Monday, July 28, 2014

Our Week

Quiet Secluded Spot Along Middle Prong - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
July 22, 2014

It is a stifling hot Sunday afternoon in East Tennessee as I write this, but once the predicted severe weather rolls through, we are anticipating an absolutely delightful week.  And don’t you think it was special of Bill to order this perfect weather for my birthday which just happens to fall on Wednesday?  We have some really cool things planned for the week, but I’m getting ahead of myself because last week involved some really cool things and lots of variety!

We spent one entire afternoon perched by the side of Middle Prong up in the mountains.  There was lots of reading, plenty of talking and much coffee consumed.  It was quiet, peaceful and a perfect respite.  It was one year ago this week that we signed the papers and found ourselves condo owners, something we knew we’d do eventually, but certainly never anticipated it happening when it did.  We have no regrets and had we known then what we know now about the directions our lives were about to take, we’d have surely been even more awed at the way the pattern of our circumstances can be guided behind the scenes if we just stay out of the way!  Putting Bill 3 ½ miles from work as opposed to 21 ½ seemed like a “convenience” move at the time.  Little did we know, it was what would keep him able to work throughout his illness because it allowed him to come and go as needed.

But the afternoon by the river wasn’t a time for reflecting on the past as we have turned our eyes toward the future.  Bill returns to school in 2 ½ weeks.  To say he is somewhat apprehensive is accurate.  As well as he is doing, we still have to constantly remind ourselves that he is less than five months past a grueling chemo/radiation treatment regimen and he cannot expect his energy level to be at full capacity for several more months.  He tires easily and on some days, he feels ok one minute and the next has trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  This radiation induced fatigue is something unlike we've ever seen and so odd in the way it effects individuals. We talked about how we might work together to get him through the first few weeks and into a rhythm as he begins to get a picture of how he is going to feel. 

 Monday was “my” day and I was so excited to spend the morning with my hiking friend, Judi!  You may remember that I met Judi and her husband, Gene, through this blog and they have become dear friends.  At the time we met, they were living and traveling full-time throughout the USA in their RV, but have since purchased a condo in a community close by and I am thrilled.  We hiked regularly until Bill became ill and hope to resume that when the weather breaks, but in the meantime, just needed some catch-up time.  It was therapeutic for me to just sit with her and talk about my mountains and get excited once again about hiking! 

I was fortunate to be able to spend time with both my parents and Bill’s mom this week.  We are so blessed to have them still with us and grateful that time with all of them is still fun!  My dad is beginning to have some significant health issues so I particularly treasure every moment we are able to laugh together.

On Friday morning, we had some friends over for a light brunch.  They’ve just returned from an Alaskan Cruise and we wanted to hear every little detail of their adventures.  They had not seen Bill since Super Bowl Sunday (when he was bald as he could be), so wanted to hear all about his China trip.  As silly as it sounds, they just wanted to see him EAT!!  They are good friends and conversation flowed freely!  

It was a full week because I haven’t even mentioned the trip to lunch on Saturday which ended up being a 110 mile road trip!  Or the friends who visited so we could spend some time with their niece whom we’ve known since she was born, but hadn’t seen her in several years as she lives in Texas now. 

Our lives are very full right now.  Our hearts are even more full of gratitude that Bill, although still far from 100%, is able to enjoy life, enjoy our friends and family, enjoy the taste of most foods and most importantly, recognize that now it’s time to give back.  We are thankful for opportunities this week do have done just that!  I hope you have!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lighten Up!

Middle Prong - Great Smoky Mountain National Park
April, 2014

To get the background for my 2014 Mantra, you’ll have to go way back to January and read THIS post!  Funny thing though – I thought I had it all together and so many things about which to write based on just what I’d learned during 2013.  Little did I know what hurdles there were to cross, pain there was to bear, compassion to be learned and love to be shared during the first six months of 2014. 

I honestly believe that I could fill each Thursday through year end with a post about a single subject or aspect of my life in which I’ve learned to, been forced to or voluntarily chosen to LIGHTEN UP!  But when I wrote the original post in January, I had in mind about six areas to talk about.  Boy, has that list ever grown!  Over the next several Thursdays, my life is going to become painfully open on every subject from weight, diet, finances, retirement, travel, time management, faith and religion (bet that got some raised eyebrows), blogging, happiness, leisure time, generosity, illness, friendship, spouses (better be careful with that one!), relationships in general, materialism, elder care, etc.  And that’s just for starters! 

