Sunday, November 23, 2014

to live each day, or: "we're sorry, it's chemotherapy..."



I have learned to live each day as it comes,
and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow.
It is the dark menace of the future
that makes cowards of us.
- Dorothy Day

---

This week brought a red sunrise. and together with it, this quote from a name-sister of mine, Dorothy Day. I didn't know about her before.

It also brought difficult news: the hopsital called, with the the results of the Oncotype test. It's an extra  test that was made to figure out if in my case, after the operation, it would be enough to use radiation as treatment. But unfortunately, that is not not the case: the test results strongly suggest to do chemotherapy. Here's the result of the text: "The cancer or DCIS has a high risk of recurrence, and the benefits of chemotherapy are likely to be greater than the risks of side effects."

I somehow had hoped and thought that it wouldn’t turn out like that, that they bring a “no chemotherapy” suggestion. On Thursday, I went there to learn about the details. On the other hand, it’s therapy, helping to even the odds that the cancer has left cells that will grow again. still, it will mean a painful time of going through health troubles to avoid health troubles.

It’s not what anyone would want really, but on the other hand, it’s helping to create a safer ground to live on afterwards. And the medicine and the way the treatment works has developed a lot. But then, no one can tell how each individual person will react to chemotherapy. For some the side effects are stronger, for others less so. They will do as much as they can to make the side effect tolerable. Still, it's scary, and hard to grasp.

What is sure is that I will lose my hair. But it will grow back after some months. So this also will mean, that I turn into a different me, for a while. I will try to see it as an experience of letting go. Letting go of the normal state of things. Letting go of my hair. Letting go of the assumption that these things happen, you read about them in the news, but it’s still something that happens in another place. Not here. Not to yourself...



To accompany me during this time, I started to read Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart”. And in good coincidence, Satya from the Smallstones sent a mailing, they have an offer for their e-course “Writing Towards Healing”. Which felt like just the right theme for me. I registered this week, and received the first mails already, and an accompanying booklet as download. The first mail started with these lines:
 "Welcome. Today we begin, in kindness.
Enjoy your journey over the next 28 days. Go gently."
Which might become my guiding line for the next weeks: go gently, in kindness.

I am just so glad now that we still can go to Lanzarote. Chemotherapy is a longterm treatment, they will start when I am back. It's good I know about it now, before the island, so that I can mentally prepare myself for it. And the island, time, it will be double special now.

Also, I will try to follow the advice from my name-sister: To live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. I tried that on Friday already, when I had the date for changing my car to winterwheels. I drove to the service station in Kirchheim. I left the car there, and went for a walk through the town centre. The last time I’ve been there was with my sister, a month ago – and walking through town together, we had seen that they renovated the town gallery, Together, we visited the gallery floor, which was about landscapes, in a modern way, in an installation that works with layers and reflections. Even standing outside, you see a multi-layer image, with the city itself reflected and turning into a part of the installation. The title of it is “Land, Stadt, Fragment” – “land, town, fragment”. Here’s an image:


Walking out of it again, I noticed that there also is a town museum included in the building now, in the upper floors. So I went there yesterday, and picked the “oldest” floor, the one that reaches back to the stone age and beyond. I was the only visitor at that time, and the woman who is in charge of the floor walked up after some minutes, and welcomed me, and asked if I had questions or if there was a special topic that interested me. 


We started to talk about the fossiles, and from there, she guided me through the floor, giving so many insights and also larger views on the past – it was like a private guided visit. So special. A part of the floor is about the Celtic times, with a 3d-model of the “Heidegraben”, the celtic settlement area that I visited on the Alb. She loved the fact that I’ve been there, that I had seen the sight. And I appreciated that she was so engaged – others might have just kept their place when a visitor arrives. And the building is beautiful, too. The whole city centre is, with its old buildings and the historic roots they have. 

