Barb Lee is a native of Western Massachusetts who loves to write, travel and hike the world, and hang out with her beautiful Jersey Wooly bunny Muffin. Her whole life changed when she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in October of 2019. By January of 2020, she was bouncing back in a major way. Now, in addition to all her favorite activities, she wants to help others make the most of life following a devastating diagnosis, while she continues to beat the odds.
Don’t you love spring? I certainly do, always have. This year, I got an extra special present two days after the beginning of my second favorite season: I’m in remission again. Thanks to the latest offering for metastatic lung cancer from Big Pharma, my scans from March 22nd look very promising. Promising in what way? For cure? Being done with treatment? What? Let’s just leave it as promising and hope for the best.
I didn’t post every step of my journey on Facebook this time. Not because my friends and followers are sick of it, but because, frankly, I am. And I matter for something besides cancer, even though I kinda sometimes feel that I really don’t matter that much because of cancer. Oh, don’t be that way, you say. Be a warrior! You got this! Kick cancer’s ass! And I say, I hope you never have to know what it’s really like to have this monster lurking inside you, and find out how all of that typical language starts to turn your stomach. That’s why I chose not to shout it from the treetops. Instead, I’m standing somewhat firmly on the ground with a pleased smile and hoping it lasts a long time.
Yeah, I know everyone “means well.” And I really do appreciate it. But sometimes I realize that people really don’t THINK about what they’re saying to me. Their fingers just fly over the keyboard of their iPhones because, well, they have to say something to show support in five words or less. My advice: Just press the heart, folks. Just press the heart, instead of breaking the heart.
I am suddenly reborn hand in hand with the entire Northern Hemisphere and can move toward the future with a little more of a stride in my step after a few months of stomach churning uncertainty. Soon I’ll be fully vaccinated and will start to travel again. Plans are made, other plans are in the works. Life feels good again, though as the old saying goes, “It’s always something.” Always something to rain on a parade already drenched with “somethings.” A precious fur baby crosses the Rainbow Bridge, a long time friendship is at odds. Sure seems wrong that I have to deal with all this and cancer too. WTF.
Before all this happened I was living my best life, yet always counting my blessings. Stopping long enough to realize how lucky I am? Yes, indeed. Never so busy that I couldn’t do that. Now I’ve arrived back at that after hours and days of gloom and doom, of wondering how life could go one way for so long then make an abrupt u-turn and continue on to the point of no return. Well, I just never made it to that pinnacle, made another abrupt u-turn, and here I am, so close to having the opportunity to live my best life again after surviving what kills big strong people continuously. A lucky girl? Oh, you can’t even imagine. What did I ever do to be able to tell this particular story and not lie? No idea. This may sound like another lie, but in many ways I wouldn’t have it any other way. When the going is good, like it is now, I am content to be an odds beater. Nothing quite like it. Tom Brady has seven rings. I have life. Beat that.
I’ve had the good fortune of having some incredible people always at the ready to pick me up before I get too far down. They more than make up for the few that should be there but aren’t for one selfish reason or another. It’s okay, you can’t win them all. If someone can’t be there when I’m flying high, when I’m down in the dirt, and when I’m somewhere in between trying to find firm ground, then they need not be there at all. And I know how to return the favor. It ain’t all about me. I get that. Relationships are give and take. How many times have we heard that but still insist on having one-sided affairs? I’m in a secure place with some pretty special people all around. Imagine the irony of thinking that after all the building I’ve done, cancer would knock out one block and the whole wall would collapse. Not the case, I say with a shiver of warmth. The foundation is pretty sturdy.
Shortly before I set out on this journey that would culminate in perhaps my biggest learning experience yet (survival), I was right where I wanted to be. Maybe that was a dangerous thought. But, to heck with it. I hereby announce myself there again.
Hey, did you notice that I changed my site identity from “The New Face of Surviving Cancer” to “Write. Hike. Survive. Thrive?” Yeah, I guess I’ve decided that I don’t want to be the former and would rather concentrate on the latter. Make no mistake, I am not ashamed of who I am now, with cancer survival on top of everything else I’ve managed to accomplish in my life, but the last couple of months have been pretty tough on me and I find myself desperately needing to find a middle ground. I cannot be all cancer all the time.
When you join a clinical trial, (another thing I never wanted to do but have to do if I want to live) you’re kind of at the mercy of the drug company, or “sponsor,” as they so poetically refer to themselves as, and that has been the story of my life for the past five weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that it appears that I’m making progress. And what the heck else is there to do while we’re all trying to figure out whether COVID19 is coming or going! But I’d still rather be left alone to live my life. Only, that’s the whole point. If I’m left alone to live my life I’ll die. Understand now?