The coolest part about that is I will so look forward to your thoughts and feedback about changes you may or may not be making in your own life.  Maybe we can even come up with some congenial controversy.   So hang on and prepare to LIGHTEN UP!


Monday, July 21, 2014

I Have A Plan!

Curry Mountain Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
May, 2014
(Didn't do much hiking this spring, but this was one trail I enjoyed)

Thank you so much for your warm reception and kind words for my first post following a long hiatus.  I wasn’t at all sure what to expect and you’ve made me feel very missed.  I am grateful for your support!

Blogging doesn’t have to be organized or have a “plan,” but I do so much better with all aspects of managing my life and time when I have some sort of idea as to where I am headed.  Through my four years (yes, I did pass my four year Blog Anniversary in early May) of blogging, it always helped to try posting on a schedule.  I’ve always admired many of you and wandered how in the world you have time to write those long, descriptive posts complete with pictures AND live your “real” life at the same time.  I just DON’T, so blogging has to have some sort of schedule for when I write and when I post. 

My plan is to post early Monday morning and then again on Thursday.  I read a lot of blogs across many blog communities and my favorites are those which share the total life of the writer.  To me, there is always a face and a life behind the words and that is the person I want to know.  You may blog about a certain subject, but for me to read long-term, I want to know about your life beyond that subject.  And that’s the kind of blog I’ve always wanted to have.  So Monday’s post will always be about our life.  That’s why it’s called, “Gains and Losses: LIFE Through Sharon’s Eyes!”  Thursday is when you’ll get my thoughts and philosophies which you may or may NOT want!!  LOL!  I plan to continue where I was headed with my 2014 Mantra (you’ll have to look it up or just be surprised) before I went on blog break.  But now there’s so much more to write about!

Last week was lots of fun.  We had a delightful cool spell here in Tennessee which may have been just the break I needed from the stifling summer temps.  Our most fun moment was taking a birthday cake and totally surprising Bill’s mother at her weekly Bible Study.  She is NOT easy to surprise and since she doesn’t attend our church, this is just somewhere she would’ve NEVER expected to see us.  This IS the church in which Bill grew up and they have faithfully prayed for him throughout his illness so the moments with this precious group of people was a celebration of more than just a birthday.
So there you have it.  The Plan!

Do you Blog with a plan or do you just write/post when the mood strikes?

Monday, July 14, 2014

It Wasn't Planned!

 Cades Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
June, 2014

When I last hit the “publish” button on February 6, I had no idea that I was about to take a five month break from writing the blog.  As a matter of fact, I already had the next post more than half written.  But as you can see, life intervened and for many reasons, some of which I may share and others that are very personal, the blog went on a lengthy hiatus.  For those of you that have remained in touch with me by email and have refused to let me go, I am eternally grateful. The last ten months have been among the most difficult periods of our lives and without the kindness, love and care from friends, we would not have made it.  That includes some of you and it is truly for that reason I've decided that yes, Gains and Losses will continue.  But I must warn you…..I am not the same person.  And this will not be the same blog.  That is the part with which I am having trouble coming to terms.  Life is very different now and I view most everything through an entirely different lens.  I’m excited to talk about it, but a tad apprehensive as well.  What if you no longer like what I have to say?  I guess time will tell!

To try and cover five months of our journey in one paragraph is ridiculous, but that is what I must do.  Bill completed his nine rounds of chemotherapy and 34 radiation treatments on March 6.  To say he went through hell is putting it mildly.  Only someone who has been through this themselves or been a caregiver to someone who has can truly understand.  Once treatment was completed, it was weeks before we began to see any evidence of improvement from the debilitating side effects.  But I am happy to say that although he still has a long way to go, things are improving and I see glimpses of my sweet, energizer bunny husband of 37 years.  We are told it will likely be up to a year before he feels “normal,” but, thankfully, he is beginning to eat solid food again and has stopped losing weight. The fatigue is still an issue, but with at least 10 hours of sleep at night, he is usually able to get by without an afternoon nap.  Every few days, a "fatigue" day will get him and he just has to give in and call it a day of rest.  Again, we are grateful that those days are becoming further apart and less severe when they do occur.

Our best news is that his three month post treatment scan revealed no evidence of any remaining cancer cells.  His Oncologist was confident this would be the case, but it sure felt good to hear the words.  We are told that his type of malignancy has a low rate of reoccurance, but this is cancer and as we all know, there are no guarantees.  So he will be monitored very carefully and we often wonder how long it will be before we are able to relax. 

