Tag Archives: cancer

Finally at Peace

When you live with constant turmoil you become accustomed to living as if on a constant roller coaster ride.  The twists and turns of upheaval in your life create emotional stress, and yet you constantly adjust, cope, and keep on moving forward.  This becomes so normal you do not even realize how much stress you are constantly under.

That has been my life for the past few years.  The loss of my grandchildren to foster care and then a battle with CPS when we tried to adopt which resulted in them being lost to adoption by strangers.  My son serving six years in prison for home invasion, dealing with the constant dangers that environments holds.  My mother, father, father-in-law, and then my husband battling cancer and passing away, all within a three year period.  My son being released from prison and paroled to my home; something I had originally looked forward to but which became a very stressful situation.  Peace of Mind

Following my husband’s death I made a determination that I needed to downsize out of my home and into something smaller.  In the midst of planning for that made a decision to  instead downsize into an RV and travel full-time.  During this process I informed both of my adult children that I was no longer going to be able to subsidize them financially, something my husband had always done while he was alive.  This resulted in more stress, but over time success was achieved.  They are both now living financially on their own.

I am finally at a point where success is on the horizon.  My new lifestyle begins on Monday.  I closed on my house today.    Friday is my last day of work.  My daughter moved her family north and is now residing near her fiance’s parents, a situation that is serving well.  Both Caroline and Rob are working at new jobs and my three grandchildren are enjoying life in a more country setting close to their other grandparents.

My son, now out of prison for 1-1/2 years, has obtained his CDL and is working in a position driving semi.  He and his ex-wife have reconciled and are residing in a home they rent near his workplace.   I am at peace that I do not have to worry about him being cold, undernourished, injured or killed in prison.  I wish him success.

For the first time in years my mind is at peace.  My children are both living on their own without my financial assistance, and I am going into semi-retirement.  I will be residing full-time in a motor home, traveling the United States and Canada and doing part-time remote or seasonal work.

For the first time in years I can sleep without my mind churning over the problems, worries, and stress that plagued me for so long.  I hope nothing happens to upset the apple cart.  A mind at peace is a wonderful thing.

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Reflecting on the Reasons

On Thanksgiving Day my cousin, Michelle, who lost her husband to cancer about a month ago, had a post on Facebook stating how Charlie had loved Thanksgiving, had been the main meal planner, did the shopping, cooking,  and eating.  Not only was she grieving the loss of her husband, but their family tradition every year involves going around the table and each person saying what they are thankful for.  Michelle posted that she wasn’t sure how she would answer this year because every year she always said the same thing…her family, her job, the love of her amazing husband and that he continued to kick cancer’s butt.

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  Michelle and Charlie – Photos “stolen” from her Facebook Page

This year Charlie didn’t kick cancer’s butt, it kicked him.  Hard.  He was still working about two weeks prior to his passing.  He went down fast.  When I read her post I didn’t even hesitate, I just started typing.  My comment to her was:

“I know what you are thankful for, it is the same thing I am thankful for.  Neither Charlie or Ron are sick, nauseous, in pain, or in any way suffering from that horrid disease.  Maybe they have found each other in heaven and are getting acquainted by trading photography tips and stories.” 

After I posted the above response the reality hit me.  I may have used my ankle surgery as an excuse for choosing to spend the holiday solo, but the reality was I didn’t want to do the meal preparations alone, at least not this year.  Ron and I had always prepared it jointly.  I stuffed the bird and baked the sweet potatoes.  Ron did the potatoes, sometimes re-baked, sometimes mashed, sometimes both.  Ron made the fruit salad.  I did the green bean casserole.  One of us made the gravy, and the list goes on.

Last year I did it all alone, but that was different.  Ron was too sick to participate in the preparations in 2015, but he was still here.  He came to the table, had a few bites of food, and went back to the couch.  Austin (our 9-year old grandson) spent most of the day sitting next to Ron.  Eleven days later Ron was gone.

I realized that regardless of how well I have adjusted there will be moments when things hit me, and sometimes I won’t realize it at the time.  What I posted to Michelle in the comments is true.  I am glad that Ron is no longer struggling to swallow, weak, or sick from the combination of chemo and the disease itself.   I have moved on with my life, I have made the adjustment to being alone.  How do I know?time-dont-rush-anything

Another question that Michelle had posed to me a week or two earlier was how I handled going through Ron’s belongings.  She was struggling with that step.  My answer, you will know when you are ready, because it will be just another task, not an emotional roller coaster.  I only recently started cleaning Ron’s clothes out of the closet.   I told Michelle that I hadn’t unpacked the bag of Ron’s clothes I brought home from hospice the day he died until a few weeks ago.  That bag had been in my closet unopened for 11 months.  I was finally ready.  No emotions, just clothes to put away.

