Friday, May 18, 2012

Staying in the Middle

Let Go of the Past! 
Live for Today! 
Don't Worry About the Future!

That is a lot to live by when each day can be a challenge. Lately, I've felt challenged by my days. I'm feeling somewhere in between happy and sad. I feel like I'm stuck in an in-between time where nothing is clear. There are no clear answers to dilemmas, to fears, to joys. I decided that I need to review where I am at this point in time.

I am now nine months out of the hospital. I completed my eight month treatment for ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I have been in remission for fourteen months. I am taking oral meds for post hospitalization / maintenance of my remission for another two years, possibly less. My oncologist says I'm healthy. He's happy. I'm happy. Yet...

It is impossible to not be frightened by the sudden appearance of my Leukemia in 2010. I had such a rapid disintegration of my health. It feels that it took about one month to get to the point where I couldn't walk one block without being terribly winded and having to rest. At my studio, I had to walk up three flights of stairs. I had to rest at each landing to make it up the next flight of stairs. I would be so winded and tired when I reached the third floor, I just wanted to cry. After waking up each morning and going into the shower, I was exhausted from having to wash myself. I hardly had the strength to finish and climb out of the shower. 

I knew something was wrong when I normally had the strength to convince myself to keep working, keep going. My brain was sending this message to my body but my body was incapable of completing the request. After finally getting blood work done (the day before Thanksgiving 2010) I had to wait for the results until the following Monday. It was a major holiday after all. I got a call from my doctors office that Saturday. The office was closed but the nurse responsible for reading results called and said my blood work was highly irregular. She said she would be in touch with my doctor. Doctor then called and said to come in first thing on Monday. My husband Gary took me to the appointment. I could hardly walk to the elevator and ride up to my doctors office. I felt like I needed to be carried. I asked about Leukemia but my doctor said she would have to consult another physician before telling me what was next. We left the office. Gary got the car and I shuffled inside. 

By the time we got home, the doctor had already called. She said to get to the nearest emergency room immediately. Gary insisted on UCSF since they have the most advanced oncology unit. They took me immediately into the ER. The nurse on duty said I looked extremely pale. Once in a room, there was a rush of machines, blood, various doctors, nurses, technicians. It was whirlwind and almost a blur. After many hours, they moved me to a floor. I was so tired but I felt so relieved that I could get help. After a few days, a group of three doctors came in and told me I had Leukemia. I wasn't frightened by the news. I was relieved. I asked them when I could start treatment. They said  the next day or something like that.

The funny thing about my initial diagnosis was that I never felt hopeless. I knew I was in for a long stay, a battery of tests and treatment. I wasn't afraid. I somehow knew I was going to get through it and see the other side - a healthy side.

My hospital stays were lengthy, sometimes difficult. I had some side effects. The bone marrow biopsies were painful. I hated being connected to the medication stand that I had to pull around with me. HATED THAT THING. It made me feel like I was in chains. I did enjoy the nurses. Most of them - 98% of them were WONDERFUL, hard working, interesting women and a few men. I liked most of my doctors. I also enjoyed bursting the egos of some of them who were too arrogant to be wearing grown up pants. Felt like some of them should still be in diapers or should have been spanked when they were kids. How very un-p.c. of me!!! Made friends with a few patients. Lost some to their particular cancer. All I knew was that I was going to persevere. I had my husband, kids and grand kids to live for. I had my artwork to return to. I was determined to live longer than my 56 years.

Well, I did it. I made it through. I did the eight months and have stayed healthy.

So that is my Leukemia diagnosis past. It sometimes does not scare me. It happened to me. I had no choice in it other than to survive. Today, in writing it down, it does sound scary to me. WOW...that happened to ME!! I went through all of that. I'm sitting at my computer writing about this and healthy. 

So in living for today, I find myself feeling that life and living is an amazing accomplishment. I feel that right now. Other times, I have to battle with doubts, fears, anger. Often times, I have to remind myself that I didn't get to this point so that I could get mired in self-pity and doubt. I have to bat the negative feelings away.  It feels like I'm clearing out the clouds to make way for the sunshine.

