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. 



  1. very touching post. . . felizidades! as i read your review of the past 8 months i can't help but think that all the feelings you are feeling... are a normal process, i am sure.

    challenged, happy, sad, stuck, joyful, frightened, all of it seems so daunting, yet like your friend yolanda said, you can now think of it as just a 'blip', something that happened, something in the past.

    congratulations. be happy, breath deeply, charge on - you have been through a lot, and you have triumphed, you are strong, you sound happy, you are surrounded by people you love and who love you, and you are doing what you love, making art.
    cheers to you!

  2. What a beautiful response Rebeca. Thank goodness for womanhood and our ability to understand, empathize. No need to restate, re-explain feelings since we can feel them through words, conversation.

    Breathing deeply, taking some moments to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, a fragrant smell, enjoying a good laugh, a good hug are all part of enjoying the present and life in general.

    What special gifts we are given and all we have to do is take the time to enjoy them.

    Thanks again for your beautiful words.

    All my love to you.