Everyone is different and processes loss at different levels.  From time to time there will probably be something that triggers a memory or an emotion.  We are, after all, human.

So in answering my cousin’s post in an effort to help her cope with her loss, I gained insight into my own reasons for being so adamant about not preparing the meal this year.  Next year will be different.  If I don’t have people here I will be gone and doing something.  Possibly volunteer at a kitchen that provides meals for the needy.  Home alone will not become a habit of mine, of that I am certain.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Solo

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when people gather with family or friends, enjoy a football game, a parade, fellowship and of course, food.  Over the years I have participated in large family gatherings, small family gatherings, dined with friends, or gone out to a restaurant.  This year, for the first time ever, I am doing Thanksgiving solo.  That was my choice.

A year ago I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner and had my daughter, her three children and her boyfriend over to join my husband and I.  Ron was battling cancer; a battle he lost eleven days later.  Ron didn’t feel well; he didn’t want my daughter and the grandchildren here but I insisted on having Thanksgiving with them.  Why?  Because I knew the boys, who at that time were 9 and 4, needed it.  Thinking back it may have been the last time they saw him.  thanksgiving-pumpkin-pie

So now we move forward a year.  I had surgery on my ankle a week ago, so I informed my daughter that I would not be preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I let her know that my intent is to stay home and crash.   As it turns out my daughter has to work long hours on black Friday, so she and her boyfriend decided to stay home and do their own turkey.   Why am I not joining them?  For one I can’t get into their house.  Secondly I can’t go anywhere without a chauffeur.  Third I don’t want the hassles of the mess that comes with cooking, cleanup and three children in the house.   I prefer to go the quiet, solo route, at least this year.

So what will I do?  I purchased a stuffed chicken breast and will fix that with some sweet potatoes for myself.  It isn’t a turkey, but at least it is poultry!   I will read, do paperwork, write, or just put my feet up and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.  Time will tell as the day unfolds.

I hope all of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving, complete with turkey, stuffing, and of course pumpkin pie….in fact, eat an extra piece of pie for me!

 

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Up and Back in a Day

This past Saturday was emotional, enlightening, fun, and exhausting all rolled into one.  A couple weeks ago I wrote about my cousin losing her husband after a lengthy battle with cancer in Feeling Their Pain.  The funeral was set and I debated for a week whether or not to go.  I wanted to go, but I have a lot going on and I was juggling the loss of an entire Saturday to travel and attend v. being able to get things accomplished around home.  I didn’t want to later regret not going so I went.

It was a beautiful fall Saturday in Michigan.  The visitation was scheduled for 10:00 am, funeral for 11:00.  I set my alarm for 4:00 am and was on the road at 5:15 am for the four hour drive.  I watched the sunrise through the passenger side of my vehicle as I traveled north on I-75.   A quick fifteen minute stop in West Branch gave me the opportunity to re-fuel the vehicle and myself by way of coffee and pumpkin donuts.  I was in Traverse City at 9:30 am.  death

The funeral was held at the Reynolds Jonkoff Funeral Home in Traverse City, the same place my Grandmother’s funeral was held years ago.  A beautiful, historical home that lends itself to comfort for memorial services.  Photo boards and memorabilia of Charlie’s life were on display, and a slide show of photos played on the screen.  Always smiling, always clowning around and being silly, that was Charlie.

I was greeted by family I rarely see and met some I have never seen.  It is hard to maintain contact with extended family when we all live so far apart.  Facebook is a blessing in that regard for helping people to stay in touch.  Charlie’s widow, Michelle, and I had not seen each other since we were children, but we recognized each other immediately.    It had only been six days since Charlie passed and Michelle was struggling emotionally.  We held each other and cried together, Michelle because the pain was new, me because I was reliving the pain through the memories this setting brought on.  I left her a card in which I enclosed the poem I read at my husband Ron’s burial, If Tomorrow Starts Without Me (see below).

During the ceremony the Obituary of Charlie Jokinen was read.  Charlie grew up in grew up in Bobcaygeon, Ontario and the stories shared by his best friend from childhood were filled with humor; good memories of a wonderful person in his youth.   Michelle’s daughter, Nicole, talked about what a wonderful, accepting person Charlie was when he came into their lives, and how despite his struggles with cancer always attended her sporting events, concerts, and other activities of youth.  I learned that Charlie and my husband, Ron, were very much alike.  Both loved photography, being active, loved life and family, and were always smiling.   It was a wonderful testimonial to a life well lived and a person well liked and loved by all.

