Monthly Archives: April 2016

Just a Line on Paper

I participate on several different cancer-related forums. I don’t go seeking support for myself, but I do try to add hope, comfort and/or information to others who go the sites, especially for those who are newly diagnosed with cancer. I well remember how mind-boggling it was to get the news that I had cancer. If I can make it even a little easier on others facing that news, then I want to do so.

I find that, even though I don’t know most of the people personally who participate on the boards, I care for many of them deeply. When one gets bad test results or is having a difficult time with treatments, it hurts me. If we learn that a regular contributor has passed away, I shed tears. And, on the flip side, when someone posts that they are now NED (no evidence of disease) or got into a coveted clinical trial or had scans showing stable tumors, my heart sings. It brightens my day.

Chances are good that I will never meet the vast majority of people who participate on the forums. We live all over the world. Many of us are as different as night and day. Our one commonality is that we (or a loved one) have cancer.

Someone wrote today that she was nothing more than “a line of type” to me. Indeed, we have little in common and she is definitely not one of my favorite forum participants. I find her a know-it-all and a very rude individual who says (types) hurtful comments to people nearly every single day. I think she’s trying to be funny most of the time. But, that’s not how it comes across to many of us.

I’ve often thought that she has very thick skin because people often disagree with her. Or, worse yet, they just ignore her.  That’s what I usually try to do.

But, this blog entry is not about her … it is about the comment she made about just being “a line of type.” I disagree vehemently with that statement.

We may or may not know one another’s names, but we actually know a lot about those of us who participate regularly. We know which forum members share similar values and which ones don’t. We know who is in remission and who is in the fight of their lives. We know many inner thoughts that would likely not be shared if we were face to face. It feels safe to share what we really think and feel when we can’t see one another and we are known by a screen name only.

I might not know you physically, but I know you emotionally and psychologically. And, in my opinion, that is who you are. Not what you look like on the outside, but who you are on the inside, when you think nobody knows you.

I have a very, very good friend. We have been friends since 1999. We have gone through her getting a divorce, our kids getting married, having babies, and in some cases, getting divorced. We’ve gone through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I know things about her and her family that her very best friend doesn’t know. Because I am safe. We have never met. We have never spoken on the phone. And yet, if I really needed her, I feel that I could go to her and she would be there for me. I know I would be for her. In fact, we HAVE been there for one another. We’ve shared joys, tears, sorrows, and laughter. We’ve shared life with one another.

So, there is great fallacy when one thinks they are but “a line of type.” You’re kidding yourself if you think the people on the other end of your posts don’t know who you are. If that were true, online support groups and even Facebook and other social media would not work.

In my opinion, this is important to remember. Adults bully the same as children do. And, it is wrong, regardless of who does it. There is a live person reading comments made on forums or other social media. Some of them are in very vulnerable places, especially if they were recently diagnosed with cancer or how just learned that their cancer has returned or that it is no longer treatable.

Read and reread before posting something. Think about what you wrote. Will it help the person to whom it was written? Will they have to wonder what you meant by  what you said?

None of us is just “a line of type.” Don’t treat one another as if that was the case.

 

It is Bluebonnet Time in Texas

Spring is always a hopeful time. The grass turns green, flowers begin blooming,  and the trees bud. Bees begin spreading pollen. And, yuck, around here, the mosquitoes show up, too. We have some monsters out there this year.

I don’t always look forward to spring. The reason isn’t because I don’t love the season itself, because I do. But I hate what it foreshadows. Summer. Summer in Dallas, TX can be brutal. I dread it every year, from the time it leaves until it comes again! We have had a lot of unseasonably “warm” weather already this year. I hope and pray it is not preparing us for months of 100+ degree days.

But, one thing I do always anticipate about spring is bluebonnet time! Bluebonnets around here are mostly the Lupinus texensis, though there are many species of the genus Lupinus and many of them may be found growing in Texas during March and April.

 

Bluebonnets are the State flower of Texas. We Texans take them very seriously!!! There are myths that are perpetuated annually that it is against the law to even pick one of the lovely blue flowers.

It is a Texas tradition to take the kids (two- and four-legged) out to the fields where the lovely blue flowers grow wild for pictures. You will usually find me out there when the first flower pops up and many more times until they disappear for another year.

April 2013

I came across some pictures that my husband took of my two dogs and me out in the bluebonnets back in March 2013. I had recently been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and my prognosis was very bad. When we went to the bluebonnet patch, neither of us had much hope that I would be alive to see another bluebonnet season.

