The Wolf at the Door

“The world breaks everyone, and then some become strong at the broken places.”

 -Earnest Hemingway

 

October 31

My husband receives a call from the doctor who has his biopsy results. The small lump at his jawline is not uncommon- the doctor has been optimistic up until now – cavalier even- but it turns out that his is not benign at all. It is a rare cancer of the parotid gland.

We are about to find out that getting a cancer diagnosis causes one to enter the stages of grief. First stop: denial.  How can this be?  He is healthy.  His medical reports have always been perfect. He is active, a young fifty-five and never felt better.   

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I’ve forgotten all about Halloween and now it’s getting dark, the time that little ones will start showing up at our door, looking for treats. We have no candy and are in no mood for visitors. We turn out most of the lights and sit in the near-dark living room, allowing this new reality to sit with us.  We’ve kept the trick-or-treaters at bay, but we are not alone. There is a wolf at the door, and it is Cancer.

I call our daughters and deliver the news.

My husband is very concerned about disrupting mine and the girls’ lives. Always confident, capable and available, he feels he is failing us with this new and shocking title: cancer patient.  Usually such a logical man, this makes little sense. Of course he did not choose this, no one does, and all we care about is him getting better. But the love and protection he has always given us, above and beyond what is expected, is one of the things I love about him. And now I want to protect him, to cure him, to save him. I am simultaneously aware of my inner strength and my mortal limitations.
November 8

It is our 31st wedding anniversary and also the day of my husband’s surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor as well as many lymph nodes in his neck. The doctors call it a neck dissection, but my husband prefers to call it a neck fillet. Even in his current state, he maintains a bit of his sense of humor. I am relieved.  The past week has been emotionally rough to say the least, but we find reasons to laugh too.

 

November 22 

We follow through on our plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at our home.  It is a day of family and food and also of forgetting, for a few minutes at a time, that we are awaiting the next day’s pathology report.
November 23

 We stop at the second floor of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We are fortunate to be just an hour drive away from such a reputable treatment center. We ride the elevator to the second floor.  “Welcome to the land of the fucked”, my husband says as he looks around.

The oncologist is young, impeccably groomed and impossibly thin. He’s also friendly and kind but maintains the necessary level of detachment.  He delivers the pathology report. It has been a successful surgery. No facial nerves were damaged.  But cancer was found in one of the thirty-one lymph nodes that were removed. We discuss treatment options.
November 25

I gather books and food; I read and cook and freeze and clean. My husband makes calls and fills out paperwork. He deals with insurance details and prepares for his leave of absence from work. He is a pilot and I wonder if the radiation from the cockpit has contributed to this misfortune. Friendly skies my ass.  I make a mental note to research this.

We update the people closest to us. We are grateful for their kindness, and for the resources that we have to get through this great challenge as best we can.

 

December 14

Treatment begins. There will be six weeks of daily radiotherapy plus weekly chemotherapy. We have had every discussion, imagined every scenario, asked every question.

The technician brings me back to the room with my husband so I can see the radiotherapy equipment. They place the custom-made mask on his face and lay him down on the table. A giant machine looms above, like something out of Star Trek. The technician is explaining things to me, being both thoughtful and clinical, just like the oncologist.  I glance over at the table again, at my husband strapped down now, and my eyes start to fill. I silently demand of myself not to cry before I look back at the man who has been giving me the low- down on radiation. I cannot make his job harder, I think.  I cannot make any of this any harder.

 

December 25

Our daughters, sons-in-law and baby granddaughters are all gathered at our home. We are genuinely happy, our hearts full. My husband has a few days off from treatment, which feels like a gift.
January 1

One more month of treatment.  It will get progressively more painful from here, affecting his teeth, his mouth, his swallowing. I was made for hard things, but watching a loved one suffer is not one of them. I want to curl up in the fetal position at the thought of his pain, but mostly because of the shadow of uncertainty that Cancer has cast upon his life. I gather my strength though, doing my best to stay in each moment. I recall the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now: “Whatever your present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”

Cancer arrived at the end of 2018, unannounced and unwelcome, an intruder in our lives. With all the love and strength and hope we can muster, along with all that modern medicine can offer, I believe we will send Cancer away. I picture my husband and myself, our amazing family, thoughtful friends, and the team of medical personnel, leaning on the door, all of us with all our might. We lock the door.

I believe the new year will bring healing, life, and glorious days.  I will welcome those moments, those days, eagerly, as if I had chosen them. God knows I have.

