Tuesday, July 28, 2015

radiation countdown + hairy identity matters + shadowlight

The countdown is on: just 5 more dates, then I have completed the time of radiation! Next Monday is the final date - and then I have completed the hardest parts of the cancer treatments and can start to recover.

My hair is sweet and follows the timing, it now reached a (very short) first haircut length. I actually had started to go out of the house without wig a couple of times,  feeling okay and comfortable with my short hair - and the high temperatures and humid weather added to that, making me feel fresh when going "topless" without wig. Not that this would be a hair length I have dreamed of, but rather in a “so this is how I look now – I was worried about it, but actually, I like it when I look in the mirror”-way.

Knowing Pema Chodron, the buddhist nun, from her videos does help, too, and gives it an additional positive element. Also, I try to see everything as an experience, and try to accept it as it is, and more so, try to live it positively.

I wasn't sure when the right time for a first cut would be, but then my fellow patient Rachel went to the hairdresser last week and called, saying: “Doro, you have to go, too! It is so soothing for the female soul to be there, especially now with the new short hair.”

So I went to the hairdresser, the one where I bought the wig, and she pampered me: we put color back in my hair. And she took care of my eyebrows, bringing them into shape, and adding color, too. The color made all the eyebrows that are growing again visible – so many!

It feels both good and strange, though, to look in the mirror now: such a difference with the color. I am still a bit shy about it, but here's a photo that I like:

And photos: the one on top shows a hair curl that I cut as memory before chemo started, and the bits of hair my hairdresser cut in my neck.

Right now, I feel sometimes-happy, sometimes-sad. With the color back, I now look like I have a real haircut, and not longer like chemo-hair. On the other hand, my hair looks like it used to do - but just by color, not by length and feeling. So seeing me with the first real haircut since ages makes me go alternatively “hah!” and “huh?” when I look in the mirror. I guess it will take some days until it feels natural.... ah, to have my curls back right now.

From hair to the healing question
The new haircut also sparked a question: two times, I met friends by chance who thought that I am now finished with treatment from the way I look, and who asked: "You are back to health now, yes?" It made me realize that the new haircut and color makes me look healthy. The question remains, though: am I? There is still the radiation that is going on, and afterwards the recovery from it.

The radiation, it will be an important milestone to finish, but the treatment won’t end there – there will be hormone therapy afterwards, which will block possible growth of remaining tumor cells. And again, this is a therapy that is coming with possible and likely side-effects. It is tiring just to start to write about it, and I really wished the radiation was the ending point to all treatment. But then, and I know that on a rational level, it is good to be doing all things that are possible, one measure after another: the operation, the chemotherapy, the radiation, the hormone therapy.

“Think of it as a protection shield”, Rachel said to me. “Don’t dread it, but be positive about it: every day, you can actively protect yourself so that this terrible illness can’t come back.”

It’s a good image: a shield. Which will be charged on a daily basis, ongoing, for the next 5 years. To protect.

The really difficult thing about cancer is: there is no way to tell if there are any tumor cells remaining. So you do what you can, to be on the safe side. Maybe there haven't been any cells remaining after the operation, maybe they caught all there. But you can't know that. It's like dealing with a tiny, tiny ghost that doesn't even cast a shadow.

Those thoughts brought me back to my diagnosis, and with the upcoming milestone doc dates that come with the end of radiation and the start of hormone therapy, I thought it might be an idea to go through all those key figures again. I once did this for some of them, but there are many, and with time I started to mix them up again. So that was good, to get into this theme again. Will blog more about that when hormone therapy starts, but here is a link: cancer diagnosis / staging.

While googling, I also found a lovely video, which is on the uplifting side - and yes, when it started to grow back, my own hair looked a bit like Amelia's, thin and fluffy:

Later I had to smile: guess all the hair reflecions and fuzzing are a substitute for the deeper anxiety that is coming with words like cancer, staging, therapy. Or when looking at the skin irritations from radiation which are supposed to "heal in a while". Easier to fuzz about hair, right?

