A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Banner Day

This is where the Halleluiah chorus from Handel's "Messiah" comes in. Ready?


My pathology report came back "clean." No cancer. Zip. Zero. I left the doctor's examining room and walked into the waiting area, where Gary was sitting. I smiled and told him the news. He got up from his chair, hugged me tightly, and broke down crying in front of everyone.

We walked out to the elevator lobby and hugged and cried some more. The news marked the end of a 7-year odyssey of living with cancer, and then living with the threat of another cancer developing. To end this chapter of my life seems surreal. I've gotten used to all the tests and doctor appointments and anxiety that accompanied it, waiting for the next cancer diagnosis. How do you return to "normal" life after all this? I'm not sure you ever do. Especially when your primary care physicians are oncologists. That's when you know you'll always be in a different category. But that's okay.

The first person I called to tell the good news was my mom, however, the phone conversation ended abruptly since I was crying so hard, I couldn't complete a sentence. With all the stress this disease has wrought on my life and Gary's, I think the people it's hit the hardest have been my parents.

I've heard the one death you never overcome is the death of your child. A parent always thinks they will die first, since that's the natural order of things. They also believe, erroneously, that they have the power to protect their child...no matter what age. I've watched the toll all of this has had on my parents, and it's been painful to watch their pain, their helplessness.

I recall last Christmas, when Mom pulled me aside and begged me, "Don't die before I do. I couldn't live if you did." Tears ran down her face. " This should be happening to me, not you. I've lived a full life, but you're too young." What do you do with that? How do you respond? I wanted to take away her agony and guilt and fear, but I was just as helpless as she was with my BRCA diagnosis. The only thing I knew to do was to take action.

And, that's my biggest advice for women who've had breast cancer or suspect they are a candidate for the BRCA gene. Take action.

Taking action has been the critical element in this entire cancer drama:

* It was because I conducted a breast self-exam that I found my lump. Even 2 mammograms two weeks later did not reveal a mass.

* It was because I forced the issue that I got further testing. And further testing revealed aggressive cancer.

* It was because I took action in selecting the very best healthcare professionals I could that I believe I got the best treatment for breast cancer.

* It was because I pursued BRCA testing last fall -- even when I had been told 7 years previously that my cancer wasn't hereditary -- that I discovered I carried the gene mutation.

* It was because I was so determined to deal with this "sooner than later" and get a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy to decrease my chances of future breast and ovarian cancer that they found pre-cancerous cells in my fallopian tubes as early as they did. Six months later, they told me, would have been a different story altogether.

Why do I tell you this? It's not because I'm such a noble person for taking action. Far from it. My natural inclination is toward procrastination. In fact, it's one of my specialities. And, I'm also not saying that taking action always gives you the perfect fairy tale ending. You may lose the battle with cancer because it's a nasty, hateful, deadly opponent that strikes witout warning, despite your best efforts.

But, your best defense is to do something. NOW. Not tomorrow. I've realized that Now can make the difference between life and death. I hope I can take this advice into other areas of my life. Wouldn't it make such a difference if I took action with all the zillions of other things I need and want to do...one day?

While sitting on the examining table, waiting FOREVER for the doctor to come in and tell me my pathology results, I prayed. I don't pray for "miracle cures" as much as I pray for courage to accept what God is leading me into and grace to walk into the future with love and compassion and gratitude instead of bitterness and self-pity and anger.

I then began praying for all the people who have cared so much and done so much for me during this entire ordeal. All the love, hugs, tears, phone calls, cards, emails, gifts, meals, car rides, doctor appointment buddies...it's so much. I've been placed on countless prayer lists in churches and small groups throughout several states.

My friends and my entire family have given enormously and sacrificially, and I feel greatly indebted. I want to be there for others in the same way people have been there for me during my darkest times. This experience has allowed me to see the power of us ministering to each other in the simple, daily routines of life. Maybe this is the most profound thing I've learned from cancer.

Other than it's nice to not be bald.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Campfire of the Vanities

You would think with a life-threatening diagnosis before me that I would be focused on the higher things in life. But, I must point out as a Southern Belle, shallowness and vanity are part of my birthright.

So while the unknown pathology results loom before me, I realize I can't do anything about staving off cancer and must bravely face the outcome. You learn when you have cancer, you simply must accept what comes your way and rise to the occasion and deal with it. Monday, I will see my surgeon who will deliver the verdict. Yes, I'm nervous to know what my future holds...but meanwhile, I have other things to obsess over.

