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How 163 Days Changed My Life
July 18, 2019 - December 27, 2019
May you never hear the words, "You have cancer." If you do, it will change a lot of things forever. I received the news on August 7, 2019. I knew it was not going to be good news by the call I had received earlier in the day. "Can you come into the office?" Well sure, I can come in - what else are you going to say to that kind of question? I will be forever grateful to Jacky, the man who after a little small talk blurted out, "you have cancer and it is aggressive." I was not too hot on either piece of news, but at least I could tell he hated to tell me almost as much as I hated to hear it. He was kind. Kindness goes a very long way when a person gets that kind of news. I am lucky. I had Stage 4 tongue cancer caused by a virus - HPV. I have never smoked and that's a good thing. I was lucky because this kind of cancer is one that can often be conquered. I was lucky because I noticed the swollen lymph glands on my neck and had them checked out. I was lucky because 35 radiation treatments and 3 chemo treatments later, I was still alive. I AM lucky because on the 163rd day from when I called for my first appointment, the PET scan showed me to be cancer-free. That date was December 27, 2019. 163 days is 60% of a year. One of the people who helped me a lot through this ordeal - a cancer survivor herself - told me that in the totality of a lifetime, the acute cancer process is not really all that long. There will come a point in the future when it all will be nothing more than a distant memory. Thoughts like that give you hope when you need it most. Today is January 6, 2020 - the night before my birthday. It's a pretty good birthday eve to know that the future can seem a little less uncertain now than it was a few months ago. However, spoiler alert my dear friend - no one's future is certain in any way shape or form. This is one of many things I have learned along the way. There's lots more to say on that topic alone, but for now - just joy, happiness and gratitude. Happy Birthday to me and PLEASE may all cancer warriors become cancer survivors celebrating many happy birthdays of their own.
Success Trip - Tucson, AZ
February 5 - 13, 2020
One of my dearest mentors in the cancer-surviving process told me that after one gets the "cancer free" news that a Success Trip is in order. I have always wanted to go to the Gem and Mineral show in Tucson AZ, but the old me would not allow myself to go. I would miss work for heaven's sake. So the new me decided that this would be a great year to head to Tucson. It takes some doing to go on vacation. Work and home arrangements have to be made. Itineraries and reservations need to be thought out and secured. The camper needs to be readied. Cat food (lots of it) needs to be stocked in the cabinet. However, all those things are totally doable if you think they are. I had some of my own requirements for the trip. First of all, I was not going to rush. Second, I was not going to be tied to any strict itinerary. Third, I was going to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. To me, these are the things that matter on a trip. The new me is able to prioritize better than ever before. Odd, how cancer gives you gifts. One does not need cancer to learn about living a better life, but some of us - like me, need whacked on the head pretty hard in order to pay attention. The trip was great. We left on February 5 which was my mother's birthday. She would have been 92 this year. My mother - a true Aquarius, loved to explore. The start date was in tribute to her. We spent 5 days in Tucson and saw rocks and rocks and more rocks. The rest of the time (we were gone 9 days) was the journey to and from. Outside of the Tucson area, it was COLD. At the end of the trip, the camper was freezing up. On the last night, we had to drain and winterize the camper! That night we "camped" in the Holiday Inn in Chinle, AZ. It was nice to warm up, take a bath and watch the first episode of "Survivor" on TV! I was hoping that I would figure out my new life's purpose on the trip. Not sure that I fully accomplished that goal, but I do think I figured out what color to stucco the outside of the XTROV building this Spring. That in itself is a major accomplishment. I have been working on that one for about a year! What happens when one has a little space and time to simply BE is both the journey and the destination all in one. Maybe I did discover my life's purpose after all... to simply BE.
