A lump was found in her breast just a month after her 52nd birthday at her yearly mammogram. I had given birth to our third daughter a mere 10 days before her biopsy and surgery.
Mom is the type of woman who needs a huge support group and there were five or six of us together in the waiting area at the hospital while they did her biopsy to determine if it was malignant or not. What does one talk about while waiting for a love one to find out their fate? We talked about
the birth of M. We talked of what my other daughters were up to, what
grade they were in at school, what would they dress up as for
Halloween. It felt odd to be breast feeding my baby while my mom's
breast was being poked and examined. How could a breast betray the
I sat with my sweet baby who lay sleeping in her Moses basket of yellow gingham and white ribbons. I nursed her when needed. I didn't know what to think or say. Really I didn't understand the gravity of what it could mean to have breast cancer. No one I knew had ever had breast cancer. No one talked about breast cancer in 1985.
The Dr. came out to let us know that indeed it was malignant. The lump was way back against the rib wall on her breast. So far back that it was not a lump one could have found by self breast exam. He looked at us all, seeking out my step-father, Papa, to tell him the news and what he felt she needed to have done. It was rather a shock to hear that she indeed had cancer. How would my mom handle this once she came to following the biopsy?
Her Dr. was extremely conservative. He had lost his wife to breast cancer and was adamant that she need a radical mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy. I felt numb. Did this mean she could die? My Papa was not a man of many words and with this he seemed so very down and less conversive. Worry was written all over his face. My mom following her return home after the biopsy, before the scheduled surgery, was full of worry as well upon a threshold of fear of her future. She was the one who kept Papa upbeat and active. How would she be able to do this knowing she had to battle with cancer? She worried for him I think more than she worried for herself.
The surgery was done and was "successful" according to her Dr. It was hard to do much for her with three little girls to take care of. She had her three staff housekeepers who worked in her home to do what they could for her with the grocery shopping, errands and taking care of her. They did meals for her and Papa as well. She didn't want us to come over to help out or visit. She just couldn't digest what had happened.
I felt her Dr. was a butcher. She had a long ugly incision on her chest where her breast once was. I never saw it till many, many years later. She never would talk of the discomfort she might have had, she just kept it all inside away from us. If only she had taken some time to consult with other surgeons she might have had a different experience or plan. It is awful to think of how many women were disfigured by a radical mastectomy in those days. It was felt that was the only way to make sure you were potentially cancer free and even then they wouldn't say that. Only if you survived after five years would you be possibly cancer free. Because of what that surgery does to disfigure you, the ability to have breast reconstruction isn't possible.
Mom's chemotherapy made her very ill. She would lay in her bed following the treatment, sick and miserable. During the time she was on chemo I wasn't to bring the girls over to visit if they had a cold. Well, when one gets a cold it will spread, so there were many times we didn't see her for weeks during the treatment phase. She stopped her chemo treatment after three months. She hated feeling so ill. She seemed to feel she was not going to live, let alone make it to five years post surgery and chemo treatment. She began to spend too much money. Papa and I had a talk about this spending frenzy she was on. He didn't know how to approach her on this matter. We never did understand why she did this and I hope that maybe he was finally able to talk to her and she cut back.
The Christmas holidays came and she seemed happier. She had lost all her hair to the chemo and had been wearing a short wig when she was away from home. At home she wore a scarf. I never saw her without something on her head. We all tried to get back to some sense of normal but my mom really didn't believe she would be around to see her grandchildren grow up. She simply excepted this idea of hers which really didn't help those around her. In an odd way this was a special Christmas for us as for once she was genuinely happy. She had a tendency to get depressed over the holidays but that year she had decided to live in the moment and appreciate whatever happened.
The worst of her getting through this nightmare was after a year of surviving she wanted to move from our beloved Wildwood home. Out of the blue she called to say they had bought a home and sold
Wildwood. It was never listed on the MLS. They had a shark realtor who
brought in a buyer and with the stroke of a pen the home was sold. They had been looking at homes off and on and would tell us out of the blue of their house hunting. My Love and I would of course try to detour them from doing this. Mom felt so sure she wouldn't be around that she wanted a smaller home for Papa to have after she died. She felt that those days and days of laying in bed following the chemo made her sick of her bedroom and she didn't want to be there any longer. I only wish we could have known before they sold that lovely home. I resented that realtor for being so pushy, it didn't help that I knew her and I my parents were social friends with her. Even as the home was packed up we all grieved over their moving. Of course they sold that next home in about five years. It wasn't the right home for them.
Several years after the breast cancer, the chemo and then the move, she decided to have her other breast removed. She was fearful that her other breast would betray her as well. After the five year mark post cancer she still didn't believe she would live. I think she always felt there would be death on her doorstep, no matter what any Dr. would say.
