Those Awesome Socks!

DSCN3355If you read my most recent post, The Power of Symbols, you got a glimpse of some pretty awesome socks. And they have a story to go with their colorful awesomeness.

My sister Karla started sending me a little something in the mail every week once I was diagnosed with cancer. If it wasn’t every week, it was darn close! Anyway, I’d get a card and a little something in the mail – two of the bracelets in the previous post, for example. Or maybe a Halloween necklace or a ring that lights up for Valentine’s Day, or a sample-size lotion … or socks.

On Oct 18, 2013 I wrote the following on my Caring Bridge page:

Chemo # 3 Recap Part 1 – getting dressed

It took me a while to get ready yesterday morning as I stood in my closet trying to figure out what to wear. Trying to fit all of my criteria was a little daunting. Who knew I would be spending time debating my attire? Not at the top of the list when you think about cancer treatment, huh?

Things to consider:
* The nurses want you to wear a shirt with buttons so that they can access your port.
* You want to be comfortable. I would be sitting in the chemo chair for 3 hours and prior to that, I’d be there for labs and to see the doctor. A little over 5 hours total. Yes! I want to be comfortable.

My additional vanity considerations:
* I have a limited number of scarves and hats. Of the comfortable shirts with buttons, very few look good with my available headwear.
* I wanted to wear my “Filibuster Lymphoma” shoes (yes – they match Wendy’s). They are so colorful that matching shirt, headwear, and shoes became an additional burden.
* Karla sent me some socks to wear on chemo day to keep my feet warm. This was the 1st day for long pants and thus the 1st day I could wear these special socks that miraculously match my shoes. They must be worn.

Chemo attire

Chemo attire

In the end, I was satisfied with my outfit. White shirt, black jeans, white scarf with orangey/red print – far enough away from shoes that they could go together, Fillibuster shoes, Karla socks. To accessorize, I added the wristbands of encouragement that family have sent.

I didn’t know until I received the little green bracelet that green is the “color” for lymphatic cancers, so I was pleased that my shoes and socks both matched my cancer as well.

Now for stories about my clothes as the day played out …

When I was having my vitals taken before seeing the doc, I told the nurse I had had a hard time getting dressed – finding a shirt with buttons and headwear to match. She said the funniest thing she had seen was a man who always wears pocket t-shirts. His solution was to cut a hole in his t-shirt so he could keep wearing what he always wears.

The 2nd thing about my clothes: I hadn’t been hooked up long, when the nurse in the adjoining “station” came over to me and said “I couldn’t help noticing how well your socks match your shoes.” Her good friend has the same shoes and she wanted to get her the socks. Social media to the rescue. I had posted the picture included here on Facebook and tagged Karla, so I asked her where she got the socks (she is in Louisiana). She got them at a Hallmark store. Don’t know if the nurse will be able to find them here, but I got an answer for her.  

It is better to feel good than to look good, but it’s even better to do both! (With apologies to Billy Crystal)

And now for the rest of the story…

We are going to call the nurse who liked my socks Karen, because it could be her name but maybe it isn’t. Karen was never my nurse, so between that fact and chemo brain I am going to excuse myself from not remembering.

Karla sent another pair of socks and said they were for the nurse who liked mine because I always said how wonderful the nurses are. Now these socks were not just like mine because the store was out of those, but they were still pretty awesome socks. So the next time I had an appointment, even though it wasn’t a chemo day, I went to the infusion room and found Karen and gave her the socks. She was thrilled and gave me a big hug and told me to thank my sister. Karen said she might just have to keep those socks for herself.

I wore my filibuster shoes and my awesome socks every time I went for chemo. And every time Karen saw my bright orangey-raspberryish shoes and matching socks resting up high as I leaned back in the recliner, she would pat my feet and say “Hi” when she walked by. I asked if she kept the socks or gave them to her friend and she smiled sheepishly and said that she kept them.

