10 Lessons from My Thyroid

Just when I was starting to get a vision for this blog, life took a little detour.

In May of last year, I went to see my Gynecologist for ye old annual visit. She walked into the room and before even saying hello, her eyes zoomed to my neck. “Oh, my. You have a nodule on your thyroid.” Pulling on gloves, she walked over and began feeling my neck. “Yeah, that’s a big one. You haven’t noticed it? We need to get an ultrasound of that.”

And no, I hadn’t noticed it. I try not to look in the mirror if I can help it. I’ve reached the age where nothing good comes of it.

So I did the ultrasound and the nodule was solid and about 4.6 cm in diameter. The size of a lime. That’s right. L-I-M-E. Not dime. Lime. No, really, I hadn’t noticed it. I’ve got a small fruit growing in my neck and I’ve got NO idea.

My Gyne said, “Well, we better get that biopsied. It’s probably nothing. Only 5% of nodules turn out to be cancer. But we need to be sure. If its benign, they’ll probably just keep an eye on. They won’t remove it unless it’s pressing on your esophagus and making it difficult to swallow.”

I had the biopsy, all the time knowing it was benign and worrying about how I would get them to remove it because I wanted it out. Out, out, OUT.

My Gyne called with the results of the biopsy. “It’s a Hurthle Cell Neoplasm,” she said. “You have to have surgery to remove it. There’s about a 35% chance that it’s cancerous and the only way they can tell is to remove it and do pathology.” She recommended a surgeon and scheduled an appointment.

Huh. This wasn’t exactly going as I’d expected. I googled “Hurthle Cell” and quickly wished I hadn’t. According to one publication, the probability of cancer increased with nodule size. It was 80% for any nodule over 4 cm.

The surgeon my Gyne recommended was an Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgeon. He does 100-150 thyroid surgeries a year. This seems like a decent amount except during the consultation, he repeatedly talked about removing the right lobe of my thyroid. Which was problematic for me since the nodule was on my left lobe. And again, size of a LIME, so pretty damn hard to miss!

I went home and consulted the All Powerful Internet (API). API suggested I might want an endocrine surgeon, someone who specialized in thyroid. I scheduled a second opinion with the Chief of Endocrine Surgery at Duke. She does about 15 thyroid surgeries a week. You do the math. I scheduled the surgery with her.

On July 3, the nodule was removed. One week later, the pathology report came back. It was official. I have Hurthle Cell Carcinoma, a rare form of thyroid cancer.

Now wait. Just wait. Before you tell me, “Thyroid cancer? Well, you’re lucky. That’s highly treatable. If you’ve got to have cancer, thyroid cancer’s the one to have!” Just consult API. Go ahead. Google it. Hurthle Cell Carcinoma. Yeah. That’s right. There’s some scary stuff out there. Metastases. Recurrence. Gulp.

On August 15, the rest of my thyroid was removed. After that, I followed a low iodine diet for a month. The low iodine diet requires you to pretty much make everything from scratch: bread, salad dressing, salsa, mayo–no prepared foods, whatsoever. No egg yolks, only 6 oz. of meat a day, no fish, only kosher salt. I lost 8 lbs. just because I was too lazy to even prepare food.

The diet rids your body of iodine stores in preparation for a body scan that uses radioiodine to light up any remaining thyroid cells in your body. Because thyroid cells love iodine, when you starve them for a month they soak up the radioiodine. The scan shows any metastases. I had none. Whew!

The scan was followed by radioiodine treatment (RAI) in October followed by 3 days of quarantine from my family. The RAI makes you radioactive–the Imagine Dragons song took on a whole new meaning for me–so you can damage the thyroid of other people if you touch them. The purpose of RAI is to kill all remaining thyroid cells in my body.

Since my surgery, I’ve been on a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) suppressant dose of Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid hormone I will have to take for the rest of my life.  TSH is produced by the pituitary gland and tells your thyroid to make more hormone. If you don’t have a thyroid, this message could cause any thyroid cells left behind to replicate, which could lead to cancer recurrence. The suppressant dose tricks my pituitary gland — I’ve got tons of thyroid hormones so it doesn’t generate TSH.

