So there's more to the title of that last post - much more - but I opted to quit with just the facts last time. Just get everybody up to speed with the story, while taking a little more time to process and plan Part Two.
As I wrote the previous post, something struck me as I typed the words, "Believe It." They appeared on the screen before me, and I realized I had much more to share than "Just the facts, m'am". One of my mantras over my years of exploration into my own spirituality, my mission in this lifetime, on this planet; has been "If I believe it, well then it must be true," or "If you believe that, that it will be true for you." I'm always telling people: "There is so much power in what you think!" Also, "Write down what you want, and you'll have it."
I was really lucky to have this really great riding instructor, professor, and mentor in college whose mantra was, "There's no sense in practicing at all, if you're going to practice the wrong things. Practice correctly, or don't practice at all." She was, of course, talking about riding horses, but I've carried that mantra with me through all aspects of life. She's also one of the happiest, cheeriest people I know, so I'm pretty sure she applies this statement to her whole life, too.
I didn't realize how to apply it to more than riding then, but I see it so clearly now. I've been working for a long time toward the goal of being happy, and more recently, toward health. Obviously the two go hand in hand! So I practice happiness, instead of sadness. I practice making healthy choices, instead of unhealthy choices. This isn't to say I'm always happy or healthy, or that it's easy. But I make a conscious effort to practice correctly. If I get off course, I make a correction. And I learn from my mistakes. And I believe that I will achieve my goals. I write down what I want. I imagine myself succeeding. And I know anything is possible, as long as I believe it.
I struggle with doubt, sure. I have to fend off plenty of sadness. There will always be obstacles, but the point is to not let my mind be one of them. But I've made a practice of believing everything will work out in a positive way, provided that I stay focused on the positive outcome. I've had plenty of help from healers, shamans, and energy workers to help drive that point home throughout the years, and it's finally starting to stick. I'm still a student and life is one lesson after another, but practice makes perfect.
So yesterday was a monumental day. Make that a tremenda-mental day. Monumenta-mendous? Never mind...
It was BIG. It was GOOD. BIG news, GOOD day. GOOD news, BIG day.
What I'm getting at is: It's GONE! I think it's been around the world three times already via Spacebook, but in case you haven't heard - the tuber is gone. G-O-N-E. Gone.
I really never thought I would see this day. Ever. But if I were to see it, it would be years down the road. Years of struggling, waiting for the newest treatment, trying the next thing on my list of holistic therapies; before the day would come that my oncologist would speak the words, "the tumor is gone."
But it was yesterday, after a long week of chemo, not enough sleep, no Boyfriend to hold my hand during my appointment; that my Uber-Oncologist opened with, "Your MRI looks good - really good." Looking up from the report, he smiled and continued, "At first, I thought I was looking at somebody else's MRI - there is no longer a mass, just some scar tissue from the radiation."
"Wait, what?" I'm sure the look on my face said it all - NO FREAKING WAY.
Dr. G confirmed that I had heard correctly: "The tumor is gone, what's left is basically just a scar."
"Wow - really?" Dumbstruck. Jaw resting on lap.
"Yep. So your question from months ago about whether or not surgery would ever be an option - there's nothing to take out!"
"That's... "...words... " uh - mazing! I can't believe it!"
"Believe it." He proceeded to go over the images from the scan of my brain taken earlier that day, pointing out any light areas as "just scarred blood vessels from the radiation. Anybody's brain could have that - all we have is just have a guess of where the tumor was, at this point." Then the previous year's worth of images, all rock-solidly "stable" with a 5cm X 2cm mass in my right temporal lobe. Wow - where did the little bugger go?
Then my (pre-treatment) scan from July 2009 was on the screen, and the tears started. Point A to Point B was suddenly a blur, and reality struck - Will you look at that? The difference between "now" and "then" was stupefying. My poor little brain had been in bad shape, all squished off to one side, just over one year ago. We've been through the war, and we've won! I have a Super-Brain, and together, we kicked some tuber arse! Buh-bye, brain-vader!
IMAGE NOTE: The images at right are yesterday's scan (top) and my July 2009 scan (bottom). It was after the July 2009 scan that my Ninja Neurologist said to me quite frankly, "If you don't pursue treatment soon, you're going to die of brain cancer."
To which I arrogantly replied,"I'm not going to die of brain cancer."
"Then what are you waiting for?" he shot back.
I didn't have an answer. What was I waiting for?
So I stopped waiting and started healing and here I am, one year later, and it's GONE? Already?