Karla spent a week with me when I was released from the hospital after my stem cell transplant. I needed a bag of fluids one day, so we had to go to the infusion room. Once again, Karen was not my nurse – and I wasn’t wearing my filibuster shoes so I was afraid Karen wouldn’t see me. I asked my nurse to get her for me and I got to introduce Karen to the awesome sock giver – Karla, who also got a big hug.

And that’s the story of the awesome socks.

The Power of Symbols

Kathy Strong Enough cropI have wanted to write something about the symbolic objects that have helped me through my cancer treatment. I’ve put it off for months, not knowing where to begin, if I really knew my own thoughts about it, or how to express in words the meaning these items have held for me. How to explain sleeping with a folded cloth under my pillow without sounding as though I believed this cloth, anointed with oil and prayed over by complete strangers, held some kind of magical power?

I recently read something in “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have” by Mark Nepo. Here are excerpts from the entry for March 15 titled “The Power of Symbols”:

People have always saved scraps of their experience to help remind them of the forces of life that can’t always be seen. Filled with the timeless rhythm of the ocean, we pocket a shell and carry it thousands of miles to know that presence of ocean when we are far from the sea. It is why we treasure certain songs, why we save ticket stubs and dried out flowers.

Symbols are living mirrors of the deepest understanding that have no words….

We ask the smallest items of everyday life to carry unbearable meaning for us, and the dearest ones work like Aladdin’s lamp. All we have to do is rub them slowly, and feelings and times long gone come and live again, or basic truths hard to keep in view return.

As a boy, I remember visiting my grandfather’s house. He had a milk-white bowl filled with M&M’s. It was a simple magical treasure to me. No matter how often I reached on tiptoe, it never emptied. It has been thirty years since he died and now when depressed, I hold that milk-white bowl in my lap and eat a few M&M’s. 

And I feel better. This isn’t illusion or escapism, but rather using the milk-white bowl filled with M&M’s as a living symbol that can call into my moment of sadness a deeper sense of plenitude and generosity that is always there, but not always accessible.

This is the proper use of symbols, not to coldly represent ideas, but to call into being all that lives in us and about us. They help us bear witness to the painful mystery of living, and whether a crucifix, a small weeping Buddha, or a broken shell from a long-forgotten sea, they help us bear the days.

It is not that these items collected during my illness carry some magic that would heal me in the literal sense, but rather they reminded me of “the forces of life that can’t always be seen,” they were “living mirrors of the deepest understanding that have no words,” they helped me “bear the days,” they “called into my moment of sadness a deeper sense of plenitude and generosity” – and, I would add – gratitude, strength and encouragement.

Kathy Altar of Encouragement cropAs soon as people heard about my lymphoma diagnosis, I began to receive gifts. Flowers, plants, food, cards, a candle, an angel … these came first. And as these gifts grew in number, I decided to gather them together on a table that was in my direct line of vision from the couch where I spent many hours of the day. I call it my Altar of Encouragement. The Altar itself is one grand symbol of love and compassion and encouragement and humor – one I could see nearly every waking moment of every day. Every item holds meaning and represents a connection between the giver and me. But some – simply because of portability and ease of use, I think, spoke for the others….  They represented.

Some had to stay on the table at all times because my dogs wanted them – badly! See the frog on the table, for example. Fully Rely On God, his tag says. At least he made the trip to San Antonio with me. No dogs there!

Here are a select few of the gifts that helped/help me bear the days:

DSCN3351The cloth anointed with oil 
I received the cloth in the mail from my sister Kim. A friend of hers gave it to her to give to me. Members of the woman’s church had anointed it with oil and prayed over it. The cloth came with a Bible reference – Acts 19:11-12   And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

Kim told me that this was the second such cloth given to her – the first given when our father had bypass surgery several years ago. At first I wasn’t sure what I would do with an oily dime store handkerchief, but I was touched by the kindness and concern of a group of complete strangers who had given this blessing to me.