So here’s what I’ve learned through this experience.

  1. The thyroid is involved in just about everything. Sleep. Body temperature. Hair, skin, and nail health. Mood. Energy level. Memory. Concentration. Weight. Bowel function. Metabolism.
  2. There is still an awful lot Science doesn’t know about the human body.
  3. Sleep is precious. What I wouldn’t give for just one night of uninterrupted sleep.
  4. Bad genes trump healthy practices. Despite your best efforts to eat healthy, exercise, practice moderation in alcohol consumption, avoid smoking and drugs, etc., you can still get cancer. You still can.
  5. People who say, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do,” really mean it. They just don’t know what you need. Tell them.
  6. Life may be shorter than you expect. I may not have another 30-40 years on this planet. I might only have 10-15. I might have even less. Stop taking time for granted.
  7. There is still time to eliminate regret. When I examine the life I’ve had, most of my regrets are outside my power to change. The things that are within my power, I’m working on now.
  8. Do what’s important, what you love, now. Now is really the only time you can count on.
  9. Stress reduces your body’s ability to fight and kill defective cells. Your job can kill you. Don’t let it.
  10. Even dying is an adventure.

You Are Only as Sick as Your Secrets

Years ago, I unexpectedly found myself responsible for a table of about 8 customers at an Advisory Board dinner. If you aren’t familiar with Ad Boards, they are exactly as they sound – a group of people brought together for the purpose of advising you. Ours usually lasted a day and a half and were typically held in 4 star hotels. Seems like this one was at a W. I’d been invited to the meeting to lead a discussion on some patient education materials my company had developed. Earlier in the day I’d done so and as we headed into the hotel ballroom for dinner, I was relieved my obligations were over. Or so I thought. No one bothered to mention until right before we sat down that oh, by the way, I would be the only one from my company at my table and it would be my great fortune to play the role of host. Yikes! My palms immediately began to sweat.

You see, I don’t have an affinity for small talk. Which is to say I pretty much suck at it. Small talk seems pointless. I mean, life is short. If you’re going to have a conversation, well then, have one. Why waste oxygen talking about the weather? Or the price of gas in Muskeegee? Sure, it’s polite to inquire about one’s job and the ages of one’s kids, but time is ticking, so why not get right down to the good stuff? Like one’s most embarrassing moment. Or the thing one prays one’s significant other never finds out. I’m just saying I’m not afraid to ask. Something to think about before you plop down beside me on an airplane and interrupt my novel.

So I wiped my sweaty hands on my dry clean only suit, heaped my plate at the buffet and made my way over to table 5 to play hostess for the evening. One by one, guests joined me; 2 doctors, 2 pharmacists, and 4 nurses, and after everyone was seated and the wine poured, I looked up from my baked chicken to discover all eyes on me. I put down my fork, wiped my mouth with my napkin and tried to say something introductory. Something small talk-ish. I opened my mouth fully intending to say, “Hi everyone. Glad you could all join us this evening. Shall we go around the table and introduce ourselves?” Truly. That was my plan. And then I’d ask, “What do you think about the meeting so far?” and scarf down my food while everyone else talked.

But that’s not what happened. Instead my brain hijacked my professional intentions and my mouth produced something very close to the following:

“So. None of us really know each other and we will likely never meet again. Feels like the perfect place to get that thing off your chest. You know, that thing you really don’t want anyone to know but you really need to tell.”

Eyes widened. Someone giggled. There was a decade-long pause during which I thought, you’ve really stepped in it this time, sister, and then a lady sitting next to me took a big ole swig of wine and said, “my son is turning himself into a pin cushion. He’s got 10 body piercings so far and he just did a nipple. I love him but I can’t hardly talk to him without laughing. He looks so ridiculous, you know?”

And then the floodgates opened.