I just turned 34. Yes, I know I'm not old - that's not where I'm going at all. One of the benefits to this whole Brain Cancer Thing is newfound perspective - every day is a blessing, kids. Birthdays have always been exciting, celebrated milestones for me, and this year was no exception: Boyfriend took me out to see Secretariat, brought me home and fed me delicious homemade pizza and some yummy red wine. The next morning he whisked me away for a weekend of camping, hiking and hot springs. Double-super-extra-credit for him!
Yay for another year well-lived...
I turned 33 shortly after starting radiation (seven weeks) and chemotherapy last year. I can hardly believe that was over a year ago. So if 32 was the year I was diagnosed with brain cancer, 33 was the year I began to beat the crap out of that little brain tumor! Not to mention the year I won my battle with MediCal. And got my ability to drive back. Every year brings new adventures - just what will the next year bring?
But let's not get ahead of ourselves...
I realize that I haven't updated you (healthwise) in a while, and some of you (so sweet!) have been asking. Others have made comments that they don't know if I want to talk about it, so they haven't wanted to ask. Well, I haven't wanted to bore you with it, but here's the quick update, for those of you who wonder:
The latest photo shoot: My most recent MRI was October 5th. The images show further reduction in "enhancement" (fancy medical term for irritation in the tissue) surrounding the tumor and the tumor's size remains stable. This might not sound that exciting, but they're both really good things. It means my continued monthly chemo is working, and it's keeping the tumor from growing back at all. Which means my brain is happy. Which means fewer seizures. Which makes me happy.
The chemo story: My monthly chemo regimen continues. I take five doses of the oral chemotherapy drug Temodar over five days, every four to six weeks, depending on how quickly my blood counts recover each round. I seem to be managing my chemo weeks a little better all the time. I didn't even need a day off or any naps this last round (last week). I just finished my eighth round of at least twelve rounds ("one year"). I may or may not continue for another year (or two...) after that, depending on what my doctors and I determine to be the best course of action.
Hello, hair: Have you noticed? My fabulous follicles are beginning to need regular taming! Washing and drying! Styling and product! I started growing it back this spring, so you're looking at about six months worth of grow, baby, grow! I kinda liked the pixie, but alas, this Girlbert has a few too many cowlicks to pull it off without just as much effort as having regular girl-hair, so I let it keep growing. Might stop soon, though - short hair is fun!
In other news: Boyfriend turned 40 in September. I threw him a nice little Birthday-Party-On-A-Budget at our Little Cabin in the Woods. Lots of his friends came, brought food and/or helped me stay organized; making it a really wonderful day for him. Thank you all!
Y'all keep asking: We're not moving to Marin County until I'm finished with chemo treatment, and that could be years. I like (okay, so I LOVE them!) my doctors too much, and they know my case too well, to change providers mid-treatment. I would also have to reapply for MediCal in Marin County if we moved, and I feel like I just finished that battle here in Santa Barbara! Oh, and we're really happy in Santa Barbara: we have lots of friends here, and our cat and horse are happy here, too. So we will stay.
Did I miss anything?
More answers to your most burning questions here, as well.
I've been meaning to write about this for a long time, but it always seems too big a subject to tackle in a single blog post. And so it is. But I'll touch on it, anyway, as an introduction of sorts to my next few posts. In which I'll be writing about my animals: two old horses and a cat, and their incredible gifts. I may even get into some of the animals from my past, too - I still carry their lessons with me today, and they'll always be a part of my story.
Why now? Several things came together for me recently to finally motivate me to take on the GIANORMOUS subject of animal healing:
First; October is Adopt-A-Pet Month. (It's still October, right?)
Then; while flipping through the Santa Barbara Independent's Annual Animal Issue, I came across an ad for "The Cutest Pet in Santa Barbara" Photo Contest. Deadline was a few days off, why not take the photo-op to brag about my wonderful, healing, feline friend? Game on! Hundreds of the cutest photos of Truly later, I submitted my final (it was tough!) choice, along with her "cutest" story, to the paper for the contest. But I realized that writing about her "cuteness" was merely scratching the surface of all there is to the Truly story, inspiring me to get to the rest of it!
Next; I'm due to start my 7th round of chemo next week. Chemo weeks always remind me of how powerful our connection to our animals really is: mine each mirror my pain in some way, reminding me that I'm not doing anything alone. As it is every month: Truly is my on-call bed and couch-mate, cuddling with her mom for all the extra naptime; my horse Stevie tends to take a hit to his own health, clearly reflecting my distress; and Reggie, twelve hundred miles away in Colorado, causes my friend Jenny to call me up and ask, "You doing okay? Is this a chemo week? 'Cause Reggie's really droopy today." Yep, I've got a pair of horse-shaped pillars on either side of me and a cat purring on my lap - my own personal team of energy boosting, pain-absorbing, animal healers to pick me up when I'm down.