Such as cellulite. This has been a recent fixation of mine, examining every inch of my body for lumpiness. After breast cancer treatment 7 years ago, my obsession was eyebrows -- or lack thereof. Just so you know, I had beautiful dark eyebrows, which didn't return after chemo.

None of my friends could understand my irritation; however, most of them are blondes. (Which makes me think I should re-examine my choices in friends.) I, on the otherhand, have dark hair and dark eyes, so eyebrows dramatically define your face. Think Brooke Shields.

After much whining and gnashing of teeth, I located an excellent "permanent makeup" (tatoo) artist, who crafted some exquisite brows for me.

With cancer and chemo, it's a full-time job maintaining your appearance. The loss of hair. The scarring from surgery. The lymphedema ballooning your arm at inconvenient periods. What's a girl to do, I ask you?!

Now, I know you're thinking I'm being silly and shallow in light of what's facing me. But, those traits are also what maintain your normalcy throughout a period that is anything but normal. Why can't cancer patients be as trite as everyone else?

Years ago, during my chemo days, a coworker asked how I was doing, and I replied that I was fine except for losing those darn eyebrows.

She looked at me in horror over my admission. She grabbed both my arms: "Be grateful for life!" she lectured.

Now, there's a concept! I wasn't thinking about being grateful. I left this interaction feeling guilty, but irritated that I got slapped down for being honest.

Then, I was walking with my "cancer mentor" and mentioned my anger about my browless condition.

"I know exactly how you feel!" she exclaimed. "I hated that part of chemo, too." Honesty is the best medicine.

So, while people in my situation face the reality of death (instead of some vague concept that may happen in the distant future), it's nice to know I can still take part in the same daily dramas that those without cancer relish in.

After all, Southern Belles are known for our dramatic flair as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Of Books and Boobs

Now that I’m at home and having to be “calm and quiet,” I’m getting back into my reading routine. Plowing through books is what got me through my last recovery, so I decided to do the same this time. In case you’re wondering, I've read:

* Julia Child’s autobiography (interesting, but she tried to make her husband sound more outstanding than he was).
* "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (which explains the downside of high-fructose corn syrup & soy products and the upside of eating locally grown food).
* "Three Cups of Tea” (about a guy I’d never marry since his idea of saving money was to live in his car).
* “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (the reason I lecture younger women not to take their rights for granted).
* F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" (enjoyable now that there's no English teacher quizzing me).
* "Blue Shoe” by Anne Lamotte (a realistic portrait of living out your faith).

But, there are two I'd like to provide a book review, since they struck me more emotionally.

The first is the national best-seller, “Eat, Pray, Love.”

It’s about a young, rich, successful blonde from New York City who leaves her husband and decides to find herself and God. So, with a hefty book advance, she decides to find herself and God in Italy, India and Bali. If she had only stopped with Italy, where she writes about food.

Her book goes rapidly downhill when she trots over to India to search for God while having servants from the lower castes take care of her every need. You can’t help but note that everyone else at the Ashram is a wealthy Westerner with loads of freedom and time on their hands. It's interesting that the author didn’t look for God in the slums of Calcutta...

Once she finds God and the meaning of life, her last leg of her personal journey takes her to Bali, to “find balance”. (Well, that’s a shocker.) She recovers balance by having yet more low-wage servants in an economically deprived country take care of her garden and cook for her while she reads and eats and hangs out all day….kind of like I’m doing now without the book advance.

And, then, she engages in a frenetic, nonstop sexual union with an adoring Brazilian who tells her how beautiful she is and how perfect her body is. (Yet another similarity to my life...)

So, when my friend, Laura, handed me “The Hidden Life” about a well-to-do homemaker named Betty Skinner, who suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time reading and praying and meditating to regain her life…well, I was a little suspicious and very cynical.

“Here we go again,” I thought to myself in my hospital room. “A Christian version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.” But since Laura went out of her way to get me this book, and since she has more depth than practically anyone I know, I decided to read it. Plus, when someone gives you a book, they’re going to ask you if you’ve read it and you can't lie.

I know this because not too long ago, my friend, Anne, went to a fundraiser featuring a celebrity author and shoved everyone standing in line out of the way so she could secure the last autograph copy of the book for me.

However, I let my mom read it first, and then forgot about it until Anne asked what I thought about the book, and I could tell she was seriously disappointed that I had not read it.

So, here I was again, faced with another book a friend gave me, and I couldn't let another friend down.

