day in the life
the everyday life of a couple living well with a slow-growing
cancer, and now a cancer widow living well on her own. There
have been sorrows and losses along the way. But being alive is
good. It is very good.
Saturday, May 21,
bereaved - what to do
It was the
news of yet another cancer death this week that made me think of the
incredibly kind people who reached out to me and my family when
Hubby was dying.
So, what to
do for the bereaved, or for those who are standing vigilant as a
loved one is dying?
from all the thoughtful, helping-us-fight-cancer, creative, would-do-anything-for-us people in
1. Deliver food.
Homemade or otherwise.
We received full
meals. Homemade soups. Restaurant carry-out. Breakfast breads. Gift baskets
overflowing with fresh fruit and snacks. Beautifully-decorated
cupcakes. Dark chocolate (chocolate is a food, you know).
If youre thinking of providing food for the family, find out how
many theyre expecting for meals and maybe provide a
more for lunch leftovers.
2. Be a Porch Fairy.
We were blessed
with the most amazing Porch Fairy (defined as someone who
randomly leaves gifts on your front porch without knocking). In
addition to food and flowers and a variety of gifts, there were
daily hot beverages. Chai tea for me and Americano coffee for Summer.
When the Porch Fairy was out of town one week, she left a Starbux gift
card in advance to make sure we were covered.
I cant tell you
how much a daily 7:30am Chai teaone of those luxury
itemsmeant to me at a time when Hubbys life was slipping away.
3. Unclog a toilet and other practical stuff.
People placed our
garbage can on the curb and returned it to the garage. Shoveled
our snowy walks. Unclogged our toilet. Re-planted the birdfeeder
so Hubby could watch the activity from his hospital bed in the
living room. Took our vehicle to have a
slow-leaking tire replaced. Cleaned our home and set up a Christmas tree
while I was in Hospice House with Hubby. Helped clear out the
garage. Hauled things away.
Several of these
chores were done without my asking. But a couple times I sent
out an e-mail and always had ready responses. People want to
feel as if theyve made a contribution during a hard time in
on the receiving end, let others help.
on the giving end, consider blessing someone with your time and
Write a thoughtful note. Mail it.
Lovely cards started pouring in when
Hubby died. I re-read all of
them after things settled down again. Each kind
message represented one more person in my life who cared, and the
abundance made me feel so very rich.
5. Contribute toward expenses.
are added expenses with the passing of a loved one. I was not
expecting checks to come tumbling out of cards as I opened them,
but there were enough funds to cover
funeral home expenses. And that meant a great deal to a
brand-new widow wondering how she was going to survive going
forward on just her
6. Send cinnamon candles or mismatched socks. And chocolate.
started slipping away from us in the onset of fall and the
winter holidays, people sent seasonal gifts. Fleece blankets and
fleece pillow cases. Pumpkin themed-gifts. Poinsettias. A
beautiful Christmas wreath for our front door.
with fleecy pajamas, the smell of yuletide cinnamon candles.
This wooden box
sign that read,
is well with my soul.
There were flowers
and books, a lovely journal, and dark chocolate. Sheets of
postage stamps. Yarn and
knitting needles. Puffy eye gel. And dark chocolate.
A friend loaned her diffuser with several
fragrances of essential oils.
delivered mismatched socks. Because life is too short to wear
A friend created a photo book with a collection of
hiking and snow-shoe photos. Priceless treasure
remembrance of outdoor activity with our
cancer hiking posse.
There was this unique wall art.
To be decorated year-round,
depending on the season. A gift from a friend who asked how he
could help. I forwarded a photo and this is what he and his wife
came up with.
We received gift cards to Whole Foods
and Target. And after Hubby passed, beautifully crafted jewelry.
Half my heart is in heaven.
At a time
when we didnt realize how much we needed it, we were
surrounded and overwhelmed with love, and it showed up in so
many creative ways.
What are some
unique and thoughtful gifts youve
received in time of loss? Please share them on my Facebook page.
Monday, May 18,
the big deal about gratitude?
exhausted. Head-achy exhausted. And its not just because Im up
at 5:30am to get The Boy to school for an all-day field trip.
not because of the thought of his baseball game tonight
were into Week Four of single parenting. These three
precious grandchildren. I want to be their grandma and not their
left this dried-up bowl of oatmeal here? Do I look like the
are you still doing up?!
are you still doing in bed?!
this dog poop.
back here and finish your homework.