 

– Dana Laquidara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Ways to Calm a Highly Sensitive Nervous System

20141010_100545 lake pic turning leavesA Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is someone with the genetic trait of high sensory processing sensitivity. HSPs make up about 15% of the population, and have uncommonly sensitive nervous systems.

To me, the theory that many children who have attention deficit disorder are HSPs whose brains are trying to cope with the onslaught of sensory input, makes a whole lot of sense but is a topic for another blog post.

When the volume is turned up on the already very stimulating world, what is a highly sensitive person to do for relief? As you can imagine, or as you know if you are an HSP, this sensory overload can be overwhelming.

Here are my two broad and general tricks-of-the-trait, none of these ideas invented by yours truly, but rather adopted as habits that I’ve been naturally drawn to for their positive effects:

  1. Limit substances that negatively alter your nervous system. This includes caffeine which HSPs tend to be very sensitive to. Hello stimulant. If I have too much coffee, my heart beats out of my chest, I become anxious, irritable and generally want to jump out of my own skin. And by too much, I mean more than a cup or cup and a half in a day. Many HSPs need to avoid caffeine altogether.  As I understand it, alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant, so you get to be anxious and depressed if you consume enough of it.  Unfortunately, many HSPs overuse alcohol as a way to numb their central nervous systems and obviously this can lead to much bigger problems over time. Personally, I just feel bad if I consume more than one or two drinks; the brain fog that sets in almost immediately, the feeling of poison in my body, the tiredness to follow.  And I always feel better and clearer with none. The same goes for junk food.
  1. Increase activities that calm your nervous system. Exercise, yoga, meditation, time in nature ( or any quiet time). Highly sensitive people can enjoy stimulating environments such as weddings or parties, but we just crave less of it, and need to recharge in silence more often. After a certain number of hours, if I am in a noisy, chaotic or otherwise stimulating environment, I will find myself “checking out”. I’ve hit a wall. I cannot take in any more. And if my physical space is very limited (think a crowded bus or a concert, for instance), my tolerance level drops significantly.

 

There are many gifts to sensitivity, yet another topic for a new post.  But these gifts cannot be realized unless we are tuned in to our bodies, our feelings, our own needs. And when we do tune in and honor our unique temperament, not only are we living with more integrity and peace, but we also have more to offer this noisy, beautiful world.

~ Dana

A Farm Fantasy

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Many years ago, I went through a phase when I sort of wished I lived on a farm. But when I dug deep into this desire, I realized I only thought of “farm” as a noun, and not as a verb.

To farm – the verb- would mean getting up at the crack of dawn and feeding or milking various animals, collecting eggs and gathering vegetables and swatting mosquitoes. And that’s just the first hour of the day.

I figured that I really just liked the idea of a farm – the adorable red barn (that would never need repairs) and the acres of lush green with little animals grazing (it would never snow) and most of all the farm fresh food that I would turn into healthy, delicious meals at the end of every day.

I would love the scenery, the spaciousness, the sunsets, the quiet.  It would be a great place to raise our children, I thought. The nature!  The freedom! 

But I wanted a farm without actually having to farm.  I’ve had a bad experience with chickens.  I like to spend my early mornings writing. I don’t exactly love getting dirty.

“I think you want to be a farmer’s wife”, my husband said.

“Probably not even that”,  I responded. ” I have issues with canning.”

Once I tried fermenting some vegetables. When it was time for me to loosen the lids on the jars I’d carefully placed in the basement, I could not get them off.  I was home alone with my future sauerkraut  and simply could not get the lids off, not matter how I tried.

I worried the glass jars would explode. I imagined shards of glass and shreds of cabbage bursting violently into the air, the smell of vinegar and rotting vegetables taking over our home.

I called my husband to ask if they might indeed explode.  He has a chemical engineering degree, so obviously he should know.

He told me they wouldn’t.  I didn’t think he sounded sure enough, so I kept a safe distance, treating the jars like angry house guests that might blow their tops, quite literally, at any moment.

***

I’ve long since given up my  farm fantasy.   I can buy locally grown produce at farmer’s markets, at least in the summertime.   I can find beauty all around me, in the plants and trees and art. It is easy for me to seek out quiet. I continue to spend my early mornings writing.

Occasionally, I still wonder what it might’ve been like to raise our daughters so close to nature, on some vast piece of land that feeds the soul. But I’ve also wondered what it would’ve been like to raise them in the city, surrounded by culture and diversity and subway systems.

Alas, every choice means saying no to something else.

And every farm needs a farmer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Smoothie Habit?