Its a constant battle to stay in the present. The past is a part of me. How I deal with it is the challenge. The present challenges me to look at my accomplishments, the family my husband Gary and I have created. Painting, creating without any formal training has been a huge challenge but something so important to me. Evaluating what works for me, what can be changed, what I  need to let go of is all part of the work I do in the present. It is daunting but I'm determined to let go of the unhealthy and celebrate the wealth of good that surrounds me.

The future. It can be so difficult to keep the fear of what lays before me at bay. I try to not give these thoughts much time. There are days when the fears of how long I have in this life lay just outside my view. It feels like seeing fog just off the coast when you are standing in sunshine. The fear is always there. All I can do is refuse to let it control my present life too much. I have experienced a brush with a life threatening disease. As my friend Yolanda says, "It was like a blip in time." Right now, it feels like it came and went. 

SO....that is how I'm living my present life. On most days, I'm enjoying the sunshine. I love my husband and kids. I have a new dog named Chip who is a rescue from the San Francisco SPCA. People I introduce him to remind me he is a rescue but that isn't why we adopted him. He is just so damn cute. Just look at his picture!! I'm going back to New Orleans in a few days. Back to friends Csaba and David. Back to the River House, the Marigny, Bywater, the Quarter, Frenchman Street, cemeteries, music, the Mississippi. I LOVE NOLA!

Chip, our new addition
Spitz mix?, 3 years? one leg shorter than others from life on streets

SO....there are great days, good days and crummy days. That is my present. That is what I know. That is what I'm learning.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading through my ramblings if you made it through! Fortunately, I'm not feeling stuck anymore. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do you Know What it Means, To Miss New Orleans?

I have been in love with the city of New Orleans since 1988. That was the year I first visited lovely NOLA. After my first visit, I began to dream about the city. I realized I was forever connected.

New Orleans is both seductive and bewitching. It takes you in and enchants you with its exotic nature . I've returned to my favorite city as often as possible - especially after Katrina.. Now after 8 months of hospitalization and 9 months of excellent health, I am returning to NOLA again.

When I hear the song, "Do you Know What it Means, To Miss New Orleans?", sung by Louis Armstrong, I feel like I'm almost there! It clearly speaks to me!

to listen to the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXFFI9budNI

I created a SFEtsy Team Treasury with the theme name ,"Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" in honor of the city and New Orleans born Louis Armstrong.

You can find the Treasury here: http://www.etsy.com/treasury/NTU5MDU0MHwyNzIwMjU0ODE3/do-you-know-what-it-means-to-miss-new

Have a great week!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Cinco de Mayo - What's it all about???

Posted this two years ago and still relevant today.

A few facts: 
Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Diez y Seis de Septiembre (Sept. 16th) is Mexican Independence Day.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the battle of Puebla against the troops of Napolean III.

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo began in the U.S. during the Chicano civil rights / student movements. The battle inspired strength and pride among Chicanos during the movements of the 60's and 70's.

Read on...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's Cinco de Mayo!

U.S Postal Stamp

Painting of the Battle of Puebla

Mural by Antonio Gonzalez Orozco
depicting the arrival of Juarez and his
cabinet in Mexico City in 1867.

Its Cinco de Mayo. Here's a little history for you from Las Culturas....

Cinco de Mayo may be the most well known celebration by Latinos in the United States. It is, however, one of the most misunderstood celebrations. Is it Mexican Independence Day? Why does it seem to be celebrated by Latinos in the United States more than Mexico? Is it appropriate to celebrate a Mexican holiday in the United States? Is it a holiday just for Mexican Americans or for all Latinos in the United States?

And why is this holiday important for all Americans?

It is not Mexican Independence Day. This is a common myth, possibly made popular because the celebration centers on a battle and you can see the Mexican flag at many celebrations. The actual independence celebration is referred to as el Grito de Dolores and takes place on Diez y Seis de Septiembre (Sept. 16th).

