I hate it when we lose an hour of afternoon sunlight in the fall. No more sunny evening walks with dear husband except on weekends. We made the most of our late afternoon walk today by going to Ayr Mount. The light was beautiful!
I'm so happy that we haven't had the first frost yet!
The Eno River
Brugmansia blooming in the garden behind the historic house.
Through my time in the Catholic and then in the Episcopal Churches, the Eucharist has been central to my worship. No matter how bad the homily/sermon, regardless of the music for Cantor versus choir, no matter how little I could pay attention due to active small children, receiving the Eucharist meant a great deal to me. Most of the time, we haven't lived close to a church with a daily Mass, but, even so, I tried to go to the occasional Daily Mass - whether at St. Leo's in Winston-Salem where we worshiped with the nuns before work or at St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, which was just close enough to daughter's ballet class that I could get to the 5:15 Mass and back in time to pick her up (until the following year when her class was later).
After last year's cancer diagnosis, surgery, and very slow recovery, I'm not sure where my faith is now. I pray, but it's more along the lines of "Please?" than for any thought that my praying will change anything. Maybe I pray because, in some small way, it connects me to God. Or maybe I pray because it seems rude not to. Or maybe it's habit.
It's now been half a year since I received the Eucharist. That's where the cancer surgery recovery comes in.
I miss the Eucharist.
I won't go into the details of my current physical condition. It would be so easy to descend into a whine, which is part of why I haven't blogged these last few months. But here are the parts that relate to church:
Anesthesia: My doctor said it could be months before I got back to normal due to my sensitivity to drugs. Besides making me tired for months, the anesthesia made me unable to multitask. Do you know how many things that affects? - Putting together a mental picture of the scene you're looking at, having a conversation and reacting to non-verbal cues - even having a conversation and just looking at the other person. I've spent lots of dinners conversing but staring at the tablecloth. Just walking across our yard was visually overwhelming. It was months before I could drive again. It's much better than at the end of the summer, but I still get overwhelmed very easily. All the different people and activity at church? I can't handle it yet. I've missed so many theater performances that my friends have been in the last few months because I can't handle that kind of overwhelm. I'm still also very easily tired and worn out. Just the drive (with older son driving) to church and back would wear me out, much less a service where there is so much to do right.
Post-Operative Traumatic Stress Disorder: Yes, that's a thing, and it was my diagnosis back in October. Not only are things overwhelming, they're threatening. Younger son and I were having pizza before one of daughter's dance performances a month ago. The restaurant was very crowded, loud, and brightly colored (not harmoniously). You know in horror movies when all of a sudden a benign crowd turns menacing - usually the camera work goes slantways and the people elongate. That's what it felt like. I had to quietly talk myself out of the restaurant. After walking around in the peace of Durham streets, I was better. Again, I would find church overwhelming - particularly since they combined the two later services last fall so there would be lots of people I don't know, and it would be much more crowded. [POTSD, for me, also involves a lot of anger - to a level that I've never experienced before. Really, put it all together, and I feel like a stranger in my body.]
Thyroid hormones. I had a partial thyroidectomy so that, hopefully, the remaining thyroid would give me what I need. My hormone levels have been going down since surgery. I find out in two weeks whether or not I need to go on artificial ones. That's also contributing to my exhaustion.
Costochondritis (inflammation of the chest muscles and tendons): When this is bad, my chest won't expand for me to breathe normally. Trying to squeeze into a crowded church would make me tense up all of those muscles.
So, I don't have the energy to go to a service. I've considered trying to go to the Daily Service at the Episcopal Church in town, but I'm not sure I'm up for being a stranger at a formal church,* and I can't usually do more than one out-of-the-house activity a day or I'm exhausted, nauseous, and dizzy. Their Daily Services are on Wednesday, which is our busiest day.
So praying seems kind of unreal - actually, very little in the whole panoply of faith and church involvement (over the last 32 years) has had anything to do with my cancer treatment, I haven't received Communion for half a year, and I'm wondering what faith has to do with anything. Much of my church involvement seems like it's been whiffling activity - except for the parts I've enjoyed like choir and our Catholic small group. Church involves lots of running around - it's almost defined as that. I've always tried to do that, but I absolutely can't now.
I ran across a Buddhist-themed quote yesterday which prompted this post. I can't find it now, but it was along the lines of the importance of really looking at what is around you and giving thanks.
That, I can do.
What's interesting is that there isn't any reason that a follower of Jesus can't follow that idea. In fact, it's quite appropriate.
