slowly, they all just disappeared…

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You didn’t think it would happen. Not to you. You had it all. You had a loving and supportive family. Siblings and cousins you saw or talked to almost every day. You had friends. Friends who grew up right down the street from you, buddies who had gone through thick and thin with you.

Slowly, so slowly at first, it seemed almost as if you might be imagining it all.

First, the words of condolences.

“I am so sorry you are going through this.”

“I heard about the diagnosis. I am so sorry.”

Next, they see you out and about, but instead of the happy greeting you would normally get, they avert their eyes. You sort of stop. Unsure of how to proceed. You see them look away. You clearly make them uncomfortable now. They are hoping you don’t call out or draw attention to them. They duck, they turn away, they do anything to avoid having to face you.

It seems awkward at first. You take it personally. You feel as if you have inconvenienced them in some way, but you aren’t sure how.. After a while, it becomes such a common occurrence, you do them the courtesy of simply not even looking in their direction.

The pain is less sharp with every ripped page of a calendar month. It seems that time has a way of helping you adapt. You adapt to the loss of mobility. You adapt to losing your independence. You adapt to losing camaraderie with co-workers you used to see daily. You simply adapt to losing something, each and every day.

You think you have managed to come to terms with all the changes, but then you realize that the changes never stop.
After your body has morphed into something you no longer recognize, and you only slightly look like the person you used to be, you must now adapt to a new challenge. The friends and family you hold so dear. have all just slowly dropped out of sight. You had no idea that this is the part that would test you.

You thought dealing with the disease would be the hardest thing you would ever have to deal with, but you discovered you were wrong.

The hardest part, in fact, would be watching everyone around that you love move on with their lives, and all you can do is stare at a screen and watch it all happen.

You do everything in your power not to click on that icon, you try so hard to stay away from social media.

You don’t need to be reminded of all the Christmas parties, the weddings or the birthday celebrations that you are no longer invited to.

You don’t get to be included in the phone calls, or the invites for a drink to commiserate a friend’s breakup or loss of their favorite sport teams championship game.

The connection is gone.

Funny that you didn’t notice at first. You were so focused on the loss of your legs, you hadn’t noticed that those friends who used to talk to you every day, haven’t reached out in almost a year now. No one has stopped by to visit in so long, and you don’t even bother asking for visitors. They all promised, but its been so long, you finally quit anticipating anyone knocking on the door.

The invitations you had gotten were either to someplace that cannot accommodate your new situation, or it was a pity invitation. At least, you assume it is a pity invitation, so you politely decline. You feel you have done everyone a favor by not going.

You thought the disease would be what caused your body to stop functioning. Now, you no longer believe that. Your heart is breaking, and you begin to imagine that it is possible to die from a broken heart.

If you had only known the disease would not be the hardest part to deal with. You found out the most difficult part of each day would be to live and then die from isolation, depression and sadness. The ability to see all those people you once had a connection with, posting pictures of their lives, their loves, and their ups and downs, but you somehow, realize that you were forgotten.

You want to turn away, but you so desperately need to feel as if you are still worthy of their time or effort.
Now, you scour the internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…anything that connects you in some way to the people you used to know. The anger is gone. Now, you simply want a connection with them. Even if the only link to them again is by pressing the “like” button.

a woman’s strength…

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Tonight is not about me.

Tonight is not about my journey, or those around me…at least not in regards to ALS.

Tonight is about her.

Her bravery, her strength. Her beauty and love that shines through her eyes and her smile.

She tells me I am the courageous one, but I wonder if she ever stops long enough to look in the mirror. She is battling something she has little control over. The only choice she has is follow the doctor’s orders…and pray.

And still, she keeps moving…one foot in front of the other. She keeps pushing forward and she keeps fighting.

They have drugged her and cut into her body. They have poisoned her, day after day… and still, she keeps pushing forward. They give her statistics and case studies, and long tedious answers about the latest therapies, and percentages… and still, she keeps pushing forward.

She usually hides behind her wit and her charm. Her smile and her charisma. But tonight, she shared a piece of her soul.
I can’t take any credit for it, I wish I could. Because when people show up, and are real, and jump up and down and say,

“Hello world, look at me!”

they shine brighter than any star. And she has always had a presence about her, the kind of natural charm that most women envy and men desire. But tonight, she stood up, and shone bright for all the world to see.

I am not moved to tears often and this one left me rocked to my core.