I have to stop this van, Im going to knock a couple of heads together. (Not that I would
really do that,
but I like to keep them wondering.)
love ... or the beginnings of a choke hold?
sent various children to
their various rooms. Taken away privileges. And confiscated electronic
devices. None of which makes me the Most Popular Adult in their
I want to go back
to being their grandma. I want The Parents to be the bad guys.
And then I read
this from Melody Beattie. About gratitude:
unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough,
This is something
cancer taught us. To intentionally focus on the things for which
we were grateful.
I need this
fresh reminder. Here. Today. In the middle of this
physical and mental exhaustion.
Right off the bat,
I can think of 5 really great reasons to immerse ourselves in
1. A change of focus.
centering on the things we dont
have or focusing on the hard stuff, gratitude reminds us of all
the good we have going on in our lives.
bring our focus back to the positive, the natural by-product is
that state of being happy and satisfied. Not that we dont
continue working toward our lifes
dreams, but we find the balance of being content and grateful
until more unfolds.
3. Better health.
A growing body of
research concludes that giving thanks is good for your
psychological, emotional and physical well-being. According to a
Wall Street Journal
article, adults who frequently feel grateful
more energy, more optimism ... and more happiness than those who
4. Deeper compassion.
We tend to compare
what we have with those who have more. Rarely do we compare our
lives with, say, someone in a war-torn country. Or with the
woman who cant
keep her children because she cant feed them. Or someone living in a wheelchair. When were
making the correct comparisons, it can lead us toward more
compassion for those who truly struggle.
5. Better social connections.
completely honest, most of us dont
enjoy hanging around whiny, discontent people. If
this describes you, then how far do you think your negative
attitude will take you in your career? With family
relationships? In building friendships? Think about it.
I would encourage you to
keep a gratitude list. Not just in your head, but on paper or
Add to it
regularly. Pay attention. Dig deep. Be specific.
list this morning:
tinged with pink
At least four
different bird sounds coming in through open windows
cup of homemade Chai tea
My view from the dining table
ancient green trees
lovely older homes with inviting front porches
And really, the
most important item on the list:
irreplaceable memories with these grandkidlets.
Friday, May 15,
couple should have
A year ago
this month, we met with Dr. Maunder, a palliative care
physician. One of his jobs was to help Hubby complete a POLST
form (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment).
course of the conversation, Dr. Maunder asked him this:
most concerns you?
pointed at me and said,
And so that
next Saturday, Hubby announced that
he was going to spend the day teaching me how to survive.
learned how to do our banking online, including how to deposit a
check using my phone camera. Hubby taught me how to use my phones
GPS system. And he pulled out a large pipe wrench for lessons on
unclogging the bathroom sink.
I gave him my best raised-eyebrow
look whereupon he put the pipe wrench away.
discussed some of the issues Dr. Maunders
questions raised. Funny how we lived with the knowledge that
Hubby would die of cancer but
really talked much about death and dying.
five things every couple should discuss sooner than later:
I knew Hubby wanted no heroic efforts taken
should he stop breathing, but it removed a load off my mind to
have this in writing and on file with the medical professionals.
For most people, an Advance Directive is sufficient as it
appoints a legal health care representative and provides
instructions for future life-sustaining treatments. In Hubbys
case, the POLST form served as a summary of the
wishes for end-of-life care.
and I were on top of our finances, but when he retired, he took
over the paying of the bills and the balancing of the bank
were some tech tools he used that were new to me, and I needed
to be brought up to speed. (Love online banking, by the
way.) We utilized a small, portable fire-proof safe with a
simple filing system to keep all important documents organized
and in one location.
I was married to a computer geek. We had four websites and Hubby
was the genius behind it all. He once mentioned locating a
company that was hosting our non-profit website for free. But I had no
clue who that was, or who hosted the other three sites. Or from
whom we had purchased our domain names. Trust me. These people
all wanted to be paid. Annually.
Does your spouse have an interest or small business that you
assume will die right along with him/her? This is what I thought
would happen with Cancer Adventures. But dont
assume anything; instead, learn whats
4. Updated will.
The last update on our will was when our children were younger than our grandchildren currently
are. Tells you how often we thought of death and dying. Most
assets are not distributed by will, i.e., life insurance and
invested funds. These are passed on to the named beneficiaries. For owned property where no beneficiary is
named, each state has its own set of laws that parcels out
properties to nearest relatives. It would be wise to have a plan in place long before its
I once said to Hubby that I would miss his wisdom.
would I call for advice on major decision making?