So where do I find my faith now?
In the face of my husband, who's been so patient and encouraging with my slow recovery, who jumps at any opportunity to make our living situation better for me, and who does acupressure on my chest muscles before bed every night so that I can breathe well enough to sleep.
In the face of my older son, who, even if he feels awkward when I cry, just sits there with me, caring written all over his face, and who also drives me all over the place.
In the face of my daughter, who cries with me, who has been so busy taking care of me, and who comes up with new ways to help every time I turn around.
In the face of my younger son, who is fiercely protective, has unlimited, highly expressive, teen-age sarcasm for anything (or anyone) that hurts me, and who has spent so much time looking out for me this last year.
* I did go to a wonderful, less formal, Christmas Eve Lovefeast at the United Church of Christ (6 minutes from our house)(where I've played flute before). Not unexpectedly, because this happens a few times a day, I had a brief period of exhaustion about halfway through. It was uncrowded enough that, if I had decided to, I could have just lain down on a pew to listen to the rest of the sermon. People there were really welcoming - which was wonderful because that was only about two weeks after my restaurant experience.
I haven't blogged much the last year. I had a very slow recovery from a very bad reaction to the anesthesia for my surgery. Most of what I wrote about, but didn't publish, had to do with my cancer surgery and recovery. Who would want to read a lot of whining?!
I reread some of my unpublished posts from the last year. They're really not that bad, and there is a community that might be interested - those going through similar situations. I might publish them next week.
My family has been wonderful - encouraging me, driving me around (I drove on the highway for the first time a month ago), taking walks with me when I was too dizzy to take them by myself, doing chores, cooking dinners - and lots more.
Although I have gotten slowly better so this doesn't count as a chronic disease, I've gotten lots of encouragement, suggestions, and support from online chronic disease groups and thyroidectomy groups.
Exercise. Even if it was only a few laps up and down our court with someone accompanying me, exercise has been so helpful. It's been a long climb to get back to where I am now. I danced and sang through a whole summer musical - and I only had a few bad days!
In the fall, I had a difficult time focusing on having a conversation with one person (more on that in tomorrow's post). Except for my family, I was isolated for months - not because I didn't want to talk to people, but because I couldn't! In February, choir got me back into community, and the summer musical was absolutely wonderful! I worked and chatted with people every evening for hours - something I couldn't have done a few months ago. It made me so happy!
My faith has changed a lot in some ways, and not at all in others. More on that in another post.
Since we homeschool, my 17 yo son was the one at home, helping me, most days. I would start making dinner, then get a bout of dizziness and nausea and he'd finish. I would start laundry and, etc. His last year has focused on me so much, and he's been so wonderful, helpful, and encouraging. His senior year is going to be two years long so as not to shortchange his homeschooling.
Daffodils and crocuses will come up at random times in January and February, but trout lilies don't usually come up early. They're one of the major signs of spring for me - and they were all over at Ayr Mount last weekend.
I love running errands in Durham because when you're done, if you have energy, there are so many fun things to do. Yesterday, after our two errands, dear husband and I went to Duke Gardens.
Another cherry tree and The Bridge
Heron and duck
Really short daffodils in the grass
Pansies (It's encouraging to see lush pansies like these. Mine are still struggling after the winter.)
Then we went to lunch at Pompieri Pizza - my favorite pizza (oh... favorite in Durham and Chapel Hill. Then there's Lily's Pizza in Raleigh, and my all-time favorite, Pizzeria Regina in Boston's North End)
We brought cupcakes home for dinner from the CupCake Bar (and a brownie for Younger son who doesn't care for cake).
"Dr. S does such beautiful work!" "Another example of Dr. S's beautiful work!" were the exclamations from the nurses and the assisting doctor at my six week return visit after my partial thyroidectomy this summer. It's true, Dr. S does do beautiful work. My scar is very small and not very noticeable.
How one's thyroidectomy scar looks is a big deal in thyroidectomy circles. It's such a minor thing to me. Medical professionals tell you lots about the scar before your surgery, but I had no idea how completely the rest of my life would fall apart afterward.
Some people sail through major surgery and back on into their lives. I, apparently, am not one of them. There are so many ways surgery has made my life smaller and more broken.
If your thyroid levels are in the correct ranges, which mine are, recovery from a partial thyroidectomy should only take a month or two. It's been three, and I'm still nowhere near normal. I have bouts of nausea and weakness, and my energy level is still very low. I can't drive more than 5 or 10 minutes. The surgeon and the endocrinologist both said that these nothing to do with surgery.
