Traveling alone has its charms

I’m traveling alone — not totally alone as I have a couple relatives in town. But I have my own little, and I mean little, AirBNB. And I don’t see these relatives much. They have their own routines here and I don’t want to interfere.

I get up at leisure, drink as much coffee as I want, grab a complimentary bagel and fruit from the lodging office, and after I finally get dressed usually go on a bike ride. I talk to no one except a few friendly words with the apple-cheeked Ukrainian cleaning women. (“The sun is nice today, yes?”)  It’s really freeing to have no daily plan and no one to confer with about what to do. No compromising and being polite. I just do things on the fly.

Since my lodging’s wi-fi keeps dying, my biggest challenge has been finding a coffee shop that has working wi-fi. Even Starbucks revealed its wi-fi was down due to faulty Comcast issues. I found a Cuban joint in a trailer that had it, but there was no place to sit. I knew of another place with lovely furnishings, romantic Latin music and where I had to spend a minimum of $6. But this situation I could handle.

No need to make small talk with someone, and I embrace the ability to fall asleep, take a dip in the bathwater-warm pool outside my door, and eat lunch and dinner whenever and where ever I want. My go-to lunch has been non-fat, Greek yogurt with granola and dried fruit and maybe a pear, apple or tangelo. I’m really winging it at dinner — mostly sitting at the bar during happy hour, getting a beer and maybe eating something fried — shrimp, conch fritters, fries. Fried food is prolific here.

My solitary state is broken by texts and phone calls from family and friends, but I talk to them only if I feel like it.

It seems everywhere I go on this tropical island I see couples holding hands, arms around each other, mild bickering, and quick stolen kisses behind a bar entrance. It bugs me because, quite honestly, I’m jealous. I want what they seem to have — what I used to have.

I’ve made friends mostly with gay men, both single and coupled. A young Parisian man and his New York City lover were particularly sweet. I find gays to be the friendliest and, no surprise, they share my politics. Such camaraderie is not easy to find these days.

More than anything, this trip has proven that I can travel alone, even with my compromised health. So where will I go next?

Posted in acceptance, being single, comfortable, eating alone, single middle-age woman, Uncategorized, widow | 1 Comment

Keep your weaknesses to yourself

The last time I was on an online dating site, I came across a guy who was funny, witty, literate and interesting. It was refreshing and rare.

After several email notes back and forth about his career as a criminal defense attorney, which I took to mean he likely is a liberal, he disclosed to me he just beat cancer. It was serious cancer — liver and esophagus — and his future looked bleak. But he had these great doctors who got rid of all the cancer. He was cured.

I was stunned with this personal disclosure as here I am with my own cancer — very different than his but still scary. I weighed if I should provide such private info on an online dating site. But, hey I thought, he did. We had cancer in common.

So I told him. I didn’t provide details just a quick overview, thinking, that if nothing else, we had a connection with this illness. He sent me back an email giving me everyone of his doctors’ names and the hospital and the treatment and how I should call one particular doctor who saved his life.

Here’s the kicker: After my disclosure, he sharply said we should be friends, just friends. And then he disappeared. WTF! So apparently this dude who appeared to have it together ended up being a jerk. It was OK for him to disclose his illness, but when I did — just a little bit — he wigged out.

I learned from that one that being honest online does not pay off or I learned that being honest brings out the real character of another person. It was a miserable experience, but one that us widows, or divorcees, have to be ready for if we want to have a run in the dating world.







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Alternative cancer treatment: Is it worth the hassle?


Recently a woman I barely know through a mutual friend was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer I have: Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. While it seemed she was getting treatment similar to me when I was first diagnosed a long year ago, she has taken treatment into her own hands by trying alternative measures.

I reached out to her. She sent me an email filled with web links and phone numbers in case I wanted to try some of the holistic steps she is taking: ingesting cannabis oil, drinking homemade juice comprised of organic fruits and vegetables and twice a day eating a salad loaded with healthy veggies.

My thoughts on this: What a lot of work for something that may or may not work.

Getting a medical marijuana card in Michigan is not that hard except for the $150 fee. Going to a dispensary to get the oil and learn how much to ingest I can handle. But the thought of making and eating this cancer-fighting salad that contains roughly 12 kinds of vegetables and spices twice of day is too much. I don’t even like salad since I’ve had cancer. And juicing requires the same kind of judiciousness — fruits and veggies galore thrown into a blender to drink. The thought of it makes me want to gag.

I haven’t talked to this woman yet to see how she is feeling after a couple weeks of this treatment. But I’ll call her soon. I’m skeptical. I can’t help but think if all this works and keeps Stage IV cancer at bay or obliterates it, why haven’t more people used it? How about the women in my cancer support group who keep getting chemo as ugly cancer tumors pop up on their pancreas, liver, lungs, brain.

For now, my cancer is quietly sitting in my bones. I have six months off of treatment (for good behavior), and I dread the tests I’ll have to endure next year to see if the cancer has moved. This kind of cruel cancer never goes away. If you are lucky, it is like a chronic illness — you treat it and live life the best you can — at least for awhile.






