It started out like a nice, Christian-y kind of book, which I loathe, even though I’m a Christian. (But just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be subjected to cutesy, Christian-y writing for the rest of your life…there are other ways believers can sacrifice.) Anyway, it started getting on my nerves, but I kept plugging at it…mainly to not disappoint Laura, but also because I was stuck alone in the hospital room with nothing else to read and I was bored.

And then, after a few chapters, I was captivated. What made this book so completely different than what I expected is that it perfectly explained how our journey with God—including all the pain and suffering—is what ultimately leads us to our authentic self, and a life of purpose and meaning.

For example --

“A tremendous paradox will be revealed to us…by embracing suffering and allowing it to do its work of breaking through the protective walls we have constructed around our hearts, we become more vulnerable and honest. This moves us to a deeper understanding of our shared brokenness, opening us to compassion and changing our focus from ourselves to the needs and hurts of others...”

“The more we submit to and participate in the mystery of this purifying work, we experience the sense that everything –even our darkest pain – is held in Divine love…”

“Our unique expression is crucial to God’s design for the healing of the world...”

Written by a clinical psychologist who was mentored by Betty Skinner, the book gives a spiritual perspective from both the author and Skinner’s personal journal about the process of transformation. A wonderful example the book cites is a flying trapeze.

To choose life, we have to let go of old ways. We must be willing to let go of the bar we’re clinging to—what’s safe and known, but not necessarily what’s best for our lives—in order to grab onto the next bar. But between the bars, there’s “a never-never land of empty air” where you’re vulnerable and not in control –and don’t even understand—and this is where most of us lose courage. “So we live out our lives clinging to the same old bar.”

All to say, it was a powerful and moving book which has made me think a lot about my current fears about cancer and my future and everything else in the world I obsess about. And all fear does is drain me of my vitality and the ability to love others fully because I’m so caught up in myself.

I plan to use this time of physical recovery to reflect & journal and apply some of these book’s concepts to my life.

Maybe after I finish this reflective time, I will be a kinder and gentler person…and I won’t write nasty things about books like “Eat, Pray, Love.” Then, again, I’m seeking transformation…not perfection.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Getting My Money's Worth

It’s been a week since surgery and my body is healing day by day. That’s the miracle of life: the body’s amazing ability to heal over time. What’s not a miracle are the 2 drains dangling from my sides. When I saw my reconstruction surgeon during my follow-up appointment, I pointed my finger at him and declared, “Liar, liar, liar! You knew perfectly well that I’d be carrying these drains home with me from the hospital! You just didn’t want to admit it so you wouldn’t have to hear me whine!” He laughed.

I'm glad he sees the humor in this. From my point of view, drains are a drag…literally.

Meanwhile, my body is taking shape and my boobs are bigger than I expected…or necessarily wanted. I’ve always been a small boob kind of girl. Gary, on the other hand, is thrilled. “Well, finally, I get something out of all of this!” Men…

My new boobs are going to take some getting used to, I can tell you that. The more important issue, however, is that my butt is still too big. You see, a natural outcome of opting for this massive reconstruction surgery is that they end up lipo-ing your hips in the process. This is in order to even out your midsection after they remove tissue and replant it in your boobs. Frankly, if I had known I was going to get a butt-job out of this, I would have rushed to have had a double-mastectomy 20 years ago, whether I needed it or not.

Even so, I didn’t get my money’s worth when it came to butt removal. My surgeon was way too conservative on that end (no pun intended) and concentrated more on my boobs—despite my constant pestering otherwise. You know the adage: “You can never be too rich or too thin?” Well, for me, it’s “You can never have a small enough butt.”

Right before surgery, when I’m in the pre-op area, my surgeon entered with his magic marker and began drawing circles all over my abdomen of where he was going to slice and dice and cut and chop. (This included a staple that I pointed out he had left inside me during my last surgery. “Oh, yeah, we’ll get that,” he replied casually.) Anyway, when he began drawing eensy-teensy circles around my hip area, I stopped him dead in his tracks. “No, no, no! This will not do!” I told him. I pointed to my buxom derriere and said, “It needs to be sucked out of here!”

He didn’t budge. “You don’t want to do that,” he said. Of course, I do, silly man. “No, you don’t.” He was adamant. “It will make you sag if I pull fat from there.” Soooooooo, what’s the problem with that? Let’s see…sagging butt versus big butt. There’s no question about what a butt-obsessed person would choose.