Illness can make us feel and do things we would normally logically think through. We react versus consult. Faith and a positive attitude can be so productive to healing, yet that door doesn't always open for everyone. This happened to my mom 26 years ago. She is still a survivor of breast cancer.
My mind has been troubled of late. I know my posts on this blog and on my other blog A Walk into Oblivion have been sad and preoccupied without explanation. Some things we can't explain except to those that we need offer the explanation.
This morning I received a loving letter from my sister by marriage K. and the emotions of reading it fell like a cleansing rain over me.
Her words of forgiveness ~ "Forgiveness is more for the one who is hurt than the one who needs to be forgiven. Until I forgive and let go I am still held captive by the one who hurt me. To forgive is for me. It takes the power out of the pain. Yes it still hurts but doesn't consume me."
How I do this, or anyone, must take some time and practice. Maybe I need to repeat it to myself over and over, mantra like. Sometimes I talk the talk but I don't do that walk. I want to. I want to move forward and out of the cage I have allowed myself to be in.
Do I need to talk to a professional? I don't know. I just know deep inside all the way to the outer skin cells of my body I must let this go. It does me no good and it certainly doesn't help the ones I love.
Obstacles that arise over a lifetime can be quite a challenge. No one said that living would be a walk in the park day after day. It starts from the time we are whooshed into the light of day of birth with our first breath. The struggle to learn to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk. But we do it without any other reason than it is there to do. To go forward. Teen years and the challenge to just fit in with the mob of other struggling teens. We think we're the only ones going through it but we aren't. Leaving home to make our way without our parents care, finding work and a place to live. Relationships that may be casual or lead to a loving life together. Maybe it works and maybe it fades. That we keep climbing out of the comfort of our beds each day and as when we were small, we keep trying. Most times we don't even think about what we are doing. Then when that obstacle in life hits we fall hard and sit and ponder. Okay...what do we do? Get up or sit there and wait. We don't know what will come along to "fix it" but we do that sometimes.
Some of us have constant troubles that seem immense. Some of us face crisis after crisis with our health or the health of a loved one. How we face it, how we help ourselves or our loved ones is a mystery. We just do it.
But what happens when we can't? What happens when we feel stuck? What happens when we are going in circles without moving forward? That is where I have been. Stuck. Two steps forward and one step back. I'll get there.
After reading K.'s letter I did see some light inside me turn on. I just need to feel it and not just say it. I need to see that whatever my mom was, was just that. That is in the past and I have a future ahead that doesn't include her any longer. I feel sorry for her. That she will never have learned to love fully her children. That she never will enjoy all that she had with us and her grandchildren and now their children. That we are wonderful, and loving, and that we know how to love without strings.
The sun is shining today, my husband has work for the next couple of days, I have a sweet puppy at my feet, I have a day ahead to do housework, to take a walk, to breath in the crisp fall air, pick up some acorns to use at Thanksgiving when my family by marriage come over. I have time to reflect.
I have a time to say I am sorry. I am sorry that sometimes I can be judgemental, I say reactive responses to what I don't understand.
What I want to say is that I love my family deeply. That I am trying to be a better woman and a human.
I want to heal and let go the baggage of what was.
When was the last time you heard Cat Steven's song Trouble? That song came to me and reading the lyrics we all have been there....but read them for yourself....I may be slow letting go that Trouble but I am going to darn well try today....one step at a time.
Oh trouble set me free
I have seen your face
And it's too much too much for me
Oh trouble can't you see
You're eating my heart away
And there's nothing much left of me
I've drunk your wine
You have made your world mine
So won't you be fair
So won't you be fair
I don't want no more of you
So won't you be kind to me
Just let me go where
I'll have to go there
Oh trouble move away
I have seen your face
and it's too much for me today
Oh trouble can't you see
You have made me a wreck
Now won't you leave me in my misery
I've seen your eyes
and I can see death's disguise
Hangin' on me
Hangin' on me
I'm beat, I'm torn
Shattered and tossed and worn
Too shocking to see
Too shocking to see
Oh trouble move from me
I have paid my debt
Now won't you leave me in my misery
Oh trouble please be kind
I don't want no fight
And I haven't got a lot of time
Amongst the trip to Italy that E. and I did was the differences we saw of life in the five places we visited.