I started out a year and a half ago with this big plan to ditch the fiction writing career I had craved since I was a teenager to focus on nonfiction books and blogging. Hiking and traveling would be my favored subjects. Then cancer came a calling, and I decided that I’d roll with it. I’d start speaking at libraries and other local public places about being a cancer survivor and turn it into a full time gig. COVID19 blew that to smithereens. But I continued to work on a book about my journey, which I finished at the end of 2020. After taking a break from the writing to let it settle for a couple of months, I opened it back up this weekend, read six pages and said, I cannot continue to relive this nightmare.
So guess what I did? I opened one of my “writing drawers” and allowed it to swallow up my “cancer book.” Meanwhile, a fictitious tale of a pretty girl and a football player jumped out. It was one of three other full manuscripts I have hanging around, waiting for the attention I never thought I would give them. But guess what? Fiction is sounding like a hell of a lot of fun again. A hell of a lot more fun than I’ve been having lately. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s a really hot time to be writing books about the hiking and traveling that most of us have not been able to do much of in over a year. And I so want to continue writing books. What can I say? I love writing books. Fiction may be the key again. But I also love blogging. Who ever said I can’t do both? Me. It seems that now and forever, I’ve always been my own worst enemy.
Especially over the past several weeks. My mood has been dreary, at best. My beefs, not necessarily in this order: I have this flippin’ disease. It’s snowing and cold and windy in New England. I’m going up and back to Boston in the worst of it and getting stuck with needles and tested to high heaven to keep me from going to high heaven. Even if I could travel I can’t travel because of a global pandemic. Then my fingers start doing the walking to search out the very worst information I can possibly wrap my mind around about Stage IV lung cancer and yeah, then I’m in the hole big time.
Jeez, enough is enough.
Here’s what I realized the other day. Who is telling me I’m not going to be alive to see the end of the pandemic? Me. Who is telling me that I’m not worth anything now that I have cancer? Me. Who is telling me that I’m never going to travel again? Me. Yeah, I’m the culprit. To repeat: my own worst enemy.
Back to finding the middle ground and the search for some firm footing.
I’ve never been one to live one day at a time. No, more like a whole lifetime in a day with my eye on an even better future. Maybe I get one day at a time now. Still, I need to have plans. I’ve decided it’s safe to look into the near future. And I’m not spending all my retirement money to “live like I’m dying” because I know how that goes. Anyway, I’ve spent the last decade living like I was dying. Yeah, really. Things were pretty good there for some time. Can they be again, in spite of everything? I have to believe they can. But I can’t be too sure of it, because I don’t want to be devastated again. I am moving forward with caution, and with the knowledge that I will still screw up and wind up in the hole again.
But hey…It’s spring. My treatment appears to be going in the right direction. Southern Utah is on the April horizon. I’m thinking about summer road trips. And oh yeah, that book…
Maybe you picked up from my last post that my cancer is back, and with a vengeance. Well, it may be more accurate to say that it never really left. Stage IV disease kind of hangs around and wreaks more havoc just when you think that maybe you’ll be the lucky one and it won’t return.
Truth is, I kind of am a lucky one (in an unlucky situation) because I have some magic dust in my tumors that allows me to kill my cancer with a pill, at least until the pill doesn’t work anymore. Which means that if I didn’t tell you I had cancer you’d never know. I plod on and silently battle the killer. Some people go on for years this way. Me, a year and a half, and I just started on med number two after the first one gave out late in the nutty year of 2020. So far, so good, but this is not so different than walking a tight rope. You really don’t know when you’re going to topple off and not have a net to catch you. So you just say your prayers and hope for the best. Look forward, not down.
I’m in better shape than I was when I wrote that last post. The new damage is known and the new treatment has started to tackle it. But I’m having a damn hard time having to go back to where I was a year ago. Starting from scratch is really harrowing, because I was doing so well after round one. Still, the desire to get back to where I was before all this happened drives me on.
Will I get there? Maybe the answer isn’t as important as the fact that I was there once upon a time. When this all went down I had been living my best life for many years. Working hard, traveling hard, laughing hard, hiking hard. I didn’t have any money, because I spent most of it. I didn’t care. Still don’t. It was worth every penny. I visited forty countries, fifty states, forty-plus national parks in the United States, and several in other countries.
I confess to being a country hopper. See a place for a week, be the dreaded “tourist,” and come home to earn money for another week somewhere else in the world, on the next school vacation. Right now, someone out there is waving a finger at me and telling me that I can’t “know” someplace when I only get a little taste of it like I did of a million places. Imagine, spending your life telling someone else what they did wrong.
