Category Archives: Cancer

Cabin Fever

Step…stop…wait. Step…stop…wait. Step…stop…wait.

The single-file procession to board the plane extended from the gate door all the way to our seats. Upon clearing the door, we were greeted by the flight attendant who welcomed each passenger as if in a trance. Her smile appeared affixed permanently to her face. She paused the “welcome…good morning” chant just long enough to retrieve the seat belt extension that I requested.

That’s right…seat belt extension. Airplane seats and restraints are sized for the thinner side of our society. Before learning about the extension, I struggled to secure the belt around my abdomen and then would be miserable for the duration of the flight. One observant flight attendant noticed this a few years ago and offered relief. Since then, I don’t hesitate to request an extension. But usually my request is discrete. Quietly requested so the people around me couldn’t hear. I was ashamed that I needed the added belt to contain my girth. I felt as if I were being judged and was embarrassed. But not on this flight. This time I spoke in my normal tone. This time I didn’t attempt to hide the extension. I have to admit that I’m still not happy about the added weight from my chemo treatments. But I no longer torture myself (mentally) about it. Thanks to the amazing online body image class I attended earlier this year (titled “More to Love”), I am comfortable in my skin. Check it out if you can relate and want to change your life.

Taxi to the tarmac.
The wails of an unhappy child break through the silence of the cabin. The intensity of the cries peak and wane as the child’s mother attempts to provide comfort.

Cleared for take-off.
The cries were drowned out momentarily by the roar of engines preparing for take-off. Screams erupted as the plane started to accelerate and continued until we leveled out at 30,000 feet. My heart went out to them. It was obvious the child was terrified of the experience. And there’s no way to explain air travel to someone so young.

Close your eyes…relax.
I didn’t get much sleep the previous night and was looking forward to a brief nap. I figured that since there was no beverage or food service during the flight, I would be able to sleep. Boy was I wrong. Within minutes of leaving the ground, a strong odor attacked my nose. A full-on assault from somewhere behind row 19. It wasn’t a particularly unpleasant scent. If it weren’t so strong, it could be considered a pleasant fragrance. But the aroma was SO intense…SO heavy…I could taste it. There was nothing I could do to wash the smell out of my mouth. I tried breathing through the sleeve of my shirt. Slight improvement but the taste was still there. I couldn’t get away from it. I was trapped. My husband reminded me of a notice we saw regularly at the cancer treatment center. The sign requested that people avoid wearing fragrances in the building. Strong scents intensify the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. If I were still undergoing treatment, one whiff of this scent would have deposited my breakfast on my feet.

DA.DA.DA..DAAAA. Blip…Blip…Blip… DA.DA.DA..DAAAA. It wasn’t long before another obstacle emerged in my quest for sleep. Someone was playing a video game…very successfully. The DA.DA.DA..DAAAA was like a trumpet announcing the passing to the next stage of the game. I found myself wondering whether the game was being played on a cell phone. Could ear plugs be used for the device? How long will this go on before the game is silenced?

With sleep alluding me, I pondered the question of common courtesy. It seems like a sense of entitlement has pervaded our current society. I wondered whether the fragrance and video game scenarios fit into this equation. Instead of thinking only of themselves, a person should consider their impact to others in such a confined, enclosed space. If one considers the larger good, common courtesy would lead them to postpone application of the fragrance. I would assume that common courtesy would also dictate that the video game be played with earphones or the volume turned off or not played at all. To take this concept further, let me quote the death scene exchange between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and show my inner geek). I ask you, shouldn’t the “…needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one” in an airplane?

Checkpoint Woes

Yesterday, I hope you found some amusement in me whining about air travel and baggage. If not amusement, perhaps you could at least relate to my frustrations. Today you will find a bit more from our journey.

The next adventure along the path to our designated gate is the infamous security checkpoint. Everything off and in the grey bins. Coats…Hat…Scarf (it was below freezing when we arrived at the airport). Purse…Shoes…Toiletries (limited to 3.4 ounce travel sizes sealed in a quart-size clear plastic bag). Laptop (out of carrying case, in bin by itself, with nothing on top or bottom). Hubby’s sleep apnea machine (out of carry-on bag and in bin by itself.) And of course, a single carry-on bag for each of us. Basically, we unpack our meticulously arranged carry-on bag for a brief moment in the x-ray machine.

So let’s count them…that’s 5 bins plus the laptop bag and two carry-on bags.