I whined. And so it was helpful that we discussed a few different scenarios,
after which he said I was going to have to look for a rich next
husband. While I dont
plan to remarry, its
kind of nice to know I have Hubbys
blessings. (Does that even make sense?)
of remarriage, this advice from the
you going to always live alone?
you never going to get married?
Me: Do you
think I should?
Because what if someone breaks into your house and you need
someone to show you how to get out?
thought of that. Wanted:
One capable and way-finding male who can guide me out of my own
house during a break-in.
Tuesday, May 12,
What are your gifts,
and why should you use them?
wanted pancakes for breakfast. You know the thing about teach
a boy to fish? Well, it seems that teaching a boy to make
pancakes works the same way.
He mixed the
batter, made the cakesincluding
enough for his two sistersand
cleaned up afterward (this last step with
nagging on my part).
newly-discovered gift. And in fact, The Boy had so much fun that hes
decided to become a chef. Well, at least for this week.
Hubby had a gift
of being able to incorporate his dry sense of humor into our
tag-team presentations. And really, the gift was the message of
hope to audiences of
survivors and those caring for them.
have paid to not have to get up in front of people and speak.
in his book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and
Your Dream Job, wrote:
you admit that there is a chance that you are good, perhaps even
great at something, you should feel a little uncomfortable.
Because if your gift is not nothing, that means it is something.
And a gift that is something is always a little terrifying.
Doing nothingputting your feet up on the coffee table
and watching other people lead extraordinary livesis so much
more comfortable than using your gifts.
Here are 3
reasons why using your gifts is critical:
It provides meaning.
In our case, being able to speak what we were doing to live well
with metastatic disease brought purpose to a senseless
diagnosis. Our traveling and sharing of hope and encouragement
was yet another example of cancer not being able to dictate what
Hubby could or could not do.
2. It helps face down fear and grow confidence.
your comfort zone to discover that youre
pretty good at something is empowering. Speaking in front of
crowds became easier and easier as Hubbys
3. The world
benefits when you put your gifts to good use.
Open a pancake
restaurant. Teach a class. Build a bridge. Produce a movie. Go
to med school. Write a song, a book, a poem. Using your gifts can
create a better life for others
physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
What are you
passionate about? What life experiences make you knowledgeable
about something? What energizes you? Take your skills and
interests and create a better world for yourself and others.
As for The
Boy Chef mastering the Mickey Mouse on his first attempt at making
Friday, May 8,
Widowhood for Dummies: 5
tips for dealing with
credit card companies
be finished with all the business matters of becoming a widow,
Hubby and I
had three credit cards. Paid off monthly as used. I made the
mistake of calling Barclay to find out how to get my refund from
a purchase made on one of the cards.
The Customer Service Rep
could only speak with the primary account holder. Of course.
learned why the primary couldnt
come to the phonecould
never ever come to the phone ever againshe
cancelled two of the cards. Immediately.
cancel. You still have my money.
Turns out, they can cancel. And turns out, they get to keep my
money for two invoice cyclesinterest-free,
although had it been the other way around, I wouldnt
have been able to get away with interest-free moneybefore returning it.
this yesterday while being transferred four times, with long
waits and obnoxious music in between. Ill
eventually get my refund, but the airline miles on the card are
Here are 5 tips for
dealing with credit card companies:
1. Use a phone with speaker function.
This will allow for
hands-free time to wash your windows, rotate the tires on your
car and give your dog a pedicure.
Keep good notes.
date of each call and the outcome of the call. If you were
transferred to someone who could actually sort-of help, ask for that
toll-free number in case you need to call back. Because more
than likely youll
need to call back.
3. Be nice.
Express your frustration in a pleasant tone of voice. It can be done, and
it gives you more mileage. (Not airline miles, but Customer
Service Rep miles.) Try to come up with something you can thank
them for. And
for nothing doesnt
Use the *widow card* if necessary.
ashamed to say Ive
done this a couple times. And in a whiny voice. But it was
Call a friend who
will absolutely still be your friend at the end of the phone
call. Or better yet, write a blog.
