Turning Isolation into a Gift of Giving

Neither extrovert nor introvert, but ambivert, staying home rather than going out’s never been an issue. Yet I love learning from all kinds of interesting and vastly different people than myself. And socializing face to face is something I enjoy. My friends range from a 67 year old ex Hell’s Angel who’s one of my BFFs, to a 20 year old Hodgkin lymphoma survivor married to a sweetheart of a woman who is currently serving in Afghanistan. Clearly I don’t discriminate when it comes to friends. Variety in life seeds knowledge and patience. Learning to ask questions and listen – not quite my strongest personality trait prior to cancer is something I’m still working on – but I was admittedly insecure for a variety of reasons.

Where do you want to go today?

How does a social animal such as myself make it easy to say “Home!”

Be us ever so humble, there really is no place like our wonderful home. The grass is much greener from fewer chemicals, the skies bluer from low air pollution, the people friendlier from less personal stressors.

But then there’s the house – you’re a citizen of your community but you’re the president of your home. The keys get you in but it’s up to you to make it a home not just a house.

Our timing, as always, couldn’t have been more serendipitous and with decisions easier for two who complement one another but fail to see the same decor as fabulous. Then add a sprinkling of dysthymic depression and case of metastatic cancer, add a pinch of a viral pandemic and you might hear the click of a shotgun at four a.m. coming from our bedroom. Or two clicks should we get that sick of one another. (I’m joking of course.)

Since February of 2020, and roughly the same date I began my current course of metastatic breast cancer treatment protocol, my resistance is low. And not just to wild color choices.

Why does anything that seemingly brings joy or comfort feel like a luxury since my metastatic cancer diagnosis? I’m truly not one to just let opportunities for fun and friendship go by and there’s no depression happening either chemically in my brain or circumstantially. No one could blame me for feeling depressed either. But it doesn’t describe how I’m truly feeling nor how all this is affecting my emotional well-being.

My physicians have all at some point handed me access to prescriptions for antidepressants, which I warn them, simply put me to sleep. I humor them and take one pill of a 30 day supply and 29 or 28 pills remain in six prescription bottles.

The blues are only of the azure clear skies in the countryside blockaded from pollution by the Sierra foothills and Lake Tahoe to our East and the American River and several dams of water control to our west. Immanently upon popping a little pill I’m sleeping as quickly as counting backward from 100 when the anesthesiologist begins prepping someone for an operation. In goes the SSRI and there better be some things off there to catch my fall when I fall asleep.

So I’m not depressed. Not exactly. I do believe that this whole COVID routine is getting old and boring. I’m definitely not and individual who likes to be individual I like to be around other people. So there is that part. There’s also the fact that I don’t get to go to estate sales, garage see, and antique shops. That’s where I make many make new friends and get to do the things that I like to do on a pretty regular basis. That’s if my shop brings in enough to budget those activities so it’s not often but I do miss that part of my life. Parlaying it to others has been a joy and is helping someone else for which I spend hours researching and learning. So those things of been gone from my life since February.

Other people who I really enjoy being around like old things as much as I do. I’ve spent a lot of my housebound time organizing my old things and selling them on my Etsy shop. (Should you want to check it out http://www.etsy.com/shop/YeuxDeux/). I started the profit sharing business with some friends were out of work because of the COVID19 situation.

But things actually got easier. Life at home became a luxury for us and thus the ease of deciding to stay home versus go out became a non-starter. We moved into the house, whose name La Villa Strangiatto (the Home of Odd People) also the name of Craig’s favorite Rush album and a song he can play beautifully on the guitar, reflect in things like our color choices. We dealt the bulk of the decorating decisions to me, due to my husband’s infamous analysis/ paralysis syndrome, with the exception of his office and outdoor lighting. Yet my sanity was called into question with regards to the color palette – a magenta burgundy and gold for our downstairs Moroccan-themed den and offices, light dove gray for the majority of the living spaces, and an auspicious robins egg blue for my kitchen. This may sound like a mad house or a set of brave choices depending on where you fall in terms of house colors. Then add an aubergine front door and you may immediately question what you’re about to walk into. But fun can be had when you’re truly engaged with any project -in the grand scheme of life no matter the size of the tasks involved, when you engage your mind, body, and spirit, wondrous, interesting, and even life-changing results can emerge.