Cotton was exploring while Barney was doing what Mom asked!

 

These two dogs have brought me such great joy – then and now!

 

Let’s get a “perfect” picture!

 

This is a picture of pure happiness!

I am sad to say that the field where these bluebonnets were no longer turns blue in March and April. I am not sure why. I do know that it is getting harder and harder to find nice spots to take pictures. Maybe the property owners don’t want the liability. These fields of blue draw hundreds of people every year.

Ladybird Johnson, as part of the Highway Beautification Act, encouraged the planting of bluebonnets and other native plants along Texas highways after she left the White House. As you drive from Dallas to Austin or Houston, you’ll see many bluebonnets alongside the highway. But, these places are not safe enough for me to take my dogs for pictures. They are too likely to break their stays and take a run in the open fields. And, they have no sense that cars are dangerous… (Ha! Cars are just a way to take them from one fun activity to the next!!)

April 2016

The first place we went was to a school stadium parking lot. The bluebonnets seemed to have popped up there before they became prolific elsewhere. So, I managed to get early bluebonnet pictures, but nothing I was proud of. I thought I waited to go until the sun was in a spot where it wouldn’t cause shadows and squinty eyes, but I was wrong! Way wrong.

The patches were relatively small, too. But, the good news is that they were behind a fence. I was really glad, because Cotton almost always takes off in a mad dash the opposite direction as where I am. And, Barney always follows her. Both of them run at full speed.

Barney can’t keep his eyes open – sun is too bright.

 

Sun in your eyes, Cotton?!

 

See what I mean about them taking off and running? They ran to the far end of the fence.
I held my breath, praying that there wasn’t a hole where they could get out.

This patch wasn’t desirable, except for the fact that it had a fence and a few blue flowers. I wasn’t sure I was going to capture “the bluebonnet picture of the season” here, though.

I was fortunate that a friend shared where she goes to take her bluebonnet pictures. I think it is another Texas tradition to keep mum about the really beautiful patches you find. That keeps them really nice because rude people don’t trample all of the flowers down.

You wouldn’t believe how much disregard people have for these beautiful flower patches. They bring blankets that they lay down right in the middle of a patch. Or they bring wagons or they encourage their children to run with abandon through the fields. It is true that it makes a lovely picture for them. But, it destroys large patches of flowers for all of those who come behind them for pictures. It also kills the flowers so they are not able to go to seed. Next year, the patch will be smaller because fewer flowers left behind their seeds for next year.

But, this story is about finding beautiful spots where I can take pictures of my dogs with the bluebonnets.

Cotton, Barney and I headed out to the park where we were told the bluebonnets were out. The park is somewhat out of the way and apparently not well known. Both of these attributes are good!

On our first trip, I managed once more to go when the sun was in the dogs’ eyes. Not only that, because we have been homebodies for the last few weeks, they were very excited to be out and about. Posing for picture after picture is not their idea of a good time! Barney was very cooperative, but Cotton was on a tear. She just wanted to go, go, go and have fun.

 

I admit I was pretty frustrated with the whole trip except that I now knew a nice place to go to take the dogs for pictures. And, I vowed I would get up early and take them out before the sun was going to be a problem.

So, we headed out the next day, this time around 7:30 AM. Turns out we didn’t need to leave so early as it was cloudy all day, but it got me out of bed and on the road so it’s all good!

Never one to stay on the beaten path, my dogs and I found some nearly undisturbed patches of blue for pictures!! We had a great day. Cotton was cooperative and so was Barney. We were away from where other people might walk by (my dogs tend to be reactive toward other dogs and want to run and greet other people).

running and running and running … they love it!

 

This dog nearly always has a big smile on her face. Happiest dog ever!

Both dogs must have gotten a little bored with our picture taking. Both did some yawning!

 

Besides bluebonnets, we saw other pretty flowers. I am fairly non-discriminatory when it comes to enjoying wildflowers (and even not-wildflowers (cultivated flowers, I guess they’re called)!