My promise to myself was that IF I chose to begin writing again, I would keep my posts short, so holding to that promise, this is enough for now.  But there is much, much more to come.  It will be interesting to see who is still out there! 

Thanks Again!

It’s Good To Be Back

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends!

Lower Mt. Cammerer Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
December, 2012

A more appropriate post title would've read, "I'd have long since gone under without a LOT of help from my friends!"  I don't think I've ever taken my friends or the joy of friendship for granted, but never before have I needed my friends in the way that I have in the past few months.  And boy, have they ever come through in ways I never could've seen coming.  In quieter times when I've been alone or Bill has been sleeping, I've spent a good bit of time contemplating what it really means to be a friend.  A friend who is able to give of myself to others, but is also able to RECEIVE from others especially when I have little or nothing to give back.  

Don't be surprised if friendship doesn't become a recurring theme over the next while as I share some of the things I have learned or am learning.  And don't be surprised if you don't like some of the things I might say cause rest assured, six months ago, I REALLY wouldn't have liked some of things I might say.  Even worse is I would've passed them off with a shrug that implied my indifference or attitude that what had been said couldn't possibly apply to me!

As I sit quietly here on a Sunday afternoon in our living room watching Bill sleep peacefully (thank goodness), two things come to mind.............

For 36 1/2 years, Bill has been my spouse, my rock and my BEST FRIEND!  He knows me better than anyone ever has, he gets angry with me and quickly forgives, he does so many things quietly and efficiently that I have no idea how to do, he simply loves me unconditionally and enjoys seeing me happy.  Because of all those reasons (and believe me, I know how lucky I am), I think I've failed to cultivate other friendships that run as deeply.  Don't get me wrong - I have LOTS of good, close friends. But none that know me like Bill does.  So when my "rock" went down particularly since it was something we NEVER saw coming, I was and am still left floundering about often feeling like a ship without a motor in the vast sea of uncertainty.  And people, it's scary!  But with the help of folks around me who have stepped out of the woodwork, I'm learning to ask for what I need and accept what is offered.  The reward for me is that I already know that when Bill is better and life moves on, I am far, far richer for the relationships that have soared during this time.  

Don't get me wrong.....I believe that when we marry and pledge our lives to another person, that person SHOULD be our best friend, but they can't be our ONLY "best" friend!  Life can change in an instant - make sure all your eggs aren't in one basket!  I am so grateful for people who have stepped up when I haven't been remotely capable of asking for or verbalizing what I needed.  Heck, I haven't even KNOWN what I needed.  But others have and I will be eternally grateful.

I said two things, didn't I?   Well forget that.  This post will be long enough after I give a report on how Bill is doing, so the second thing will just wait till later on in the week.  But it's a good one.  One I'm incredibly guilty of and will likely continue to be even with my resolve NOT to do this in the future!  And guess what?  You've probably said this very thing sometime in the last week!

Bill has completed 11 of his 30 (+ or -) radiation treatments and is probably doing better than we expected.  We've been warned things are likely to go downhill quickly, but we are trying to remain positive that he is doing everything possible to make those side effects less than horrible.  So far, the worst has been almost 100% loss of taste.  If you weren't miserable, it would be very interesting to observe just how this works.  Meat was the first to go followed by bread and it went quickly from there.  As of today, he still receives some taste sensation from sugar (of course!!), things that are tart and soft dairy items like pudding.  Thankfully, dairy is not bothering his stomach as he is pretty much existing on Boost/Ensure type liquid shakes.  Not your yummy menu by any stretch of the imagination, but four of those daily plus a Smoothie in the morning gets the calories/nutrition he needs and the dietician has said not to worry about the sugar for now.  And as of this morning, he was still drinking coffee!  Go figure?  During the chemo last fall, that was the very first thing to go!  

He has had a little bit of "thrush" and the dry mouth so typical of head/neck radiation is starting.  But the horrible sore throat, mouth sores and complete lack of saliva are thankfully, for a few more days at least, not present!  The fatigue is ever present, but manageable especially when he is able to rest and recuperate in the evenings.  

Please remember him in your thoughts.  You've "known" him through me for almost four years now and we consider you to be "friends."  A different kind of "friends," but still friends who have the same capacity to care even at a distance!  We thank you for that.

Tell Me About A Friend of Yours OTHER Than Your Spouse!