Blog Post

Want To Make God Laugh?


So today didn't go according to plan.

The plan was to:  A#1)Take driver's test.  B#2)Pass with flying colors.  C#3)Get driver's license back.  D#4)Drive myself to my doctor appointments, pick up groceries, or, omigosh, go see my horse!  The possibilities were endless!

Ambitious, yes, but I'm nothing if not a little determined to make up for lost time these days.  More often than not, my haste to check things off my list comes at my own detriment when those plans mysteriously fall apart...

Me, through frustrated tears: "I like having a plan.  Plans make me comfortable.  But I'm going on two years of nothing going according to plan."
Boyfriend: "I know..." he chuckled and gave me a squeeze, "but let's learn from it, okay?" 

So, I laughed too.  I know that once I can laugh about it, I can learn from it, and this lesson was begging for my acknowledgement.

Sometimes, it feels like the same lesson, on repeat.  I miss something, make a mistake, and the Universe just hits the Play button again.  A lighted placard, patiently illuminating the words "Try Again".  My own little Groundhog Day...

Sometimes I see it right away and laugh with Her.  Sometimes the irony of a lesson slaps you in the face so hard, you can't even see straight right away.  The lesson becomes so profoundly clear, you have to admire the creator of the lesson.  And then you realize it's youYOU put yourself in that place to learn THAT.  All the while, She's begging you:  Are you getting it yet?

Like when you go to take your driver's test, after over a year of not being able to go anywhere by yourself.  You're on time, you have all of your paperwork.  And you're at the wrong DMV.  That's right - I drove to the wrong place to regain the ability to drive by myself.  Hmmm...

Today I lost my patience with Her and yelled, "What the F#%*k do you want from me?" 

And She shot right back, "For you to do better."

Right.  I can, and I will.  Three more weeks, but next time, I'll be at the right DMV.

Nothing left to do but LAUGH!

This Is How We Do It


Current location: Aurora, IL, baby!

We're traveling again, so I'm still sorting through pictures and stories, but I've come up with a fun list of fast facts a la Girlbert and Boyfriend's Big Road Trip. 

Equipped for travel and leisure with:

  • 1 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser
  • 1 bitchin' roof rack (more on that later)
  • 1 2-person tent (cozy, with a GREAT view!)
  • 1 full-sized air mattress
  • 1 feather bed
  • 1 blanket, set of sheets
  • 2 down comforters (for desert camping, no less)
  • 2 mountain bikes, helmets, shoes, tire pump, etc.
  • 3 yummy pillows (because two couldn't possibly suffice)
  • 1 trunk containing food and food preparation, including Grandma's cast iron pan and Boyfriend's favorite (favourite) wooden spatula (which we left at the first stop, but thankfully promised to be kept safe by our gracious host)
  • 2 suitcases
  • 1 propane stove

Electronically prepared with:

  • 1 inverter with 4 AC plugs with which to charge all electronic devices while on the road
  • 2 iPods
  • 2 cameras, 1 point and shoot with video, 1 digital SLR with 2 rechargable batteries
  • 2 tripods (1 Gorillapod, 1 gianormous regu-pod)
  • 2 cell phones (1 smartphone; 1 waterproof, 3 year-old, flip phone - can you guess who belongs to which?)
  • 3 GPS'- Garmin Forerunner for biking/running, Garmin 60Cx for bike/auto navigation, Nuvi 760 for auto navigation
  • 3 laptops, 1 Windows machine, 2 linux machines that sometimes have issues finding wireless, hence the Windows... (He-hello, Tech Support?)

Just the stats, ma'am:

  • Days on the road: 17
  • Miles traveled: 2,615 (4,218K for the little brothers out there!)
  • Number of videos taken: 43, totaling 2 GB
  • Number of photographs taken:  2,388, totaling 17.9 GB (seriously!)
  • Number of times we used the Windows computer: 4
  • Number of times we used the linux machines: 2
  • Number of grocery runs: 2
  • Number of meals out: 8 (out of 51 possible meals!)
  • Number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches eaten: 12
  • Percentage of crap brought along that was actually used: 32%
  • Times we set up camp: once
  • Bumper stickers collected: 13
  • Average MPG in the Land Cruiser: 12.5
  • Days we were home before getting on a plane to our next (exotic) destination: 6
  • Number of doctor appointments and blood tests in those five days: 4

Apparently, this is how two nature-lovin' computer nerds traverse the western states in a Land Cruiser!  First stop: Henderson, NV for Girlbert's first hairdo... stay tuned!