 

 

 

 

 

I recently saw someone else’s video of a visit to the Arboretum. It included stills and video and I really liked it a lot. I remembered to take a couple of videos while we were taking pictures on Saturday morning so that I could play with putting together my own “integrated” video. It is not fabulous, I know, but here’s my first attempt (wish the wind had been blowing the bluebonnets … but it was a surprisingly still day) …

 

I have cancer, Cancer doesn’t have me

I wrote the following in response to an article we were discussing on WhatNext. If you want to read the article, you can find it at http://www.curetoday.com/community/bonnie-annis/2016/04/as-a-cancer-survivor-making-the-choice-to-get-busy-living. It is titled, “As a Cancer Survivor, Making the Choice to Get Busy Living”

I have been interviewed several times lately and the interviewer always wants to know how it felt to be told I had stage IV lung cancer with an estimated 4 months to live. I always feel like my answer disappoints them on some level.

My husband and I discussed how we were going to face this as we were driving to my mom’s house to break the cancer news. We both agreed that we were going to make it a “no big deal” thing to her.

That’s what we did. And, that’s how we lived. I never gave up life. There were times during chemo when I gave up a few days while fighting the worst of the side effects, but those days were limited.

My oncologist could not believe that I wanted to know if I could keep playing agility with my dogs, but I never quit. I might have missed a class here or there, but we didn’t leave the sport.

Most of my local friends have totally forgotten that I have stage IV lung cancer. I was at church the other day with a friend who told me another cancer survivor was joining us. She gently explained that I might want to curb some of my exuberance for life because this girl has a late stage cancer…

She was so dumbfounded when I reminded her that I do too!!!

As it turns out the girl who joined us is a lot like me. She is a runner and refused to give up her running. The hospital has been attaching all sorts of electrodes to her and a team follows her while she runs. They are monitoring how the exercise impacts her and her cancer. I have not gotten an update on her, but she told us that she expected to be getting a NED diagnosis the following week!!!

I feel like I alienate some people who are fighting cancer (or however a person wants to term it) because I have chosen to live life. I told the interviewer that cancer has made me nearly frantic to keep my calendar full of activities that I love to do. Down days are something I try not to have.

Because I stay so busy doing things I love to do, I forget for long periods of time that I have cancer. I have cancer, it doesn’t have me. I hope it never will.

The Fraternity No One Wants to Join

Last week, I attended a regional HOPE Summit that was put on by the LUNGevity Foundation. My (nearly) 86-year-old mom attended with me. After spending a full day of learning and camaraderie with all of us lung cancer survivors and caregivers, Mom made a comment that resonated with me. She said, “It’s almost like you are all in a fraternity or a sorority.”

Yes. That is so true. We share a commonality that no one wanted and no one asked for and certainly no one sought. And, yet, that monster no one wanted, lung cancer, has brought us together in a way nothing else ever could. And, I think without exception, we are all thrilled to know one another.

Have you thought of that benefit? Do you go places where you meet others with a similar diagnosis?

In so many ways, it takes another person who has been diagnosed with cancer to understand what it is like. People can imagine or think they know, but only someone who has heard those awful words actually, truly know.

I think meeting other people who are surviving cancer helps bring hope to all of us. Maybe it gives just the push someone needs to climb out of depression and to give life another chance. For sure, it means that we can exchange war stories and know that the person hearing them knows just exactly what we are saying, even if our chemo brains make us forget the right words sometimes.

Living Life

Once we hear those words, “You have cancer,” we all seem to react differently. I personally took on living with a vengeance. People laugh when they see my calendar. I keep it full. If there is an open day, I generally come up with something to fill it up. I want to enjoy every single minute of every single day. And, for the most part, I am hugely successful in that endeavor. If I am not laughing and smiling and having fun, I just might be asleep!

I have many friends who accepted the challenge of cancer and vowed to give it a run for its money!! They are strong warriors and usually spend a lot of time advocating on behalf of themselves and everyone else who has been diagnosed with cancer. They are using the time they have to make a difference in their lives, in the lives of other cancer patients, in the lives of everyone who comes into contact with them.

Thank God for these people! I think a lot of us want to give back when our lives have been extended beyond expectations. I wasn’t supposed to live more than 4 months. Wow! I have a story of hope to tell and tell it I will!

Or not…

I know other people who learn they have cancer and it seems like a dark cloud descends on them. They lose their energy and their zest for life. It appears that all they think about is their cancer. Sometimes, these are people who are diagnosed with early stage and treatable cancer. Long after their cancer has been obliterated, they are still giving it power over them. They moan, groan and complain because cancer came into their lives. They feel sorry for themselves and shorten their lives by worrying constantly about the fact that they had cancer … and that it might come back someday.