Kristina ~ I am so incredibly grateful you are in my life. You are all that any woman aspires to be. You are brilliant and kind, and you show grit and determination when others would have buckled by now. Trust me, telling your story is not vulnerable. It is gut-wrenching…and it is beautiful.

The world needs more women with your strength and your grace.

I can only hope to one day shine as brightly as you do…

******************************************************************************

Here is just a small piece of her story…

How do you get through two radiation treatments in one day? Two spa treatments, of course!

That’s the positive side. Here’s the ugly side.

One week and a half left, if my skin can take it. If my mental health can take it. They said radiation makes you tired. 
There’s no physical reason. It’s definitely mental.

Every day you go in, partially disrobe and lie down on a hard table. Arms are stretched above your head, goggles on. The entire time three to four people move about the room, aligning you, adjusting you, drawing on you, radiating you.

Arms go numb from the awkward position, but you can’t move. You itch, but you can’t scratch.

“Breathe, hold it. Ok breathe. Let’s do it again. This time hit the middle of the box. Now we’re ready. Let’s go!”

And repeat multiple times.

The breath holds are challenging for me. Sometimes I wiggle my fingers so they can see in the camera that I’m about to pass out. Holding your breath pushes the heart down and out of the way of the beam. Nobody wants a radiated heart. I certainly don’t.

When I breathe, a yellow bar rises. I’m to hit the center of a green box above it. It looks like an Atari game in my goggles.

I’m frustrated when I don’t hit the precise spot they want me to hit. So frustrated that sometimes my eyes well up. When I feel the water trickle down the side of my face I get even more frustrated “Hold it together.” It’s become my inner chant.

It’s all quick. 15 to 20 minutes most days. But it seems longer.

I’m tired after. God I’m tired. Not because I do anything, but because I’m confronted with The Cancer every day. I’m confronted with my mortality every day. It’s exhausting.

I lie there, my chest ravaged and my skin so red, peeled and on fire it hurts to move. I’m exposed and it’s uncomfortable, awkward and cold.

Then I’m done. I hop off the table and wave my tingling arm. “See you all tomorrow” and I go put on my clothes.

I look in the changing room mirror examining my angry battle wounds. Who is this person? How the hell did she get here? I slather on Aquafor and off I go.

Some days I just walk out as if nothing happened. Other times I linger to dry my eyes. I’ve never fully cried there, but I’ve come close many times. I save it for when I’m alone. Instead I suck it up and tell myself “Hold it together.” It works.

I hop into an Uber and either head to the airport or to a place here in Seattle, depending on the day of the week. Sometimes I walk, if I’m close enough. I did today. I like those days. I get into my head and get closer to God.

That’s daily radiation. Although today I slipped in two glorious spa treatments … just because.

Most of my posts about this topic are generally positive. I’m not nor have I ever been comfortable being vulnerable. So I tend not to share that side. But I’m inspired by a woman who so often shows the vulnerable side and I have learned a lot through her and her honest -sometimes brutally so – insights into ALS and the journey she and her husband are on. Theresa Whitlock-Wild shows me daily that it’s ok to drop the veil, to be honest and vulnerable and then gather up the strength and continue the damn fight. Thank you T. ❤️

So this post is meant to share a little insight into my journey and the journey of so many of us who have, had and will have breast cancer.

I think about my cancer sisters who have gone through radiation before me and I want to hug them tonight. I know what misery they went through. They are warriors.

I think about all the women who will go through this after me, not just the radiation but all of it.

They don’t yet know it. But they will be warriors, too.

#igotthis

 

Nightly routines…

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It is the same process, every single night.

Mundane…sameness…always the same monotonous events that take place for bedtime.