I reached for the magic marker to jerk it out of his hands and we got into a wrestling match, practically fighting each other to the floor. He won, of course. They always do when they knock you out with anesthesia.

So, now I have bigger boobs and an ever-so-slightly smaller butt. This is what I’m stuck with forever since I hope to never darken the door of an operating room ever again. Therefore, I must take comfort in what my dad has always said: “There’s nothing worse than a woman without an ass.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Great Escape

It’s my third day after surgery and I’m ready to break out of this joint. Hospitals are like prisons, when you think about it. You have no control over your life and have to follow everyone’s orders. You’re fed institutional meals. You wear unfashionable garb that looks like all the other inmates. Consequently, I’ve even been on my best behavior, hoping for an early release. But no such luck. Alas, it’s time to make a bribe.

As indelicate as this subject may be, I must point out that you aren’t released until you pass gas. Yes, you heard right. It’s not the sort of thing Southern girls like me have been encouraged to do. So, now when you have all these nurses telling you that you’re staying in the slammer until the gas is passed, you get another perspective on this matter. They want to make sure that after the anesthesia from surgery closed down your intestinal system that it’s back in working order.

Even then, passing gas is not enough. Oh, no. Then, you have to graduate from clear liquids to a soft food diet to see how you’ll react before they release you. So, now I’m waiting for lunch, which will be something along the lines of pudding and mashed potatoes, when actually, I want to eat a horse. The greatest challenge once I get home will be to not stuff my mouth with everything in sight since I haven’t had solid food for almost a week.

I have to admit that this go-around, though, I have much more energy and less pain than my first surgery. I’m restless and have been strolling the hallways, pulling along my IV stand – kind of like a toddler pulling his wagon behind him. Back and forth I go along the same corridor, trying to avoid running into all the medical personnel with their machines. Walking makes you feel significantly better. I learned this the last time. Moving around and exercising produces endorphins, which is far more effective in pain relief than any medication.

A draining experience
I’m also waiting for my doctor to give the go-ahead for my drains to be pulled since these are two souvenirs I’d rather not take home from my luxurious hospital stay. Which reminds me that I never fully revealed the details of drains from my last surgery. This surgery, I have 2, whereas last surgery, I had 6. They hang from you like teats on a mother cow, filling up constantly with fluid that needs to be released from your body. Once the fluid fills the drain, the weight pulls on the tubing that is wound up inside your abdomen and extends out through a hole in your skin. Lovely, isn’t it? You need to empty your drains every few hours and measure the amount and not lie about it. You’re tempted to cheat because the less fluid you record, the quicker the doctor will remove the drains.

After my first surgery, I had 6 drains in my abdomen for 2 weeks. Unfortunately, the trendy fashion designers have not taken into consideration drains when they are creating their spring line. Alas, I have good ol’, reliable Target for my recovery wear—which includes stretchy yoga pants and knit tops. Drains are not appetizing, so you want to keep them hidden from small children and those with delicate stomachs. And, if you have a sensitive stomach, you’re out of luck, baby.

After a week of drains extending from you like snakes coming out of some mythical creature, they start irritating you. They itch and are cumbersome, and you want them out. Each time I got a drained removed, it was an enormous relief--despite the process of pulling them…which I will explain.

They do not administer any pain reliever when pulling your drain. You simply lean back on the examining table, take in a really deep breath and blow out hard, like you’re delivering a baby. As you do this, the nurse jerks out the long plastic tubing that has been wrapped up snuggly inside of you. I was shocked at how long some of these cords extended. No wonder I was so uncomfortable carrying around all that plastic inside of me. Removing the drains finally enabled me to stand up straight and move with more flexibility. You get a new lease on life! There is a tomorrow! Okay, you get the point. So, that’s why I’m impatiently waiting for the doctor to order my 2 drains out before I leave the hospital…otherwise, I’ll have them over the weekend. Joy.

