Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day! This is a day I have both enjoyed and taken for granted for a very long time. When I was a kid, my family usually had a picnic at a local park called Sully's Hill. My mother and grandmother used to fry chicken, make potato salad and pack a wonderful picnic lunch. We kids would run wild through the park, just basically raising hell and being maniacs. There was a huge hill to climb, which overlooked the whole area. We made our way up that hill, and after reaching the top, all six of us would take off running down as fast as our legs would carry us. At the end was a fence made of cut timbers. I don't know how we avoided smashing into that fence as we reached the bottom, because the hill was steep and one could pick up a good head of steam before reaching the bottom. Our guardian angels must have been working overtime in those days.

The day usually ended with a drive through the natural habitat trail. It was dotted with prairie dogs, elk, deer, and the best reward of all - a herd of buffalo. It was an awesome experience to slowly navigate between those big creatures, and my heart would beat a little faster, wondering if something might make them stampede. If they decided to do that, I was sure our little Rambler would have been smashed like a tin can - with us in it.

As the evening turned to night, we often found ourselves at my grandmother's house. She and my grandfather lived directly across the street from the park where the fireworks were lit. She had all of the chairs set up outside her screen porch and a thing she called a smudge pot going. From what I could tell, the smudge pot was a metal pail of burning embers to which she would add handfuls of green grass from time to time. It would smoke something awful, and she claimed that would keep the mosquitos away. It seemed to work. We felt very lucky to have a good, cozy vantage point for the fireworks, and a smudge pot to keep us from being eaten alive by those virulent North Dakota mosquitos. To this day, I don't know anywhere, except Canada, where the mosquitos are so thick and overpowering. I am too much of a wimp to chance the mosquito gauntlet these days, although I have to admit those pesky bugs seem to leave me alone for the most part. I always say it is the Native blood I inherited from my father's side of the family.

This year finds me staying at a lake cabin in the northwoods. I am feeling especially grateful for the ability to enjoy a holiday with my family. Almost a month ago, I was facing the first surgery of my life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and facing a lumpectomy. I was terrified of the diagnosis and the idea of surgery. The news hit me with the realization that my life would never be the same again. My husband and sister spent hours reassuring me I was going to get through the surgery just fine, but I wasn't convinced. I had always been the healthy one in the family - the kid who never caught the flu or the cold that was ravaging the other kids. That turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

I never got used to being messed with from a medical point of view. I didn't have to face many needles, medicines or doctors. I had routine check-ups, but not often. When I did, everything always came back perfect. Suddenly, I was having to trust being put out with a general anesthetic and letting my surgeon cut into my body and remove things. The things she was removing, were a small breast lump, about an inch long and a few lymph nodes for testing. I tried to tell myself it really wasn't a big deal and I would heal quickly. I have always been a quick healer.

The surgery went well, and I did heal quickly, however I was not ready for the underarm pain the small incision there created. I was bruised, dyed blue in strange places and generally on high alert for a few weeks. I had to hurry and heal however, because we had a trip to Florida planned with our daughter and her family. I was determined not to let this damned cancer thing define me or limit my life. The healing happened and the trip to Florida went off without a hitch.

The week after my return, I was scheduled to meet both my medical oncologist and my radiology oncologist. The idea of oncologist just caught me up cold. I fretted over the first appointment - not sure what I was going to be told. To my huge relief, my doctor turned out to be a woman a few years my senior who was both compassionate and reassuring. It made my second appointment easier to face. My second doctor was a younger woman - 40ish - smart, articulate and caring. I feel so grateful to have those women along with my surgeon, another brilliant young woman overseeing my care. I am feeling trust for the first time in my life, when it comes to my physical well being.

Today, the blue of the sky, the smell of the lake, the call of the loon and the eagle soaring overhead bring me back to my native roots. I am seeing signs everywhere that all is well and will continue to be that way. I feel free in so many ways now. There is the Fourth of July holiday that I am privileged to be healthy enough to enjoy and there is the freedom from the "C" word. It has been removed from my body. Life will never again be the same for me, but there is nothing that says it can't be better!