When I started chemo, I packed the cloth in the bag of entertainment and comfort items to take with me to the infusion room. Sometimes I would take it out and hold it, or tuck it in my waistband. And many nights, I put it under my pillow as I slept, touching or fingering it during the night. I took it with me to San Antonio for my stem cell transplant and often kept it in the pocket of my pajamas. But why?

Well, this small, portable cloth helped me “bear the days” – and nights, symbolizing prayer and love and the gift of strangers who were now somehow connected to my personal struggle. And it represented all the other strangers who also pray for me and send hopes for healing my way. It comforted me, reminding me of the “forces of life that can’t always be seen.”

The cloth was washed with the sheets once and lost its oily feel – but its status as a powerful symbol did not wash away.

Kathy prayer shawlThe prayer shawl – The Knit Wits at FUMC make prayer shawls and I was a grateful recipient. I even know who made the one I received. :) I started feeling bad in the spring and started treatment in late summer and fall and it was really hot here. And one of the symptoms of my particular cancer is night sweats and just being kind of feverish off and on throughout the day. So I was always trying to stay cool rather than wrapping up in a lovely knitted shawl. But the prayer shawl shared much in common with the anointed cloth as a symbol and was always at the ready in the bag I took with me when I had chemo.

I knew there would be a day (or night) when I would need the shawl. I thought of it as taking out the “big guns”. Something would bring me down, or I would be full of anxiety, and there it would be to offer comfort and help me bear whatever was happening. And so it did. As the time for my stem cell transplant drew near, I became overwhelmed with sadness and worry. Besides anxiety about what was about to happen, my youngest daughter – who lived with us – would leave for college out of state just before I left for San Antonio. And she wouldn’t be here when I returned. One morning the thought of it was just too much and I curled up to cry on the couch and wrapped myself in the prayer shawl. And it comforted me. The shawl also made the trip to San Antonio with me and stayed on my bed in the hospital, ready for me to wrap myself in the prayers and love of my church family.

DSCN3354The bracelets – The first bracelet I received came from my sister Karla – pink and sold for a dollar as a fundraiser for breast cancer research. Karla bought one for me, for herself, and for our two sisters so that we could all wear them and remember to pray.

The second bracelet came from Karla and her son. They had attended a concert by Matthew West, who sings a song titled “Strong Enough”, and they were selling these bracelets at the concert. I’ve used the picture at the top of this post on my Facebook page for months.

The third bracelet was made by my sister Dawn, whom I have not seen for 50 years. We were brought together again through the magic of the internet. Dawn made me a green and white bracelet because green is the color for lymphoma (as pink is the color for breast cancer.)

I wore these three bracelets nearly every day. I loved looking down and seeing the words STRONG ENOUGH to remind me that I could get through whatever I faced each day. And I loved the symbolic connections to my sisters (and nephew) that all three represented.

Shoe shopping with Mary Faye

Shoe shopping with Mary Faye

The filibuster cancer shoes - On June 25, 2013, Wendy Davis, a Senator in the Texas legislature, held an eleven-hour-long filibuster to block Senate Bill 5. My personal politics were aligned with Senator Davis and I watched the live stream of her filibuster on the internet until it all came to a dramatic conclusion just after midnight. During the filibuster she was not allowed to eat or drink or go to the bathroom or lean on anything or anyone and everything she said had to be “on topic” (No, she could not read the dictionary or “The Cat in the Hat”). A couple of friends were also watching and we messaged back and forth as the rules of the Senate were so strictly applied to her and twisted in ways that they had never been before in the Texas Senate. It was both stunning and appalling.

But never mind the political or religious arguments involved…. On with the shoes.

Soon after the filibuster, a friend decided that she should take me shopping for shoes just like those worn by Senator Davis during the filibuster. I did need new shoes as mine were really worn and her shoes were the brand that I usually buy – just a different model. I tried them on and they fit perfectly.