But as these days, nothing seems to be easy. When I went back to the service station to pick up my car, they told me that they were sorry, but they couldn’t change the tires, as something had gone wrong with the delivery from the depot where they put all winter wheels.. and they hadn’t checked before. So they had removed my summer wheels, and only then noticed the mistake. And I felt like: “Oh gosh, can anything go right at the moment?!“ Driving back home on summer wheels, my anger and frustration was the dominant feeling: it felt almost like a "lost" and "gone wrong" morning. 

But now looking back, what remains are the museum moments, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone there to change tires. Being at the museum also felt like a prelude to the island time to come. And it was an exploring time, a larger bubble of time in this week that is mostly about preparing and learning to deal with the weeks to come, and at the same time, about getting the normal stuff done: winterwheels, taxes, laundry, deadlines, stuff, ... all those things that don't disappear only because you happen to go through difficult times. All those things that summed up, are life.


**

Links
I now started to mark all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag, you can click here to read them: C is for cancer, and for courage, too 

The Dorothy Day quote is from the mindfulbalance blog

And here's the link to Writing Towards Healing


Saturday, November 22, 2014

angular / metal / patterns

This week brought a good twist to the photo challenges: the new photo friday theme is "Metal". And some hours later, at wordpress, the new theme went online, too: "Angular". Together, they first made me remember a fence photo, and later, in a combination of themes, the Eiffel tower.
Here are both images, which now also could fit the themes "Patterns" and "Textures":




more "metal" photos at photo friday



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

tiny global forever



The photo friday theme this week is "tiny".

The answer to the challenge... arrived in my mailbox. tiny and simply beautiful. From "Der kleine Prizne" ("Little Prince") to the floral postmark "Tränendes Herz" to the US advent postmark with the curious words "Global" / "Forever".

More tiny moments from around the world: photo friday

Monday, November 17, 2014

hope + fear, reading journeys + real journeys, and walking step by step



After the late-summer-like days, the real November now finally arrived with morning fog and with overcast skies, and with wind that lets more and more leafs sail down to the ground.

Somehow in tune with the change of season, it's one month now that things turned, that I moved from healthy person to person-dealing-with-cancer in a matter of a day. It is still weird. And even the days that are more normal are different - like Wednesday, when I was in the city for work meet-ups. It was good to see the ones I work with, to be out there. And there's this psychological effect, that work gives a feeling of things going their normal way. So much is in the mind: thinking you are healthy, when your body knows another truth already on cellular level. Thinking that things are normal as the outer circumstances feel normal. and on a more general level: thinking positive. Or getting wrapped in fear, and feeling overwhelmed by all. Which could happen easily now, especially when you start to think of all the things that might happen, all the troubles that might be waiting for you.

It also made me think that working freelance, with all the flexibility and freedom it brings, of course has a downside when your body happens to follow the road of illness: you can't call in sick, knowing that then simply someone else will do your share of work: there is no such person. You need to find ways to get the work done. So if things are difficult on a bodily level, it also can mean that it's at this vulnerable point that your work and income turns unsure, too. So far, things are still running okay for me from that perspective. But I am more aware of this, and on the other side, of the fact that here in Germany, health insurance is safe ground: your insurance company won't (and can't) let you down when the situation gets troubled and expensive.

*

After the work time, I was in the clinic again at the end of last week for a check. Driving there starts to feel more normal, too. Below an image of the clinic area, taken the first time I went there. The sculpture always makes me think of a spacecraft, and of a skyward rusty hope, grounded in the earth, in 4 little spots.



I was a bit worried when I arrived at the clinic - the reason I went was to check if the healing is developing okay, as in the days before, the operation wound had been both more sensitive, and the tissue around felt a bit harder. But the doctor was pleased with the healing. Actually it turned out, the fact that there is more activity in the area and the hardening is indeed part of the healing. “The operation wound, it is like an inflammation for the body, but without bacteria,” he explained to me. Which gave me a better idea of what my body and the cells there are doing there right now.

It was interesting to notice how the same pricking feeling of the tissue now feels like “Okay,  this is healing”, and before the visit it felt like “Oh dear, it feels as if there is something wrong.”