I confess too, to being a day hiker. Doing a great trail and sleeping in a hotel room after a nice shower while my fellow trekkers insist that hiking isn’t “real” if you don’t sleep in a tent under the stars. Funny, how we have to compete over such nonsense. The way I look at it, if I spend five days someplace really great and it’s the best damn five days of my life, then I add and multiply that several times, pretty soon I have something to reckon with: a life well spent.
I don’t want it to be over, but if this is the end, I’ve had a hell of a run. None of this magic was supposed to happen to the daughter of a janitor. This life that I’ve led was probably meant for someone else and I just happened to show up. Really? No, I lie. I busted my ass for all of it but never got any credit for it from any number of people. Always, I was doing something wrong and inconveniencing them in some way. No, I don’t want to look at your 17,500 pictures of red rocks. No, I don’t want to read your books. No, I don’t want to date you. No, you’re over the top. Stop dressing like that. Stop being so honest and in my face. And now, cancer survivor? You’re TOO MUCH, lady.
I’ve spent my life being rejected by men, by my family, and by people I wanted as my friends. The life I built was the life that accepted me as I was (and am.) Moving quickly enabled me to leave behind what and who I couldn’t have, no matter how hard I tried. I found my happy place. The world, my friends, is my oyster.
Someone out there is saying, she was running away from what she couldn’t have! Or maybe, running to what I could have? I like that better. What I could have was better. In the end, it always is.
Ehhh, maybe I deserve all this. Worked too hard. Laughed too hard. Traveled too hard. Hiked too hard. Guess what? I wouldn’t change a thing. And in my heart of hearts, my soul of souls, and my mind of minds, it ain’t over for me yet. I think I still have some fun left in me. Some miles and some words and some laughs and some thrills.
To anyone who has ever questioned exactly what I’m made of: Now you know. I will not lie down. I will not go quietly.
Surprise! I may have lost value to some the day I got cancer, but I still love life. So there.
I can’t, for a lot of different reasons, the least of which is that I have more cancer.
The least? Yes, really, that’s the way I feel. Like it’s low priority right now, maybe because I’ll be on a new medication soon that is probably going to work.
Here’s what’s really bugging me: The state of our nation, the condition my sweet America is in right now. Yes, I’m taking this recent carnage in Washington, DC, personally. And the destruction caused by COVID19, too. Because me and America have a very intimate relationship, and now that I have a serious illness, there’s always that uncomfortable fact that my time is running out. I want to renew that love and I can’t, because of this devastating virus that so many aren’t taking seriously, and because, well, there’s some scary folks out there!
I am truly appalled at the latest news out of our nation’s capital. I was there years back after a nasty break up. One day, I did a ten mile loop that included many of the finest monuments. Another day, I took in the Capitol and the White House. The beautiful city held me in its noble arms as I sobbed and pined for long hoped-for love lost and took my mind off my many shortcomings. I want it there to go back to, for everyone to enjoy.
My love for America was not born out of flag waving and fist clenching, nor does it manifest itself as such. My relationship with her was nurtured by gripping her asphalt with four tires for thousands of miles, pounding her soil with hiking boots, and reveling in her natural mysteries that are slowly being dismantled. I’m very angry that narrow-minded, brainwashed individuals are carving messages in her sacred trees and believing that violence is the way to get what they want.
I’ve figured something out: these individuals will sacrifice treasured relationships to follow a man that could care less about them and will throw them under a moving bus the first chance he gets.
I’m not someone that seeks conflict. In fact, for the past four years I’ve stifled my opinion around certain friends and family to avoid just that. Four years? That’s a long time to keep quiet! Especially when these same friends and family are free as the proverbial bird to throw their views around whether anyone wants to hear them or not. But me? I have to bristle and keep my mouth shut so as not to incite them.
Well, guess what? I don’t care about that anymore. So here’s what I did.
Recently, I put three such relationships to the test by stating my opinion once. The data that follows from my experiment is not an exaggeration.
Relationship One: Ended in silence so deep that it lasted through my birthday, Christmas, New Years, and the bad news about my health, and is still going strong.
Relationship Two: Ended with “Have a nice life.” (Ironic, ya think?)
Relationship Three: Ended with a conspiracy theory and a claim that the deaths of 350,000 victims of COVID19 would have died of something else anyway.