It was freaking AWESOME. I don’t even remember what anyone said. Except for the mother of the pin cushion. It was just so great to open up the closet and expose all the skeletons. We laughed and groaned and commiserated. One of the doctors racked his brain for something to share. “I’m just too normal,” he shook his head glumly. “That’s OK. Somebody has too be.” And we all roared with laughter.

All of the other tables kept sneaking glances. They couldn’t get over how much fun we were having. Long after everyone else had gone up to their rooms, we were still sitting there, lingering. We didn’t want to leave. We started out strangers and we left there, well, still strangers but a little lighter, as if having tossed a heavy backpack overboard.

A wise friend recently said, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” I believe this, wholeheartedly. Which is why I don’t have secrets. Also because I’m just not good at keeping them and partly as a reaction to growing up in such a dysfunctional family. Putting up a good front was ingrained in me. What other people thought about our family was paramount. I kept all sorts of family secrets – I had to. It was expected. And you know how it made me feel? Ashamed. Damaged. Broken. Less than.

But after I decided to no longer keep those secrets, know how I felt? Empowered. Unencumbered. Lighter. Free.

As an adult I realize you can’t actually control what others think of you. You can try to hide the dark stuff but you will always live in fear of it surfacing. Of someone finding out. It’s actually easier to eradicate the dark stuff than to hide it. To just stop doing the things you’d be horrified if others knew about. But some of our dark stuff is out of our control – it’s not the things we have done but the things others have done to us that we’re ashamed of. We worry what others would think if they knew we were abused or our spouse cheated on us or we were bullied in school or we grew up in foster care. We feel this inexplicable need to protect the people who harmed us by keeping their secrets. We take on their secrets and make them our own. This is unhealthy for both us AND them.

This is the stuff I’ve lost tolerance for as I get older. You don’t want someone to know you’re an alcoholic? Then get sober, no matter what it takes. Don’t tell your child to cover for you. “Daddy’s a deacon at church and it would look bad if others knew he drank. Let’s just keep it in the family. OK?”

Nope. Not doing it. I wonder how many people in our lives would choose to eradicate their dark stuff if we refused to cover for them? Keeping their secret isn’t doing them a favor. It enables their sickness. It helps keep them sick.

Of course, refusing to keep the secret isn’t a walk in the park either. Whether it’s your personally owned secret or one foisted on you second hand, outing it will jeopardize relationships. Some people will judge you. Some people will likely walk away. But are those the kind of people you actually need in your life? I say, good riddance.

Christmas Ghost Busters

I am not a Scrooge. I may say a lot of Scrooge-like things around this time of year but that’s only because I, too, am haunted by the Ghost-of-Christmas-Present and the Ghost-of-Christmas-Past. So much so that some years I host my own personal little Occupy Christmas movement to protest the bastardization of a season meant to be a celebration of the coming of the Christ. I don’t put up a tree or send cards or string lights. I don’t play carols or give gifts or make sausage balls or gingerbread or hot spiced tea. This doesn’t actually solve anything but as the song says, “whatever gets you through the night” or the unbearably long over-commercialized holiday season that appears to begin some time immediately preceding Halloween.

This, apparently, is not one of my Occupy Christmas years as I’ve already hung lights on the decks of the beach house, attended a Mannheim Steamroller concert, and stocked the Frig with eggnog. Still, the Ghosts are hovering and the days are filled with reminders of why I find this season to be so noxious.

This week the Ghost-of-Christmas-Present introduced me to the lady seated to my right at Shrek the Musical. As I was squeezing my way past and back to my seat after intermission, she leaned in and said, “You’re tapping your heels to the music, I’m sure you don’t even realize, but could you possibly stop? It’s bothering me.”

Seriously? One has to wonder what she was even doing at a show like Shrek. Does she sound like the kind of person who would be entertained by public farting to you? (Afterwards, I impersonated her using the voice of Gingy the Gingerbread Man and felt ever so much better.) Being a notorious people pleaser, I did cease the tapping and the earth miraculously resumed its rotation around her.

