March 21, 2013


Surgery Sucks Anyway You Look At It

Editors Note: This article was originally published on the Nubian Dairy Goat site on May 2011 shortly following my March 2011 cancer surgery. It has been removed from that site and published here.

The drugs help but … they can’t make up for clean cotton sheets, country fresh air, pet chicken fresh eggs. soft curious nuzzles from beloved pets and a loving family watching every move I make: they are the wind beneath my wings.

While only one person may go through the surgery, the entire family feels the pain.

I was struck by the hospital room’s odors: vinyl upholstery, plastic mattress cover, plastic cups, and of course the ever present IV drip.Whatever that liquid transportation system dispensed into my system, it transferred needed medications without the need of ‘sticking’ me any more than possible. But it also tethered me to an extension cord that was six inches too short to comfortably maneuver in the room and making going the a bathroom a marathon event. Often requiring a team.

My senses were overwhelmed. The odor of the medications, the IV altering my taste buds, my numbed bottom from being able to lay in only one position. Fortunately, I could relax my eyes by glazing outside across at the rooftop gravel and tar studded vents; to glimpse the tree on the horizon. Thank you dear Lord for that tree. In my medicated state, that rooftop turned into a zen rock garden and the heloport wind dopplere became the crest of arms protecting me. It’s what you make it.

LiveSTRONG at the YMCA — Reflection Question

Our most recent reflection question was “Where is your favorite place?”

We all thought for a moment then started the round of answers. Most of us said the beach, any beach; one said a local lake, while another was more specific and said a lake in Vermont. I found it interesting that their favorite places were centered around water, lots of water. Group-wide their favorite places was almost unanimous, the beach. Well, almost … . Then it was my turn.

My answer, on the other hand, was, is, and will always be my home. My husband and I have lived here for more than twelve years and have molded it to fit our needs, wants, and dreams. It’s where all the things I love live. Why would I want to go somewhere else to fulfill my dreams? They’re right here.

Someone in the group asked if there was a special place on the ranch. That group moves kind of fast so I couldn’t take too long to think about it. I thought for the whole minute they gave me then said that if there was such a place, then it would have to be our barn, mainly because it’s where our horses and baby goats live, even though it’s the place that requires the most work (aka mucking, if know what I mean but we moved out here to get physical exercise).

We moved to the county in 2000 so we could have two horses and live happily ever after. In 2009 we got our first horse (finally) then in 2011 we got the second one. So far … so good but we have much to learn. Learning is most of the fun. We look forward to it.

It’s taken a while for us to acquire the head-stalls, collars, and saddles but we have them now. Please know that when we started, neither one of us knew what a head-stall was, nor did we know what gullett or rigging meant. Sigh … those are critical elements in saddles so we had to learn what they meant before we could even come close to purchasing our saddles. Who knew that saddles come in different sizes? Who knew that bits do different things to different types of horses? That would be us — owners of two first-time-ever-in-their-lives horses. Yep. Got all that figured out now.

We have a few trails in place and plan on cutting through the property at some point so we can have more trails. Fortunately, one of our neighbors said we could ride on his property any time we wanted. Although, I’ll call first because he enjoys target shooting — just to check in.

But that question “Where is your favorite place?” stayed on my mind all day. It was on my mind as I worked my way through the day’s activities. Then I noticed the cats.

Most of the cats lounged throughout the house (we have four indoor and one outdoor cat who has apparently moved inside for the winter); some were napping while others were chasing each other; and one is always bird watching out the dinning room window. (That’s why I put the bird feeder outside the window, not to frustrate the cats but to enjoy the birds. Ah hummm … that’s why we have indoor cats … so we’ll have alive wild birds.)

I don’t nap often but when I do John and Ms Kitty lay on top of me so we can keep each other warm. Then all three of us start purring. Who wouldn’t go into deep rim sleep with a purring cat on your chest and another at your feet? It is so blissful that I look forward to an occasional nap. John and Ms Kitty must like our like naps too because they’re always close to me.

The dogs are either asleep on the sofas, in their crates, or playing in the back yard. Interacting with them throughout the day, every day is enriching. Between household chores, we’ll sometime work on sitting or staying (of course we need hotdog treats). Recently we started walking down the driveway and back (it’s about half a mile one way). I walk one dog at a time so we can have one-on-one time with each other. That’s probably the second most relaxing time of my day following the cat-purring nap, of course.