Another thing I notice is that after all this surgery, my boobs look smaller than ever and my butt looks bigger than ever, so I’m wondering if they confused my surgery with someone else and gave them my boobs. That would be my luck.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

B-Day (Boob Day)

In 30 minutes, I leave for the hospital for my 2nd operation -- a hysterectomy and final reconstruction. Most importantly, but what I've not focused on these past 2 weeks when I learned I had to undergo surgery again so soon, is the chance they may find cancer in my abdomen. From my experience with living with cancer, I don't dwell on "what if." Doing so drives you crazy with worry and destroys the joy of the day. "What if" may never happen. And if it does, then you deal with it when you know for sure. It's interesting that I've applied this theory to other aspects of my life. Although I'm not worry free about jobs and finances and my future, I don't dwell on worse-case-scenario, but know that I will somehow muster the strength to face life's challenges.This surgery has me more unnerved than the last...because I know what to expect. My memory is too strong. I explained to a friend who had recently given birth, "It's like having a baby and then delivering again 3 months later." You need to give your body a chance to heal physically, but more important, emotionally. I remember too well my last hospital stay and recovery time. Now that I'm feeling healthy and strong, it's hard to subject myself to being cut up and starting the healing process over. It reminds me of when I was going through chemo. I had had several chemo treatments before my lumpectomy -- so they could see if the chemo drugs were working on my tumor. Surgery provided a wonderful break for a month. And then, I had to start back on chemo...and that killed me. I had gotten used to feeling great, only to have to gear up again for a few more bouts of the nasty stuff.My thoughts about my faith have also fluxated during this time, going from holding God at a distance, to being moved by something said or something read. My friend, Sue, wrote a devotional book for women in mid-life, and I've found this extremely comforting. One night (as with most nights), I was unable to sleep, tossing and turning and fixating on my surgery. I tried praying and my mind raced. I tried reading the Bible and couldn't concentrate. So I picked up Sue's book.She began with the story of her living her dream life in a small town in Pennsylvania with her growing family, when her husband got a job offer in Atlanta...where she didn't want to go. After a while of struggle, she realized that "God had a different plan for my life than the one I would have chosen."She sums up her decision to move from her comfort zone with this: "We dream big when we are little. Unsettling as it may be, God dreams bigger."Her words and insights have comforted me and moved me. I've been carried by her and two other women, who I met years ago when we formed a writers' critique group to share our personal work. Life's craziness dissolved our regular writers' meeting, but grew us into an amazing, deep group of friends. In fact, Sue, Casey & Laura are meeting Gary & me at the hospital this morning to hold me hand and pray for me, and to be on-hand for Gary.So, now I end my blog for a few days as I head off. The next entry will be after surgery, after the first few days in the hospital, after the heavy drugs wear off. And then, I can move on with my life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

God is in the Details

I've heard that God is in the details. Well, I confess that these days, I not only don't see Him in the details, but also in the enormity of life's challenges. Big or small, I don't see Him at all.

I was simply having "one of those days" today. You know what I mean...you've experienced them, too. Everything went wrong. Everyone got on my last nerve. I questioned God's judgment in creating humanity. Yes, one of those days.

It started with my husband backing out of accompanying me to the gym. Now, I know this may sound silly, but I'm constantly harping on him to exercise for health reasons rather than listen to him whine about his middle-age body. Plus, I wanted the companionship. But, he blew me off and I felt insignificant...that he didn't want to spend time with me. Have I become an "old shoe" after 8 years of marriage?

I headed to the post office, where I was the only customer...let me say this again, the only customer. Yet, I had to wait because the postal employee decided it was more important to bring out passport applications than wait on me...like, I'm assuming, he's expecting a rush on overseas travel in the midst of the shrinking dollar and the astronomical cost of fuel. Another employee finally waited on me, while Mr. Passport practically jumped over the counter to help his friend who had just walked in the door. Call me chopped liver.

After my postal experience, I went for a swim in which I struggled to breath the entire time and my legs cramped in the pool. It was a less than enjoyable workout. After that, I went to our new vet's office to pick up Riley's records and rabies tags they forgot to give us. I'll save you the boring specifics and just say that every interaction we have had with this vet has been a nightmare..they don't even use a computer. I waited 20 minutes for our file...until it was dicovered that the teenage tatooed receptionist with 9 inch fingernails didn't bother to write our name on our file, so she couldn't find it. I took my dog's records and told them we wouldn't be back. Ever.

My nerves were on edge by the time I got home and tried in vain to reach someone at the business office at the hospital to pay out-of-pocket expenses for my surgery. I had previously left 3 messages and this time, I kept being cut off by their computerized answering service. I finally gave up, realizing that if they wanted to be paid badly enough, they'd contact me.

Next, I had my over-the-phone surgery assessment, in which I disclosed that I suspected I have sleep apnea (since I quit breathing during the night and wake up gasping for breath). My admission about this stalled my pre-op tests until Monday, the day before surgery -- which messed up my plans for today.