To be fair, there was a fourth relationship involved that actually stood the test of my wrath. So there are some real human beings out there in nowhere land.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I just don’t know where we go from here. Unite under the new President? I wish we could. But the chance of that has been ruined by a bully that can’t lose or play fair. Some people have to screw things up for everyone if they don’t get their way. I have a lot more hope that I’ll keep winning against cancer than I do that My Sweet America will heal sometime soon.
I came across a perfect quote today, courtesy of Isaac Asimov: “When stupidity is considered patriotism, it is unsafe to be intelligent.”
Nevertheless, I’m dreaming of those four wheels on the payment. My soles in the soil. No mask on my face. And cancer not getting the best of me. That’s enough to ask for already, without hoping that others wake up, pay attention to what they’re doing, and seek a voice of reason instead of the battle cry of a madman.
There’s no pride in destruction, in acting on a lie bigger than any we’ve ever known. The world is watching us fall apart. Some are laughing, some are grimacing. But everyone saw it coming. It was the only end to this monotonous tale of greed, falsehood, and insanity.
Look at what we have become in the past four years, and please, let’s get back to the way we used to be before this nightmare happened. We weren’t perfect but let’s face it, anything is better than THIS.
I hereby promise that this is the last opinion piece I’ll be writing. One of my upcoming New Year’s resolutions is to focus my blog on hiking, traveling, and all the other activities that make me the New Face of Surviving Cancer. So, if you would be so kind to listen one more time, I’ll get on to that stuff soon enough.
Still, this kind of fits, in its own crazy way.
As I reach my fifty-fourth birthday this day, I’m reveling in the glory of aging, because, you see, I really wasn’t supposed to be granted a fifty-fourth birthday. No, at the end of 2019, months before COVID19, I was faced with the very real possibility that I would never see the end of 2020, maybe not even the end of 2019.
For reasons I’ve blathered heartily about (lung cancer…shhhh!) I’m supposed to be, well, um, dead. But here I am, still chipping away at my allotted number of lives (ever been on a burning DC-10? I have) which must be in the triple-digits, (how many times have I been around the world alone?) or I’m just living on borrowed time, as it sometimes seems now.
Man, I’ve had a good life. I have a good life. Even after cancer, and so much loss, and so much heartache, I can still say that. How?
I have nothing left to prove. Oh, I still want to travel the world, and experience true and lasting love, and hike the other thirty national parks that I haven’t done yet, and write a bestselling memoir. But I’ve stopped worrying about many of the things I used to cringe over.
Aging is a biggie. I have a whole new perspective. Getting old, my friends, is a privilege. I’ve always respected the elderly. Now, even more. I want the privilege of being one of them. And I’m going to enjoy every step of the journey until then with my fingers crossed and my upper body in a PET scanner.
You think I care about bikinis? The wisdom of Kylie Jenner? How much cash you have in your wallet? How much your car costs? To me, Coachella is the name of a nowhere town in my beloved Mojave, not a festival where the youthful and stupid compete for social media attention. I don’t envy the young, who will never know what it’s like to be able to trust people they’ve never met, or play in the woods with reckless abandon.
The other night a wonderful friend of mine came to deliver presents, and took a picture of us using a filter, to show me how it worked. I was horrified to see my face look so different. But to some, this is the norm, because it’s easier to look fake than look like you. I can’t even relate.
I love talking to people older than me. Walking in the local cemeteries, I always meet someone with interesting stories to tell. I’d much prefer to hear real life tales told by an authentic person than the overblown fiction of a “sophisticated” twentysomething. In fact, I have every intention of buying property in a 55+ community the second I’m old enough. You couldn’t talk me out of it if you tried. And hey, I’ll be the youngest one there! Beat that!
I don’t want to overstay my welcome. Give me eighty or eighty-five years and I’ll be happy. Very happy. That will give me plenty of time to finish up my earthly business. Anything more than that and I’ll start to be a burden. To some, I’m already a burden. Why be more of one than I already am, right? That should be our real goal: strive to live a full and fruitful life, but check out before we become a liability.
The elderly are often looked upon as just that. The jokes about the old couple driving around in the RV are tacky. They earned their retirement through working for forty years. And you? Wrinkles are looked down upon as if we aren’t all going to get them. Remember, some of those folks saw Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, or fought in Vietnam. How’s that for life experience? Some of them beat cancer in the days when the treatment options were even more archaic than they are today. They traveled and made love and got high and experienced sadness and fear and devastation. They lived through epidemics and pandemics. We didn’t invent that stuff. They had it down pat long before we came along.