This is usually
more productive than banging your head against the wall.
3 ways to give cancer a
Still in Jersey, caring for the three grands
with The Parents having flown back to Africa. Its
much fun sad when The Parents leave
and the grandma has the grandkidlets all to herself.
also a little dangerous. For example, yesterday the
6-year-old decided the grandma needed a make-over.
The 14-year-old warned
might want her to go easy on the eye shadow. Otherwise youll
look like you have two black eyes.
reminded me that Hubby used to talk about
giving cancer a black eye. Which is defined as getting off the couch
and doing something you dont necessarily feel like doing.
three suggestions (Im
pretty sure you can come up with several more):
side effect of Hubbys treatments was exhaustion.
There were times when all we did was a short and slow walk
through the neighborhood.
But there were
many, many determined days of lacing up hiking boots and
strapping on snowshoes. And going for miles and miles.
Take that, cancer.
2. Make connections.
physically incapable of doing anything that
remotely resembles physical activity.
attending that support group or that class for cancer patients
and caregivers? You know, the one about eating better? Or that
water color class or knitting group for cancer survivors?
So, maybe you tend
toward being on your own. Maybe you like animals better than
people. But there are others who understand what youre
going through. Who have already walked the trail while youre
still puzzling over the map at the trailhead. People who can
encourage you and offer some hiking tips. How smart would it be to connect with others within the cancer
Take that, cancer.
3. Develop your determination muscle.
dealing with cancer or any other hard thing, do something you
feel like doing. Something you can and should do.
Tackle small goals
until you can set and accomplish larger goals. Begin with
determination. Because checking things off lists provides a
sense of accomplishment. And who among us couldnt
use the boost that comes with having accomplished something?
Hubby was one
determined man. And even though
he died of this disease, he blackened cancers
eyes many times during the living-longer-than-expected years.
As for the
black-eye sk ... um, make-over skills ...
what do you think? An improvement?
Sunday, April 25,
children deal with the loss of a grandparent
their grandpa despite that fact that he teased them mercilessly.
Or maybe because of it.
So how do
you explain cancer to grandchildren? And how do you help them
through their loss? Here are three ways:
was four years old when Hubby was diagnosed. Her parents told her what she needed to know at the time, explaining that
even though Grandpa looked well, he was sick and trying to eat more healthfully. Lilly
loved baking cookies with me, and her grandpa loved stealing
spoonfuls of cookie dough. The 4-year-old kept a close eye on him
and tattled when necessary.
(It was frequently necessary.)
is always best. Information should be given in doses based on the childs
age and ability to understand, including information about the
death as the time draws near.
its important to prepare children for funerals. According to an
The Toughest Talk Youll Ever Have at
kids benefit from attending funerals and other
celebrations of life.
Some will want to speak about the lost
grandparent at a funeral, or pay tribute by singing or playing
an instrument, and, if at all possible, those wishes should be
2. Provide an outlet
for saying good-by.
Summer was with us in Oregon as Hubby was dying while SIL Josh
held down the fort with the three kids in Jersey. Summer and Josh asked the
kids to each write a letter to their grandpa, which were read to
played a big role in my life and I have really looked up to
you, penned the 14-year-old.
No matter how annoying your jokes are and how much you like the
Broncos ... you have always made me smile.
12-year-old boy, a tease just like his grandfather, wrote, We
were always teasing each other who would win the Super Bowl (the
Seahawks won, by the way). ... I love you and remember all the
fun times I had with you.
hope you feel good soon, wrote the 6-year-old.
will take good care of you, really good care of you. I miss you.
The letters were a good outlet for the grandchildren to say good-by. And the 12-year-old ended up reading his letter
at his grandfathers
Celebration of Life service.
3. Keep memories
After Hubby died, I flew east to spend Christmas with the
munchkins. I didnt want my
kids or grandkids to feel
uncomfortable talking about their dad and grandfather in front of me. So I brought
him up in conversation
would have thought that was funny.
when you were four and you called Grandpa George before he
got a chance to call you George?!
tucking in the 6-year-old: Grandpa
would say, Good-night, sleep tight, dont bite the bed
children are more resilient than we think. All three of our grandchildren
have done well with their grandfathers
death, even though theyve expressed
how much they
suspect for the rest of their lives, the three munchkins will
remember their fun, cookie-dough-stealing,
take-you-to-Barnes&Noble, baseball-playing, corny-joke-telling
Thursday, April 23,
8 strategies for
fighting cancer smarter
Lilly, the petite
but strong fourteen-year-old, tested for her mixed martial arts black belt on Sunday.