Goats are the most incredible creatures on earth and I’m honored to have had the experience of living and working with them. Each has its own personality, likes, dis-likes, and behaviors. Most are loving but some are honery and stubborn. I now the difference between “I don’t think so” and “NO’. It’s the intensity of the kick. Trust me on this and you’ll save yourself a few bruises. Call me if you want details. Drinking their milk is worth all the work and affection. It is without question the most delicious drink I have ever had. I also use their milk to make soaps and lotions because it is healthy for our skin. Goat milk is as good for your outside as it is for your inside.

Then there’s the chickens. They always have agendas; chasing one another; catching bugs; grazing; scratching; or bathing in the dirt. We keep them as healthy and clean as possible because they give us delicious fresh eggs every day and their poop, aged of course, goes into the compost pile.

Ah … my compost piles, I have several. There’s poop mountain, which is a mixture of horse and goat waste from both barns; it’s in two or three different piles depending on it’s age. A good poop pile is like fine wine, the older it is, the better it is. Since we have plenty, I only use the oldest, best, most aged compost, five years or older, depending on where I dig.  (My secret spot, shhhhhh.) Digging and turning poop mountain gives me another excuse to play with my tractor. Although I enjoy its power and go-anywhere-ness, my favorite thing is the front bucket. With it I can literally move mountains and enjoy it. UGH power! Did I mention that I love mowing with my tractor?

There’s the chicken poop; it’s loaded with microbes. I recently dug out at least three years of chicken waste from the chicken coop. Whoooeeee. Now I keep it moist, let the chickens dig for bugs and we’re in business.

Their little feet scratch and seek out bugs much better than I ever could. Besides, having some one else break up the soil is a good thing. The more they dig and peck the compost, the better and richer it becomes. We recently bought sixteen baby chicks so our flock has grown from four to twenty. We’ll have plenty of poop. Perfect.

Then there’s the vermicompost pile for our kitchen waste. Years ago I bought several hundred red wigglers and never looked back. Those little guys make the most p-r-i-m-e   compost. Last year I built a garden made of up this compost and the veges exploded with color and fruit.

Oh my goodness. My vegetable garden. This year is it’s second year so I can hardly wait for the right time of year to plant the veges and companion plants. I’m expanding the garden this year by surrounding the existing rows with straw bales. That’ll be fun having more fresh food. Last year I planted mostly annuals and only had a few perennial vegetables but have added more blue berry, cranberry, and muscadine plants.

This is my first vegetable garden, ever. And being a city girl, admittedly I had no idea how much work was involved. But more than that I had no idea how wonderful the fresh food tasted. It’s the shortest distance I’ve ever traveled for food and we’re spoiled. Besides digging in a garden made of rich soil full of red wiggles makes me aware of Mother Nature and her complex organisms.

The bees are next to the vegetable garden — facing southeast so they can get the morning sun. The bees and I usually work the garden together — most of the time. However last year one lady did run me out of the garden. It seems as though she was much more interested in gardening than I was so I let her have it. If she wants to pollinate a few flowers instead of letting me weed, then that’s OK with me. I can come back later. We’ve only had the bees one year so we’re still learning about them. Again, we look forward to it.

The pollinator garden is almost ready for it’s flowers. It’s located behind the bees and next to the vegetable garden, near the well. Again, this garden contains the best soil our aged poop mountain can offer. I’m planting it mostly with flowers that bees enjoy but if a few butterflies and other beneficial insects want to settle in, that’s a good thing.

So, what’s my favorite place? It’s my home because that’s where all the things I love live — most especially it’s where my husband and I live together. We do these chores together; we enjoy the ranch together. He’s helped me deliver baby goats (although he’s not keen on milking), clean barns, walk dogs, clean cat cages, plant fruit trees, bury goats, and build outbuildings. He’s in charge of the TV remote when it doesn’t work, all electrical issues, some plumbing, automatic waters, doing the dishes, and tucking in critters at night all after working all day long. He’s incredible and the love of my life.

The real answer is that my favorite place is where my husband is. He is my home. It doesn’t matter where we live, just so we’re together.