I am still so glad that there is art therapy, to help to find one's way through all the challenges and changes. In the last session, we did experimental paintings with aquarell colors and ink. And I added an extra layer of experimental by taking photos in a place of shadow and light:

When looking for a shadow quote, I arrived at this beautiful quote from Rilke, which also is a good ending note for this blog post:
 “So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Previous Blog Posts
Here are the links to the previous blog posts:

Monday, July 27, 2015

wild reading notes: a snail memoir + a wildlife biologist life (or: slow does it)

Currently Reading...
I recently read 2 books that were about nature, but from very different viewpoints: the first let me see snails in a different light, and the second gave a peek into the work/life of biologists,

“The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Elisabeth Tova Bailey is a journalist who dealt with long-term illness and in that time, started to learn more about the life and habits of snails. The snail she get to know was a gift from a friend, and at first it felt like an odd gift, until it became more and more of a fascinating and vivid element that kept inspiring her through the difficult weeks and months of her illness. It's one of those cases were the troubling time opens the view to elements of life and nature that usually are too slow and boring for us to notice:
"While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches as the snail takes up residence on her nightstand. Intrigued by its molluscan anatomy, cryptic defenses, clear decision making ability, hydraulic locomotion, and mysterious courtship activities, Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence."
Reading the book made me think of Susan Sontag's book "Illness as metaphor" that i read in December (here's more), and her quote on the other side of life - and how that other side is one with a different concept of time, and of mobility:
“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” 
(and looking for the quote, i arrived at this awesome trailer: Regarding Susan Sontag)

But back to the book: reading it brought a different feeling for snails - so far, I've mostly seen them as trouble for the garden flowers. But reading more about them made me wonder how the world looks for a snail. And that they are an important part of our ecosystem.

There's more about the snail book on the author website, including interview links and a snail video:


The other book is the memoir of wildlife biologist Scott Lillie, who writes  about his time out there in the field, and gives interesting insights to the work of wildlife biologists: 

Tents, Tortoises, and Tailgates: My Life as a Wildlife Biologist by Scott Lillie

Here's the book description: "Field biologist sounds like a romantic job, a job people often think how lucky one must be to have. At times, it is exactly what people think: seeing amazing and remote places, holding cute and fuzzy animals, and trying to save the environment. But those moments are the rewards after hours of grueling work and surviving some of the harshest environmental conditions nature can throw at you. Some people do it their whole lives, others only a few years. I have been working as a field biologist for nearly ten years. This is my story, from face to face encounters with rattlesnakes and mountain lions in the burning deserts of the Southwest, to dealing with snow, ice, and tornadoes in the Midwest."

So in some ways, it's a book about being out there, but also a book about patience. And it is fascinating to read about work of such a different kind, and to read about all those who try to protect the evironment and the habitats of wild animals. I already had a glimpse of that when reading the nemoir by Meera Lee Sethi a while ago - she worked for a summer in Sweden as volunteer in a bird observatory: Mountainfit.

Reading Links:

For more reading notes, click here: life as a journey with books 

reading list by regions is online at: World Reads by country

Saturday, July 25, 2015

moon moment + shooting stars upcoming

Since days, the moon keeps hiding - I finally looked up moonrise and moonset-times, to learn that currently it is mostly a daymoon. But once, it stood right there at dusk, just above the street lamp.

The main sky event of this week, though, were: shooting stars! On tuesday evening, the sky was all clear, and the high temperatures of the day were still lingering, so we sat outside and watched the stars appear, one after the another. A bat flew by, and we some satellites in their orbit - and then the magic started: shooting stars! First one, then another, then a third one... so beautiful.

I looked for a meteor guide to learn more about them, but there is no specific meteor listed for the 21st July. The upcoming shooting star dates are:
  • July 28-29, 2015 Delta Aquarids 
  • August 12-13, 2015 Perseids
It might be an idea to mark the date for the Perseids this year:
"The famous Perseid meteor shower ... will peak on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. It’s going to be a wonderful year for the Perseids! The moon is out of the way." - earthsky website
Googling further, I came across this German page that also includes smaller meteor showers - so the one we saw on the 21st july actually might belong to Piscis or Delta-Aqurides, both had middle or high activity at that date. (Sternschnunppen-Kalender)

International Space Station 
To round up the upcoming sky events, here's the ISS-location-website that shows its visibility, depending on location: ISS observation / Visible Passes
For this region, that will happen at the end of the week:
- Friday 31.: 10.50 PM
- Saturday, 1.: 11.33 PM
- Sunday, 1.: 10.40 PM

About the ISS: if you once seen ISS, you recognize it – it’s much larger and brighter than all the other satellites. I just looked for a video and found this timelapse: International Space Station Flyby

 more skies from around the world: skywatch friday

Monday, July 20, 2015

tiny huge landscapes 2015: earth, air, water

This weekend, I looked for a photo for the current photo challenge theme "Landscape 2015". And didn't really find a fitting image, but enjoyed the question: how does a present-day landscape look like? and what is my personal landscape 2015, in an image?