In front of a panel of stern-looking judges. All wearing black.
Lilly goes in for a take-down
So why would
you want your daughter to learn to fight?
Because you never know when she might face a formidable
opponent. Because you would want her to respond with skill and good
our formidable opponent. And over time, Hubby and I learned how to fight
smarter, stronger and better disciplined using these eight
Recruit a stellar
Dont be afraid to get a second opinion, if need
medical team all
talked to each other, which gave us a sense of being
Incorporate physical activity.
took up hiking and snow-shoeing. First consult with your doctor;
then find something you enjoy doing and add more movement to
Talk with a
registered dietician about what is best for your type and
stage of cancer. Hubby and I added more fruits,
veggies, legumes and whole grains to our diet; we eliminated unhealthy fats
and sugars; and we used meat
small amounts for flavoring.
Manage the stress.
A cancer diagnosis brings overwhelming stress. We managed the stress by lacing up hiking boots
and getting outdoors, and practicing
living gratefully in the present.
Cultivate a positive attitude.
Instead of counting setbacks, count all the positive things
going on in your
life. Our list was quite long.
Dont go it alone.
Connect with and draw strength from those who can offer support
family, friends, people within the cancer community, from your
Look for purpose.
Finding meaning and purpose can be a powerful thing. It was for us
as we traveled the country sharing what we were doing to live well
with metastatic disease. When youre
feeling better, look for a way to give back.
something tacked on as an afterthought. Our faith was and is the entire undergirding of our lives. Hubby
and I believed that things
didnt happen randomly, that God
could bring good out of the hard. And He did.
This is a
our cancer team. Theres so
much more to say about
each of these disciplines. But for now,
consider your team. Do you need to recruit more players?
would victory look like? For some,
victory could mean
beating cancer. For others, it could represent living longer and
better than expected.
into that second category. He lived much longer with metastatic
disease than originally
predicted. And it was
the best ten years of our married life as we created more adventure
and lived more intentionally.
You may be
in a battle for your life or that of your loved one. How wise
would it be to fight as a disciplined and strong warrior? Be
proactive; recruit a powerful team to help you face down cancer.
Oh, and the petite
fourteen-year-old granddaughter? She was awarded her black
belt in a ceremony last evening.
stop fighting cancer when he was tired. He stopped when he was
Grandpa would be so
proud of you, Lilly.
Saturday, April 17,
What if we had a choice
in how we suffered?
if Grandpa was holding my other hand and you guys could swing me
commented the six-year-old as we walked to the
She remembers the
grandpa who teased the grandkids. The grandpa who interacted
with them; who thought their names were all
George for some reason.
I miss this good
man. Every day. But what if, when you
face hard things, you could come out on the other side wiser,
kinder, stronger? Would it be worth it? Im
thinking yes, not that I go looking for hard things.
A year ago this
metastatic prostate cancer lay quiet for nearly nine years
began making noise. Exhausting all treatment options, Hubby was accepted into a clinical trial
that sounded promising.
Two Wednesdays out of
every three, he hopped on a plane that took a left turn past Mt.
Hood on its way to Seattle.
We made a couple
trips to the ER this month a year ago. Fevers and kidney
infections, which were common with the nephrostomy tubes that bypassed the cancerous mass in his bladder.
Hubby would be dropped from the clinical trial as
cancer continued its ravenous march. But we had learned
some lessons along the way.
When things didnt
go as hoped, we regrouped. We talked; we recruited friends and
family to pray; we drafted thanksgiving lists:
1. This day
one more day together
2. Our love story
3. Kids, grands, extended families
4. A warm and
welcoming place called home
5. Friends who
check in on us frequently
6. That Hubby could
still make me laugh
The lists were
actually quite long. Even in setbacks, still much to be
Not that we did
this perfectly every time. Because there were certainly some
ugly days of self-pity and hopelessness.
But what if
gratitude helped us see the good while struggling with the hard?
What if we had a choice in how we suffered? What if
this hard thing could make us more compassionate, and therefore
more beautiful? (It does. We do. It can.)
Would we embrace the hard instead of kicking against it?
Yes. Yes, we would.