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Beware of floating; it can hurt

Recently I was looking for a harmless adventure, something different that might improve my well being for at least a night. One of my dear friends from Catholic grade school heard from her daughter-in-law about floating, also called sensory deprivation therapy, or isolation therapy.

Instead of going out to dinner or to a movie, we met for a light bite to eat (we were instructed to eat light and no drugs or alcohol before the float) and headed over to the float chamber. Surprisingly, it was discreetly tucked into a strip center in a Detroit suburb. We had appointments and were greeted warmly by the staff.

The first instruction as I put on my own flip flops was to use their provided rubber sandals. Everything in this tranquil environment was precisely controlled. Once we were appropriately garbed, we were shown to our separate rooms, each with its own dressing room, rain shower, and floating chamber. I had envisioned my friend and I chatting in a big pool while floating. Boy, was I wrong.

Floating is typically done within a large tank of super-saturated magnesium water that makes you completely buoyant. In fact, it is virtually impossible not to float in this mini, salt pool. The water is kept at 98.6  in order to meld with your natural body temperature. You won’t feel too cold or to hot, but just right.

Float tanks are made available to a floater for one hour. Once you enter the chamber and close the door, you lay in about 10 inches of salted water with dim lights casting a subtle glow. When you close the door and position yourself in the water, the lights slowly fade and you are in complete blackness with no ambient noise.  The idea is to stay still, clear your mind of all thoughts and drift into a stress-free, almost sleep-like state.

I was warned that once immersed in the water, even a slight paper cut or shaving wound could sting. No worries except he failed to disclose a more important fact about the experience: Once immersed in the water, brace yourself for fierce burning in the privates.

With my ever-mounting health issues, I worried that this pain was caused by a weird infection or something worse. But I worried for nothing. When my friend and I  compared notes about our experiences, we coyly revealed we both had this issue. The pain lasted about 30 minutes and subsided. We agreed that had we known about this, we would have passed on the $65 soak — maybe had a more predictable massage or reikki session instead.

On the bright side, we enjoyed the herbal soaps and lotions available before and after floating. The plush towel and robe were appreciated. And we were able to relax on comfortable chairs in a dim-lit room afterward. But those luxuries didn’t begin to make up for the fire-like feeling in the crotch. All I can add is float with caution and maybe guys wouldn’t have the same issue.






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Four Rolls of Film

A few months ago during an uneventful day of a long cancer recuperation, I came across four roles of undeveloped film in Tom’s former junk drawer. What the heck is on these roles? Why did Tom save these color and black and white film roles for such a long time? Why didn’t he get them developed?

I’ve given more thought to this film than I should. Meanwhile, the film roles remain on a shelf in my hallway and I don’t know what to do with them. My options: I could throw them out and forget about it. I could get them developed and get upset by something Tom took photos of years ago. I may get mad at Tom five years after he died, which would be stupid.

I haven’t got them developed because I’m afraid to see what is on them. These could go back to Tom’s single years before he met me. No problem. They could be from our crazy four-year up and down relationship, which included him seeing other women and me other men. I could deal with that.

Or they might be from when we were married. That would upset me.

If I had to guess their origin, I’d say during our rocky, long-distance relationship before marriage. Those were the years we still were putting film in our Nikon cameras both for our newspaper jobs and for our personal lives. So I know they are old.

But what if it is women I don’t know and didn’t know about during our early marriage? Why cause myself the misery of even knowing this.

Still, it’s hard to toss those rolls in the trash. What should I do?


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Cancer brings unlikely women together

It is not a group I wanted to be part of or even know about. But on the third Tuesday evening of each month, I stroll into a nondescript hospital meeting room, complete with tasty dinner offerings and savory desserts, and share information about my life with cancer.

I settle in with 12 or so other women who have stage four breast cancer that has traveled into bones and, in some cases, seeped into other organs such as the brain, pancreas and liver. This is a specific cancer as it does not go into remission and can only be treated.

I became part of this clan a few months ago after being diagnosed last November with a version of what the other women have. Keep in mind, I had this at least a year before diagnosis, hence my handing over the elaborate details of my illness to a medical malpractice law firm, which soon will decide if it has interest in taking on the case.

On my first trip to the group, one of my close friends, a former social worker, accompanied me and gave me her seal of approval. “It was a good session,” she said after we left.

Being terribly judgmental, at the first meeting, I noticed several of the women were overweight. Some needed to update their clothing. They lacked well-styled hair or a trace of make up. Ages ranged from 40s to 80s. Many have husbands — mine died five years ago. Several have successfully battled this miserable type of cancer for years. To keep me in reality, I was clued in that several had died and were still missed.

As the group talked, my early disdain subsided. The process is each person gives an update of their health status and what has happened since the last meeting. The two women who started the session each talked for 30 minutes — too long. The hospital leaders, kind and tactful, had to remind them to keep it succinct. I won’t need reminding, I thought.