The items in my carry-on would have fit into checked bag. But we needed the extra space to pack the sleep apnea machine. And, after you’ve lost luggage once, you always pack a carry-on with a change of clothes and toiletries. My luggage was a lost for three days during a trip to Australia. Our luggage took three days to arrive at the hotel. There’s nothing fun with shopping for necessaries when you would rather be sight-seeing.

While our possessions were dragged through the x-ray unit, we took our turn in the security imaging tube. Apparently I set off the silent alarm because the TSA agent escorted me to the side of the conveyor for a “polite” pat down…in front of the other passengers. Fortunately, it was a brief interlude. The search focused only on my breasts… the “girls” were NOT happy with the extra attention. (Guess there’s no reason to skip the underwire bra for the return flight, eh?) Arms down and now the scramble to retrieve everything from the bins and relieve the bottleneck that formed on the conveyor during my private screening. Instead of attempting to re-pack on the conveyor, we lugged our possessions to waiting chairs peppered with others in the same plight. This time the contents thrown haphazardly into the carry-on bag in our quest to reach the gate.

Now for my shoes. Since chemo required my toe nails to be removed, I can’t just slip my shoes on and off any longer. It’s a whole production. My socks must be placed “just so” to prevent pain when walking. FINALLY…on the move again.

Upon arrival at our gate, we settled in to wait for the boarding announcement. I was surprised of how many types of priority boarding were granted access to the plane before the zones were called. There was always first class, people traveling with children, individuals who needed additional time, and active duty military in uniform. But when did the extra promos start? Priority boarding is now a perk for carrying the airline’s credit card or reaching a specific level of the airline’s rewards program. You can even purchase priority boarding for only $15. The cost doesn’t sound like much. But is it really a benefit to board early when SO many people are in the priority line?

My thoughts were interrupted by the boarding announcement for zone 3. It’s our turn! I hadn’t gotten much sleep the past few days and was ready sit back and relax.

Previous Life: Glass Block Crafts

What did your life look like before cancer?

I’ve been asked this question recently in light of all that has happened in my world over the past 2 1/2 years. You would think this would be an easy question to answer…but it’s not.

As soon as you receive the cancer diagnosis, your “normal” life evaporates. You are like a leaf floating down the rapids of a large, twisting river. You have no control where you’re going or how quickly you travel. You are at the mercy of the current. Along the way, you bump into debris (complications) which causes a brief pause…or spins you around…or takes a slightly different direction along the river (your treatment plan). All of your energy is consumed…depleted…spent  just trying to survive – both physically and emotionally. When you finally reach your destination, you no longer remember what your life looked like before the journey began.

At this point, everyone starts talking about finding their new “normal”. For each person, life post-treatment will be as unique as their cancer journey. In many instances, you are left with physical limitations that prevent you from going back to the routines you previously enjoyed…if you remember what those routines looked like. Which is where we started this conversation. What did my life look like before cancer? I’m going to explore several facets of my “previous” life throughout the coming weeks. Today, the topic is crafting.

I used to enjoy a myriad of craft hobbies. I was reminded of this today when I caught up with a friend who was shopping at Michael’s for craft supplies. Since treatments, I attempted a few of my crafts but fatigue and vision changes caused me to become discouraged and stop. My passion was reignited today while wandering the aisles offering infinite possibilities. Upon returning home, I started looking at old photos of completed projects and came upon these glass block night lights.

A pattern is created from any image…coloring book, photo from internet, drawing or sketch. In figuring out how the glass will be cut, you must consider the limitations of the cutting tools and the behavior of the breaking glass. Each cut piece is marked so you can match to the template when assembling your finished creation.

cow final pattern

Next, selection of the colors and textures of the glass that will be included in the project. Then you trace the pattern pieces on the glass, cut, grind the sharp edges, and adhere to the glass block. The final step is inserting the lights in the back of the prepared block. When I started doing these projects, the block were only available at home improvement stores. Now they can be purchased at craft stores and a cut-out is already made so the lights can be easily inserted. Here are a few of my completed blocks. I call these night lights but they can be placed anywhere you want to show off your interests or designs.
Glass Block Collage

Hmmmm… I’ve been bitten by the crafting bug, again! After my schedule calms down from the holidays, a new craft project will be on the agenda. When it’s finished, I’ll share the entire process…start to finish. Any suggestions for what would make a cool pattern for a glass block?

Celebration of Life

I roused myself out of bed in time to shower, dress and drive to the Sawtooth School for Visual Art. Today, in the midst of their usual offerings, was a class tailored and sponsored by Cancer Services. The hands-on clay workshop was titled “Survivorship Seminar: Celebration of Life Box.” The focus was to create a box to store memories from our cancer journey.