I also asked about our planned island holiday. So far, the doctors were hesitant with making a decision, and chances had been that I would have to cancel. But now, with the healing turning out well, and with no other complications from start, he now gave his okay to go. So it was double good news. Driving back home, I felt tears in my eyes, both from the worry, and from the relief.

While driving, I also thought about the journeys I have done so far, the places I have been able to visit, the roads I have been able to walk, both speaking geographically and on a deeper level. That it might be a good idea to not postpone life plans for "later", or the time of retirement, it's a notion I had since a long time: you never can know. (And nice that just right now, the weekly photo challenge is "Achievement" - I added a photo from my journey through India: a moment of being on a boat on the Ganges, for sunrise at Varanasi. and here's the collected stream)




Another thought I had repeatedly in the last weeks: that there always will be books. That if I really have to cancel this or other journeys, and if I have to spend longer time in bed due to treatments, I can go on a reading journey, revisiting places I have been to, see them from another perspective, and explore new places.

It's also a thing that lightened up the hospital time: it was both a time of reflection and of reading for me. I went there with a small bag of books, which included 2 of my longtime companion soul books with me, Pema Chodron "The Wisdom of no Escape", and Hermann Hesse's "Small Pleasures". And here are the other books:



The one in the middle, "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" is from the booker prize shortlist. It's a touching and thought-provoking read about the human condition, psychology, and experiments. Here's a guardian review that gives a good picture: "A psychologist father's animal-human behaviour experiment on his children has heartbreaking and hilarious repercussions.... if any other book has done it as exhilaratingly as the achingly funny, deeply serious heart-breaker that is Fowler's 10th novel, and made it ring true for the whole of mankind, I've yet to read it."

It's also a book that tells about our inner curiousity and longing to understand how things work, how one thing effects another. How we all are interconnected, influenced by all that is beside ourselves, both on a conscious and unconscious level.

The other two books are from German authors: Christa Wolf "Leibhaftig" - "In the Flesh" is a story set in a hospital, with the illness both a personal time of pain, but also an analogy to society. here are some collected reviews, at the literary salon complete review. This line touched me, about Wolf and the sick writer in the story: " Words are all she has, and this stream of them that makes up the novella is the hold she needs to get through the ordeal."

The third is also a writer's book, about writing and travellig: Sigrid Damm's diary-style account of visiting Ireland.

While pondering on journeys and books, about reading journeys and real journeys, a plan surfaced: if I won't be able to go to the island, I could do a world trip in books... and return to the 7 continent challenge. Or rather: revive the idea for 2015. Now I think: I could / should do that anyway, whether I go or not.




Beyond all those themes, I am still waiting for the results of the next tests. Maybe they arrive this week, in time for the cancer-board meeting of the doctors. Or maybe not. I try to get more patient, and see it all as step-by-step journey. Now the healing. And the island time. And then, the results. And the treatment plan. And then, the treatments -
Step by step. Just like a journey.  You have a rough plan, and then you go from there. First one place, then the next.

**

More  Links
PS: I now started to put mark all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag, you can click here to read them: C is for cancer, and for courage, too

And more reading notes are online here: World Books 2015 - reading notes

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November circles



Circles

White circle of moon
_____Over November-red tree

Leaves that cling, like I do
_____To a season ending

While the sun
_____Is rising once more

As always



the 2 sky moments, they are from last weekend's morning walk to the bakery, which happened to be right at sunrise/moonset time. so i first went to catch the moon, and then noticed the sunrise reflection. 

more sky moments from around the world: skywatch friday

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

bliss, freedom + (c)ancelled journeys

Despite the fact that it is November, the skies this weekend were blue and open and sunny, with a touch of late-summer. It’s such a gift, those unexpected mild days. I went for a drive and a walk this weekend. All trees changed their colors now. Here's an image:



The glowing colours and the sunny moments, they also fit with the new photo Friday theme: “Blissful". Here's another photo:



The other bliss of this weekend: reading. Or rather: sitting outside, in the terrace, and "armchair"-travel. Or rather: "terrace"-travel, and realize that I picked a rather timely book at the library, mainly because of the cover and the title "The Forbidden Journey" ("Die verbotene Reise"). Turns out, the book tells the story of 2 young students in East Berlin, and the way they found a way to take a forbidden trip. It's also a reminder of how totalitarian life in East Germany was. Decisions like: Will I be able to study? Where will I work? Will I be allowed to travel? (Which mostly was reduced to the "friend" countries of East Germany anyway).  - They all depended on the state. And even when you were a "good" citizen, things could turn difficult when another member of your family was "bad" and tried to flee.