I kept my status to the point, and the women gave me bits of advice regarding the relentless nerve pain I endure in my thigh from tumors pressing on nerves. Their advice was plentiful.

As a couple of hours passed, I started seeing the likeability of most of the women. They were friendly, had a sense of humor and were generous. One brought her guitar and sang a self-composed song cleverly entitled “I’m a Uni-boober.” It had been played before and clearly was a crowd favorite. Her baggy t-shirt did not belie the fact that what she sang about was true.

The song was surreal but this group embraced it. They embrace humor to cope — something I need to do more often.

After three hours, I headed home with my friend and knew I would return the next month. How nice to spend some time eating and talking with women who are dealing with many of same health challenges I am.

The next month, my daughter drove me and another woman in the group who could not drive as she is still recuperating from  brain surgery. I was more engaged and realized I belonged with these folks because I have what they have. My struggles are different — pain and more pain — but I’m not on chemo pills or a chemo IV like a lot of them. I simply take an anti-hormonal pill to keep my cancer tumors at bay. For that, I am thankful.

For now, my cancer is “stable,” which means the tumors aren’t shrinking,  but they aren’t growing either. After six months, my mobility is improved. No need for a walker, periodic use of a cane and the ability to walk faster and more assured. I’m able to ride my bike a few blocks and know I will progress.

I sadly missed the last meeting because I didn’t feel good after trying a new pain pill — oxycodone. But I’ll be at the next one. After all, these are my people.

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Has life handed me my last chapter?

In November, just after my birthday, and after eight months of dealing with progressively crippling bone pain, I was handed the medical diagnosis of breast cancer that had metastasized into my bones. This is a mother fucker because for months I had mysterious sore and broken ribs, severe back pain, upper leg discomfort, a gradual loss of overall mobility, and I witnessed first hand going from an in-shape, active woman to handicapped.

And to worsen the whole mess, not a single doctor diagnosed my illness over nine months nor did one show interest in the fact that I was becoming seriously ill. The doctors only took blood work, never a CAT scan, MRI or bone scan, any of which would have revealed I had aggressive, bold, gnaw-through-your-bones cancer.

So five weeks after being taken to the emergency room because I was paralyzed from the waist down one morning, emergency spine surgery was conducted to remove a cancerous martini pickle-sized tumor. I spent 10 days in the hospital and went home so my back could heal. I was on massive pain drugs — morphine, Fentanyl, Norco — and hoped that soon I would be able to start cutting back on pain killers and functioning in a more normal way.

Well, it has been seven months since then and only recently have I reduced pain meds to only Norco and started walking without a walker and only sometimes with a cane. Friends and family got me to daily radiation treatments. I’m almost done with 12 more treatments after 30 earlier this year. My appetite and moods are constantly changing. Water tastes bad as do many foods. I’m nauseous often. At night, I get glum and think about dying in a few years.

I really don’t know how long I have or what quality of life awaits me. I am told I will get better — maybe even back to normal. I’m not sure I’m being told the truth. Never has the road back to normalcy been so slow or seemingly non-existent.

I want my left leg and back to stop throbbing, which has me wondering if the radiation and all its miserable side effects have been worth it.

I’m still haunted by all the set backs I’ve had: C-diff — a nightmarish illness from antibiotics whereby the colon becomes toxic and urgent trips to the bathroom become a regular occurrence for days. I’ve had other illnesses that reflect a compromised immune system. My esophagus and throat were burned by radiation making it horribly painful to eat for more than a week. I looked older and beat up. I’ve lost almost 20 pounds. I stopped wearing makeup and didn’t care. For a time, my clothes were baggy and unfashionable — it made treatment easier.

Yeah, you hear about this stuff and it means nothing because you don’t give a shit about cancer unless you or a family member gets it. It was one illness we don’t have in our family and I rarely gave it a second thought (except when my husband Tom so cruelly died five years ago from terminal brain cancer that in his case was hereditary).

I found the breast cancer beast while crossing my arms one night watching TV. A pronto mammogram followed by 18 painfully jarring breast biopsies confirmed three tumors — two of them malignant. But I knew there was much more — all that bone pain finally explained. Bone cancer as manifestation of breast cancer is not uncommon, and it is remarkably painful. How did that cancer in my lymph node work its way so lightening fast into so many bones in less than a year? That is because I had cancer long before it was diagnosed via a mammogram.  My radiation oncologist said I was one of the 10 percent whose mammogram did not detect the cancer.

To make matters worse, I have gone through all this without Tom. To have him at my side would have made this hellish cancer easier to bear. Most of the cancer patients and survivors I’ve met have a spouse to help them get through. It’s just another reason I feel damned sorry for myself.

My future is a big mystery. Even the next course of treatment is relatively unknown right now. Meanwhile, I want to be able to walk and bike outside again whether it is frosty cold or muggy as hell. I plan to figure out my priorities with the proverbial bucket list. And, for the time being, I am preparing to dance — with gusto — at my son’s wedding in July.



















Posted in acceptance, being single, faith, grief, importance of girlfriends, Uncategorized, widow, widowhood | 3 Comments