So if we look at the situation as being “stuck,” that’s exactly how the days feel. One rolls into the next and Monday feels like Saturday. At the end of any day you become what your mindset dictates. If we enjoy the opportunities, whether conjured by imagination or something like gardening for rolling colors of white, purple, pink and red as the summer progresses then it tells of growth. Internal and natural.

Where’s everyone?

Somehow for me there’s the company of friends I miss most. Generally people are taken over by all the sparking rhinestones, strands of semiprecious stones on the wall by my desk, the views from our back deck. All promote interesting conversation. Craig’s natural ability to make a very difficult mathematical or technological concept easy to understand align well with his wicked sense of humor. I cook and he entertains with stories, music, his talents are relatively endless compared to most mortal humans.

But we’ve been together going on 14 years. I’ve heard it all. Yet what’s to come – all the plans we made this year wrecked by my lack of an immune system. When I return to normal society is unpredictable.

I don’t know about you, but I go to the store to grab things that don’t occur to him to pick up like toiletries. Once a month I allow myself 45 minutes at the close of Target to gather the missing razor blade refills, shampoo, etc. and I’ll be damned if they didn’t pick now to re-shuffle the merchandise. But instead of frustrating myself, I take a breath and am just grateful I can pay for my cartload. My heart tugs hard knowing others cannot afford a thing beyond basic necessities. So it’s not guilt that I feed my soul on.

I put my heart and m my mind to a find a solution. While three good friends are the beneficiaries – that’s 300% more than zero. And it benefits me and helps offload some of my medical Financial burden and gave me back some of the social FaceTimed I so crave.

Every problem has a solution.

Instead of having a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t possibly ever get in my online shop in this lifetime, I’m doling out categories of merchandise to a couple of friends who lost their jobs or lost the bulk of their revenue due to cancelled outdoor events they’ve don’t mess each year. They benefit and I have gotten my house near clutter free. How much I’ve wanted to do this but had no time nor any real place to give these curated beautiful items a worthwhile home without losing all the time and the money investment. So it’s not completely unselfish of me but certainly it makes me feel good to be able to do something beneficial for someone else. I think helping other people in times of need, times like these, is the kind of thing where we all can benefit – and we benefit by giving of ourselves in a sincere way. The end result of giving is so much nicer than the feeling of getting.

First I determined that I could easily share in my vintage and antique business. There are certain sub genres of antiques I don’t have the time to learn enough about and I have inventory to spare. It was things that I had planned to sell overtime but I know in my heart that I don’t have the lifetime in which to undertake these offerings. Honestly, not knowing how much longer I’ll live is a large part of it and that’s just reality.

So I’ve given one set of friends some of those categories to start a second shop online. Then my other friends currently and successfully sell my antique and vintage hats along with their other handmade leather goods that are absolutely outstanding and artistically creative and well made.

My friend models the hats; her husband takes the pictures. She is so beautiful Both inside and out that her soul really shines through in these photos. It was once said that a photograph stole your soul. I don’t think that’s true at all. And in this case the pictures didn’t steal her soul, but share it.

To give truly is divine.

And I was never very good at receiving gifts. I hate surprises. I always like to know what’s coming. And that’s really unfair to the gift giver but that’s my personality I can’t stand surprises. It’s a confessional that’s embarrassing but what can I say.

In essence over the past four months there’s been a rearrangement in my personality. It’s happened before. A huge amount of physical and mental adjustment to a life with cancer is ongoing and into five long years. If I’m lucky enough to get in another five years, my adjustments will focus on how to rearrange myself to accept my lack of energy, my fatigue, and the pain that I feel when I try and do life without doing more medication.

The third friend overlapped with my resistance to binge watching an entire series of television. That silly fear of indulgence had to fade to the background to return the gift of laughter. He’s allowed over to the house since he too is suffering from a life of pain and I watched him start to teeter into a full blown depression, and I had to grab hold of his hand before he fell over a cliff into a dark ravine. I watch mostly British comedy when I do watch anything besides documentaries. By the way, should you want to laugh really hard Netflix has the British comedy, Man Down, written by and starring Greg Davies. This was the second helping of the show for me, which I consumed along side my friend. I had no idea what damage a stroke can do to someone’s memory. And since he suffered through several strokes six years ago he finds it difficult to remember when and how to laugh. How sad would life be without the gift of laughter. There’s a yoga in fact that is a laughter yoga. So that tells you something doesn’t it?