The Ghost-of-Christmas-Present is after my sister too. In mortal dread of the holiday, she asked Bryce, her psychiatrist, to add Lamictal to her bipolar cocktail. I had to break the news to Jerri over Thanksgiving that she couldn’t spend Christmas at the beach with us because Stan’s brother and family are scheduled to visit. I feel incredibly guilty when she has to spend Christmas alone. She’s had to do that most years over the past two decades because she’s purposely excluded from family gatherings. So am I, but to be honest, for me its mostly a relief.

The Ghost-of-Christmas-Past has started whispering in my ear, reminding me that the event that shredded our family fabric occurred the Christmas Stan and I tried to treat everyone to a week at the Outer Banks. She reminds me of all the sadness and confusion at Christmas I endured as a child due to mom’s depression and overcompensation for parenting sins throughout the rest of the year. She reminds me that it was Christmas when I first realized my parents were never going to love me, no matter how hard I tried, that they really didn’t even understand the word, let alone, the emotion. The-Ghost-of-Christmas-Present chimes in and says, “They’ve totally replaced you and Jerri with her children. They have a new family now. They don’t even miss you.”

Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!

This year I refuse to listen. I also refuse to kill myself trying to have the BEST Christmas EVER. I refuse to feel guilty because I can’t make Jerri happy. I give myself permission to do the things that I can manage, to spend as much time alone as I need, to celebrate with people who may not be my blood relatives but are family all the same.

20121203-011905.jpgTonight is the first night of Advent. And even through I’m not Catholic, or Lutheran, or any Protestant faith that traditionally celebrates Advent, tonight I will light a purple candle and read Isaiah 9 about the Light of the World who has penetrated the darkness. I will remember again how Israel longed for the birth of its Messiah and I will savor the longing in my own heart for His return.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

This Week Brought to You by the Letter “R”

On Tuesday, I sent my boss an email that read, “I’m taking off the rest of the week to rebuild resiliency.” This is code for “If I have to come into work even one more day, I can’t be held accountable for my own actions.” Which is code for “Coworkers are driving me crazy and I may have to kill them.”

I knew I’d reached that point where it’s just better for everyone concerned if I stopped showing up when I melted down over the new multi-function copier device a.k.a. copier on steroids. It requires a graduate degree to operate. I’m not kidding. After about 15 minutes in an infinite loop where it would not let me copy and it would not let me exit copy and go to scan, I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs, “Really? Can we not go one freakin’ day at this company without drastically changing something?”

This, of course, was after I discovered my trashcan was missing and was informed that housekeeping was no longer emptying the trash in our offices so all in-office trashcans had been confiscated. You can’t make this stuff up. Instead, I was given a shoebox-sized plastic basket and instructed to empty it in the closest public trashcan as needed. There is nothing more disgusting than an apple core and a boogery kleenex sitting in a plastic basket on your desk waiting to be emptied.

Note that “resiliency” starts with an “R”. Just a little help for those of you who never watched Sesame Street and are still puzzled by the title of this post.

I’ve also completely lost my ability to filter what comes out of my mouth. So like when somebody asks me, “How’s your day going?” I actually tell them and that’s never a good thing. Most of my conversations end with, “and that’s why I’m spending the rest of the afternoon working on my resume.” Resume, another word that begins with “R”.

So Tuesday night, we packed up our three dogs and headed to North Topsail Beach. Three dogs? Yes, that’s correct. On Sunday, we rescued a corgi from a broken home. He was being used as a weapon in a divorce. I mean, metaphorically. It’s not like they were hitting each other over the head with him.

Tucker was the wife’s dog. He’d been purchased without the husband’s consent and then abandoned when the wife moved out. The wife said, “Well if you get the house, you get the damn dog too.” Really? Because I would have been, “You can have the damn house but I get the dog.” Sort of speaks to the character of a person, don’t you think? Anyway, rescue is another R-word, and is probably not something one should do when their resiliency needs rebuilding.