Nice Rack

Flexibility Returns!


We have returned.  What's that?  You didn't know we were gone?  Great.

Our trip had been in the works for months, with the primary purpose being to visit Boyfriend's brother, sister-in-law, and new nephew, James.  Road tripping inevitably involves side trips and unexpected delays, but the plan, as loosely defined as it were, was to get out of California and do something different!  No doctor appointments, nothing concrete, no obligations.  Just drive and see.  Sweet flexibility!

We didn't make a big deal prior to our departure, because my platelets were scary low, throwing my chemo schedule for a loop because "there's really nothing you can do, but wait for them to go back up again."  I wasn't going anywhere until those platelets went back up again.  So much for flexible.

Our first big road trip, our first vacation in, err... two years, all up in the air - because I needed more platelets?

Nobody was going to tell Girlbert there was nothing I could do, so I took those uncooperative little platelets into my own hands.  I opened my mind, Googled, asked my cancer support group friends, took my vitamins, exercised, and I ate and ate the biggest variety of foods I could come up with in five days.  On day five I took my next blood test and marched it upstairs to oncology.

"This is better - whatever you're doing is working!" My uber-oncologist smiled and shook his head as he flipped through the results of my blood tests, past and present.  I'd done my homework, listened to my body, and more than doubled my platelets in five days.  Whew for a flexible mind!

I started my chemo that night.  We packed up and left the next day.

More on the Flexible Adventures of Girlbert and Boyfriend coming soon!

Here We Go!

Digging In


"Watch a plant for 5 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour, and you won't see any change.  But come back the next day, and there's new growth.  There's always something happening, even when you can't see it."

"Focus on the good, focus on the positive changes, not the setbacks."

"Remember how long you have been training yourself to do things the way you currently do them.  It may take at least as long to untrain yourself; to train yourself to do it a different way.  Change will take time.  Be patient with yourself."

It's been almost a year since my shaman said those words to me.  I repeat them to myself often.  I write them down over and over in my journal.  And I still struggle to remember...

I just recently lamented, "It's been a year, and nothing's changed!"  Staring setbacks in the face seems to be my specialty these days.  

But I bring this up now, because Spring has settled in and set up camp here in the mountains of Santa Barbara.  All she has left to do is wait for Summer to arrive.

And so the next season of my journey has begun.  I'm planting a garden: sowing seeds, digging in the earth, feelings running through me, just as dirt runs through my fingers.  

Gardening has always been a grounding experience (I guess the metaphor's pretty obvious!) for me.  But it's always been my own thing. I drive myself to the nursery, pick out the plants, seeds, soil.  Bring them home in the back of my Explorer.  Set everything up, dig up the soil, set the plants into their new homes, and care for them all summer.  

But this year is different.  This is the first vegetable garden for both of us, in the past I've always stuck to a flower and herb garden.  Just something to do in my free time, and I've mentioned my ongoing interest in making things look pretty, right?  

This is the first time I've ever tried to make a garden make sense financially.  We're trying to actually save money constantly spent on fresh, organic vegetables, and I've never been very interested in crunching numbers.  Leave it to the promise of a garden full of nature's bounty to bring out the "Mathlete" in me!
This is the first time I've ever had to plan a garden with someone else.  Every decision must be mutual, because it's our time, our money, our effort.  It's a big lesson in working together, which is hard work for both of us.  And all of my patience seems lacking as eagerly await to get my hands dirty with a project, happy to put off the hard stuff for another day.  Let's buy the vegetables and plant them!  We'll figure it out as we go, right?

So it seems I have much to learn from the vegetable garden this year.  I will continue my lessons in Letting Go and Accepting Help from Others, all while taking an advanced course in Compromise and the Science of Mutual Decision-Making.  And I'm really digging into it.  Sinking my fingers in, sifting through the lessons, sowing the seeds, anxious (but willing to be patient) to unearth the gifts that are sure to emerge from the combined efforts of myself and the universe.