Following the ceremony was the procession to the Memorial Gardens where Charlie was laid to rest beside my Uncle Lee and Aunt Jesse Hilts, who were laid to rest beside my maternal grandparents, Ralph and Grace Hilts.  They are all located not far from the graves of my paternal grandparents, uncle and parents.  After a short grave side service during which Michelle lowered Charlie’s ashes into the ground, we proceeded to the Grawn Baptist Church for a luncheon and fellowship with family members and friends.

About 2:30 I hugged Michelle goodbye before getting on the road.  We promised to stay in touch and get together for a weekend.   We now have a common bond not shared by our siblings or other cousins.  I did manage to accidentally announce my departure rather loudly.  As I was walking across the lot to my car I somehow managed to activate my car alarm.  Nothing like a bright red car with the horn blasting and lights flashing to signal the end of a memorial luncheon.  I glanced around, thought I was safe from anyone having witnesses my blunder and got into my car.  Then a grey pickup pulled in next to me, it was my cousin, Iva, and her husband Milt.  I rolled down the window and Milt congratulated me on adding a bit of humor to the end of the day.

I took the more scenic, leisurely route across the state on my way home.  This served two purposes.  It allowed me to enjoy the beautiful northern fall scenery with an occasional stop to take photographs, and the climbing in and out of the car into the cool air helped to keep me awake as I drove.

It was not until I got on US-10, an expressway, that the length of the day made me drowsy.  I know that if I keep busy it helps me to stay awake and the singing and dancing in the car while driving wasn’t doing the trick.   I finally made a stop and picked up a highly nutritious snack at Speedway gas station of a spiced pumpkin cappuccino and a small bag of crunchy Cheetos.  I know, individually they sound yummy but as a combo it sounds horrid.  Remarkably it wasn’t, so go ahead and give it a try sometimes.  It did work in keeping me awake as I stretched that bag of Cheetos all the way to I-69, which marked only an hour more to go on my route.

I arrived home around 7:00 pm.  A tiring day but I am glad I went.  It was good for Michelle to have me there.  It was good for me to be there.

funeral-whentomorrowstartswithoutmepoem

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Feeling Their Pain

It has been ten months since my husband, Ron, passed away following a fifteen month battle with cancer.  I am doing well, and moving forward in my new life.  I have a cousin…or actually a first cousin once removed if you want to be technical, whose husband has been battling a rare cancer for nine years and is now in the final stages, losing his fight as well.

thankful-for-every-momentI was reading Michelle’s post on Facebook yesterday.  Many notes of sympathy and prayers.  They know her, they know her husband Charlie, they know what a great couple and wonderful marriage they had.  I, on the other hand, have not seen Michelle personally in years.  We were together as children, but not as adults.  We are in contact only by Facebook now.  However, I can truly feel her pain.

As I read her post I could feel the helplessness at watching a man who has lived an active, positive life quickly deteriorate into a person who is lifeless, sick, unable to manage even the simple things in life.   There is no “fix.”  You are moving toward the end and you both know it but don’t really want to say it.  You are losing the person you thought would be there for decades more.   It is an emotional situation like none other you will ever experience.  You aren’t losing a grandparent, parent, sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, or child.  You are losing a spouse.  It is different and only those who have ever experienced it can understand what a different loss it is.

I typed a reply, relying on my experience.  I had to cut it short.  I was sitting at work and almost started crying because I really can feel what she is going through.  What did I tell her?  Cherish the memories, remind him of those things.  Tell him it was a great marriage.  Tell him you will be okay.  Those are things that will bring him peace as he moves toward the end.

She is going through the hard part.  Then there is the adjustment period following the death.  But as time passes she will be okay.  She will live a new “normal” life without Charlie.  She has a positive attitude and her new life will also be positive and good.  How do I know?  Because that is what I am doing.   I’ve been there.  I can feel her pain.  I know she will persevere and move forward.  That is the type of person she is.

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A Punch in the Stomach

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember my post called Slippery Surgical Stress in which I talked about my husband’s esophogectomy in January 2015.  After the surgery he tested cancer free, although they had removed several lymph nodes and three of those were suspect.  He recovered quickly, but continued to loose weight.

At his three month follow-up and Petscan it was determined that he now has two cancer spots in his right lung.   He had a permanent port surgically put in and every two weeks he is hooked up to a chemo pack that he wears for 48 hours, then he has a two week recovery period, then back on the chemo for 48 hours.  After a three month period they will do another Petscan to check his status.