And I suppose it’s a kind of indulgence, and one that has gotten me through some really shitty chapters in my life. Each night after dinner over the course of about a month, we laughed to the point of tears.

Giving someone I truly care about the remembrance of how to laugh what was one of the best things I could ever give anyone. It’s certainly worth more than money and the most gratifying activity in which I’ve actively participated. There’s a few more personal stories I can share but I think you get the point.

We can choose loneliness, anger, resentment and pain. Or we can turn ourselves inside out and find our hearts exactly where they’ve always been. Right in the middle of our chest still beating while we are still here. So taking loneliness and isolation and upturning that negativity by actively reaching out to those who needed me most when they are in a time of the most need. This is a time when we can all turn inside ourselves or we can turn ourselves outwards and be of love, spirit, and of heart. That is what I am most grateful for for this entire COVID19 situation.

Cancer is difficult mind you and it certainly has its downsides during this whole thing because we can’t go out very much especially if I immune system‘s are compromised by chemotherapy. However We can still give of our personal gifts. And that is the best gift we can give to ourselves.

Welcome to the Machine

I climbed out of bed at 4:30. 4:30 PM. Oh god. The daylight hours dwindle quickly away. Off goes my husband – who is suffering from severe depression and doesn’t wake up unless I do – to grab my stepson from school.  Wishing I had gotten up hours ago, let’s say 8 hours ago, I spend the next 45 minutes hoping for any kind of intestinal goodie my body can produce and my left ass cheek falls asleep while I sit reading email on the toilet. If you’ve not had a part of your body tingle and go numb from sitting on the can, you’re not missing anything special. However, a painful side effect of pain medication – major constipation. Squeeze and pray, yet not even a milk dud today. Shit! I now get my numb ass into the shower.

I sneak another peak at myself before the shower and I gasp at my reflection – it would appear as though I slept as one might if the only part of their body to make contact with the bed  were their face. My eyelashes looked like Bettie Boop’s and the pallor of my skin has the tincture of a nearly extinct pink Chinese albino dolphin. Not pretty but something you cannot stop staring at because it’s so ugly in a cute, puffy way. No wonder the poor things are doomed for extinction. They cannot bring themselves to have sex with one another – they’re that ugly. But the warm water over my head has a magical effect on my entire well being. After wiping down the glass shower walls so they don’t become encrusted with the hard water of Santa Clara county, known also for its high PPM of  cyanide – which when you think about it probably becomes gasious in the shower and keeps oxygen from getting absorbed by your body (see I’m already distracted and took two trips to Wikipedia and fact checked and then rat holed on the etymology of cyanide while writing this post)  I return to the mirror in a semi recognizable form of me.

Before I was hit by a bus last March, it took me all of 15 minutes from shower to keys in the ignition. Now, if I remember where my keys and everything else I need are today, we might give it an hour to 90 minutes. I’m not wearing more make up, or doing a big fluffy hair do, but fifty seven existential discussions with myself and forty three distractions into what might be one or all of my five hobbies and/ or the booth at the antique shop or my Etsy store and maybe 10 text messages and oh I forgot to take all my pills and eat and…well  it’s too late to even get outside today.

But it turns out I wasn’t hit by a bus last year. I want to tell you a secret – I was diagnosed with hormone receptor positive stage IV lobular breast cancer with bone metastasis. And you might say, ” well you could be hit by a bus, too.” Chances of that happening? 4 in 100,000 pedestrians die each year by any moving vehicle according to the World Health Organization, which keeps me completely distracted for so long that I thought I lost this first blog post but thank goodness WordPress doesn’t suck and it auto saved this post. For better or worse. You be the judge. Anyway – your chances of being killed by a cancer hitting you? 186 out of every 100,000 of us. So, for today anyway since I never did get out of the house, I wasn’t killed by an errant bus jumping a curb and hitting me. And the cancer didn’t kill me today, either.

Score one for the home team. Oh and I don’t know that anyone was hit by a bus and died of cancer at the same time either. So shut up. Stop saying that to us people with cancer. I promise I won’t say it to anyone of you two or three people who read this and don’t have it. Deal?