Do or Don't - New Meaning After first Follow Up at Radiation/Chemo
February 24., 2020
I had my first follow up appointment post Pet Scan on 2/19/20. It's taken a few days to process what happened. It is nothing horrible I want to say right away, but it was a lot more traumatic than I expected. After I got the "cancer free" news in late December, I felt pretty done with the whole thing. I was not and am not still fully strong, but I felt like I had my life, or at least most of it, back. I was expecting the follow up to be a rubber stamp kind of thing. Not really. The chemo Dr. scared me a bit. I have not yet connected with him. He is bright and likes to convey that to one whether he realizes his arrogance or not. I think he acts like a bit of a jerk - bluntly. Anyway, he rattles on about how one is considered in remission after 5 years and that he tests regularly (around every three months) at first to see if it comes back. If it spreads it most likely will go to the lungs. In three years, you are in pretty good shape... He does it in a way that seems like I should think all this news is just dandy. He does say the prognosis is good and he tries - especially after pointed questioning, to answer my questions. It is all very theoretical and never once did he act like he realized a human being was sitting across from him. When HE is done, he smiles and gives me a "good firm handshake" and wishes me a good day. Well, there you go. Next, I go off to radiation. That Dr. is completely different. He is very aware, quite bright himself, but demonstrates that he fully understands that all this is not exactly easy to deal with. The issue with him is that he is retiring and this is my last session with him. He tells me that I am doing very well, that in two years I will be in pretty good shape. He says he does not believe in a lot of post-treatment testing. He seems a bit dismayed at the Chemo side's testing pattern. However, he is soon to be out of the picture and defers professionally to his colleague across the hall. He is encouraging, but you can tell he has had so many of these types of conversations that he is ready to be done. I don't blame him. His name is Dr. Steven Bush. I thank him for getting me through to this point. So now, where does that leave me? A lot more shaken than I expected. I now know that I am not done yet. This whole cancer thing is a journey and I am not anywhere close to done. I have only climbed the first very steep hill and am now walking on a plateau where I can't see very far across the landscape. I can deal with it and I am very optimistic. However, I am still trying to come to terms with things. My take away is an even firmer stand on DO or DON'T. What that means if you DO want to do something, DO it now with no regrets. If you DON'T want to do something that you absolutely don't have to do, then DON'T!!!!! I feel good now and plan to stay that way. However, either way - sick or well - life is nothing to waste. You will find me daily doing what I love and learning to skip what I don't. There's that sneaky cancer gift again. I love Napoleon Hill - he said: "with every adversity comes with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." Here's to all of us living our lives on purpose and doing what we love for as long as we can. Oh, and by the way, remember to smell the tulips.
It gets really to the heart of things now....
My Dad died on February 28, 2020
May Day - 2020
It has been 2 months and I have not been able to write about this until now even though there is SO much to say. I will try to go back to the beginning and work forward. My dad was 94. Some would say that it is a good long life. I would say WHY would we be done in 100 years or so - something is not right there, but that is a story for a different time and place. Long story very short, my dad - Jerry J Chaffin, died of lung failure - right before the COVID-19 virus really surfaced. He did not have COVID. However, I got to live up close and personal what it is like to be with someone when they have no air and they die. It is a hard, hard thing. Let me just say, he died in the Hospice House at Mercy Medical in Durango surrounded by some really amazing medical professionals and me. I say they are amazing because they deal with DEATH on a daily basis and somehow take it in stride. They were also KIND to me and to my dad. At the time of my dad's death, there were five of us surrounding his bed. Me and four of the Hospice house staff. I viewed and view them all as Angels as they laid hands on him and stood strong. So that is all I can say about that part, but there is so much more. My dad went into SW Memorial, was taken by ambulance to Durango Intensive Care, and then we chose to move to Hospice House and then died - all within a day and a half.
Let me fast forward. My dad was gone. It was time for me to drive home. I have looked at Sleeping Ute Mtn. my entire life. On the way home I noticed the Mountain different that I have ever seen before and I doubt/hope I will see again. My name for Ute Mountain is Magic Mountain. On that day, his face was striped in white (snow). It made me think of war paint. I WISH I would have stopped and taken a picture, but I did not. It was different. Lines of white were on his face. I did look up on the Internet and I did find that white was a sign of mourning. I have complete belief that the Mountain was mourning my Dad. A great man had passed and that is something the southwest would not ignore. Well, there it is. The surface of what a passing means. I post this under "surviving cancer" as I KNOW my Dad would never have left me if I was not able to carry on. I hope I have conveyed that this post is only the TIP of the iceberg on all there is to say about this experience. I will keep communicating as best I can as there is much to share. Why the picture of the waterfall on this post for example..... Love to anyone who reads this.
What Really Constitutes Success?
January 17, 2020
From the get-go when I learned that I had cancer, I decided it HAD to turn out for my greater good in some way. It made no sense that something as disrupting as cancer came to only cause me problems. Maybe this belief was a self-defense mechanism or maybe it was an insight from the Universe. I think it was probably both - you need something to hold on to and something positive to occupy your mind. One of my all-time favorite authors, Napoleon Hill, taught that "with every adversity comes with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." So I have been looking and still am looking for my greater benefits. That has led me to think about what a successful life for me looks like now. I believe defining "success" is a human need and striving to achieve the defined success is also a shared condition. It is more or less a conscious activity depending on the human. This human has thought about it a lot. It started out with good grades, running the fastest, looking pretty - that sort of thing. Then it moved to prove my success by the visible results of my life - an advanced degree, a nice house, a Mercedes in the garage, a Rolex, a prestigious job title and on and on. I call this stage of my life, "when more was more." During what was becoming the end of the more is more phase, I relocated back to Montezuma County. Skip some years and here we are today. Money, of course, is always involved in success. It is pretty hard to buy a house without it. I learned early on that having money is better than not. I have never been shy about working and have been smart about the work I have chosen to do. I have almost always been in some sort of sales job so that I can control what I make by how good of a job I do. I am now slowly realizing that I am not my job or the results of my job. There are things that I would like to do that have nothing to do with my job(s). With the HUGE EXCEPTION, that if you don't have income - you are really limited in what you can do. One of the ways that I am thinking of success these days involves getting a lot smarter about money. Until one can live a decent life outside the constraints of working in a day-to-day kind of way to earn the money needed, how successful is that?? The cancer experience so far has given me the gift of seeing things in a different light so that I can think differently than I did before. On a wide variety of topics - money being only one.