Now keep in mind that I had not yet been diagnosed with cancer….

As I mulled over whether or not I should buy the shoes, I thought of what a great symbol they would be of strength and perseverance and being put to the test against great odds – should I ever have to face a difficult situation. And so I bought them.

And then, of course, I did have to face a difficult situation.

I couldn’t wear the shoes at the time of my diagnosis because my feet were so swollen. I couldn’t wear them to my first infusion of chemo drugs. But I lost 16 pounds of fluid in the week after that first treatment, so I wore my filibuster cancer shoes to my next chemo and the next and the next …

Chemo attire

Chemo attire

And I took them with me to San Antonio where I set up a mini Altar of Encouragement in my hospital room.
2014.02.06

Now that I am getting some strength back and the weather is wonderful, it is time for me to put my filibuster cancer shoes on and walk and walk and walk until I am strong again.

Thank you, Mark Nepo, for helping me share the power of these symbols.

And thank you, dear ones who have prayed for me and sent good thoughts to me and cards and gifts and every other expression of compassion and kindness and care!

Christmas Decorating – Mom’s Influence

I took pictures of some of our Christmas decorations thinking I would do several posts during Advent. But between medical appointments and the occasional bad days, Christmas in less than two weeks and my daughter’s wedding in less than three weeks – it looks like it isn’t going to happen. Maybe I can squeeze in one or two ….?

Christmas 1975

Christmas 1975

My husband and I married in the spring of 1975 and celebrated our first Christmas together that year. We got a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree that we decorated with a popcorn garland and some tinsel. One of the craft trends at the time was making things out of bread dough. You can see a few of our cookie cutter bread dough ornaments hanging on the tree. They lasted for several years, but they are all gone now.

But what I really intended to write about was the gift we received from my mother.

Mom crocheted a tree skirt for us that we have used every year now for 38 years and it is just as lovely today as it was the day we received it.

DSCN3247As I look closely at this picture I see that the skirt is wrong side up. There isn’t really much difference and I’m probably the only one who would notice. :) Did I mention that some really special Christmas elves came to my house a week ago to set up my tree and help me decorate? What a gift that was!

The last time I was at my parents’ house and going through papers and magazines and pictures like I always do looking for family history gold, I found the instructions Mom used to make the tree skirt. The November 1975 issue of The Workbasket magazine had been folded open to reveal this picture. Otherwise I might have passed right over it.
Christmas tree skirt pic

The opposite page provided the instructions.
Christmas tree skirt instructions

I can’t remember for sure if Mom gave us these knitted bells at the same time as the tree skirt or the following year. I love the little red bells and space them carefully throughout the other tree decorations.

DSCN3254

It seems like I have stumbled upon the instructions for these bells at one time or another. If I find them again, I’ll add them here.

Another year Mom gave us some Christmas coasters made from the same yarn.
DSCN3321

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

Every year, out come the decorations mom made for us with Christmas Green and Christmas Red yarn and the work of her hands. They set the stage for sticking with red and green as our seasonal colors of choice. And they set the stage for enjoying any and all DIY decorations. Ours may not be a tree (or a house) worthy of Southern Living Magazine, but it would do The Workbasket Magazine proud.

I started writing about more of the Christmas decorations that have Mom’s handprint all over them, but decided this would get too long, so I’m going to try to do a few shorter posts. Hope I get them done!

A little update about me if you are interested…
My 6th and last chemotherapy for this phase of treatment for lymphoma is tomorrow – Monday, December 16th. Then I’ll be having some tests to see how effective the treatment has been and to determine if I am ready for a stem cell transplant. The transplant should happen in mid-January. Can’t say that I am looking forward to it, but how can I not look forward to it? A transplant increases my chances for long-term survival from 5-10% without transplant to 50% with transplant. Much better odds! I appreciate the prayers and well-wishes I have received from my blogging friends! If you feel so inclined, you can email me at abbieandeveline at gmail dot com.