Monday, March 27, 2017

Needing My Zen

This past Saturday was a wonderful day. Liz had organized a diverse crew of friends from every corner of the DC metro area to mulch my yard. Now, please understand that this annual ritual is one I personally look forward to. Over the course of 10-some years, Liz and I alone hauled (well, let’s be honest LIZ hauled), opened, and spread 70+ bags of mulch, plus, the other spring tiding up of cutting the tall grasses, trimming the butterfly bushes and pulling the god-awful weeds and dandelions that had sprung up, in about a two-day period.

Over the years, my yard has become my sanctuary. It is a place a go to sit, to be still, to enjoy the birds and to breathe. It’s a place I can find my Zen. I can lose myself in tending to plants, sowing the soil, and being proud of the end result. I can spend hours of back-breaking work stooped over pulling weeds and be perfectly at peace.

So when eleven big-hearted folks show up in your back yard to do all that FOR you, it’s a bit overwhelming. There was friendship, love, laughter, warm chocolate ship cookies and warm sunshine on Saturday. Its hard work and yet not one compliant or wandering off, or sitting down. I could barely get them to take a water break. And all through the day, I was able to chat and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and neighbors who I hadn’t had the opportunity to really talk to.

What took Liz and I at least two days, took the crew three hours to complete. In the end, the Casa grounds never looked so good. And every shred of mulch was put there with love. You just can’t beat that.

The next day, the weather had turned overcast and almost 20 degrees colder than the day before. I was feeling pretty good physically, and decided to work on my fish pond. The pond I had dug out myself while in-between jobs years ago. Full of once-25 cent fish from PetSmart that have grown over the years into koi-size goldfish. The water fall I had turned off prior to the usual winter freeze (that never materialized) needed to be turned back on for spring. The grasses and other plant life surrounding the pond needed trimming, its filters needed cleaning, and the pond water needed to be treated. All in all, I was putt-sing out there for a couple of hours. Glorious hours, where I literally forgot I had cancer. I felt “normal” again. It caught me by surprise, really. For a short few hours, I did not have cancer. I wasn’t nauseous, I didn’t have to take medications, I didn’t have to gear up for the next chemo treatment, I wasn’t concerned for my life. And it was wonderful. Alas, the feeling didn’t last long. And when “real life” returned, so did the tears.  Damn it.

But here we are. Here I am. In the fight for my life. I did not choose to be here. In this space. With cancer. But here we are. Many times, Saturday I was told how brave I was. How courageous. My response? And while I understand – and appreciate – the thought very much. I don’t feel brave. Is it “brave” when there's no choice to be had? When there’s not a pick between being valiant or a coward? There’s NO choice in this. I will fight this fucking cancer. Unwelcomed. Not invited. And forbade to ever return. With everything I have.  

But to be clear, folks fighting cancer ARE brave and courageous. This is no easy contest. It takes a good amount of guts to tough out the effects of chemotherapy day in and day out, to fight off the demons who swirl around in your head at night. To get up and do it all again – for weeks. All with the horror that if this doesn’t work……..

Call me brave. Call me courageous. I’ll take it. I need it. And I’ll need my place of Zen, too. The place I will go to find peace, to find strength, to not be reminded I have cancer. For this place, I have my motley crew who showed up last Saturday to thank. And I cannot thank them enough. Namaste.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Grateful To Be Done With Round 3

I'm happy to say I've finished three of the "hard four" chemotherapy treatments. It's good to be on the other side of
what I'm told is the harshest of the 20-week chemo plan for me. I'm not gonna lie, knowing I'll only have to watch the nurse push two huge syringes of the "red devil" or "red angel" (depending on if you are a glass-half empty or a glass- half full kinda person) is comforting.

My blood work remains strong. Actually have pretty high white blood cell counts which makes me happy as I seem to catch any small bug floating around the office. I have always had a pretty hearty immune system- but now I now have to remind myself I'm much more vulnerable and need to be careful who I'm around, etc. 

Before this third treatment, it was a stop at Sibley Hospital for genetic testing. I have "triple negative" breast cancer, which means that the tumor is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative. So it's my hope a genetic test can lead to some explanation is to why I have cancer. 

I was initially interested in the test for the BRCA 1/2 gene. 15-20 percent of all breast cancers are triple negative. Of those only 5-10 percent of breast cancers are related to the gene. So it's unlikely I'm positive. But I don't want to leave any stone unturned as to reasons. If I'm positive for the BRCA gene, I'm at a higher risk for ovarian cancer. And other females in my family are at a greater risk of getting cancer or certainly passing along the gene to their children. So I want to know for them as well. 

After talking everything over with the doctor, we decided we'd order not only the "breast cancer panel" but also the full "gynecology panel" that will look at genes associated with endometrial, uterine, and ovarian cancers. I what to know as much as I can about what the hell cards I've been dealt so I can make the most informed decisions going forward. Shit in my body I no longer need can be taken out if it keeps me alive and/or reduces my risk of the fucking cancer coming back. 

The test is a saliva test. Now, I assumed she'd swab my cheek and we'd be good to go. Nope. Saliva test means spitting into a tube. I'm not a spitter. Never have been. It took me about 20 minutes to hack up enough spittle to fill the tube. Jesus. Is nothing easy in this journey?  We should have the results in about three weeks.