Dana: Being on the other side of fifty makes one acutely aware of the power of habit. One day you realize that everything you have or don’t have, the good and the bad, are the sum of all your choices and habits, leading up to this moment. Everything counts, and everything affects everything else.

Habits make up a life. 

It’s been said that habits aren’t eliminated, but rather replaced with better ones.  So for the sake of health, and energy, and wanting to be around for a long time for my precious granddaughters,  as well as my three daughters and the rest of my beloveds, I want to fill my life with good habits. I want to replace any low-energy habits with high-energy habits.

20180524_155558The good weather brings with it my craving for ice cream. The problem is, the five-year-old me would have ice cream every day, all spring and summer long. Fortunately, the more mature me is in charge here (well, at least most of the time) and I’ve found the habit to replace the urge to Eat All the Ice Cream.

Smoothies! Acai bowls! Delicious cold-pressed juice! 20171209_105358

I am obsessed. 

I won’t load you up with recipes here because, well,  this isn’t a food blog, and the internet is full of great recipes at your disposal. Instead, I’ll just say that any combination of these things go into my smoothies: spinach, kale, Vega powder, acai, bananas, berries of all types, coconut milk, cocoa, ground flaxseed & chia seeds.

20170722_094227And they are delicious! And fun! I can choose my flavor, just like at the ice cream stand. I can make them at home (or order them out). Smoothie making can get creative, be served up to others, enjoyed outside in the sunshine, for breakfast, for a mid afternoon snack, or an evening “special drink” .

Have I mentioned acai bowls? Acai is a super-fruit harvested from palm trees found around the Amazon River basin of South America. I order it freeze-dried from Amazon Prime. Amazon delivers from the Amazon, apparently. It is loaded- I mean, loaded– with nutrients. I can actually feel my cells pulsing in ecstasy when consuming it. Dramatic I know, but high-vibe food  feels dramatic. It feels like vibrancy.

It feels like sweet rebellion against all the messages that tell us-  especially women-  that we will feel heavy, sluggish, and out of ambition, passion, or libido in middle age.

Ha! I actually feel better now than I ever have. Why? Because my habits have gotten better. Not amazing. Far from perfect.  But I finally realize that every single one counts, in every area of life.

I’ve got my share of course corrections to do here on this side of five decades.  But the rewards it seems, are sweeter than ice cream.

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* If you want to make something like an acai bowl, but do not want to bother finding, ordering or paying for acai ?  Cranberries are a great runner-upper, the most similar in nutrients to acai fruit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncluttered

Dana: It has indeed occurred to us that we have not posted in while.  Since Brittni’s identical twin girls (my granddaughters) have been born, things have been busy- as in all-hands-on-deck busy.

Let’s just say Brittni’s hands are a tad full. And so is her heart. And mine. And all the hearts of all who love these precious babies. 22555514_10214107010612056_8322138864080415592_o

Somehow, in October, Brittni managed to design a pumpkin for her fantastic seasonal art job with the JACK-O-LANTERN SPECTACULAR.  (I don’t have the photo of this years pumpkin; this particular photo is from a previous year’s drawing but is a favorite).  Have you heard that highly sensitive people are often also highly artistic? I’m kind of blown away by the creative work of the pumpkin artists, year after year. And one of them happens to be my daughter.

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Other than that artistic escapade, it’s been pretty much all babies all the time for Brittni, as is the case with new twin parents, and especially for nursing moms.  Double the joy and love and cuteness – and half the rest! The sleep deprivation is real, people.

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My husband and I got away for our anniversary- 30 years! – and had a fabulous time.  We are pictured here holding superfood smoothies from Newport Rhode Island’s JUICED cafe.   Just as some people like to scope out the brewery or best restaurant in a city, I like to find the cold-pressed juice and smoothie cafes. The one I am holding is called their Turmeric Turbo and is made with turmeric, pineapple, carrots, lemon, ginger and banana. It was delicious and left me so energized. You can bet I’ll be trying this recipe at home. IMG_20171104_111216_322

Last month I wrote about  Priorities  and this month I am more committed than ever to keeping my focus on my top three: Family, Health, and Writing. Honestly, that is all I have time for. These three areas of life keep me busy for sure, but in a clear and satisfying way. They are all interconnected for me- when I feel healthy and vibrant, I have more to give my family and my writing flows as well.  When I spend time with my family, as well as adequate time alone, I am inspired to write and to stay healthy. And when I write, I naturally fall into healthy habits. My life feels busy right now, but it does not feel cluttered.

And for me, uncluttered is a must.

How about you?