  • Brush his teeth, but don’t use the minty toothpaste. He doesn’t like that one.
  • Wash his face, but only in certain spots. It makes him chilly to have his face damp.
  • Use a q-tip and scratch the itches his fingers can no longer reach. He gets that look in his eye when you find that good spot, not unlike a dog feels when you hit the magic spot.
  • Use a bit of tissue, and pick at his nose. (I used to feel squeamish getting up in each nostril, but now, my stomach doesn’t even do a little flip flop as my fingers go up and wiggle around, the tissue swiping at any loose snot balls.)
  • One medicine for anxiety, one for sadness. One that is supposed to slow down his progression. We know two out of three of those meds work for certain.
  • Pour a capful of white powder and swirl around until dissolved. (It helps him poop.)
  • Place the pills in his mouth, his tongue is twitching again. Quickly lift the thickened water to his lips.
  • Remove his lap blanket and place the hand-held urinal between his legs. Push his legs apart so that he pees in the urinal and not all over himself.
  • Roll into the bedroom and start a machine. The clicking of air, pushing in and out, his cheeks puffed, as he coughs.  (The cough is weaker now. Nothing much ever comes out.  I can’t tell if I should be thankful for that or not.)
  • He tells me he thinks he may be getting sick. His throat hurts and he feels warm. I tell him he isn’t getting sick and deep down I silently pray I am right.
  • Grab the giant metal arm, attach the loops and hit the button. The arm pulls him up and out of his wheelchair. His ass scrapes along his controller, again. I seem to do that every night.  He gives me a pouty face, as I apologize…again.
  • My face turns red as I pull and twist the metal contraption over towards the bed.
  • Grab the remote for the bed to lift the headboard up, as I simultaneously lower the metal arm down on the bed. Push with my shoulders, and pull his legs out straight, so he doesn’t cramp.

Pay attention, Theresa!

  • Don’t sit him too high or too low. Keep the headboard at a little less than 90 degrees, just the way he likes it.  Unhook the loops, pull the metal arm away from the bed. Tuck it back into the shower, where we can hide it and pretend for just a few hours that it is not a necessary tool for me to move him to and fro.
  • Pull the straps and the sling out from under him.
  • He winces.
  • Place the bandaid over the bridge of his nose. It looks raw and sore again.
  • The mask goes on next. Hit the ON button. It screeches to life.
  • Find the remote for the headboard, which is now buried between his legs and blankets. The dog is laying by his feet. The dog isn’t much help.
  • Laying him slowly back, there is one more thing. Scratches…
  • Grab the baby powder by the night stand
  • Dump it anywhere there is a crevice. (I’ll save you the embarrassment of describing all the places that baby powder goes.)
  • Attempt to roll him onto his side. Not before he whines. He wants scratchy time to last longer. I do not
  • Check for pressure sores. On the back of his legs and his buttocks.

I grunt again…I swear he is more square than he is round.

  • Get his leg pillow just right between his legs. Adjust his head pillow to match. (He asks me to push him more. He isn’t on his side all the way. He will tip back over if he isn’t just so. Several more attempts. Several more grunts)

I give one more hard push…

  • “OWWW, I think you did something to my back!”

I panic! My eyes scanning his body. I can’t imagine what happened. I pause looking him over, his butt cheeks out in the open, legs bent

  • “I don’t think my legs work anymore!”
  • Then he giggles.
  • Rolling my eyes when I realize he was trying to be funny.
  • “Ok, I am going to go lock up.” I say, as I pad barefoot out of the bedroom.
  • “I’ll be right here!” He yells.
  • “Don’t move!” I yell back.
  • I shake my head with a little grin.
  • It is always the same thing…every single night.

It’s what we do.

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Today is the last day of November. It is also the last day to recognize caregivers. November is the designated month to celebrate the caregivers in our lives.

And much like what it can feel like to be a caregiver, the month went by with little recognition. And that is okay.

Most of us don’t do it for the praise, or the pat on the back. We certainly can’t say we do it for the money or the fame. We do this for someone we care about, someone we love.

But, for just a moment, I want to give you a peek inside the life of a caregiver.

• We get interrupted sleep, and we seldom (if ever) sleep a full 8 hours.

• We eat our meals last, or even standing up, in a rush to move onto the next check item on our to-do list

• We juggle so many things at once, we have a hard time focusing.

• We coordinate, organize or rearrange our schedule to take care of everyone else.

• Sometimes, we want to think of ourselves, but then feel guilty for it.

• We worry…all the time.

• We sometimes feel overwhelmed at the responsibility of caring for another.

• We have a rash of emotions that spread over us quickly, and yes, sometimes they might seem irrational. Don’t worry, the feelings dissipate quickly.

• Showers become the only private time we get to ourselves…

• We are the advocate, and the voice and the warrior for the person we care for.

• We have moments of selfishness, of wanting to not to have to think of, or put another person over ourselves all the time.

• We remember how much we love the person we are caring for, and somehow, all those emotions, and the weight of what we do seems less heavy for just a while.

• We often feel alone.

• We cry in the shower because the sound of the water washes our tears and drowns out our anguish.

• We smile through the irritations, or frustrations…and yes, even through the pain.

• We can’t imagine not trying so hard.

• We live with guilt over not being enough…every.single.day.

• We know that this role we play won’t last forever.

• We hate being told it’s not about us….