It's now 25 years ago that all this changed. The historical celebration of the "Mauerfall" of Berlin, it was the main theme in the news this weekend. I watched the final parts of the event, with the balloons that were placed along the former wall, and were released in the evening, one after another. The symbol of freedom: to be able to follow your own way. Freedom. Such a huge word. Watching the images made me remember my own trips to Berlin, and also read and repost the stories and moments from there.

The other book was: The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath. This modern-classic. A student story, too. With the overwhelming image what freedom in our century also can mean, if you get lost in choices and fears, and aren't able to find your way:
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. ... I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest...


And I am reading a real classic: Goethe's journal of his trip to Italy: "Italian Journey". I picked it as a book to take a long a short trip to Italy at the end of October. Which now, of course, didn't happen. Cancelled by Cancer. I shouldn't play wordgames with this, but that's what it comes down to.
The book is available as free text, and it's a beautiful read, personal and humorous, it's Goethe's journal of his journey to Italy in 1786, starting with the crossing of the Alps, and leading to Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Sicily.

It was good, to have an almost "normal" weekend, without everything spinning around the c-word. It's also a step towards looking for a new balance of things and themes.

The last week and this week are still about healing from the operation, but also about  picking up work again, step by step. It's also about getting accustomed to being in this different state, of nothing-really-sure.

The current state is: waiting again. Last week, I received news from the clinic that the results are there earlier. I went there at the end of the week, together with my partner. It was good that he was there with me, both for support, and as it was about a lot of information. They had the fine results of the tissue analysis, all the things of type, size, character, key figures, responsiveness to hormones etc etc…

It mainly looks good: the tumor itself was small, capsuled, non-invasive, responsive to hormones, only mildly aggressive… expect for one key number which doesn’t fit into the picture. So what the doctors are going to do now is a genetic test. This is a rather new method called Oncotest, available only since a few years, and so far only offered by 2 laboratories in the US. So now a piece of tissue of my body is travelling in an orange box to the US. The results of the test will consist more data and key figures, which hopefully give a fuller picture and make it clearer which treatment is the right one. The main question is: chemo therapy yes or no (which basically comes down to markers and statistics…


It's not sure yet when the test results are there. And it's also still unsure what happens to the island time we booked at the end of the month. We probably will have to cancel that. Which would be sad. But there is still a slice of hope that we can go.

Sometimes it all still feels unreal. 4 weeks ago I was a healthy person (or at least felt like that, and thought i would be), and could just go happily about and make plans. And now suddenly there is a question mark looming above each plan, and the one thing that is clear is: this will be a longer walk through shadows and treatments. But also, now suddenly simple things like being able to go for a walk feel like a gift, more like before.

**

More & Links
PS: I now started to put mark all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag, you can click here to read them: C is for cancer, and for courage, too

And more reading notes are online here: World Books 2015 - reading notes

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Moments from Berlin: Berlin Wall, Berlin Stories



Berlin - city of the wall, city that once was capital, then was split, and now is capital again, built on layers of history. As someone who grew up in the South-West of Germany, and without relatives in the "Osten", the other side of Germany felt almost as far away as another continent. A school trip brought the first crossing into this other, same land. I still remember the bus drive along the "Transitstrecke", the border controls, and the strange afternoon we spent in East Berlin, wondering how it would be to grow up there, in this other world, beyond the wall. 

If you walk through Berlin these days, you will have to actively look for the remaining bits and pieces of the wall. But in the maps of my old school books, Germany is still 2 countries. 