Baby tomato!



It's been over a year since the event that led to my diagnosis.  Apparently this blogging thing is hard to keep up with when you're not all hopped up on steroids, so I haven't been keeping you all as up-to-date as well as I would like.   Not to mention the fact that all of my excess energy has been channeled toward growing a brand-new head of hair!  (Evidence in the picture!)

So - I've compiled a list of questions that I find myself answering.  Frequently.  I've added a NEW PAGE (a link in the menu above, as well) to this site for those questions, but here's a little teaser:

What and when was your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with a type 2 astrocytoma in my right temporal lobe - brain cancer - April 27th, 2009.  I'll never forget the date, because I had to make sure and write a blog post honoring my little brother on his 30th birthday (April 26th) before I went to the hospital for what seemed like a possible concussion.  It's important to have priorities.

How did you discover your brain tumor?

I had a seizure while home alone April 24, 2009.  I had been getting ready for bed, it was late, and I brushed my teeth and washed my face.  Then suddenly, I found myself, 'coming to' at my desk, in front of my computer, which had been shut down already.  "Huh - I thought I already went to bed,"  I thought, and went to bed.  I had no history of fainting or seizures.

The next morning I had a headache.  And a fat lip. And when I got up to pee, I noticed the bathroom rug was all wadded up in the middle of the bathroom floor.  Something wasn't normal, but maybe I just tripped and fell in the night and hit my head and didn't remember.  When Boyfriend returned home later that night, and I told him what happened.  The headache persisted.

The following morning the headache was worse.  We talked about going to the ER to see if I had a concussion, but I didn't have insurance and we were broke.  I'd had a head injury before - I knew they'd want to do a scan - cha-ching!   So I decided to take a nap.  After I laid down, the left side of my body began to tingle, my ears began to ring and I detected a horrible taste in my mouth.  (I now refer to these feelings as my 'conscious seizures'.)  I was scared, so I called for Boyfriend, and described what was happening.  It was very uncomfortable, something was definitely wrong with me.  It was time to go.

Boyfriend called his boss about getting his payment for work early so that we could go to the ER.  His boss said, "You just take her, and I'll take care of it."

So we went.  As soon as we got to the ER, and the words "hit my head" escaped my mouth, I was put in a neck brace and strapped to a gurney.  Here we go, I thought.  I had a CT scan and was brought back to a waiting room with Boyfriend.  I had another 'pins and needles' episode, telling Boyfriend, "It's happening again, I'm having that feeling again!"  He called the nurse and she gave me an anti-seizure drug.  She explained to me that what I was feeling was a mini-seizure, that I'd probably had a grand mal seizure at home two days ago and hit my head.

Then the doctor came in. "We looked at your scan.  I'm so sorry, but you have a very large tumor in the right side of your brain.  That is probably what is causing the seizures.  But you need to go to the other hospital for observation and to have an MRI."

Boyfriend was holding my hand, so I squeezed it, looked at him and the tears started.  "I'm so sorry," was all I could think to say.

His face was already even with mine, his eyes locked on my teary ones, "We'll get through this, don't worry."

One wipe with the back of my hand, and the tears were gone.  Of course we will.


HAIR! and a Kiss from my Love

Never Stop...


We spoke with Boyfriend's 95-year-old Grandma in Chicago the other day.  She came over to the U.S. from Poland when she was just sixteen.  By herself.  She didn't know a word of English when she got off the boat in America.  So, she taught herself English by reading the dictionary.

Boyfriend: "Do you still read the dictionary, Grandma?"
Grandma: "You bet!  It's my bible!"

You go, Grandma.

(Grandma Chowanski in the center at the baby shower in March.  My mom and I on her left. Kurt and Isabel on her right.  Eric's parents, Wanda and Walter, on the far left and far right.)

Grandma Chowanski and some of her "kids"

Thirty-One and a Day


Today is my little brother's 31st birthday.  By the time I get this posted, he will have already have celebrated with a pint (or two) and some friends in London.  By the time he reads this, he will have another day on his 31 years.