Venice where the Calle, crowded with people flowing in an endless stream towards somewhere. Their version of a human freeway as it lacked cars. Hands holding cell phones, bits and pieces of Italian entered my ears. When you merged into the narrow, twisting turning flow it all worked seamlessly. Those who stopped caused traffic jams, where like an ant colony, the flow would effortlessly bypass and the flow would begin again. Just as suddenly you would find yourself where the crowds have disappeared. The quiet, the utter quiet, like being in a church. There we might hear a radio from an open window behind lace curtains or nothing but silence. We would pass a lone woman pulling her metal shopping cart to buy her food for the day. Around a corner a coffee / bar / pasticcini with men and women taking their morning cappuccino or a quick shot of espresso with a tasty morning pastry. As a day goes on it would be for lunch items and well into the night a place for wine. The place to be to say a morning greeting and chat with the barista. The many pastries from the panificio we drooled over, through glass
windows, sweets that tantalized us with powdered sugar thick as a layer
of finely dusted snow. Heaven in a brioche. Venice an island of contrast. We wondered how many of the Italians we saw were tourist like us or did they live on the island or just come in to work. Venice that felt like a movie set or Disneyland at night without the fireworks. The soft stroke of an oar from a gondola, sleek, dark, elegant, romantic. I think a gondola at night would be the finest time to ride upon for the shadowy canals, quiet and empty of gawking tourist over the multiple bridges.
Vernazza with all the charm you would find in an Italian movie but it was for real. Colors on the buildings changing to a different intensity as the sun or shade hit them. A train would arrive in the morning unloading a new group of tourist. They all would head down as the station was at the top and the sea at the bottom. Tiny shops selling their tourist fare, cafes bustling all the day. Gelato in a cone as the day warmed up would be in so many hands. Licking the sweet tasty flavors that are hard to decide upon. Early evening where the tiny take out shop had a line as it was selling calamari and shrimp in a brown paper cone. The on the go appetizer. Many bought bottles of wine to take to the breakwater with glasses that shops would loan them. Everyone so relaxed, smiling, content. Everyone which meant the locals and the tourist. Time meant nothing. To live in the moment, to enjoy and savor where you were. to watch the sun set as the waters lapped calmly this time of year. This idyllic seaside town. People watching from above as I would look out our window on the street below. I would see our landlord as he helped at the pizza cafe his brothers owned. Setting up the tables early in the morning. I passed him on the street a few times where we greeted each other in passing. So kind and friendly. E. thought she could live in a place such as this. I wondered how I could. I could visit here for awhile as were doing. I would not want to live here as it was too perfect to want to lose that feeling if one stayed too long. It is better to have the fondness of wanting to return that I would want to keep. Being here you felt fully alive. Up and down with your legs on steps, stairs, hills, the sky the sea. I slept so well here. I ate so well here.
Lucca where I finally felt lost which I did not in Venice. I couldn't quite find where I was till I kept track of the street number on the main street that our Bed and Breakfast was off of. So many shops that looked so similar. Lots of people on bikes zooming by, lots of people filling the streets where a car was a rare sight but were allowed. Who wanted to drive though? Why? A bike would be much quicker and can dart in and out of the mob of people with the ring of a bell. So many times I wondered about the near misses of being run over or into a bike. Charming old bikes with baskets. Round and round the city the streets circumvented the old wall. When we took the walk around the town on the wall I felt free of the narrow streets. I could see out and above where I could not down below. I can understand why this broad walkway is appreciated by the town locals and kept up so well. The lovely branch spreading trees that shade so much of the circle. The manicured wide lawns that are outside the walls below with more trees along the road that circles the wall that obscure the car traffic beyond. Amazing that it was never bombed in WWII. This walled town was full of locals going about there day to the Pharmacia, the bookstore, the clothing shops, the cafes, the markets. Kids crowded one square where for their siesta they hung out. Watching the tourist? We looked at their styles compared to American kids. Not much different though they didn't wear low rider pants. Skinny jeans were it. We saw two teen girls who appeared to be pregnant. A few guys wore mohawks of sorts with their curly hair. I thought how our school kids would like a longer lunch break as in a siesta time. It seemed like they went to school in the morning and had a break for an hour and half or so and then went back to school for another hour.
Barga was as quiet as an empty church. Our journey began on an early morning bus ride that was headed for this medieval walled village. After we left the main road out of Lucca we started to climb via a narrow switch backing road. Gorgeous wooded hills that we traversed through. Out of the bus we wandered through the main entrance of Barga. No one else passed us for quite some time except one car that surprised us when we walked on the one narrow road a car could go on. Then the town revealed it's charm of narrow walkways up and down, views that showed off the distant mountains, the Tuscan stones on old buildings, gates, doors, archways, an ancient aqueduct that was above a lush green narrow ravine. Everywhere we looked we were spellbound. Yet where were the people? I don't think many lived in the walled town. We heard the sounds of people inside an open window and saw some at a couple of cafes. Small shops in the town were mostly closed or empty. We ate at a very pleasant cafe and admired the quaintness of this rarely visited place. Sleepy town? Certainly clean, positively quiet. We walked to the newer area of Barga where there were town people going about their lives. Working, eating, living. Normal shops for hardware, flowers, food and cafes. A lazy feel except for the buses that went by every once in awhile or the occasional car.