I always wonder, why? Why give cancer so much power? I get it if you are so sick from chemo and/or radiation or surgery that you can’t continue living life. I’ve been there. I lost days of my life when I was getting chemo. I could do nothing besides curl up on the bed, completely miserable and wondering if I really wanted to continue. But, those days would pass in a bit and once more, life was worth living … and live it I did!

My own personal perspective is that people who give up the will to live life, who concentrate more on what their new normal means (and what they can no longer do) than on trying to make the best of the time they have, are losing to cancer long before it robs them of life.

Here’s the deal. When we dwell on something, it grows bigger and bigger and bigger. It takes on a life of its own. It can begin to consume you. If you’re dwelling on living life, then joy and passion are what consume you. But if you concentrate on what you lost, no matter how small or significant that might be, you give up your peace and trade it for worry, fear, sadness, and/or anger … or maybe all of those.

Blessings

So, I choose to keep my focus on the blessings of cancer. Yes, the blessings of cancer. I joined a fraternity no one wants to be a part of … but now that I am a member, I am not so sure I would ever want to leave again. What??? Am I crazy????

Well … maybe. But, here are some of the things that have happened to me as a direct result of having stage IV (yep, terminal) lung cancer:

 

  1. As I noted already, I have made friends that I would have never met if it were not for the fact that I have lung cancer. I wouldn’t trade knowing them, not even if it meant I could somehow give away my cancer diagnosis.
  2. I am much stronger than I realized I was. It took cancer to teach me just how much strength I have. Some disease is not going to overpower my thoughts, even if it does try to overpower my body.
  3. I have so much more joy than before I was diagnosed with cancer. I guess when I came face to face with the reality that my life could be over in a matter of months, I began to appreciate what’s really important in life. People, moments, memories, time. God’s handiwork. Every single day, every single hour of every single day, I am thankful for the fact that I am alive and enjoying what God has given me.
  4. One thing cancer has done is rob me of patience. I have no patience with complainers or with people who can’t look past their circumstances to find happiness. I remove myself from their midst and that has helped make my life much happier!
  5. Not only have I made friends with others who share a cancer diagnosis, I learned who my true friends really are: the ones who didn’t just keep on living life without giving me a second thought, but the ones who I know would be there for me the moment I needed them to be. Sadly, for me and for most people who are diagnosed with cancer, I learned that many of the people I thought were good friends really are not. But, the flip side is that I learned who my real friends are. And, that’s a very important lesson.
  6. I learned how to enjoy life. I never was much of a worrier. I sure am not now. Worry is a time thief. I have no time to share with worry.
  7. Chemo brain has even lent a benefit. Thoughts don’t get a very tight handle in my brain. Sometimes, even most of the time, that can be frustrating. But only momentarily. I don’t hold onto hurts or wrongs … I don’t just forgive them, I FORGET them. Totally. So, they don’t interfere with my pursuit of happiness 🙂  I don’t try to forget them, they just don’t stick in my mind!

Challenge

My challenge to anyone who reads this is for you to begin living life like you might not still be here tomorrow. Because, the truth is, you might not be. A cancer diagnosis brings that fact to the forefront of your mind. But, NONE of us is promised tomorrow (or even the next minute). We need to start living like today might be our last day here.
What would be important to you if that was the case? Would you still be mad that someone cut you off in the grocery store line or on the highway? Would which new dress to buy be foremost on your mind or perhaps spending time with loved ones would supersede.
Just think about it. Most of what frustrates us or makes us mad is really small in the grand scheme of this thing we call life. We’re giving up blessings every single time we let something rob us of our happiness. Right? Or do you disagree?

Taking a Day Away from Cancer

Do you take a day away from cancer? Where your cancer is not front and foremost in your mind? I do. Actually, I take lots of days like that. It isn’t that I ever forget that I have cancer, because I don’t. Always, in the back of my mind is the fact that my body is hosting an intruder that could decide to kill me at any given moment. But, while the knowledge is there, I refuse to dwell on such thoughts.

I have a philosophy about cancer. I figure that if I don’t let it rob me of my life while I’m still alive, then I win and it loses. I might someday “lose my battle against cancer,” but I’m going to win all of the little skirmishes along the way!! I won’t give it any more of my time on this earth than I absolutely must.

I keep my calendar pretty full of activities that I want to do. Unfortunately, some tasks that I need to do, but don’t want to do, do not make it to the calendar. Things like cleaning house. Or cooking meals… I wish I had enough money to hire a maid and a cook!!