After visiting the city again years later, I wrote about it in Berlin short stories and photo blogs. Here's the one that reaches from the time before the wall to the time after the wall:

**


Four Berlins, or: I am (t)here
A string of memories

October 1980
"I've never been there, in Berlin," I say, my finger pointed towards the TV screen, as if Berlin was right there, behind the glass. Chrissie shrugs. Her grandparents live there, but the place is no big deal to her. Nothing is. I am not sure what to say next, so I shrug, too, and take another spoonful of ice cream.
"It's a grand city," Lola explains.
Lola is Chrissie's mother. It was her idea to watch TV, to munch vanilla ice cream, there, on her French bed, together with the Siamese cats.
The scenes on the screen are dark, the persons are all adults. The story is one of violence. While the vanilla ice melts on my tongue, I watch a blonde woman enter a restaurant. There is a man waiting for her at one of the tables. At the counter, there are soldiers. Suddenly there are swearwords shouted in a language I don't understand. Then a fight starts. I try to figure out what's going on but am interrupted by Lola, who turns to me and Chrissie. "Get out," she orders angrily. "These obscenities are not for your ears."
Chrissie shrugs, picks up her ice, and leaves the room. I take another look at the screen and follow her. The Siamese cats are allowed to stay on the French bed, though, to keep Lola company.

*

*

July 1986
She ignores us. I am sitting at a table of a restaurant in Berlin, together with six classmates. We are ready to order, but the waitress pretends we aren't there. Like the others, I am unsure how to deal with the situation. It's as if we had stumbled into the wrong classroom without a teacher present. So we decide to leave, the money we need to spend still in our pockets: 15 Ostmark each, the amount you have to exchange at the socialistic rate of 1 to 1 at the Berlin-Berlin border, even when you only visit the other side for a mere two and a half hours.
We walk back to the Alexanderplatz, to the meeting point. At a book shop, we stop, trying once more to spend our money. Yet the books look as tedious as the ones we have to read for the literature class in school: plain coloured covers outside, too many words on too thin paper inside, and the authors, a far step from the current bestseller lists.
There is still an hour of time left when we arrive back at the Alexanderplatz, but most of the others are there already, too. We are sitting on the steps of a fountain that is guarded by stone snakes, waiting for the bus to arrive, to take us back to our hotel in the Westside. Overhyped and dazed, we pull the unused bills of Ostmark from our pockets and start to turn them into planes, into boats that drown in the snake fountain.

*


*

April 1998
And now what. I'm standing at the sidewalk, in front of an office building that is made of glass, metal and concrete. The project meeting ended earlier than planned, due to a phone call of a team member who forwarded the news of yet another major problem that has to be taken care of not only as soon as possible, but immediately. Thus, after frantic preparations, important TOPs, endless To-Dos, and a rushed goodbye, I suddenly find myself with time on my hands. One hour of unscheduled emptiness. When the taxi arrives, I tell the driver to take me to the city centre instead of the airport.
"Kurfürstendamm," the taxi driver says.
"Ja," I answer.
Twenty minutes later, the taxi stops. I am there. It's late afternoon. I walk down the street, together with five thousand other persons. I pass MediaStore, McDonalds, KarstadtSport, NikeTown. I pass a stone church. The tower of the church is broken, has been broken since 55 years. It stands there, a clock on it, timeless.
At the Bahnhof Zoo, I turn around once more to see the broken tower, then I board the bus that will take me straight to the airport. It's in that moment that I am really there, in Berlin, for a second.

*

*

May 2007
There is no way. There are rows and rows of concrete blocks, rising from tumbling ground, reaching to my hips, to my shoulders, over my head. I turn, then turn again. There is Inge somewhere, and Efrat, and there are others, couples, tour groups, school classes. We get lost, each of us in our own time and direction, in this monument. There are no words written on the blocks, no explanations given. There is not even an entry.
Yet, to my surprise, there is an exit, in the midst of the stones. I walk toward the steps that lead downstairs, maybe to a tunnel passage. When I see the sign that is attached to the door, I stop. So do the school girls who followed me.
"Is this not the exit?" one of them asks.
"No, it's just for emergencies," I explain.
One of them shakes her head in frustration. "And, how do we get out now?," she asks.
They are about the age I was when I visited Berlin, years and years ago. Back then, this Holocaust Memorial hadn't even been a plan. It had been as unimaginable as the reunion of Germany, as the Y2K-hysteria, as the terror attack of September 11th. This space, here, had been part of the death corridor, part of the wall area. Now it is part of the centre again.
I turn, and keep walking until the maze of concrete blocks shrinks again, until the ground rises, until I can see the green of the trees, the pink of Inge's shirt, the yellow of Efrat's top.
"I am here," I say.