Lastly was Florence where I have been three times after this trip. Florence felt like the warm welcome of tourist season had passed. It needed a rain to clean it's soiled cobblestone streets, marble statues, fountains, and old buildings. There were more gypsy beggars than I had ever seen on previous visits, who were as persistent as flies. So much going on everywhere you looked. Food, food and more food. Gelato every third place you walked by. People milling about looking up, waiting in a line, talking, taking pictures. Horse carriages going by or waiting for the tourist who would hire them. Artists with easels set up drawing Florence scenes. The decadent flourish in the windows on the Ponte Vecchio, so many baubles of jewelry of silver and gold. In the old town of Florence I felt very few locals lived here. One day we waded through a sea of market carts, filled with scarves, leather jackets, belts, bags, trinkets. It went on down the street forever the carts. The lure to have you buy something from a wagon was high. No lacking in finding any trinket to bring home, the last of Italy to fit into your luggage. How to bring home the memories of a trip? I was weary the last few days of our trip. I looked at the familiar sights with mixed pleasure. Of high was sharing the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio with E. which she had not seen. We admired the fine detailed frescoes on the walls, of how they could be frivolously funny or wickedly sinister. Like a dream state we walked and studied the walls, the ceilings of gilt, paintings, details so small you could not speed through unless you had no interest. This has to be my favorite place in Florence. What would life have been like?
To leave the city was a bus ride to the airport. A wake-up to the dread of travel. Packing up, cramming in all the clothes, camera equipment, the ill fitting shoes, the last of the carefully measured toiletries. Walking with E. getting her last two gelatos, yes two. Walking to where we would find the bus near the train station but having trouble finding it. Rick Steve's directions lacking the right info or decent map. Struggling to ask a couple on the street where it might be. The lack of understanding and then a kind gentlemen telling us where to go. Just barely making the bus! Riding in a bus with no air, the windows that could open all closed, sweating. Arriving and the check in, the last cappuccino for me as I stood at the bar. Going home. Going home.
On the plane I thought of the island of Burano we visited while in Venice. The vibrant colors of the homes and businesses. It was suppose to be known for its lace but how can lace compete with shocking pink, orange sherbert, pistachio green, lavender, coral, contrasting colors side by side that made you want to go home and buy paint to do just the same on your own home. Happy, expressive, tranquil Burano. Surely those who live here must be filled with joy. One house we came upon, with all the windows wide open, someone played a piano. We stood there and listened. One moment for us as we listened and watched sashes on windows, curtains over front doors, laundry hung as though they were art. One moment that made me as happy as I could be to share this with my dear E.
It's Fall! With the change in season I start to savor the foods I haven't had all summer. Soups and stews start to whirl in my head. What do I want to make?
I fixed a Beef and Barley Soup the other night that warmed us through and through. Thick enough to stick to the ribs soup. I was going to make Beef Stew but in the end there wasn't enough beef to satisfy my two menfolk. The recipe files in my head started scanning with that soup coming to mind.
Sunday morning is pancake or waffle day in our house. My Love wasn't going to fix that though. He was planning on eggs, hash browns and sausage. Not what I was feeling the craving for. No, I wanted pancakes and pumpkin popped into my mind. So what if I had them last Sunday!
This is a wonderful recipe with the addition of Pear Compote to spoon across the top. They are moist, tender and light with lots of flavor from the spices. The recipe originated from the January 2005 Sunset Magazine. Here it is just in time for the holidays when you might have family overnight.
Pumpkin Pancakes with Pear Compote
1 Cup all-purpose flour 2 T. firmly packed brown sugar 1 tsp. baking powder 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp. ground ginger 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg 1/4 tsp. salt 1 large egg 3/4 canned pumpkin 1/2 Cup milk 1/4 Cup buttermilk 1/4 Cup plain yogurt 2 T. melted butter
1. In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.
2. In another bowl, whisk egg, milk, buttermilk, pumpkin, yogurt, and butter until well blended.
3. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture just until evenly moistened.
4. Heat a non-stick griddle over medium heat; when hot, spray some pam on the griddle. Spoon the batter onto griddle. The batter takes a little longer to cook through so don't let them over brown. Turn down the heat if needed. Turn out the pancakes and top with the pear compote and real maple syrup. (recipe to follow).
Pear Compote (makes enough for 2 servings)
1 pear, peeled, cored and diced, placed in a microwave bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon-sugar, cover loosely or with a microwave cover. Heat in microwave for 1 minute. They should be fork tender and cinnamon-sugar juicy.