On Wednesday, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island released 14 recovered turtles back into the ocean and we were there for both the opening ceremony and the actual release. Jean Beasley, who heads up the organization, gave a stirring Scarlett O’Hara as-God-as-my-witness-I’ll-never-go-hungry-again speech about how nothing, not turtle hospital overcrowding, not delays in building the new hospital, not lazy-good-for-nothing-contractors-that-promise-they’ll-see-you-tomorrow-and-don’t-show-up-again-for-two-weeks could keep them from fulfilling their promise to these turtles to send them back home.

And this made me think of Jerri and her recovery. I haven’t seen much of her since she confided she’d used cocaine, yet again, and due to low resiliency, I just haven’t had the energy to engage. Jean’s speech reminded me of the promise I gave Jerri when she moved here. I promised I would not abandon her the way our parents had. And here I am, not abandoning really, but certainly distancing. Hmmm.

Bear, one of the turtles that was released, had been with the hospital since 2009. They really didn’t know what was wrong with her, possibly something viral. Again, this reminds me of Jerri because I’ve never been truly convinced that we have the right diagnosis. But Bear did recover. I like to think this is God’s way of telling me there is hope.

It also reminded me of a story in the current issue (28, Summer 2012) of the NAMI Voice, called Loving a Sibling with a Chronic Illness by Trudelle Thomas. In it, she talks about changing the way she related to her brother with schizophrenia. She encountered a concept called “unconditional positive regard“–the idea that all people need and deserve unconditional acceptance. She realized she’d been treating her brother as a problem not a person deserving unconditional acceptance. So she stopped acting like a second mother and started becoming a friend. She didn’t give advice unless he asked for it. She stopped focusing on his illness and instead began sharing more about her own life with him and even asking for his advice on occasion. Trudelle also shared wisdom from The Dance of Anger, a book by Harriet Goldhor Lerner which I’ve also read and recommend. Harriet writes that a person who is an over-functioner (who, me?) can cause others to remain under-functioners and actually block them from becoming more capable. In a sense, you need to release the under-functioner to live their own life.

So I’m ending this week with reflection on resiliency, rescuing, releasing, recovery and relationships. And also an apology for the seemingly random nature of this post. It’s totally “R’s” fault.


20120529-223932.jpgAfter work today, I grabbed my bike and headed out of the neighborhood. My only goal was to wear myself out. Fortunately, given my current level of fitness, that only takes about an hour.

Pedaling down St. Mary’s, reminded me of countless times when Jerri and I rode our bikes on Lancelot Drive as kids. Back then I could pedal standing up. I was all bone and muscle—my, how things change. I could also ride with no hands and even climb up and “surf” on the banana seat of my Sears’ special while coasting downhill to the clickity-clack of the straws I’d added to the spokes of my wheels. I can still remember the wind in the streamers attached to the green plastic grips on my handlebars, my skinny tan legs covered in fine, white-blonde hair, pedaling faster and faster, the look on Jerri’s face as she squinted back at me over her shoulder to see if I was gaining.

Today, I turned right on Terry Road because it’s my namesake, geared down as far as I could, and coached myself up the first hill. It made me think of how hard life is at times and how what we tell ourselves matters. When I told myself, “This hill’s not so steep and the rise isn’t so long that you can’t make it,” I did make it. But on the hills where I thought, “it’s too steep and it climbs forever,” I’d end up walking my bike to the top. Even then I’d tell myself, “There’s no shame in walking. You’re still getting exercise. You’re still burning calories. You’re still moving forward.”

I’m really having to coax myself up the hill that is Jerri right now. I’m really tired and I just don’t have the energy to pedal. At times like this, I have to stop the inner dialogue because the the story I tell myself isn’t helpful. The story is, “This will never change. There is no recovery for Jerri. She has given up. All she wants is to numb the pain in any way that she can. She is not equipped to live life. She doesn’t have the will to choose a different way.”

As I crested hills and coasted down the backside, I wondered why life couldn’t be more like that. Coasting. Easy. Wind in my hair. My only worry? Going too fast. And maybe getting bugs in my teeth.

It seems I am always straining against gravity. Where are all my downhills?