It is the cancer that prevented him from gaining weight, and instead caused him to lose more.  Prior to having the tumor he weighed approximately 180 lbs., then due to the blockage by the tumor in his esophagus he was on a thin liquid diet, which caused him to lose a tremendous amount of weight.  When he completed his surgery in January 2015 he weighed 133 pounds, he is 111 lbs now.    While the doctors have not given him a time frame, if he continues to loose weight he will not survive.

Given that information he began checking into our finances, what money I would have coming into the home if he passes as he is retired and collects social security and a pension.  He is putting all the financial records in order, looking at headstones, cemeteries, and planning his own memorial service.  Hopefully it will be a Murphy’s Law situation and by putting everything in order he will end up in remission and live a long time.  Life is a Melting Pot, and sometimes the mix isn’t what you hoped for.

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Slippery Surgical Stress

Why is it we have had great weather until the day we have to leave home at 4 am to drive over an hour away for my husband, Ron’s, surgery? As if the day wasn’t going to be tiring enough, that was the way it started.

We were told that he would need to be at the hospital at 5:30 am for a 7:30 am surgery. Ron is a morning person, so although I thought we should get a hotel for the night before the surgery, he didn’t think it was a problem getting up at 3 am to be on the road by 4 am for the drive to the hospital. I told him if we were driving at that hour of the morning, he was driving.

Of all weeks for the weather to turn bitter cold and some spots on the roads were definitely slippery. Ron is retired and spends a lot of time driving to various locations to take photographs. I work full time and have only a three minute commute to get to work. Although we used to live in a more populated area, I am no longer used to the heavy traffic driving bumper-to-bumper.

Ron’s surgery was scheduled at University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. The drive requires traveling on expressways that tend to be very busy. What I couldn’t believe is how many cars are on the expressways at 4:30 am! What the heck time of day do these people start working? Combine that with it being dark outside, the roads slightly slippery at points, and Ron going only 60mph but still passing everyone on the road, I was tense.

I’ve ridden with Ron for 34 years in all kinds of weather.  He does not loose control of the vehicle, but I guess the days of feeling invincible have given way to the fear of what could happen.  It probably didn’t help that prior to getting on the expressway he slid through a stop sign on our cut across, which is a dirt road, to the expressway.  My words when that happened were “don’t go in the ditch on the way to the hospital.”   Then on the expressway as we are passing other vehicles I would periodically ask if it was slippery and he would respond “it’s getting that way.”  Obviously, I just felt the sway of the wheels a bit on the road!   I used to drive fast on the roads when I had a 4 x 4, but we were traveling in a Ford Focus.

Ron did not have any problems maintaining control of the vehicle.  It was the other vehicles that were making me tense.  There were a couple times when a car decided at the last minute to move over in front of us and was driving considerably slower than we were, requiring Ron to break firmly.  A couple times cars weren’t lane changing but for whatever reason decided they needed part of our lane and moved over at us.  We had a semi we were passing that was very close to us on the passenger side, too close for my comfort.   My downfall was I wasn’t chewing gum, which was probably a blessing for Ron.  When I am tense and chew gum I tend to chew in a way that causes the gum to repeatedly crack.  Probably because I wasn’t chewing gum my jaw was hurting because I had apparently been clenching my teeth.  I also had to repeatedly concentrate on relaxing my shoulders and legs, as they would get sore from tension.

View showing esophagectomy procedure in three steps.

View showing esophagectomy procedure in three steps.

We were only 15 minutes late arriving at the surgical center.  If you have ever been to U of M Medical Center you know it is huge.  I have a map in my purse of the buildings so I know the route from where the car is parked to where Ron’s hospital room is.  His surgery went well.  He had a transhiatal esophagectomy in which they removed his esophagus and raised his stomach up and attached it where the esophagus once was, so his stomach now starts in his chest and is like a long tunnel down to his intestines.  He was predicted for a 4-6 hour surgery and was in 5-1/2 hours.  The surgery was on Tuesday and he is doing very well.  The medical staff are very pleased with his progress.  The normal stay after this procedure is seven days, but release is dependent on certain milestones being met.

Needless to say it has been an exhausting week.  I had the hospital make hotel arrangements for me the night of the surgery, and I was very glad I did.  By the time he got through recovery and into a room it was around 4:30-5:00 pm.  I didn’t leave the hospital until 8 pm.  When you have been up since 3 am and at the hospital since 5:45 am, it is a long day, and I still hadn’t had dinner.  It was 10 pm before I was settled into my hotel room for the night.