However, my regular doctor, who knows my drug allergies and reactions (many extreme), said that she's sure it's from the surgery and my body's reaction drugs to the they used, and that it could be months before I have normal energy again. Adding to the reactions to the surgery itself, when I had my surgery, I hadn't totally recovered from my prednisone reaction from last spring. I was already starting from behind.
So, if I overdo it - which means anything like a normal day - I can end up nauseous and lying in bed for days. Over the last three months, I've designed a schedule for myself that works for my body, and which I can gradually increase. If I stick with that, I'm mostly fine. If not, my recovery goes way back.
That's not where someone is supposed to be at this point, though. I irritate people by not being able to do what they want me to (my kids and my husband, on the other hand, have been great at helping me and encouraging me to rest and recover).
All sorts of things are crazy about my body right now. I have costochondritis (inflammation of the chest muscles and tendons) which constricts my breathing, makes it difficult to sleep, and keeps me from carrying much. I was in physical therapy for that, but I haven't been able to drive to it for the last few weeks. If I use any part of my body the slightest bit to excess, things get weird. I planted a dozen pansies yesterday, and my right arm is really weak today. Planting pansies isn't a big deal. If I try to dance, which I don't have the energy to do, I get dizzy. I've got vision problems so I have to go for a brain MRI next week. I'm claustrophobic so that makes me really scared (to say nothing of how scared the vision problems themselves make me).
On top of that, we've had the cloudiest, rainiest fall that I can remember so my seasonal depression is in full swing.
On the bright side, sort of, I'll be able to sing again. Currently, I'm an alto. Before surgery, I was a second soprano - and an alto if I was having problems with my voice. I don't know if I'll ever be a second soprano again.
When I had my knee surgeries, six and seven years ago, choir was one of the things that got me through. I could sing on crutches (and did for the Christmas Eve service). Obviously, that can't be the case this time. I don't even know if I can go back as an alto, though.
I always struggled to be soprano-y enough for choir. Because of my weak vocal fold on the right side (found out in voice therapy), my voice takes about 15 minutes to warm up. If I have to sing high right away, it's really bad for my voice.
I've tried for many years to be a good choir soprano. One Sunday morning, there were no high sopranos there for the rehearsal before the service. The choir needed high notes so I tried really hard to sing a high F - five minutes after we started singing. By the time some high sopranos showed up, a few minutes before the service, I could barely croak. I ruined my voice for the day for no reason at all.
The choir's had lots of altos lately and not as many sopranos as they need. The choir director doesn't like it when I have to sing alto rather than soprano so I'm not sure that I should even try to go back when I can sing regularly again. I can't even try to sing soprano (for those who know music, my voice teacher, a retired voice therapist, doesn't have me sing above a C right now).
So, choir brings me to faith.
Along with praying for other people, I do pray about my surgery and recovery. I have thanked God so many times that it turned out to be an "easy" type of non-aggressive cancer. Two of the ladies in the choir sent me get well cards.
Beyond that, faith and church have helped almost not at all. I didn't expect them too - after all, neither helped after my father died or after my father-in-law died. Church, and the expectations of faith, seem to be even more burdens to worry about at these times when I feel fragile.
Among all the things I have to do around the house, but don't have the energy to do, the church pledge form burns like a beacon. I don't know when or if I'll be back at church, but if I don't return it, I'll get a phone call (not that anybody's called to find out how I am). A number of years ago, when I hadn't been to church for months because of health issues, I got the "you-haven't-returned-your-pledge-form" phone call. The guy wanted to take me off of the church membership because I hadn't been there. I told him that he could if he wanted, but I was waiting for a call from the doctor so I had to get off of the phone. They can take me off this time if they want - I'm not healthy enough for church.
Singing brings me a large part of my social life, and that's gone when I can't sing. One community theater group is doing Hairspray this winter - I'd love to do it, but I don't have the voice or the energy yet. My usual group is doing Li'l Abner next summer, and I don't know if I'll be doing that either. I'm not deciding until I hear more about the show and what the director is going to do with it. However, I remember detesting that comic strip because of its stereotypes and casual sexism so I hope that the musical is different.
There are two singing possibilities when I get better enough, though. There are two groups in Durham -Beer and Hymns and the Pop-Up Chorus - that you can just join and sing.
I'm on a Facebook group about thyroidectomies, and people have so many posts on how their scars look.
I'd rather have a far more nasty scar and have energy, not have broken relationships, and be able to sing and dance.