• We get irritated when others try to give us advice but have no real-life experience with the same situation.

• Seeing our loved one smile can make the frustrations and hardships more bearable.

• We would still make this choice, if it means just one more day with those we love.

Remember, you will either be a caregiver or need a caregiver at some point in your life.

If you know a caregiver, show some empathy and compassion. It’s a tough job.

If you need a caregiver, show some empathy and compassion, it’s a tough job!

 Matthew Wild

he said, she said…

He said, “Wow! It’s nice to meet you!”

She said, “hello….”

He said, “We have a mutual friend.”

She said, “She invited me to come listen to the music with her.”

He said, “I am glad you could make it”

She said, “Thank you. I don’t get out often.”

He said, “Can I buy you a drink?”

She said, “no thank you”

He said, “Its been months, how are you?”

She said, “The summer went by too fast”

He said, “Can I buy you a drink this time?”

She said, “Sure, I would love a water!”

He said, “It’s loud in here”.

She said, “WHAT?”

He said, “Do you like live music?”

She said, “Yes, It’s my favorite!”

He said, “You came with her again?”

She said, “I’m her designated driver.”

He said, “Here is your water.”

She said, “Would you dance with me?”

He said, “yes”

She said, “You can DANCE!”

He said, “Wow, so can you!”

He said, “Will I see you again?”

She said, “Maybe…”

He said, “I haven’t seen you in weeks, where have you been?”

She said, “My life is complicated….

He said, “What do you do?”

She said, “I go to school”

He said, “would you like to go dancing?”

She said, “ok”

He said, “Are you seeing anyone?”

She said, “No…and I want to keep it that way!”

He said, “Why?”

She said, “I am recently separated.”

He said, “I was married for a long time too”

She said, “I have children”

He said, “I bet they are great!”

She said, “You aren’t my type”

He said, “I know, but can we keep dancing?”

She said, “Yes, I would like that…”

He said, “We have been dancing every month for almost a year now!”

She said, “I just want to be friends…”

He said, “I know…”

She said, “I’m not ready for a relationship.”

He said, “I understand. I am happy just being your friend.”

She said, “Thank you for being such a great friend to me”

He said, “Who are you here with?

She said, “I am here on a date tonight”

He said, “Do you like him?

She said, “I don’t know yet”

He said, “That guy shouldn’t be flirting with your friends”

She said, “I guess he wasn’t that into me”

He said, “He’s an idiot”

She said, “Thank you”

He said, “You deserve better!”

She said, “I agree..”

He said, “I like spending time with you”

She said, “I need to take things really slow”

He said, “Of course”

She said, “I think you are looking for more than I am ready to give.”

He said, “I have all the time in the world.”

She said, “What’s wrong with your fingers?”

He said, “Nothing, I am sure it’s nothing”

She said, “I am not ready”

He said, “I’ll wait.”

She said, “Please go to the doctor.”

He said, “Go to Cabo with me!”

She said, “I am a single mother, I can’t go to Mexico!”

He said, “It would mean so much to me!”

She said, “Will you go to the doctor?”

He said, “Of course, as soon as we get back!”

She said, “Its beautiful here!”

He said, “Thank you for coming with me.”

She said, “What did the doctor say?”

He said, “He wants to run some tests…”

She said, “It is going to be alright…”

 

He said, “I have ALS”

She said, “I know”

He said, “I’m scared.”

She said, “Me too”

He said, “Maybe you should leave?”

She said, “I promise I will stay”

He said, “Will you spend the rest of my life with me?”

She said, “Yes”

He said, “My legs are getting weaker…”

She said, “We need to find a new home”

He said, “I want to marry you and dance with you on our wedding day.”

She said, “There isn’t much time.”

He said, “I am sorry we are rushing things.”

She said, “I am sorry that the last time we danced was on our wedding day…”

He said, “I don’t want to use the wheelchair.”

She said, “It’s there when you are ready…”

He said, “I can’t lift my arms anymore.”

She said, “It’s okay, I am right here…”

He said, “Don’t worry, we are going to be alright…”

She said, “I don’t know how to ask for help”

He said, “Neither do I”

She said, “I don’t know if I can do this alone.”

He said, “I feel like a burden.”

She said, “You are not a burden.”

He said, “Happy Anniversary!”

She said, “It’s been 3 years?”

He said, “Its going by too fast”

She said, “I feel so alone”

He said, “So do I…“

She said, “I never get to go out or do anything anymore”

He said, “Neither do I”

She said, “I didn’t think it would be this hard”

He said, “Neither did I”

She said, “I miss being held.”