I am glad the day of slippery surgical stress is behind me and the recovery process is now underway.  I anticipate Ron being released to come home Tuesday or Wednesday and then life should begin to return to a normal routine.

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Caught in a Tornado

It started out as a heavy wind, then the momentum kept building, blowing harder and harder, starting to spin around me.  The power increased steadily until it was overpowering, hitting me with its impact and before I knew it I felt like I was spinning uncontrollably.  I was caught in a vicious tornado, life had thrown too much at me and I was loosing control.

Ultimate Measure of ManBack in July my husband, Ron, began having some trouble swallowing when eating.  By the time we returned home from vacation in August the problem had become much worse.  It was discovered that he had a large tumor in his esophagus and that it was cancerous.    During the time it took for the various tests and consultations with doctors to be done the tumor became worse and his ability to eat went from normal to soft foods only to very thing liquids/broths.  At the beginning of his 5-1/2 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation his esophagus was 90% blocked.  He has lost around 40 lbs and is down to around 131 lbs, very thin.  He finished his chemotherapy last week and today, the 4th of December, was his last radiation treatment.  The treatments have reduced the tumor and four about 1-2 weeks he was able to get some foods down, but the burning from the radiation has now caused that to be extremely painful.  We have to wait about a month for the burning to heal and the poisons from the chemo to leave his body.  In January he will have surgery to remove the esophagus and they will raise his stomach up to replace it.  Once those steps are done and he recovers from the surgery he should be able to resume a normal lifestyle.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you know that my husband and I have been trying to adopt our granddaughters and lost one to adoption already.  We found out on the 17th of November that although we have never received an official denial that another family has been found and she will likely be placed with them in January and adopted in June.  DHS has fought us all the way, and although we have not totally given up, we know that we are not likely to succeed in any attempts we make.  If you are not familiar with what has been going on, you can read about it in Power of Emotion and Attempted Adoption:  An Emotional Whirlwind.

My father has been experiencing health issues for the past year or so, plus struggling emotionally since my mother’s death in 2013.  He recently went into the hospital in a weakened state and with fluid around his lungs.  He was  transferred to a medical rehabilitation facility to regain his strength when a set-back sent him back to the hospital about a week ago.  I spoke with him on the 7th of December and he was uncomfortable, weak, and having difficulty eating/swallowing.  On the 2nd of December, his 75th birthday, he began to fail badly.  They attempted to drain fluid from his lungs and one collapsed, his kidneys were not working properly, and a multitude of other problems existed as well.  Throughout the day he changed floors in the hospital twice as his condition worsened.  By the end of the day he was intubated and not expected to live through the night.Death

The hospital is two hours from where I live.  Ron is weakest in the evenings and has had some dizzy spells and falls so I didn’t want to leave him home overnight.  The emotional impact was hitting me and I was struggling with  everything — the loss of Kiley to adoption, Ron’s condition, and my father’s anticipated death.  I was able to call the hospital and they held the phone to his ear so I could talk to him.  I was surprised when my sister, who lives near him, called the next morning and said she was at the hospital, he was failing very fast but they could maintain him for family to arrive.  I called into work and hit the road.  I was lucky, the roads were clear and very little traffic, I was at the hospital within about 2-1/2 hours from when I received the call.    My father’s skin was cold and clammy to the touch, his vitals were very low, but when I spoke to him I could tell from his facial movements that he could hear me and was able to register what I was telling him.  My sister and I decided to go to the cafeteria for a quick lunch, as her son-in-law and a pastor were expected to arrive and we would then remove life support and switch him to comfort measures only.   When we returned to the room we said a few final words to him.   Once we made the change in his treatment he passed peacefully within about 20 minutes.

children reinvent your worldOne life ends and another begins.  My daughter is pregnant, a high-risk pregnancy and her C-Section is scheduled for December 12th, so 1-1/2 weeks after the death of my father, the birth of another grandchild will take place.    The juggling of life continues as we have to drive her 45 minutes away to the hospital where she will deliver, take care of her other two children while she is at the hospital, and handle getting her and baby back home and to her follow up appointments.

I’m either adjusting to the speed of the tornado or it is loosing momentum.  We are now down to my grandchild’s birth, a family Christmas at our house, my husband’s surgery in January, continuing to monitor what happens with our granddaughter being adopted out to a non-relative rather than us, and my sister and I sorting through and cleaning out our parents’ home and belongings and handling the details of settling their estate.    It only goes to show that Life is a Melting Pot of incidents and activities.

 

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