipes themselves give us whatever we want: they can provide the foundation and framework and building directions for your masterpiece, full sets of blueprints per se, or can be design suggestions for the creative minds.

When I think of my life and how I approach challenges and opportunities, I tend to follow directions – but that doesn’t mean I’m tied to a recipe that doesn’t allow any substitutions. I believe we can’t be paralyzed by the fear of change in our lives or our recipes. So, embrace the mysteries that present themselves to you and use all the spices and seasonings at your fingertips to create your own personal masterpiece…YOU!

My Nick Note

Hindsight is always 20-20. If not perfect, it’s dang close most of the time.

When I got home from work yesterday, Nick was sitting on the couch, face streaked with dirt and his eyes looking (as my dad used to say) ‘like two piss holes in the snow.’ He was dead-ass tired. He had been working on the trail most of the day (remember, he said he needed help to finish? Yeah. Not strong on patience when he wants something done, that man of mine). He was spent. I noticed he was breathing a little hard and asked if he was okay. “I’m alright,” he assured me. “Just tired. Really, really tired.” I took his blood pressure anyway and was relieved that it was normal. He didn’t say anything, but his face said, “See, I told you. Just tired.”

He said he was just going to relax while I went to spin class. We kissed goodbye and told each other “I love you.” I left with that thought in my head.

Yet, somehow, when Chris’ phone rang while we were spinning, I knew the call was for me. I knew it before Allan came down the stairs and pointed at me. “That was Ken. They are taking Nick to the hospital. They think he’s having a heart attack.”

I’d ridden to class with Dana so I had no wheels of my own. Allan drove me to the hospital. The whole way there, I worried that he would be gone when I got there. I wanted to scream. To cry. I didn’t… because it have done no good. Instead, I concentrated on holding it together and praying. That took everything I had.

I ran into the ER lobby and was by Nick’s side in less than a minute. My mind took it all in: Nurse. Nick. Good neighbors and friends, Don & Sue Q., who had driven him to the hospital when things started to go south. Busy room. Lots going on. But the main thing was: Nick. He was conscious. Vitals were stable. Heart was beating…strong…watching the blips on the screen comforted me almost as much as seeing his eyes focus on me… Oh, so much better than the LAST time we were in that SAME ER ROOM—don’t think about that, Deb; focus on the present, not the past.

They’d given him nitro and started an IV. His limbs and lips were tingling and he kept asking me if I was rocking the bed, because that’s what it felt like to him. No, hon, it’s ok. Just relax. Take it easy. Keep breathing. Stay with me. Don’t go.

He did. Eventually the tingling left and they gave him a shot to attack the headache. Jake came by and made Nick smile. Rest and relax, everyone kept repeating. Don’t worry about anything and stay calm. Take it EASY.

Then, they sent us home. Unsteady and weak, home we went, thanks to strict medical criteria and insurance rules. But I digress- We’re home. He is still tired and his headache is lingering. He’s sleeping a lot. That’s okay. Rest, my love. Rest and recover.
I was here with him today and will be here tomorrow, too. He shouldn’t be alone and I don’t want to be away from him.

Nick will be absent from facebook for a bit. He doesn’t want his phone, either — so you know he’s just not feeling well. If you call his phone and I hear it, I may answer – but probably not. At this point, we’re just tuning out the world most of the time.

Good thoughts and prayers would be most welcome.

The Heart and Mind of a Child

I looked into the face of a young girl this morning who’s body shape and size reminded me sharply of myself at her age (12). Overweight and self conscious, she was respectful (though quiet) and an easy person to be around.

My heart hurt when I realized that I just put a real face to only one of thousands of kids who worry about real life, adult issues because the caretakers in their lives are less mature than they are.

Let me just say this:
Kids should not have to worry about where they will live after being evicted.

Kids should not have to worry about whether a parent will get another job after receiving (another) drunk driving ticket…or where they’ll go if that parent goes to jail.

Kids should not have to worry about getting adequate nutrition. They shouldn’t feel they need to eat junk food as ‘fillers’, or to overeat whenever possible, just in case they don’t know when or where their next meal is coming from.

They shouldn’t have to worry about loving each parent equally, what to say in front of whom so they don’t set off a parent’s rant or whether or not they will get to see one parent again because a parent owes child support or has angered the other parent.

I know I can’t save the world. I know there are countless details in parents’ lives that complicate situations.

But I would go hungry myself and work at any (ANY) job offered in order to take care of my children or grandchildren. And I darn well wouldn’t be spending money partying while my children worried where they would go to sleep that night…or in a few weeks. Giving them a stable, safe living environment should be a basic responsibility, not an option.

This girl, with her soft, dark eyes and quiet ways, is haunting me today. To say much more than that could compromise her anonymity. I don’t want to do that. Know this – she has people in her life who can/do care for her. I just hope she has enough good role models in her life to overshadow the poor ones.

I’ll be praying for her.

A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.