Still, I am moving forward. The going is slow, but I am making progress. Even when I have to stop for a breather and a swig of water. I am getting closer and closer to home. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

[Photo attribution: Porro, http://foter.com/photo/v-i-i-r-u-i-s-a/%5D

The Groupon Girls’ Ultimate Zip Adventure

Last Thursday, Nancy and I hopped a flight to Atlanta, Cathy swung by the airport and the three of us set out on a 6-hour road trip to Milton, FL. Linda drove up from Orlando and the “Zipper Girls” converged on Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center for a long weekend of high adventure. The place, I’m sure, will never be the same.

Climbing out of our car for check-in at the Schoolhouse Inn, the first thing we noticed was everyone within eyesight was about half our age. Cathy quickly forbid the use of certain adjectives in association with our trip. These included old, elderly, senior, aged and geriatric. Instead, we chose to think of ourselves as advanced in life experience. Together we’ve racked up about 200 years of that.

I love these girls! We met through the pharmaceutical company where I work. Cathy escaped, uh, took a package a few years back and the rest of us are still carrying on, only now in different jobs where, sadly, we don’t get to work together. I haven’t even seen Cathy and Linda for, wow, 4 years or more. But the great thing about good friends is you can pick up where you left off no matter how long you’ve been on pause.

The weekend was Cathy’s brainchild. She forwarded a Groupon Getaway back in November. In addition to 3 nights at the Schoolhouse Inn, the trip included the Ultimate Zip Adventure (woohoo!) and an 11-mile river trip by kayak. The price was right and the timing couldn’t have been better. We all needed to detox from our usual routines and what’s more cleansing than an estrogen-infused weekend in the wilds?

Ours was a 4-step program:
Step 1: Play
Step 2: Laugh
Step 3: Listen
Step 4: Nurture

The play and the laughter came easy. We modeled our zip harnesses and asked “does this make my butt look big?” Our zip line theme became “I’m sexy and I know it.” (Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, yeah!) On one flight, Nancy tried to takeout a tree with her hip. Then a tree tried to takeout Cathy on the river. You really have to watch out for those trees! We thought our kayak trip included a guide so when the driver deposited our kayaks at the 11-mile drop-off and walked away, Cathy hollered “Wait! You can’t just leave us out here! We don’t even know how to operate these things!” Gliding downstream, we listened for banjos as if in Deliverance country. Nancy kept an eye out for alligators and water mocs. Linda capsized and chased her zip-loc encased phone down the river. At night, we drank cheap Walmart wine and played round after round of Phase 10. And even though Cathy was beating the yoga pants off the rest of us, “Skip her” became my new moniker. We gossiped about office affairs and tried to figure out how exactly that conversation begins – the one that ends with you falling into bed with your coworker. We tried to figure out why none of our coworkers has ever hit on Cathy. We sang Red Solo Cup and brainstormed names for our girl group. We traded ideas for our next big adventure.

And we talked, Lord, how we talked. This was so GREAT. All of us are going through various stressors: dealing with ex-husbands, a newly diagnosed daughter with an auto-immune disease, semi-dissolution of a business partnership, Dilbert-ish work craziness.

Family was naturally one of my topics. I love Jerri but sometimes her illness brings out the worst in me. It’s hard to break away from the old family patterns and ways of thinking. I get frustrated when Jerri goes off her medicine and lose patience when she does the same things over and over again expecting different results. I’m emotionally exhausted from hauling around family baggage. Jerri reminds me of how damaged our family is, of childhood trauma, of my unmet emotional needs. At times, I see a glimmer of the sister I might have had and the person she might have been. I am sometimes consumed by an unrelenting rage at my parents for all the things they did and didn’t do.

Part of what I’m going through is the natural grieving process, the five stages of grief defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Originally the stages were associated with death and dying but they apply to all major losses like divorce, job termination, bankruptcy, disability, crime, etc. I’ve lost family relationships and have had to let go of long-held dreams of one day really mattering to my parents. The anger stage is not exactly prime real estate. I’m stuck there and don’t know how to move on.