As for me, I’ve bought me some time, such a priceless purchase, and hope to keep on buying it, an installment loan like no other. If I get my way, cancer will turn out to be something that touched my life “thirty years ago,” that I’ll look back on with a shake of my head, a lilting sigh, and a wry smile. That I made it through to bask in the privilege of old age. I’m a year into it already! Only twenty-nine to go!
I don’t talk too much about my “real life” as a teacher, but this seems like an appropriate time to do so. I have important information to share, so listen up. As a sixteen year veteran of the classroom, I know a thing or two about what it means to be a bully. These behaviors don’t necessarily go away once the child leaves the playpen, the sandbox, or the classroom. In fact, they may never go away if serious action isn’t taken. Perhaps these behaviors will someday effect hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people. Isn’t that frightening? And perhaps hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people will think that this is an acceptable way to act. Even more frightening.
Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Someone doesn’t have to be physically big or powerful to be a bully, but sometimes they are. They can have good clothes, or bad. Good hair, or horrid. Some are wealthy, some are poor. A line that comes to mind is from a Billy Joel song: “You can’t dress trash until you spend a lot of money.” Maybe someone said it before Billy. This is not the point of this paragraph. The point is that bullies aren’t always bedraggled; sometimes, they’re rich garbage.
Bullies aren’t always male, but for this post, if I may, I will refer to our bully as “he” for convenience and lack of a better term. Here is more of what a teacher knows about the typical bully:
He pretends to care about his underlings and supporters, but only truly cares about number one.
He ruins things for others, regardless of the cost.
He can’t take “no,” “leave me alone,” or “go away,” for an answer.
He is used to winning everything in life, by hook or by crook, and thus is a sore, sore loser.
He fabricates things in an attempt to get his own way. These fabrications can incite others to run to his side in fear of retaliation, because they know that the bully doesn’t really care how faithful people have been to him. He only likes them until they stop agreeing with him. Once that happens, watch out below. He attempts to ruin lives. Beware, and hope you can somehow survive his wrath.
When pressed for proof, a bully (and those that stick close) often chooses to change the subject. Or he just keeps lying and making people believe him, because he knows the power he has over his underlings.
Rather than admit defeat, a bully will charge ahead and make himself and those cheering him on look like buffoons in place of accepting the truth, thus displaying his many weaknesses.
A bully, most of all, picks on those he perceives as weaker than he. He will resort to name calling, and because he is such a supreme narcissist, he doesn’t know to draw the line if someone has lost a loved one to a devastating fate, or even if a person is sick and dying. The bully doesn’t have limits, because he is uncouth and hasn’t earned anything for himself without lying and cheating others.
Lo and behold, if the perceived “weaker” individual rises up to be the stronger one, a long, dark winter lies ahead.
Be careful not to fall under the spell of the bully. He’ll stop at nothing to get his way.
Ignore him if you can. Nothing hurts him more than that. The bully thrives on negative attention or really, any attention.
By the time this reaches the general public, I’ll be on an airplane going to see my niece in South Carolina. Yeah, all things considered, it’s a big decision to fly through the COVID19 storm with a “serious underlying illness,” better known to me as “lung cancer.” It’s also a choice that many people have to make as we kick off this holiday season.
To travel or not to travel? To see loved ones or not see them? Everyone’s answer is different for a variety of reasons.
As I write this I have three trips on the horizon of varying lengths, and I’ll make my choice to sink or swim a week before I go. I never seriously considered cancelling this particular trip, because I deem it a fairly low risk for me. The actual flying time each way is less than three hours. I’ll be in close contact with two other people and three dogs when I arrive. I’ll be there for three and a half days. And I’ll schedule a COVID test for the day after I get back, per the rules of reentering my state.
I’m a little nervous, as I’ve fought so hard to stay healthy. One jerk on an airplane that wants to whine about wearing a mask, and the whole “it’ll be alright” plan goes out the window. With cases skyrocketing, it sure would seem that these people would cease to play games. And yet it isn’t too hard to find still another story of someone who is just too good for a face covering. Someone who has to have some silly little moment of rebellion. Maybe the same guy or gal who is running through a red light or a stop sign to save thirty seconds of their life by putting someone else’s in danger? Please folks, don’t let it be you. In the words of the late, great James Dean (who died in a fiery car crash less than a year later) “The life you’re saving could be mine.”
Want to be a rebel? Jump out of an airplane. Don’t infect everyone in it before you dive.
So, here’s my plan: Stare straight ahead. Mouth and nose covered at all times. Wash hands often. Don’t accept any food or drink from the person walking down the aisle in the polyester uniform. And pray some yahoo doesn’t come along and start a fight like the ones all over YouTube. Don’t hate me if I’m not friendly or if you, midflight, decide that the plane isn’t going to return to the station so you let your mouth hang out and I decide to be a Karen. All I want is to safely see my beloved Amanda and eat turkey and Chinese food and put up her Christmas tree. Let’s all play it cool, okay?