Then, I was off to my two surgeons' offices for pre-surgery consultations -- this is where you sign your life away after they tell you that having surgery puts you at risk for paralysis and brain damage and death. After the day I was having, that didn't sound so bad.

During my doctor visits, I found out that I'm also getting my apendix removed (surprise!) and I will, in fact, have drains again in my breasts. Oh, happy day.

I love my doctors and their assistants, and trust my life (and brain and non-paralyzed body parts) to them. However, no matter what questions I pose, I can never quite pin them down in giving me the full scoop as to what to fully expect. Surgery, frankly, is a matter of trust. I don't even know my boob size. "You'll love it," said my reconstruction surgeon. What does that mean? Will I look like Marilyn Monroe or Twiggy?! I have no idea.

On my way home, I stopped by my favorite neighborhood farmer's market, only to discover from other customers that a home invasion had just occurred in the area. The cul-de-sac was roped off with police tape; police cars and a fire truck were parked along the street; and detectives with guard dogs were combing the area. Just what I needed....a suspect on the loose in our neighborhood to top the day.

At this point, I was ready for a glass of wine or a double-dose of prosac...or both. I was also thinking of filling my pain medicine perscriptions early and taking heavy doses of percoset.

And then, while I was wrapping up my purchases, a teenage girl with her dad passed by me and walked out the door. Suddenly, the girl came back inside and said to me, "This may sound really weird, but I have to tell you that you're beautiful." I was stunned. Here I was -- no makeup, "goggle eyes" from swimming earlier, with my naturally kinky-curly hair pulled back since I didn't bother to style it. I was feeling old and worn out and well, less than attractive in a chopped up body. And, then, a young girl tells me that I am beautiful.

It's not that I need to hear those words for my ego. It's the fact of her kindness...her reaching out and saying something nice to a stranger. If only she knew all I was facing and how her words softened my day. And I realized that none of us fully know what another person is going through...and how much our words may provide comfort and encouragement and relief that is desperately needed.

I arrived at home, only to find my husband in a t-shirt and gym shorts with a flushed face. He had returned from a walk...exercising in the heat...because he knew how much it meant to me. And just for a moment, I saw God in the details.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bypassing the Mid-Life Crisis

Cancer survivors have a different way of viewing things. I see it in daily interactions at work, with friends...even with strangers who cross my path.

This realization came back to me recently with my husband. Gary had an incredible assignment overseas, which crumbled at the last minute due to circumstances beyond his control. Devastated about the sudden turn of events, it was the last straw for Gary. The international assignment had potential to catapult him from the frustrating reality of his daily life to an over-the-top experience.

You could say that Gary is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, which I see many of my friends -- both male and female -- battling these days. But, I have to admit: I simply can't relate. Since I've had cancer and have lived with the threat of an early death hanging over my head for 7 years, I've skipped over the mid-life crisis phase and moved directly to "glad to be alive" on the Monopoly board. Gary, on the other hand, has gone directly to jail...do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

While Gary is mourning the loss of an adventure and struggles to find joy in the everyday, I'm drinking in every second of life. In fact, I can't seem to get enough.

Last weekend, we went to the Georgia coast to visit my older brother's family and my aunt & uncle before my next surgery. The first night, we took a walk through a stretch of marsh on Jekyll Island to reach a stretch of beach that was deserted except for pelicans and seagulls socializing along the water's edge. I wanted to linger for a while, soaking in the sea smells and sounds. Gary seemed impatient and antsy...ready to head back and start making dinner.

The next morning, we rode bikes along a path, which transported us into scrubby wilderness depicting the land of Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings--of palm trees and palmettos and pines lining a road strewn with decaying leaves and pinestraw. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss hovered over us, while hawks circled the sky and alligators studied us with their beady eyes projecting from a pond.

I was euphoric. Gary was sweating. He shared my enthusiasm for our bike ride for about 5 minutes before he was ready to go back to air-conditioning.

That's when I realized we're in different places in our lives at this point. It's not that my attitude is better. He is rightly grieving all the change--and loss--in his life, while I'm celebrating every moment gained--because I'm unsure of what's ahead for me.

And, I realize, that during this time of our unique & distinct fears and frustrations over what we face separately, we need to extend extra compassion toward one another...trying to understand life through each others' eyes...their worries and concerns -- not dismissing them as silly or shallow.

However, for my part, I'm glad to have skipped over the mid-life crisis phase...it's the least compensation I should get for being catapulted into menopause.