What's Most Important - TIme or Health?
January 17, 2020
I used to think the answer was Time. I reasoned if you didn't have Time, you didn't have anything. I now think it is Health. You could have a lot of Time, but if you are too sick to get up or to eat or to feel good in any way, Time might become an enemy, not a friend. Time is still a requirement, but Healthy Time is what is important. Until I had the experience of a lack of health, I took health for granted. I had always been a "super healthy person." HA - I was just fooling myself because it took a long time for "lack of health" to catch up to me. I lived to work and the stress that came with it had become totally normal. Work came before most everything - eating, sleeping, or any kind of downtime. Too much stress can kill you. At some point, something is going to give way - a stroke, a heart attack, or catching cancer. Funny thing is that the event is really a gift in the form of a "wake up call." The truth is life is what you make it. No one has to do anything or in any certain way. You just need to figure out what is important to you and go about living your life congruent with your values. I don't think it is possible to live your highest and best life without some space to create. Stress takes away one's ability to be creative.
The Circle Cage - Nope, not Going to Go There
January 17, 2020
When you find yourself stuck or living what Andi calls the "robot life" it is time to take stock and make some changes before things get worse - maybe Really Worse. I call the concept "the circle cage." It means going round and round for a reason that may have once existed but has been long forgotten. Going around and around has become the goal in itself. THIS IS NUTS. It can get comfortable though. For me, the circle cage was work. You have to step off or out of the cage to see that there is a whole big world out there once you are no longer caged. Yes, it will probably be uncomfortable, but "oh, what might there be?" once a person gets free. I am starting to get to know my creative side again. As my brain gets a little more rested and a little less full, there becomes room for some really new and exciting options. On my mother's side, I come from a long line of teachers. I love to learn. One of the best ways to learn is to teach. From my experiences come something educational. I am excited about teaching some real estate classes starting in early February. See the Classes and Events tab for more details. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Circle Cage and all that comes with it. Text Circle Cage to 970-739-3548 and let me know what you think!
It Would have been 73 Years of Marriage
January 18, 2020
Cancer helps you think about what is important and then actually do something about it. Taking time to celebrate important things - big and small would go on the list of important things. January 18 would have been my parents' 73rd Wedding Anniversary - if my mother was still alive. She's missed two of them so far. Being married over seventy years is something to celebrate. Can you imagine being happily married for over 70 years? I can as I got to witness it first hand. Growing up, having happily married parents was completely normal for me. I got divorced after a 20-year marriage so later I learned that a happy marriage is not always "normal." My divorce made me even more thankful for growing up in a home where it was. My dad, who is 94, came over and ask me if "today was January 18?" I instantly knew that I had so far forgotten that it was. I felt terrible. He didn't seem too concerned. I guess when you are 94 you really have a lot of perspective on things as he knows how much I care about my parents. I had a picture of their wedding day close by. As we looked at the picture of my young future parents, my dad said, "The day was like today. Not a lot of snow, sunny but cold. We stood out in the lawn under the apple tree for that picture." They were married in Mancos, CO at my grandparent's house. It was the house in which my mother was born. I am really lucky to have the family roots I have. I miss my mother. The best thing I can do now is to celebrate little things with my Dad. And, next year, I am not forgetting January 18.
Mashed Potatoes and a Dr. Pepper
January 24 2020
In the big picture, my acute cancer experience could have been much worse. I have a dear friend who had eight chemos. I had three. I am alive, some people lose their lives. Talking about perspective here... However, there are moments in the journey that are really hard. After about a month of not being able to eat or drink much, I was dehydrated and running pretty thin on endurance. It didn't really matter that everything tasted like "swamp." What mattered was getting some kind of food down and then keeping it there. I clearly remember kind of hanging on to the kitchen counter while the vision of KFC mashed potatoes and gravy floated through my mind. I was hungry. My dear Dad was there. He was worried. We live 20 miles from Cortez. When I said "I wish I had some KFC mashed potatoes," I was not expecting my dad to say "ok, I'll be right back." He was out the door. He was 93 at the time, now he's 94. It took me a second to realize he was off to get KFC. About an hour later, he was back. I ate the whole container of potatoes and gravy. He also had brought a Dr. Pepper. A drink came with the meal. In my normal life, I rarely if ever, drink pop. There was so much sugar in the Dr. Pepper it masked the swamp taste. I drank the entire thing. Not exactly healthy food, but at that stage of the game any food was good food. It got me through that day. I had KFC potatoes several more times over the next couple of weeks. The smooth and the salt were good things. Thank you, Daddy, for being there when I need you. You have been and always will be my hero. LOVE YOU!!!!