Monday, October 18, 2010


There are times when I want to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. I don't.

What the Market Will Bear

Have you heard that major decisions are to be postponed for at least a year following a death or crisis. Bone marrow transplant and cancer is crisis and plenty too close to death. We should have known better than accept an offer on the sale of our Dewey Lake, Michigan house. We have been on Washington Island five years and hadn't seemed to miss the belongings still stored there but going back this past week to clean out the house was an emotional and physical hit that Joe and I have not recovered from. We took all the kids and valiantly started sorting belongings. School papers from kindergarten, a collection of my early sermons, outgrown duplo blocks, pieces and parts for every project not yet finished. Dry wall for a ceiling in the basement, a shower stall for the bathroom upstairs. Memories. And loss. The work of Joe's hands is all over the one acre lot. The green house that he wants on Washington Island is in place at Dewey. The steps he built from the road to the lake, the children's play house. For all the good reasons we left, and all the good reasons we had to sign the purchase offer, we came up fragile in our attempt to go back and say goodbye. A forty-yard dumpster delivered in the drive began to fill with our efforts to close. Yards more of what we can't bear to part with and have no room for on Washington Island remain for the next trip needing to be made before mid-November. That which is "can't bear to part with" takes on new meaning through the lens of cancer but to jettison is tough. The net sheet from the real estate agent presents us with a receipt for what looks to us as near give away.

What Makes a Difference

When I was kid and my birthday happened, mom would ask what kind of cake I wanted. "Cherry pie," was always my answer. Tart filling with feather-weight crust and sugar sprinkled on top. Candles fit fine even though the crust cracked and heaved like the new ice shelf on a winterized lake. When I grew up, I made cherry pies at Bread & Water. Ordered bucket after bucket of fresh frozen cherries. Dipped scoops of the red cherry fruit into a pan, thickened the juice with velvet cornstarch, added just a splash of organic, pure almond extract and filled each home made crust.
When I returned from Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the restaurant had been closed for the year of my treatment. The empty and abandoned refrigerated pie case had been moved from the front door at Bread & Water to an out-of-the-way wall. A few weeks ago, when I shut down the large freezer, I found a full thirty pound pail of cherries. I have not taken time to sort through the paperwork nor receipts from the lodging and kayak tour business that continued in my absence. I don't know yet if we made money or lost. Yesterday, with sun shining through golden leaves, I made my way into grandma's pantry. The space was cluttered and not ready for pie making but that didn't stop me. Disorganized yet intent, I followed the steps of what has been missing for more than a year. I made three pies. Tart center, feather-weight crust with sugar sprinkled on top. Absolutely sacramental.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Alternative

I'm scouting bargains at Mann's Mercantile rummage sale one Saturday afternoon. "Nice to see you," says a neighbor face-to-face with me for the first time since my return. "It is nice to be seen," I reply. "We said lots of prayers," she reported. I nodded. "It couldn't have turned out any other way," she reckoned. "A mom with six kids can't just go off and die. What would they have done?" This time they did not have to find out.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mind Over Matter

When I paddled Baja Verlen told me that I didn't have to go to the bathroom, it was all in my mind. He claimed I didn't have to sleep, it was all in my mind. Mind over matter is huge. My counts are described as "less than robust." One of the doctor's say that I should have a bone marrow biopsy just to see what the marrow is doing. Is my leukemia back? Another doctor instructed me to quit the Bactrim for two weeks to see if the counts recover. It is not unusual for bactrim to reduce and suppress counts. "Aren't you tired?" Long term follow-up, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance asks. No. I am not tired. I hike and paddle, cook, clean, read, dream, organize, move furniture, throw garbage bags into the bin at the Island Exchange (dump), worship, sing, bake chocolate chip cookies, host slumber parties for kids, plan birthdays, entertain house guests chaperon school trips, drive go-kart and thrive with my family on Washington Island. Delighted to be alive, my good humor and high energy are over the top. If anyone experienced me as rambunctious before, I am now insufferable. Who is counting anyway?

After Shocks

A few weeks ago I woke before dawn and felt as if all the sinister chemo poison of chemo was still operative sifting and wafting through my body. I dispelled the feeling by getting up and greeting the new day. The deacons at Second Baptism Church in Dowagiac start most prayers with "Thank you God. You got me up this morning...."

Angel Unaware

Joe and I are shopping the Twice Around bargain night on Washington Island. I wander into the Christmas ornament room on the second floor and come face-to-face with a hand embroidered angel whose hands and face are lifted toward a green garland raining stars. The angel stitched on blue fabric background is framed for 25 cents. I start crying and look for Joe. He is on the ground floor scouting a mirror. I hold the angel. He sees my tears. "Do you think I could be alive for Christmas?" I ask. He hugs me so the angel is pressed between us. Through his tears, I hear him answer, "Yes."


After death comes for a loved one, there are times when remembrance cuts quick without warning. For example, when I walked into Findlay's Holiday Inn on Island this morning for breakfast, the memory of my mother and dad sitting at a window table with the view greeted me with such intensity that I cried in my coffee. Unexpected memory collision happens with cancer too. A few weeks ago I was in the Good Will store in Green Bay with Shammond. He disappeared in the aisles, then reunited with me and my cart in housewears. He held a plastic packaged Halloween costume. While he lobbied the fine points of morphing into a clone for up-coming trick-rrr-treat and planned for activity thirty plus days ahead on the calendar, my mind and emotions were transported to Halloween a year ago. I didn't have the energy to buy or make costumes for the children. Kids pieced together what they could. Shammond chose pirate. I had just enough energy to lend him a belt to hang his dagger. I remember being tired as I drove the children from one house to another through sunset into dark. I quit canvassing the neighborhood early amid their protest. Nine days after Halloween I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and told that I would have lived only two more days if the doctor hadn't connected the dots, named my disease and ambulanced me to St. Vincent Hospital for treatment. Trick or treat will never be the same.

Doesn't Get Any Better

8:10 a.m. "The bus is coming, bus coming," Kayla yells out. Six kids tussle to be first in line at the fence line opening to the road in front of our house. "Who forgot lunch?" I call. Joshua runs back into the kitchen to snatch his noontime eat's bag from the table and gives me one more hug on his way back out. I'm watching from the window, mindful what Micala said yesterday...."Mom, please don't come out in the yard with your robe on when the bus comes." Through the front glass I see sun streaming through colored leaves. Wind moving foliage, parting and making way for light bobbing from one open space to the next on its way to touch the ground. A remembered poem names fall hues as the dying but the picture out my window is a lively landscape of green, red, orange and yellow leaves. A chime of wild aster violet. Blue, blue sky. Indigo showing itself on pant legs and back packs to complete a rainbow. Kid's clothing filling in a crayon box of diversity. A quail family scampers from sight even though the front yard is a buffet line of bird seed there is too much action with kids moving through the front yard territory. One child skipping. One marching. One slowing to let others pass. Back packs stuffed. Bus bright with lights flashing. The institutional transport and destination greeted eagerly by the children taking their seats. I see the best of life out my window. Not because they are leaving for school. Relief and quiet has nothing to do with my joy. I am looking and seeing how far we have come.