Later, I picked up another theme: "Grounded". Which made me go and look for things I found on the ground and picked up – they now turned into this “grounded” collage. I enjoyed holding all of them again: the feather, the shell, the stone, the cone – each still carries the moment and place and mood when I found them.

Together, the found objects made me realize that it is when we are at ease and grounded, that we are open to noticing the beauty of things and of all those tiny moments that form life. Also, it feels that each of them is like a natural piece of art, unique and special: each a tiny landscape of our world, both in itself, and to the elements it refers to: earth, air, water. 
Here are some of the places where I found those "tiny landscapes" - so that's how I arrived at landscape photos after all:

more landscapes... at photo friday

Saturday, July 18, 2015

links that touched me: bad feminist, random deadlines, what comes next, trail journal...

When I come across an interesting link / video / story that touches me, I often copy the link to blog about it at a later point. Yet by then, there's already another interesting link that is waiting... to keep the links from vanishing unblogged, I started this "links-that-touched-me" series.
Here's the next part:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

radiation countdown: 13 left to go (+ the tiredness of it)

Today was day #23 of radiation. 13 more to go, then I am through. It's a good feeling and a relief hat the finish line is now coming closer. The remaining radiations will be the toughest ones, though: my skin is red and irritated from the previous sessions, as is my body and my mind and soul. But then, hey, just 13 more! Just to the end of this month of July.

Well, or rather: to the end of this month, plus the first Monday in August. Which feels silly, this extra day in the new week and new month. But then, the Finish line isn't the line that marks the step from being in treatment to being healthy. It's the end of radiation - after that, my skin and body will need time to recover. But it will be a huge, huge milestone to cross that line:

Right now, it is downwards again. But from that finish line day on, it (hopefully) will mainly be upwards. And hopefully, my energies will return then on a daily base. Right now, I have to plan the days carefully, to not run out of energy before at least the main things are done. But even now, the days still come with good moments. Also, I am so glad it is summer. So when the tiredness wraps me up (which it does more and more often now), I can lie down in the hammock and rest in the shade.

Embracing the brutality...
I am mostly reading short stories these days, and trail travelogues, especially Carrot Quinn's blog. She currently treks the Continental Divide Trail, which is both a beautiful, powerful but also demanding experience. The “slogan” for it is: “embrace the brutality”.

It's refreshing to read and remember that it is human nature to look for challenges and go through them by own choice. Also, swinging in a hammock is double relaxing when reading about rough hikes. So I guess that will accompany me while I am walking my own “trail” of radiation.

Short stories:
And here are some of the short stories I especially enjoyed, it's probably not much of a surprise that a focus theme of them is medicine and healing:


About medicine, science and old knowledge, painkillers and projects: “The Cage of You“ by Kerry Howley: "Try a mantra. Say: “My body knows what to do. My body knows what to do."

A different kind of ghost story (+ a Nebula Award Nominee): "Ghosts of New York" by Jennifer Pelland: "he only people who find clarity in certain death are those who somehow cheat it, those who can reflect back upon the experience and use it to goad them into living a better life. For the ghosts, there is only terror.."

A story about life, tales, and trains:: "To Zagreb" by Yoko Tawada: "You have to start by tricking yourself. One day you might dig up some evil from a past life, give it a good polish, and become a swindler in this one. If it came to that, you would surely believe the story you made up to deceive others."

A story about remembering and forgetting: "Thailand" by Haruki Murakami: "There was an announcement: Lettuce angel men. We aren’t countering some tab bulence. Please retahn to yah seat at thees time and fasten yah seat belt."


Previous Blog Posts
Here are the links to the previous blog posts about my radiation time:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

early morning sky

the sky out in the fields, at 5.46
(the photos are from the sunday morning after solstice)

more skies from everywhere: skywatch friday