After another positive exam from my oncologist and about 2 1/2 hours of infusion of life saving chemo, I was home in my jammies catching the start of March Madness.

My village has been wonderful - please keep it up! 20 weeks is a long time. I feed off your positive and uplifting energy. Your silly jokes, texts, cards, etc. mean the world. 

Peace. Love. Namaste. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Place I Call "Home".

I come from a very small town in southeastern Iowa. It’s where the mighty Cedar and Iowa Rivers meet. Where the Burlington and Cedar & Northern railways once met. It’s a town called Conesville.

According to the 2010 Census, Conesville has a population of approximately 432. That’s up from the 300 or so folks who called it home during my childhood. Everyone claims to be related to one another – and that’s probably true. In 2010, 63% of the population was Latino or Hispanic. It’s a place that has attracted field workers from the Rio Grande area since I can remember. The land surrounding Conesville is lined with tomato, watermelon and bean fields.  I worked in those fields as a young girl, detasseling corn, picking watermelon, and hoeing weeds from bean fields. It was a wonderful way to live out my childhood. Working in the fields and paying softball.

It’s a place I still call “home”. It’s where I’m from and I’m very proud of the place. It was special when I was growing up providing that protective, supportive, and mentoring cocoon from which to thrive.

And while I haven’t lived in Conesville since 1982, that community continues to rally around me. Sure, it helps my dad still lives there and the “Bennett” influence on the community remains strong and vibrant since the mid 1800’s, but it’s the people. The good-hearted, never-forget-your-family, people that make this place special. I am heartened by the words of encouragement, the pictures of old friends in their “Her Fight is Our Fight” glory. Words can’t describe how good this all makes me feel. I’m NOT alone. It’s so clear to me. My battle to rid my body of cancer encompasses many folks, buoyed by prayers, memories, love, food, hats, blankets, and cards. It truly is a village of love.

There are no stop lights in Conesville and only a handful of stop signs. In fact, if you weren’t paying attention you may blow thru the town without little notice. But notice you should.

Conesville, incorporated in 1878, took its name from a fella, Beebe S. Cone (1818-1885), who owned several thousands of acres of land in the area. The earliest Bennetts – at least according to the town’s cemetery records was Henry (1855-1933) and Mary Louise (1853-1925). Now, I am not our family historian. That falls to my dad so I’m sure he can fill in tons of information I leave out, but you get the picture. We Bennetts have been around since the beginning.

I remember riding my bike with friends until it was way past dark outside. No cell phones, no worries. Total childhood freedom to roam my town. No boundaries, no restrictions. My experiences growing up in a small town have stayed with me as an adult. Even in times when I’d find myself standing in the White House – totally alone and entirely authorized to be there - I would never forget to appreciate from where I came.Just a girl from a small town in Iowa.

It is their spirit, their faith, their love and their belief that I will be OK that sustains me in the middle of the night.  Corny or not: Conesville is in my soul and its people feed my soul. I am full. #BennettStrong

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Today I craved pizza. Now, let’s be clear, we are not a pizza-eating family. My dear wife – bless her heart – only eats pizza after running a marathon. No other time is pizza a part of our diet. But today (actually it started yesterday) I am craving pizza. So where does a cancer warrior go in Dupont Circle, Washington DC for pizza? Well, if you aren’t sure you ask the “youngsters”. The millennials in my office who are always up for a challenge. A task. A test. A party. Pizza! They rallied around my need and came up with several choices within walking distance of the office. I knew they’d pull through.

I dive into my choices – kinda sparse if you ask me as this is certainly NOT NYC where you can simply pick up a “slice’ around just about any corner you walk – and decided on THE pizza joint in Dupont Circle – Pizza Paradiso. This place has been around since 1991. I remember it well in its original spot – a crowded, small, second floor row house building, always jammed with young, well-intended pizza lovers looking for the best pizza – and pizza combinations - DC could muster. Still is today, although thankfully, they’ve expanded into a bigger space in Dupont and even moved into glamorous Old Town Alexandria, and into glitzy, fabulous Georgetown, with the wonderfully over-priced “must have” cupcake spot of said name.

Anyways, I  go all 21st century and order myself their 9 inch personal pizza online (well, I say “personal” size  because I’m only one gonna be eating this beauty) and hold out until 12:15 when I can get myself over there and pick it up.

I’m thankful I have an appetite at all. The first round of chemo for me, as you all know, was rather rough. I was sick to my stomach for about 5 days. Now, most of that – as you also now know – was due to my stubbornness of not taking my meds. This round, I sucked down those pills every 4 hours around the clock and I must day that I felt OK through the brutality of the first 4-5 days. Now, the nausea is gone – even without meds – and I need that pizza!

OK. It was just what I wanted. Hit the spot as they say. Ate the whole thing – which I’m sure the result will be a blog post for a later time. Done. Craving met. Choice met. Satisfied. Feeling good heading into the next week or so until my next (third) treatment.

By the way, I am grateful I don’t have to choose between my IPhone and healthcare – just sayin’ - and it’s so gratifying to know that whenever I get a craving for pizza – or whatever I choose - I’ll just go get it! Get yours!