MONDAY, MARCH 18, 2013

Living STRONG at the YMCA with Cancer

In early February 2013 I was approved for a program called LiveSTRONG at the Y. It’s designed to help cancer survivors rebuild their lives, their bodies, and their spiritual strength with careful planning and assistance from experienced physical exercise professionals.

LiveSTRONG at the Y, associated with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, partners with the YMCA in offering a twelve week full-family YMCA membership so the entire family can use the Y’s facilities to strengthen their mind, body and spirit together.

Our first meeting was an overview of the program and our introduction to each other – thirteen cancer survivors who would be united for twelve weeks in strengthening their lives.

We introduced ourselves by mentioning one thing about our lives that we wanted the group to know. Every person has a different type of cancer, and a different prognosis. Some are now cancer free; others are continuing their treatments; still others have incurable cancer and will live with it forever.

We were led through a series of questions that revealed even more about our feelings and emotions. Using a set of photographs we selected pictures that reflected our feelings about what our lives were like before cancer; what we felt like when we first found out we had cancer; and what we want our lives to be like from now on.

Thirteen different experiences and points of view crossed the emotional spectrum from laughter to tears. Our lighthearted beginning laughter gradually grew to emotional tears because each of us realized that our lives and the lives of every family represented in this room have forever been affected. No one in this room would ever be in the world without cancer. No one’s life would ever be the same as before.

These icebreaking techniques were light, entertaining, and helped each of us to slowly and gracefully reveal how we felt when we first learned that we had cancer. For instance, my cancer surgery was in March of 2011, (I’m pretty sure that each of us remember their surgical date.)Some of those emotions have been glossed-over or forgotten. The exercises helped me bring many of those thoughts back to the surface so I could deal with them. Might as well, I’m one of the incurable ones.

Some of us are more aware of our fight than others. For instance, one of us missed a session because his chemotherapy treatment had made him so ill that he was in bed for four days. His first day back he was pale and moved slowly but he seemed to complete his exercises and even passed me on the track; and I thought I was moving faster than usual. I have personally met a true fighter and an honored friend.

LiveSTRONG at the YMCA is the only cancer survivor group I’ve been in and I find it engaging. I find my mates to be strong, inspiring, helpful, and spiritual people. Spirituality comes to the forefront when you’re life depends on successful surgeries and continued medical care. I’ve always been a deeply spiritual person although not necessarily a Christian. Oddly, before surgery I prayed to and accepted prayers from every source. It worked because I’m here today. Now I live in a state of thankfulness.

The only cancer support group available at the Cancer Center is for breast cancer survivors. It breaks my heart that there are so many breast cancers but more than that my heart breaks because there are so many types of cancers. I had no idea — that is before I became one of them.

Before we began the LiveSTRONG program each of us was given a questionnaire about our cancer, medications, and over-all health. Our responses helped the YMCA instructors get to know us, our medications, and our relationship with cancer.

Our second meeting was when the work began. With information garnered from our questionnaire the Y instructors created workouts for each of us that would benefit our individual physical levels; they took into account our medications and physical activities.

For the next twelve weeks we will meet on Tuesdays and Thursday in the second floor Conference Room where our pulse is noted on our charts. Next we will do a warm-up exercise then we go to work. Half of us head to the track for our prescribed walk, while the other half goes to the weight room.

Did I mention that at least one Y instructor, usually two or more, is with us at all times? Yes, we are in excellent hands. I’ve never had such a feeling of care at an exercise facility before. We have to be on our toes too because they’ll randomly stop us to take our pulse (and note it) so we can see how we’re progressing. The instructors are always present to help us adjust equipment, to offer exercise advice, to talk with us to make sure our breathing is appropriate, and to take our pulse (I seek out the Warm-Handed One whenever possible.)

So far we’ve warmed up, walked the track, worked out on the cardio equipment and weights then stretched out to cool off. We close each meeting with a reflection question helping us to slow down mentally as well as physically.

We’ve been working out with weights but next week we’ll exercise in a different way. Our instructor explained that we would meet in a different exercise room and that we would be doing the Zumba workout followed by an extended stretch out session. A voice from the crowd said, “Is there a pole involved?” Following a long deserved choir of laughter we were assured that “there was no pole involved.”

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed more laughter among the group. This tells me that we’re getting to know each other. We’re all more playful and more relaxed with each other.

Clearly our sense of humor is intact. Everyone needs to maintain a sense of humor when cancer is involved.