And finally; I received the following email from one of my greatest animal healing (human!) friends, who lives entirely too far away in Switzerland. Warning: get out the tissue!
I RESCUED A HUMAN TODAY*
Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her. I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid.
As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.
As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life.
She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship.
A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well. Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors. So many more to be saved. At least I could save one.
I rescued a human today.
May you be blessed enough to be rescued by an animal in your lifetime. If you have already, I welcome your stories in the comments.
Okay, I admit it. Yesterday, I was way depressed. The calendar had turned over into October, and I realized: 2010 is three-quarters over. I must write something - I only have three months to catch up on most of a year of not writing as much as I'd wanted all year! How's that for a glass-half-empty kinda 'tude?
Panicked over the thought of providing my readers with another month of not much, I'd cleared my schedule with the intention to write. And not just anything, but something INSPIRED. Something GREAT. SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT! I'd finally made the time, and... nothing. At. All. Just staring at a blank, white text box on my super-deluxe-widescreen. Blink, blink. Struggling to flow was having exactly the opposite effect. As it always does. I was left with no choice, but to abandon the effort. Start fresh tomorrow, Girlbert.
This morning I was determined not to let it happen again. No expectations, combined with some good music, and a couple of cups of COFFEE, have my fingers dancing around the keyboard like a gay chorus line! Yay for COFFEE! And TALKING HEADS! HAPPY OCTOBER, EVERYBODY!
Sorry - I'll reel it in a notch...
So, October really is my favorite month of the year, and I want to sincerely welcome everyone to the month in which Girlbert was put onto this earth, 34 years ago. And I want to make sure that those who are interested realize how grateful I am to have enjoyed another year on this planet, even while feeling as though the battle was uphill some most of the way. I guess if the earth were flat, my calves wouldn't be nearly as defined, would they?
But back to my point - freaking out about not being inspired to write whilst feeling obligated to provide content is really not the point of this website, now is it? I was reminded of this earlier this week, when a friend emailed me to tell me how inspiring I am. I wrote back to tell her thank you, but I certainly wasn't feeling very inspired at the moment. She replied: "I know, I get the same way, too - but we shouldn't write unless we're feeling it." Ding ding! This website won't inspire anyone, unless the writer is inspired.
Which reminds me of something I read earlier this year: "Are you a human being, or a human doing?" Most people DO spend their time DOING things: rushing from place to place, checking things off their all-important "To-DO" List. When the point of life is to BE. Be in the moment. Be present. Just BE.
Ah, so, do I practice what I preach? Nearly never. Especially now that I have the ability, finally, to DO. With the reinstatement of my driver's license, in particular, I can actually get myself places and DO things.
So this week of frustration and self-imposed anxiety brought with it the realization that I really need to get back to BEING. Straight away! Chop-chop! I mean, Om...
I'd like to promise that I'll be posting more often, now that I've been reminded the importance of doing what I love, which is writing, creating, and being. But I can't, because despite the fact that I know how important it is to BE, I still have much to DO. As the work week begins, I'll be hitting the ground running with many items on the Girlbert Schedule: blood tests, an MRI (Tuesday, positive vibes are being accepted now!), an appointment with my oncologist to discuss aforementioned MRI, prescriptions to be called in, prescriptions to be picked up, and bills to pay (with what, I don't know).
But I'm going to make a greater effort to BE present, as I fit in some fun stuff, too: free painting and yoga classes at the Cancer Center, breakfast with my cancer girlfriends, biking with Boyfriend, and some hang-time with my horse.
It's still Sunday - plenty of time left to BE today. I think I'll brush up on the Art of Doing Nothing.
READERS: Please share your struggles with, or tips for, BE-ing in the comments. Any stories about being present or advice you have for those who can't stop 'doing', would be so greatly appreciated. I could use all the help I can get, and couldn't we all! Thank you in advance.
I usually have a large salad as one of my main meals each day. Sometimes it's in a bowl, sometimes it's in a tortilla, but the idea is that it's mostly green, fresh and raw.
It's part of the Girlbert's Pursuit of Ultimate Health with Minimal Effort Plan.
Summer (record-setting!) heat, having to handwash every dish I use, Boyfriend's preoccupation with Things Concerning How We Pay Our Rent, and my continuing monthly chemo regimen have me pretty well convinced that cooking or juicing three squares a day just isn't in the cards for us. So, one big bowl, a multitude of delicious, raw ingredients, maybe a knife and a cutting board - totally do-able!