Happy birthday, Little Brother!  I hope you had an amazing day filled with all of your favorite things - music, running and Chipotle burritos!  I love you for being my mirror, my ass-kicker, my finger on the pulse of current music, my teacher, my inspiration and my friend.  I love that we get each other better than anybody else on the planet.  Congratulations on another year well-lived.  There's a Hostess Cupcake waiting for you at my house.

I miss him terribly, especially on birthdays.  One of my favorite things about him is our ability to laugh at anything.  Ourselves.  Each other. He's one of the funniest people I know.

Proof in the video - enjoy!

Just an Excuse...

Post: put a picture of Johnny Depp on my website.

And to share some gems from the masterpiece that is Tim Burton's update on Alice in Wonderland.  Just brilliant!

Mad Hatter: "Have I gone mad?"

Alice: "I'm afraid so.  You're entirely bonkers.  But I'll tell you a secret.  All the best people are."

Mad Hatter, to Alice: "You used to be much more 'muchier'.  You've lost your 'muchness'."

Alice: "How's this for 'muchness'?"

Alice: "This is impossible!"

Mad Hatter: "Only if you believe it is. "

Words to live by.

Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter

The Squeeze of My Life


My March round of chemo came just after my return from traveling, so the down time was almost a welcome relief, even if I didn't feel so hot for a week or so.  When it was over, I started to exercise again, even rode a horse a few times. (Woot!)  I was even thinking about teaching some riding lessons.  Getting into a routine felt normal, and I've been craving some normalcy for so long.  It's spring, after all, the perfect time to start making some plans!

Then it was time for my April (this week's) round of chemo.  The day before I was to start, I told my brother, "I'm not even nervous this time!  This one will be easy, I just know it."

Easy.  I said it.  And I believed it.  But easy it was not.  It's been a rough week.  Chemo was as bad as I remembered it, if not even just a smidge yuckier this time.

I spent most of the week that I was not in bed in a puddle on the couch.  Just pouring myself from one horizontal surface to the next.  Catching my breath on the toilet every time I had walk to the bathroom.  Spending a lot - too much - time reflecting on the absence of normal in my life.  The absence of normal in Boyfriend's life, too.

Then I went to my Cancer Support group last night, and the evening's focus was the caregivers and significant others of the cancer patients and survivors. "Cancer Couples Night", if you will.

Boyfriend and I shared our two cents about how hard we've worked over the last year to find our way in the maze that is brain cancer, unemployment, and Medi-Cal. And despite all of our hard work and effort, sometimes it seems like it will never end.  And we listened every other couples' story, and realized, They're doing it.  We're doing it.  And suddenly the only feeling I had left was amazed, awestruck gratitude for the man sitting to my left, squeezing my hand as we talked.  My teammate. Squeezing my hand as we listened.  My biggest fan.  Squeezing my hand and wiping my tears when I cried.  My superhero.

Thank you, Eric, for showing me how to love and be loved.  You are the squeeze of my life.

The Hero Gets the Girlbert

Sweet Baby James


When I was back in Illinois last month, the timing of my visit allowed me to attend a baby shower for Boyfriend's brother (Kurt) and sister-in-law (Isabel) - a.k.a. Kurtabel. (What?  It's waaaay better than Isaburt!)  My first real, live, Polish baby shower was quite the experience, and I was thrilled to get to spend some time with Boyfriend's family.  My Mom got to come, too, giving her an opportunity to meet the whole Chowanski clan for the first time.  Grandma Chowanski, too.  It was great.

So baby Kurtabel has recently set the tone for what we already know about the rest of the Chowanskis - they do things their own way, in their own time.

James Willoughby Chowanski was due May 18, but entered the world nearly a month and a half early, on April 7, 2010.  And this little guy is running his own show, with Kurt proudly declaring (with a typical Chowanski chuckle), "He's screaming, all on his own!  All four and a half pounds of him!"

Welcome, sweet baby James.  Congratulations, Kurtabel.  Thank you, Chowanskis, for letting me be a part of your family.

More pictures from the shower here.

Baby Kurtabel Bag
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