When Jerri’s mental illness first came to live with us, I was about fourteen. For years, my mother obsessed over “fixing” her while my dad self-medicated. They were emotionally unavailable. I kept telling myself that eventually there would be time for me. My mother planted this notion in my head. “One day, after all of this is past us, you and I will have time together.”

Quality time. That is my love language. You can say you love me but if you don’t spend time with me, I don’t feel it.

For decades, I waited for my parents to give me time. Even after my parents had excluded Jerri from the family, they still didn’t have time for me. Jerri has 4 children and one by one, my parents took custody of them. My mom would say, “as soon as D gets a little older, then you and I will have time.” Then L was born and mom said, “as soon as L gets a little older then we’ll have time.” Then A was born. You get the picture. Five years ago, after a family vacation went south, I realized my parents were NEVER going to give me time. That despite all the responsibility they’d taken on with Jerri’s kids, they COULD have made time for me if they’d WANTED to. For whatever reason, not making time for me was a CHOICE. It was a tough pill to swallow and I choked on it.

And I’m still choking.

The girls listened. They didn’t judge. They let me rant and bare my anger. They asked questions. They commiserated. They shared their own mother stories and sympathized. They said all the right things. I read a letter I’d written but never mailed to my family. They explored why I’m reluctant to mail the letter. They gave constructive feedback and coached me. These awesome girlfriends who love me so much they gave me 4 days of their lives! And little by little, my anger began to dissipate. It’s not completely gone but there’s healing tissue where there was once a gaping wound. I want to move on to the last stage, acceptance. I NEED to move on. These girls have helped me.

The Middle of the World at Christmas

Something a little different today but if you’re wondering how it relates to the blog theme of sisters and sanity, let me assure you it does. Specifically to sanity and especially to mine. I’ve categorized this under self-care which is an area where so many caregivers go wrong. They forget to do it. Or they tell themselves, they couldn’t possibly. That it would be wrong even unforgivable to, as in my case, leave their family member alone. I believe in telling myself the truth. Jerri will be okay. She is not really alone. Telecare, Bryce, Brian are there if she needs assistance. She also has Catherine and Bronwyn, friends in her building, and, of course, Kiki, the bird.

Stan and I are in Cuenca, Ecuador for Christmas. We are doing something we love: traveling and experiencing other cultures. This is one of the ways I feed my soul. Today I feel so . . . full. There is nothing that compares to spending a holiday in another country – nothing! It is particularly healthy for me. Christmas at home makes me sad. I am no longer invited to my family’s festivities and even if I was, I wouldn’t feel right about excluding Jerri which has been the norm for decades. So Christmas in the states is complicated for me. But Christmas in Cuenca is simple, exhilarating, festive, a huge celebration – exactly what Christmas should be.

Last night I could see fireworks out our hotel window. Fireworks to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Now why didn’t I think of that?!

Cuenca is known in this country for its huge Christmas parade which is called Pase Del Niño Viajero, a children’s parade honoring the traveling infant Jesus. In the early 1960’s a statue of baby Jesus was taken to Rome to be blessed by the Pope and upon its return, it was paraded through the streets. Today, there are many floats dedicated to scenes from Jesus life, also children dressed as Spaniards, wealthy colonialists, Roman soldiers, angels, gypsies (no idea), Mary and Joseph, wise men, shepherds, natives from the Amazon and Incan civilizations, and quite a few Santas. Smurfette and Papa Smurf also made an appearance. I guess there’s no telling who will show up for the children’s parade. I even saw Satan but decided not to waste any pixels on him.

Many of the floats, and I use that term loosely, feature Christmas dinner, the actual pig, chicken, or guinea pig (and I don’t mean alive) which will be eaten later. Dinner is usually quite well dressed – I saw a chicken with earrings and a ribbon around it’s neck. Keep in mind the parade lasts 6 hours. Yum!

Here are some of my favorite memories.

Look closely at the pig on the back of this young girl’s horse. That’s a Budweiser in its mouth!

Children attending the parade can get a picture taken with Santa Paws! I love a country who loves its dogs. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!