And why not pass on a little of what I've learned from my Summer of Salad-Making, to you? Let's face it - most of us don't eat enough salad. We know it, but it seems an impossible hurdle, considering how programmed we are to cook every meal.
Instead of looking at it as, "I have to make a salad to go with dinner," why not look at it as, "what should I put with the salad we're having for dinner?" Make the salad the centerpiece - give it a little weight with some grains or beans, spruce it up with some colorful veggies or fruit, and suddenly it's a meal. And when done right, it's plenty filling, but doesn't keep you up all night with your body straining to digest a heavy meal.
So - get creative!
First, stock up on salad fixins you like, or would like to try. I try not to do the same thing too many times in a row, if ever, to keep myself from getting bored. I just pick up lots of salad greens (I love mixing arugula into my salads) and veggies when I do my grocery shopping and keep lots of things in my fridge to choose from.
And I've gotten over thinking that I have to cut up a million different kinds of vegetables: carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, onions, etc, for every salad. That's way too overwhelming! The point is, lots of greens for the fiber and vitamins; and a couple of veggies for color, flavor, and interest. And a fun way to mix in veggies without having to chop, peel, worry about the size, etc? Shred veggies like carrots, peppers, cucumbers, radishes and zucchini with a cheese grater!
Go easy on the dressing - just lightly toss the greens and veggies to coat before adding additional ingredients. I usually stick with a tablespoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for every two people or three to four cups of greens. Lemon or lime juice is a nice raw substitute for the vinegar. And use sesame oil (topped with sesame seeds) for an Asian flair.
To make it a meal with enough weight to satisfy, I add quinoa or rice, and beans like garbanzos, black, kidney, or Great Northern (white) or edamamae. Toss these in just after dressing the salad, so they don't get too weighted down with dressing.
(TIP: Save time by using canned beans or frozen edamamae (thawed, of course). And I usually make a big batch of quinoa or rice at the beginning of every week and add to green salads as I make them. If I'm going to used beans and rice, I mix them together in a separate bowl first, so they're thoroughly mixed before adding to the greens.)
If you must add in some meat or tofu, might I suggest small pieces, thoroughly incorporated, to assist your tastebuds in savoring all parts of the salad. Otherwise, old habit may find you skimming the meat off the top, and being too full to eat much greenery, which is not really the effect we're going for! And to keep with my "Cooking to a Minimum Theme", might I suggest adding something simple, such as canned tuna or shrimp or smoked salmon? Or boil some eggs at the beginning of the week and dice into your salads throughout the week.
But don't forget about fruit, too. I love to add in tasty surpises like shredded apples, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, dried cranberries, figs (fresh or dried - yummy!), even orange slices. But don't add them until after you dress the salad - they're yummiest "naked"!
Finally, stick with whole, raw foods and top with corn, avocado, a scoop of guacamole or hummus, or some nuts or seeds, too. I try to stay away from too much dairy, but can't resist topping with goat, feta or parmesan cheese on occasion. Variety is key for your taste buds and your health!
For those of you still rolling your eyes - maybe you have children who have an aversion to all that which is green and uncooked. Where do you think they get that from? (hmmmm...) Try getting them to help you shop or help you in the kitchen (both is best!). If they're still hesitant, resist loading up on cheese, croutons and dressing to get the greens down. Try fresh fruit instead. Who doesn't like blueberries? Grapes? Oranges are fun in salads! Encourage them to try multi-colored versions of traditional salad fare: bell peppers come in purple (FUN!); sunny-yellow lemon cucumbers intrigued me the first time we were introduced; and tomatoes come in orange, yellow, and crazy shades of red - some even have STRIPES! And if all else fails, top your greens with fun things like Goldfish crackers, crispy Asian noodles, some whole grain pasta, organic cottage cheese or tortilla chips. They're better than the alternative: BACK, you fatty, oil-laden croutons!
I woke Saturday morning, made myself some tea, and went out on my deck to admire the baby fruits ripening on their vines in my container garden. At least that's were they were yesterday... but they were GONE! Cucumbers and tomatoes absconded, drooping leaves, broken stems. So sad!
I initially suspected the turkeys, they usually mow my flowers and herbs this time of year, but it was a little too clean. Fruit was carefully picked off the plants, and not a trace of waste. Something with hands was at work...
So I got busy on crafting a proper raccoon deterrent. I'm going to leave the following note, in case they can read:
I'll see your vegetable-vandalizing and plant-pummelling and raise you one super-raccoon-blocking, thief-thwarting, plant protecting, Girlbert's-own-hands-crafted Garden Guard!
I'm not afraid to use the hose, if I catch you, either!