Street parking was plentiful and free at this hour. I walked the half block on the brick pavers that flanked the unique architecture of the building. The roofline mimics the teeth of a saw…hence the name “Sawtooth”.

I was greeted by the director of Cancer Services once inside. She could barely contain her enthusiasm as she pointed out our workspace and refreshments. The ladies that arrived before me were getting to know one another. There was no mistaking which side of the room was designated for our class. The tell-tale signs of chemotherapy were evident…a head covering (hat, scarf or wig) cloaked extremely short or newly grown hair, absent or missing eyebrows, and an aura of fatigue. Yet they were all smiles and excited about today’s adventure. As was I.

Each station was supplied with two pieces of clay that had been extruded. The center of our table held a basket containing the tools needed to shape our creations. Around the perimeter of our area were bins and tables displaying a variety of stamps, molds, and texture sheets. Our attention was directed to the head table where the instructor meticulously demonstrated the first steps in preparing the bottom, top, and sides of our box. She then dispatched us to choose the design elements to embellish the creation that will hold our precious memories. As we explored the cornucopia of design options, it became obvious when the perfect pattern was discovered. “Ohhh…how beautiful!”

Everyone, except me, settled back into their seats and started working with the clay. The myriad of choices summoned the analyst in me that is always lurking just beneath the surface. Did I want something elegant or playful? As I pondered the question, I thought about the contents that would find a home within the confines of the box. The memories held within would be more than just those from my cancer journey. My “Celebration of Life” box would also contain trinkets that summoned memories of my Mother. The cancer treatments prevented me from making the eight-hour trek home to visit family. Now that I am better and can travel…the trips home won’t be the same without Mom waiting at my destination.

My thoughts were interrupted only by the “BAM” of the extruder as it choked out sheets of clay for the adjoining class. My eyes paused on the nature stamp…decision made. Butterflies and dragonflies are symbols of change – often associated with cancer. Mom loved gardening and spent countless hours with her flowers. Yes, the nature theme was perfect…but presented complications. The stamp was narrow and wouldn’t cover the full height of the box. Leaving me with a quandary of how to fill the remaining area. The stamp was also too short to fit the length of the sides requiring the stamp to be applied multiple times. The details in the stamp would make lining up the images tricky…requiring more skill than I possessed. Determined to achieve the nature theme, I carried my stamp selections to the sample clay beckoning me to practice. Several design scenarios were attempted and aborted before finalizing the plan for my project.

Time to create! The clay felt cool and firm in my hands. I made several passes across the surface with the scraper to replace the canvas pattern with a smooth surface. Slivers of clay peeled off onto the tool. I noticed that they were slightly warm to the touch. An interesting contrast to the initial sensations of the clay. Next, I marked the boundaries for the pattern using the cardboard templates. Before pressing the images, I painstakingly laid out the placement for the stamps. A continuous border would be too difficult so I opted for breaks between each placement. A trio of dragonflies would be pressed within the breaks. Line up…level…place …press with roller…lift slightly to check depth…roll more…lift…good…repeat.Celebration of Life Box - Front

After stamping the sides, I decided on the pattern for the top. Four dragonflies would converge on the center where a cross would stand. The strength for my cancer journey came from my faith. When times were tough, I leaned upon my scripture verse. And when my condition improved, I praised God for his provision.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Phil 4:13

“Dang it!” I cut the top but forgot to extend a half-inch beyond the template. The instructor’s solution…the top could become the inside of the bottom of the box. Crisis averted…Whew! But then I realized this was divine intervention…not an error. If the cross was on the lid, it would be covered by the handle. Not good. Now the cross is inside the box…representing that Christ is inside of me and the foundation of everything in my life. PERFECT!

A brief intermission was announced so we could watch a demonstration for the handle and legs of the box. I had an epiphany…I remembered a wood grained pattern that would compliment the  nature theme! Back to the lid. The dragonfly image was stamped onto the surface pointing toward the center. I cut out four dragonflies and attached to the handle as if they were taking flight…representing that I am moving on with my life…a changed person. VIOLA…done! I’m SO happy with the finished product.Celebration of Life Box - Lid

I realized that I was exhausted from standing but was beaming from ear to ear. I was noticeably more relaxed than when I started. I can’t remember the last time I worked with clay but am now considering a new hobby.

We said our “good-byes” and left our creations to be fired and glazed. Since this is a busy time for Sawtooth, our finished boxes will not be ready until December. I’ll share pictures when I get it back…promise!

Sawtooth Building” by Susan Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0