*


*

May 2007, a day later
It's our last day together. We all will leave tomorrow, Efrat via Tegel, Inge and me via Schönefeld. Our goodbye comes in green, and is named Berliner Weisse: a beer that looks like a cocktail and is served with a straw. We clink glasses there, in this café next to a concrete fountain, next to the church with the broken tower. We take some more pictures. We are surrounded by streets, by people. It's five, the blue hour, the time of work ending, of the weekend starting.
When I look at the broken church tower, I see a sky of darkness moving in like a float. The waiters start to close the parasols.
"Let's leave," I suggest.
"You don't have to leave," the waiter assures us when we ask to pay.
"It looks like there is a storm coming," we say.
"Yes," he answers, his expression unchanged.
On the way to the s-train station, we walk past a monk who's riding a turtle. Both the monk and the turtle are frozen in motion, in metal. In front of the turtle, there's a plate.
Alles verzehrt am Ende die eine Macht: die Macht der Zeit, it states.
Everything is swallowed in the end by the one power: the power of time.
The church tower rises above us, its clock ticking silently, just like the clouds. Underground, we take the wrong direction first, but realize the mistake after the next stop. When the train reaches the surface of the city, there's hard rain falling, and it's another city, barren and grey.

*

*

July 2007
They are not there. I search through the box of 1980 photos again, but it doesn't contain the Berlin photos. There's no transit bus, no Checkpoint Charlie, no group hug, no paper boats drowning in the snake fountain. Nothing.
I should be collecting my keys, should be gone already. Instead I try the 1979 box, then the 1981 box. Again, nothing.
Irritated, I start with 1980 again.
Finally I leave, the library card in my pocket, my mind still in Berlin while I drive along the B10, while I search for a parking spot, while I invent an excuse.
In the library, I walk straight to the D-shelf. D like Dürrenmatt's Physicians, D like Dostojewski's Demons, D like Döblin's Berlin-Alexanderplatz—a book no one made us read at school.
Back home, in the garden, in Berlin, I open its pages. I sit and read, I taste the ice again. I keep searching for those lines that I wasn't supposed to hear, that I couldn't understand in 1980.

*


***

 Other Berlin links:

  • Slices - short story, online at Fictionaut: "It was one of the first things she did after they opened the wall..."
  • Berlin travel diary: with photos, notes, mails: "I also had this crazy idea to take 4 days and go to... Berlin. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

sundogs in the neighbourhood



Last week, I was on the way back home when I spotted this sky phenomenon: a halo around the sun. Also called "Sundogs". It looked unreal, and remained there for some minutes. I parked in the next possible spot to catch the picture. There also is a larger version of the photo online.

This happened about 5 minutes from where I live: a sky miracle directly in the neighbourhood.

Here's more about the sun dogs:
Sun dogs, also called mock suns or phantom suns (scientific name: parhelia / singular parhelion), are "an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a pair of bright spots on either side on the sun, often co-occurring with a luminous ring known as a 22° halo. Sun dogs are a member of a large family of halos, created by light interacting with ice crystals in the atmosphere. (More here: wiki/Sundog
Such a surprise. Earlier this year, I already spotted my first-ever sky halo, one that looks like a rainbow-colored cloud: a "Circumhorizontal Arc". While figuring out what the cloud was, I learned about the types of halos, so this time at least I knew that this was a natural phenomenon.

Here's the photo of the Circumhorizontal Arc:


That was June 27. And the sundog was: October 27... seems like someone in the sky likes to play on 27ths.

*
more skies: skywatch friday