Last week was rough. Beside it being a chemo week, I had the added bonus of an extra empty bank account, extra horse expenses, all of our computers being down for maintenance, a Boyfriend meltdown, more calls from creditors, and now a sick Boyfriend. Boo hoo, right?
So what to do when I felt well enough, but futz in my garden and yard? Good news is, I still know my way around a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow! I raked and moved leaves, turned compost and tended to my fledgling garden.
So Girlbert, how does your garden grow? Funny you should ask! I've harvested two, count 'em, two, tomatoes, but the little tomato plants hold the promise of more, with several green fruits to ripen, and more forthcoming, as evidenced by the many yellow flowers opening on the stems. Some of the lemon cucumbers are nearly ready to harvest, too. There's a baby bell pepper, and the very tiniest acorn squash trying to find a spot to settle down and grow. And my herbs seem to be flourishing in our recent heat wave - basil goes with everything!
But I have no idea what I'm doing, despite all the advice I've received (thank you, gardening friends!), books I've collected, and information I've gathered online. There are lots of spiderwebs, one split tomato and one with a wormhole, lots of dead leaves, and something ate my first (and highly anticipated!) cucumber already. Sometimes I think, "Will I ever enjoy the fruits of my labor? Will anything come of all of this hard work?"
Not that it's all bad. Those two tomatoes? Really. Yummy. And I love hanging outside, with the plants. And the trees. And the nature.
So I water my little plants when they seem thirsty. I carefully remove the spiderwebs, any wilted or half-eaten fruit, and brown leaves. And I admire them for their perserverance. I encourage them to do more.
This week I caught myself telling them, "Grow, little ones, grow! Bloom, little flowers, bloom! Grow tall and strong, reach for the sky! You have great things to do!"
I'd been thinking about it for months. Maybe even a year. Then the day came and went, and I didn't even acknowledge it, at least not the way I should have. I told a handful of people, "My old grey horse, Reggie, turns 30 today."
Reggie is my grand old lesson pony, left in the fabulous care of a dear friend in Colorado when I moved to Califonia in 2008. It broke my heart to have to leave him, but it would have been selfish to uproot him and haul him halfway across the country at his age.
I'd intended to write something sigificant, something memorable, something that would adequately capture the essence of the little grey horse that could. But every time I sat down to tackle the task I realized just how much there was - just how big this little grey horse really is.
So many stories, so little internet!
Nearly eleven years ago, I had just arrived in Colorado and was in desperate need of a good "baby beginner" lesson mount for my newly established Premier Riding School. A friend of a friend of a friend told me about this 19 year-old grey Arabian gelding, registered with the Purebred Arabian Horse Association as High Regard. He was described as having "a lot of use left in him" and the owner was looking to give him to a good home so that he "didn't go to waste". I'd like to say I rescued him from a nearly abandoned barn, regretfully leaving his stablemate behind, but I realize now that he saved me. Because he quickly established himself as the safest, most trustworthy, most well-trained lesson horse I've ever had the privilege to call my own. He became the anchor of my riding lesson program.
Reggie was the horse that endured bouncing, pulling and mixed signals as students learned the basics of horsemanship and balance. Not that he was a dead-head or without flaws, but I quickly learned not to judge this rough, fleabitten, arthritic, old gelding by his cover. He was smart. Too smart, sometimes. He was sensitive and opinionated (ask my vet!). And he was funny. As in, he laughed at his own jokes. This little grey horse was unmatched in the humor department, and he reminded me to lighten up when I needed it. So, I laughed with him.
He understood his job, and took it very seriously. He didn't just carry people around - he safely instilled confidence in the most timid of riders, but knew when a student had turned a corner and was ready to take it to the next level. He taught me how to teach people to ride. Over the years I watched him humble countless riding students when they needed it, including advanced show riders and adults. Just try getting on him with any inkling in your mind that you know more than he does. Sometimes an advanced adult rider wouldn't be able to get him to trot. At all. He was his own version of, "So you think you can ride?"
But he was so much more than just any lesson horse. I spent at least an hour a day with Reggie, usually six days a week, for seven years. He was my business partner and my friend. He taught my students every bit of horsemanship, from the ground up. I used to tell people, "he teaches the lessons, not me!" He didn't just teach students to ride, but to listen, as well. Myself included.
But wait, there's so much more: Reggie has touched the lives of so many, please complete his story, from your perspective, in the comments below. Whether it's a whole story, or just a quick sentence, Reg and I want to hear from you! Spread the word...there's a PRIZE involved - ten notecards with Reggie's face on them to my favorite comment before August 15, 2010!