One of the things I love to do most is go to the Dallas Arboretum and take pictures. I don’t know if I will accomplish my goal or not, but I am hoping that I will make it out there at least once every month. I want to document how the garden grows throughout the year.

I have never been that it isn’t beautiful. Of course, here in Dallas, our winters are fairly mild usually … but our summers can be brutal. It is amazing that the master gardeners who keep the arboretum growing are able to keep it gorgeous even when the unrelenting sun beats down and temperatures soar to well over 100 degrees for weeks on end. But, they do!

This month, a friend and I spent about six hours exploring the property. We went places I have never been, but we missed a lot of places that I usually see. I am nearly certain that I could visit the Arboretum every single week and still miss seeing areas. Everywhere you look, there is something worthy of your attention. Have I said it? It is incredible!!

When I arrived home from our visit, I immediately popped my SD card into my computer so that I could begin to download the pictures I took this visit. I knew I must have taken a bunch. For the first time ever, I exhausted the battery to my camera. Sure enough, there were nearly 900 pictures waiting to be transferred!! A few were blurry; a few were basically duplicates; but mostly, they are worth keeping.

Last month, the tulips were in bloom. Everywhere. They were splendid. Absolutely gorgeous. This month, the maples are awesome and the azaleas nearly beyond description. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture with my camera just how beautiful the azaleas were. So many colors and in prolific bloom. Somehow, my pictures just do not do them justice. For that, I am very sorry.

Besides the plants, the structures and features of the Arboretum never fail to fascinate me. Most of them I see every time I visit, but they never bore me. And, then there are the birds, the squirrels, and the bugs, particularly lady bugs and bees, that capture my attention. Many of the birds and squirrels are so accustomed to humans that they nearly pose for the camera! Even the bees are so busy collecting pollen that they ignore the fact that I’m sticking a camera lens into their space.

This year, I have documented every visit to the Arboretum with a little video made from some of the stills I took. I’ll post the three that I have made so far here, in case anyone wants to watch. I hope some of you will enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed making them!

I saw someone else’s video yesterday that I really liked much better than mine, so next month, I will be trying something a little different. If I remember … gotta love chemo brain. Stay tuned.

At any rate, taking a little time to watch will hopefully take you away from any cares and troubles you might have for just a brief moment. God’s magnificence shows in every picture.

(I actually didn’t decide to document every month of the year until it was too late to go to the Arboretum in January. I did the next best thing and visited very early on in February!)

February 3, 2016

The trees are still mostly bare, though some are beginning to bud, despite the fact that it is still wintertime. Our weather doesn’t support the calendar month! It has been unseasonably warm the entire season. That doesn’t bode well for us, I am afraid, when summer hits.
Despite the fact that many of the trees had no leaves, there were plenty of pansies, daffodils, and roses to lend color to the gardens. And, you can tell that it won’t be long before the beds will be aburst in color.

March 2, 2016

The tulips were phenomenal. At every turn, you wondered if it could get any more beautiful. Just amazing!! Among the tulips, daffodils waved and hyacinths spread their sweet perfume. If you don’t watch any other video, watch this one!

 

April 1, 2016

I actually did two videos of the April visit. There is a bit of duplication between the two, but not a lot. I shared the first video on my Facebook page. It is a little longer than the second one … and it doesn’t have as many azalea pictures. I did a second video because I wanted a shorter version to share on WhatNext. When I went through the pictures again, I mostly chose different ones than I used the first time. I should probably make a decision and share only one of the two videos for the April 1st visit, but I will leave it up to you which to watch, if any. (This is what happens when you come home with so many photographs that you simply can’t choose which are favorites!!!)

Video 1. It is over 5 minutes long. And has music (which I love). It also will have ads because of the music… There were lots of robins on the grounds this visit. I love robins so I took lots of pictures of them! And, even though most people think of grackles as pests, I like them, so I take their pictures, too! Squirrels fascinate me as do bees, so you’ll see plenty of both here. And, oh yeah!! You’ll see tulips, pansies and petunias, azaleas, and much more. There are also more of the water features included in this video than in the shorter one (below).

 

Video 2. No music. And a minute shorter! 🙂 There are more pictures of azaleas here and fewer pictures of birds and squirrels (though, there are some! – the animal lover in me could never leave them out entirely).