The US and Mexico
In part due to the Mexican-American War, Mexico was still suffering the effects of a demoralized nation and an empty treasury. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States and President Benito Juarez (a full-blooded Zapotec Indian) of Mexico both had their hands full with war. While the US Civil War was waging, Emperor Napoleon III set his army on the shores of Mexico with the added support of Spain and Britain. They had arrived to collect their debts from Mexico. This was in direct defiance of the Monroe Doctrine, which warned Europe to stay out of the affairs in our hemisphere. The army, undefeated for 50 years in Europe and Asia, started marching north to capture Mexico and eventually create a French empire that would extend to Central and South America.

Both Presidents knew it was in their interest to defeat the French and expel them from Mexico.

La Batalla de Puebla
General Ignacio Zaragosa is a key figure in the battle at Puebla, known for his guerilla tactics. He was born in Bahia del Espiritu Santo, Tejas, before Texas was part of the United States. Today the town is called Goliad. General Zaragosa was tasked with stopping an experienced force that outnumbered his poorly trained and poorly equipped recruits by the thousands.

On May 5, when the French approached Puebla, General Zaragosa and the townsfolk of Puebla defeated them soundly. The French retreated with several hundred of their troops lost in battle.

Eventual Victory
President Juarez responded by making the victory a national celebration. The little town of Puebla had defeated the strongest army in the world and would inspire all of the local armies in Mexico.

The French were also impressed. They responded by sending a force of 30,000 to finish the fight. After a year of preparation, the French defeated Puebla and started towards Mexico City. Once President Juarez was in exile and Mexico City had fallen to French control, Maximilian of Habsburg was named Emperor of Mexico. In many ways he was a benevolent ruler, but one of his decrees was that any followers of Juarez would be put to death within 24 hours of capture. President Juarez would continue to wage battle and govern his loyal followers in exile.

With the United States at peace again, European forces and support began to withdraw from the effort in Mexico. US soldiers were discharged if they decided to support the Mexican army. In 1867, Maximilian was executed for his role in a conflict that cost 50,000 Mexican lives.

A US Latino Holiday - Dignity, Justice, Destiny
Many believe that this celebration should be just a Mexican holiday, or just a Mexican-American holiday. It may be celebrated more in the US than it is in Mexican towns. Puebla, of course, continues to make this a local celebration. The destiny of the United States is linked to the tenacity and courage that the victory at Puebla invoked in the hidden armies of Mexico. The French diplomatic campaign to minimize the Spanish and Portuguese dominance in the Americas is why the region is referred to "Latin" America today.

If the French had retained power in Mexico, they would have spread south and eventually made a challenge to the United States. If Puebla had not delayed the advance of the French, Lincoln would have found a French army at the border of a divided United States. A force ready to finance and arm the Confederacy. Instead, the United States would reunite and become the most powerful army in the world. Mexico, to celebrate the success and cooperation of the two nations, has the only standing statue of Abraham Lincoln outside of the United States. Just as US soldiers crossed to support Mexico, Mexicans, as recent as the Persian Gulf War, have offered to cross national lines and fight for the United States. Latinos continue to be the most awarded ethnic group in heroic service to our military.

One of the key components that lit the fire for Cinco de Mayo and made it popular in the United States was the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, which reached its climax 100 years after the Battle at Puebla. Mexican-Americans, as the most populous Hispanic group in the United States, led the struggle to end lynching, land theft, segregation, illegal deportations and a host of human rights violations in the United States that affected all Hispanics. During this struggle, the memory of Puebla continued to inspire strength and the determination to control our destiny with dignity.

On Cinco de Mayo, ignore the Budweiser commercials and other commercialization. Find a community celebration and remember the simple folk in Mexico that affected the destiny of both nations. And remember the spirit of the men and women, Chicanos and other Latinos, who brought down the walls of segregation and abuse, returned dignity to the United States and Latinos by ending the persecution, and continue to do so today.