He said, “I miss touching you.”

She said, “Where did everybody go?

He said, “I don’t think they can handle this.”

She said, “I am so angry.”

He said, “I know.”

She said, “I had different expectations.”

He said, “I think it’s just you and I.”

She said, “You are my person.”

He said, “Thank God I have you.”

She said, “We still have so much to be thankful for…”

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How to say goodbye again…

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I wonder how they do it?

I wonder how doctors can look people in the eye, and tell them that they are going to die…

The doctor sits down and explains to the patient that they have ALS….and then what?

I know in the ALS community, there are teams of doctors and specialists and therapists who rotate into each room, greeting the newly diagnosed patient and their family member. Every doctor, specialist and therapist have a small window of time to discuss and answer questions, as well as take various measurements with various tools and devices.

These are referred to as an ALS Clinic.

These people are sent into the room to determine how much a patient has progressed.

These clinics are all over the country, the world in fact. And each one does exactly the same thing.

They diagnose…and then they chart the progression of the deadly disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

How do they cope with this loss repeatedly?

They meet a family, they get to know them, and they watch, helplessly from the side lines.

How do they find the strength to keep watching?

And they do this over and over with each patient they see.  They may not know when, but they know, just like a freight train that is headed straight towards them, and there is no way to jump out of the way, that death is headed for each of these patients.

Today, Matthew and I learned that we have lost another friend.

And just like that, he is gone.

I can picture his face perfectly. His eyes, and how they twinkled. His smile, and the way he grinned like a little boy with such a mischievous look in them.  I knew he loved his family. I knew he was a proud man, with an iron will and a stubborn streak t least a mile long.

I knew that he had progressed considerably since the last time I saw him.

I hadn’t seen him in months, but I knew.

Of course, I knew.

It was clear that he was struggling when I had seen him last. His shoulders were rising with each breath.  He hated the chair he was sitting in.  He visibly looked uncomfortable.  He hated being sick…

And from the short time I knew him, it was clear he was stubborn and would handle this disease his way.  I could relate to the frustration his wife felt about this.  It is hard to let someone else take the reins of their own life and yet , as the caregiver, be somewhat responsible for their health and welfare.

Matthew drinks Coke.  A lot of Coke..

He still chews tobacco…although now he has moved onto Copenhagen pouches to avoid the choking hazard of the tobacco grains going down the wrong way and causing pneumonia. But he still chews…

He eats too much fast food, and junk food, and he doesn’t care because he knows one day soon, there is a possibility that he will not be able to eat. So, my stubborn husband does as much as he wants to do, and I let him.

The man who passed was stubborn too…

He hated anything that made him weak, and he especially hated all the machines he relied on, and the medicines…and how weak he was becoming.

I am taking a huge liberty writing this, as I hadn’t gone over to visit him in so long.

I will forever feel sorry about that, and yet I hope they understood.

Matthew and I are on our own path of this destructive train wreck waiting to happen.  I know it’s coming, and so does he. Yet, we are still able to find happy moments and to experience joy and laughter. I need to keep my own happy for as long as possible. I am grasping with everything I have on some days…

The years keep going by, and the people we meet have come into our lives, and many have passed. Sometimes suddenly, and others, not so surprisingly.

And I am detaching from it all…

This doesn’t feel intentional, it’s a sort of survival mechanism for my heart.

I meet these families, and I fall in love with them.  And then I watch powerlessly as they struggle to find their new normal, and I am helpless to stop what is happening to them. And I become a bit angrier at each loss.

There are more people who have been diagnosed in our area recently.

Some have reached out to me, and this time, my wall is built.  I am a little less willing to rush into their worlds and learn all about them.  I am a little less willing to fall in love with their families, and then witness their anguish.  I hide behind the walls of our foundation. I stick to the facts.  I offer advice, but I pause before opening myself more.

Matthew is much the same.

This afternoon, he hid behind his screen.  He hid behind whatever would take his mind off what is happening.

The freight train is coming…

We can hear it.

We can’t see it yet. We still have time.  But the dread of what is coming is always there. It never quite goes away…It is dark and heavy, and we can do nothing but accept the path that we are on, and the journey we have been led to walk.

I wish his family peace.

I hope they find comfort in their memories of their time together…

And I hope they understand why I pulled away. Not because I wanted to, but because I needed to.

I am not always as strong as I like to think I am.

We are all cowards from time to time…

Goodbye friend☹