Things are going to get better soon than later. We’ve got this!
My next post was supposed to be about a couple of cool hikes that I’ve recently done, but I saw something on Facebook that put me over the edge and I need to have my say about it.
Listen, I know that you’d rather me blog about hiking than cancer. And yeah, I’d rather be blogging about hiking than cancer. I’d rather be doing just about anything than talking about and worrying about and reading about cancer, but here I am, about to write yet another post about, you guessed it, CANCER.
Why? Well, let me explain.
Cancer sucks, if you don’t already know that. I hope you don’t. I hope it has never touched your life. If it hasn’t, you’re in the minority. So many people I know have lost mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, and children to this beast that nearly took me a year ago. This monster took my sister five years ago. It’s horrible. I have first and second hand experience at cancer.
And guess what? I’m sick of it. I’m especially sick of people who don’t have cancer going on cancer sites and making comments about how “Big Pharma” is withholding a cure, and how CBD oil made their father’s cancer go away forever. Both are major myths, both are words that no one with cancer wants to hear. So stop saying them. I also love the ones about green vegetables and green tea being the answer to everything. Sure, good luck with that. (When your cancer disappears because of iceberg lettuce, let me know, okay?) But none of these examples are what really got under my skin a few days ago. Here’s what did me in: one of those “copy and paste, don’t share” posts that run rampant on Facebook. Now is when I would normally say, “Don’t get me started on that,” but it’s too late, the damage is already done.
First of all, who writes these things? I want that job, and I want to get paid well for it. Because I can write from experience and compose something better, more truthful, and more accurate than whomever is putting this shit out, particularly about the subject at hand. Furthermore, some of my friends that post these things write better than that, but they repost this crap anyway. Not only have I learned things about cancer that I never wanted to know from these stupid posts, but I’ve also been hit in the face about how I need to curb my jealousy when a twenty year old woman with a beautiful body walks by, because I once looked like that, so I need to get over my desire to wring her pretty neck. Only I don’t want to wring the neck of the pretty twenty year old woman because, cancer and all, I don’t want to be anyone but me. I honestly don’t want to be her. Facebook is mistaken, and so is the loser who wrote the viral nonsense.
But, I digress. The “copy and paste, don’t share” post that has me frantically punching the keys of my computer was all about cancer treatment and was meant to honor me as a “warrior,” in my “battle” against chemo and radiation. The offending words remind me that after chemo, I will never be the same again, may never even feel “alive” again. My immune system will be ruined, and so will most of my relationships, because of the damage done by treatment used to “fight the nastation.” (Ooooh, that little red line under “nastation” is telling me that some smarty pants is making up fancy words for Facebook! Don’t get me started on that!) In short, my life is going to suck royally because of cancer, “a very aggressive and destructive enemy of our bodies.” OUR bodies? Is the writer as well as the Facebook user that’s so busy copying and pasting trying to imply that they also have cancer? Because if that’s so, said person better get researching, because he/she/they/ whoever they are, are way off.
First of all, thanks for reminding me that I’m never going to be the same. As if I need anyone telling me that as I struggle to get “me” back after my life was turned upside down. Secondly, before you EVER post such hoo-ha, realize this: the combination of traditional chemo and radiation will eventually become a thing of the past, and in many cases, they already HAVE. Thousands of cancer patients have infusions of immunotherapy or take pills to kill the disease. I didn’t need chemo. And radiation for me was a CHOICE I made because it has made a cure more likely for me. I walked five miles a day daily while I had radiation, not because I was trying to show off or prove something, but because I COULD. I rocked radiation, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I know these posts mean well, as do the individuals hitting the handy little “copy” button. But they’re also extremely negative and uninformed. There is enough misinformation out there about cancer. The real truth is that cancer is an individual journey, not a one size fits all. Some people aren’t going to do well, others are going to beat it. I’ve known many of the former. I’m one of the latter. And in response to everyone out there frantically spreading the nonsense and giving advice about green vegetables and CBD oil and lifting the middle finger to “Big Pharma,” I’m intentionally littering this post with photos of me loving life even as I give cancer the boot. Every single picture here was taken after my diagnosis.
Whoa! It’s been three weeks since my last post! Never fails that I get caught up in foliage season and abandon most other pursuits. Like life itself, foliage is fleeting. You have to get it while it’s hot. And let me tell you, it was smokin’ hot this year.
So you see, something has gone right in 2020. New England foliage! Take that, COVID19!
Well, let me eat a little crow. The leaves changed early this go-round, so it was a bit of a confusing leaf peeping season even for me, a pro tree gawker. I booked myself a room in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for October 10th, 11th, and 12th, thinking myself very smooth indeed, picturing the glorious hiking I would do, and what happens? The foliage “peaks” the weekend before! Not only that, but at home, the foliage was making my jaw hit the steering wheel as I was driving north out of it! I strongly considered weaseling out of my reservation in North Woodstock and hiking at home, but with a five-day cancellation policy, it would have cost me as much to sleep in my own bed as it would have to go. With a weather report going south quickly (as I’ve seen happen a few times in the White Mountains!), I sucked it up and made the drive, figuring that at the very worst I’d catch up on my writing and my sleep instead of hiking.
And guess what? I ended up having incredible weather all weekend other than a massive storm that rolled in on Saturday night and closed down the town after I was already tucked away for the night, the foliage was still fantastic, and I caught up on my sleep and my writing! Four points for me. Oh, should I mention that it rained at home for most of the weekend?
Hiking through foliage really does remind me of being in a kaleidoscope. I’m talking about those cheap cardboard ones where you stick one eye in a hole and turn the end of it and watch tiny fragments of color changing form in a pattern that delights the senses. Just one shake of the trees from a wayward breeze adds to the kaleidoscope effect. The real thing is better than anything Photoshop could produce. I still think that taking a great foliage picture is the toughest job in photography, at least for me.
Some of the best foliage I encountered was at little stops on the side of the road that most people were whizzing by to get to the tried and true “views.” Not complaining, because I was headed there, too! But why not check out stuff that others miss because they’re in such a hurry? The world offers some hidden gems, “good things for those who wait,” and foliage is no different.
Like most things worth seeing, foliage takes something we Americans don’t have a lot of: time. It takes time for the leaves to change. It takes time to seek out the best spots. But what a reward!
I run around like a chicken with my head cut off for about three weeks. This year, the chicken sewed her head back on earlier this week. There comes a point when I tell myself that it’s time to stop chasing and just enjoy the rest of the leaves, because what comes after is the death of New England for almost half a year, until renewal comes with the joy of spring. I rest my case and drink in the remainder of color before dull November takes control. The beauty is hanging on longer than usual this year. I hope I follow suit.
I end this post with a special shout out to Amanda, my beautiful and strong niece down in South Carolina: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I LOVE YOU!
If you look hard enough, you’ll find that the world is still a mysterious place, with lots of hidden gems that can be discovered with a little bit of perseverance. Back when my mom and me used to road trip together, in the days when people read newspapers and cut things out of them that were interesting, she would get her scissors out and I’d get the keys to my car ready. We would go looking for oddities that journalists would write about, sometimes driving for hundreds of miles, even on overnight trips. An Eskimo boy in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, ghost towns in the American West, a celebration of Marilyn Monroe’s life at her gravesite in Westwood, California. Occasionally, after Mom passed in 2004, I’d still come across something interesting online and would seek it out, but it wasn’t quite the same without her.
About a month ago, I decided to go on a wild goose chase for the grave of a six year old boy named Wendell Farnsworth. Little is known about Wendell, but the story of how he was forgotten deep in the woods is better documented.
Quabbin Reservoir, the largest body of water in Massachusetts, is a man made wonder in the center of the state and with an incredible history. In the 1930s, four towns were destroyed to create the reservoir, which would satisfy the demands for water in Boston. Any map from the era will show the hamlets of Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and Greenwich. Contrary to popular belief, the “lost” towns are not all “underwater.” Quabbin is my second home, and with COVID19 changing the way we all had to do business, I spent more time than ever this summer exploring the old roads and cellar holes and mysteries of the disincorporated towns.
One mystery I never solved was the discovery of Wendell’s grave, though I’ve known about it for years. The story goes that when the towns were flooded, close to 7,500 graves had to be relocated to Quabbin Park Cemetery in Belchertown, Massachusetts. A lone grave was left behind, high on a ridge behind a farmhouse that is no longer a farmhouse. The forgotten grave was not discovered until several decades later, by a hiker who alerted local historians, most of whom didn’t believe the tale.
It isn’t easy to get information about Wendell. In fact, I had two different maps that told me he was in two different places, as well as three different GPS coordinates that were miles apart. Leave it to me to pick the wrong one to follow on my first serious foray into locating the legendary grave!
So there I was on Tampling Road, with a map and coordinates provided by a fellow hiker, who published a blog about finding Wendell. I’ve been to this area of Quabbin a million times and was titillated to find out that Tampling Road held something interesting, as I had hiked it before and had seen a whole lot of absolutely nothing! The hiker’s advice, which I was following closely, led me to a nondescript area of what used to be a town road in the defunct Dana, Massachusetts. Other descriptions I’d found said that the grave was two miles from the entrance gate. According to my map, I needed to go about a half mile from what used to be the center of Dana, on Tampling Road, and head into the woods before the only sharp turn of the road. The coordinates soon had me bushwhacking in thick blown down trees from the last major storm we had here, the tail end of hurricane Isaias. Dropping “pins” here, there, and everywhere, my phone battery was taking a hit, too. As I searched, I had the worst crash I’ve had in a while, my foot getting stuck between branches. Down I went, pitching forward, as I tried to navigate on my phone, which flew out of my hand as my skin tore! Really rather comical when you think about it (and visualize it!) but not so great when you have to walk around all bloody for a week and have people staring at you like you did yourself in on purpose!
After a couple hours more of frustrating searching, my interactive map told me that I was right in front of the grave. But I wasn’t right in front of it. In fact, the grave wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and I was convinced that maybe I needed to suspend my search until fall, when there was less vegetation to deal with. The biggest stumper was the “high ridge” the grave was supposed to be on. No high ridge was to be found on Tampling Road. I dragged back to my car after putting on nine miles, mostly walking in circles.
As someone who has spent her life finding things, I hate NOT finding things.
The following day I reviewed all the information available, looked at dates that the articles or blogs were posted. The most recent visit to the grave was made by the guy whose map of Tampling Road I had used. I saw on his blog that someone had just written to him about Wendell’s grave a few days before. Doubting that the man would get back to me, I left a message for him anyway, disappointment making my craw ache. It was really my only hope of finding what I was calling “the needle in the haystack.”
Sunday morning, the day after my “epic fail,” as I referred to it on social media. Visiting with my sisters and telling them the story of Wendell Farnsworth. I decided to check to see if the blogger answered my inquiry…And he did! With apologies for posting the wrong map and succinct directions to the grave. The fighting spirit rose inside of me. I had to get back there!
I couldn’t return that day, but I carved some time on Monday afternoon before it got dark. As I walked at a vigorous pace, knowing precisely what area I was going to, I envisioned how exciting it would be to find the needle in the haystack. Several friends on social media cheered me on, waiting patiently for a victory post. “After Dana Common, follow Dana Road to the ponds, and take the first right into the woods.” That was the easy part. The tough part was finding what the blogger described as an “area where there would have been a barn on the right and a house on the left.” He had given an approximate length of measurement to get there, but it turned out to be further. Frustration was setting in again, especially since it was already late afternoon and time was of the essence. My phone was fully charged this time, and I started dropping pins again. The coordinates showed that I was on to something.
Massachusetts probably doesn’t sound like a place you would go if you want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve been there many times in my home state. It’s not the same kind of “nowhere” as, say, the Mojave Desert, but close enough. And I was there now. Just me and a wayward porcupine. To my left I definitely saw some crude trails that basically went nowhere, and a hill that maybe could be called a “ridge.” But there was no way I could picture this place where the pins started to make sense as the former site of a house with a barn on the other side of the road.
Yet the pins were right on. So I started making circles again in thick ferns on those animal trails. They just ended in more ferns. I abandoned the trails and started climbing hills. I was getting further away. I went back to the road a couple of times. Back to the original plan. The taste of another defeat rose again in my throat as a lump. Soon I would have to go to get back to my car before dark. One more try.
Hit the animal trail. Wait, is that another one not noticed before, heading up the hill, between wilting ferns? Maybe. Up I went. Yes, it was a trail. It was taking me somewhere. Up to a clearing. Up to a ridge. Up to…
The curve of a narrow stone that my eyes had been keening to see for three weary days, that I had been wondering about for years…
I started to tear up, feeling like I knew this little fellow by now.
Wendell. On a ridge, the stone facing away from what used to be the home built by his parents, John and Sarah. I was incredulous to be there, though sad that I had so little time left to spend with Wendell on that lonely but peace-filled ridge. Like many graves I’ve found, Wendell’s resting place was respectfully honored with gifts from the few people who were tenacious enough to seek it. I sat and pondered my discovery as long as I could, pushing the boundaries of daylight. This was not where I wanted to be in the dark, alone!
As of today, I have not been back, but foliage time is nearly here, and now that I know where I’m going, I’ll soon return to spend more time with Wendell!