January 10

So it’s your birthday
And what have you done?
Another year older,
A new one just begun…
me through the years
Reprising the great John Lennon here for a moment as I reflect on what my brother likes to call my “55th successful revolution of the sun”.  Yes, it’s my birthday.  No, I’m not having a party.  I am working hard to stave off a pity party.  Something about this year seems to hold special portent.  The double digitedness of it, maybe?  The fact that I am halfway through my (gasp!) 50s?  That this is an age where many people I work with begin to leave for retirement?  All of the above and possibly more.

What I don’t want to dwell on is all that I’ve lost in the past five years.  Back then, I hadn’t lost my dad, my mom or my sister to cancer.  I was physically fit, having completed a sprint triathlon the summer before and did another the following summer.  I hadn’t been diagnosed with an incurable liver disorder or lupus.  I hadn’t experienced a major breach of trust that almost ended my marriage.  I felt hopeful, optimistic, and ready for whatever came next.

Today, the headline that comes to mind after listing all that crap above is “All that you’ve lost”, which sounds like a lyric from a U2 song.  Clearly my mad skill for lyric memorization is coming in handy today.

But I need to change my thinking.  I don’t want to dwell on what I’ve lost.  I want to dwell on what is still possible.  I am 55.  I am alive.  That last item alone should be reason to celebrate.  While I may not have my health the same way it was, I don’t have a terminal cancer diagnosis, which is what my sister had at this age.  I have my kids in my life and they are all well.  I continue to like my job and don’t plan to leave it immediately – but I do have thoughts about when I might want to go and that sets off another set of thoughts around possibilities like “what’s next?”.  I have ideas.  I have dreams.  I have goals.  All of these are good things. So I need to nip any sense of pity in the bud and remind myself of all the good that being alive brings.

Birthday Toast
I remember standing up to raise a toast at my 50th birthday party, where my friends and some of my family had gathered.  I looked around the room and saw people from almost every major part of my life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, various career junctures – and I thought how very lucky I was to be connected to so many who knew the story of my life.  I thanked them for being a part of that story and when I think about it today, I would want them all at a party this year, were I having one.  Plus, there are new people that I would like to include.  As I go through each year, I get richer and more blessed.  I will dwell on that, and I will think about possibilities, not what’s been lost.

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”

This lovely cliché is attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who predated Plato. I needed to look this up for something at work that I was writing about and found the actual translation of his work is, more accurately:

“Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters. All things…are in flux like a river.”

Trans. John Mansley Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968) p. 91, Fragment 5.15 and p. 89, Fragment 5.10.

And so I view my life.  It is a river that I step through and the water that moves by me has been going on for all time.  I gather those drops that I need to sustain me, I hold them for a time, then, like all drops of water, they evaporate to become clouds and come back to the river as rain.

I am lucky.  I am blessed.  I am alive.

Erin_UK

Um….What?

For anyone who’s taken the time to read all of this blog, you will know that much of it has been writings I’ve done about losing several members of my family to cancer in a very short period of time.  Between May of 2010 and September of 2011, I lost my dad, my mom, and my sister.  It was a heck of a time, overlaid with some marriage challenges and general life bumps and bruises.  It took some doing, but I made it through and figured I’d had my time in the ringer.  It’s why my icon on this blog is a Weeble ®.  I may wobble, but I don’t fall down.

The past few months, I’ve spent focusing on my needs – like writing, remodeling, yard work, travel – as well as keeping busy working full time at a fairly demanding job and raising 3 kids.  But I’ve felt like a slug for several months and instead of tackling things after dinner, it was all I could do to stay awake.  That isn’t me.  Three years ago, I did my second triathlon.  OK, it was a sprint triathlon, but it was still a pretty major effort.  Today, I couldn’t imagine doing one.  I am that run down.

First, I thought it was depression.  That seemed somewhat plausible.  Then I figured it was overlaid by age-related issues and hormones in flux.  But enough weird symptoms kept popping up that I decided to list them all out and take them to my doctor and ask him what the hey hey sha na na was going on. I needed to figure out if this was just life as it was going to be or something strange happening to me.

Growing up as one of 5 kids, my mom had her hands full with boo boos and owies and playing nurse to all the scrapes and cuts.  This was back before everything was child-proofed.  We played with knives and climbed metal playground structures over cement.  We had a few bad spills along the way.  My mom didn’t really want to be bothered unless you were REALLY hurt.  I would take my injuries to her and she would tell me it was barely visible.  Imagine that – to me, I was gravely injured and to her, it was a minor mark.  She called me a hypochondriac a couple of times (my mother never believed in talking down to her kids – we all knew really big words early) and I learned not to take every little item to her.  This still lives in my head when it comes time to talk to a doctor.  My list, however, told me that I wasn’t just making stuff up.  There were a lot of odd things at play.

He took my concerns seriously and ran blood tests to see what might be the cause.  I told him about the autoimmune issues in my siblings and he did some special tests to isolate those results.  To make the long story somewhat shorter, after multiple referrals, additional tests, and a biopsy, I now know that I have a reason to be fatigued.  I have both Lupus and a new-to-me autoimmune disease of the liver.  While neither of these is an immediate death sentence, they are both chronic conditions that will stay with me for the rest of my life – and will affect the quality of my life.  What this means to me is still not completely clear.  What I do know is that I need to change many of my lifestyle patterns – I need to minimize stress (no real idea how that’s going to happen…), I need to stop enjoying wine and the occasional cocktail, I need to change my diet to eliminate some bad foods for me, and I need to take medication for the rest of my life.  I’ve gone from being a healthy person to being someone with a “condition”.  Shit.

Image  Image  Image

I am still processing a lot of this.  I don’t really know how I feel from one moment to the next.  I am sad, fearful, angry, anxious, unsure, optimistic, and back around again as the days go by.  I force myself to look on the bright side, then I want to smack that positive person and say “Stop celebrating something that is ultimately a suck-fest.  This is not a prize!”  So I dwell in the depths for a while and then look for something to take my mind off it.  A drink is no longer an option.

I have had a sense of impermanence since my parents died, and my sister left us when she was only 57.  I know I don’t have forever to be a part of things.  I am counting on at least another 30 years, however.  And I want them to be good years.  Not years of enduring a modified lifestyle that lengthens my time but makes it less enjoyable.  I want to celebrate my children’s milestones – cheer them at graduation, dance at their weddings, hold my grandchildren, toast their successes – and be there for those golden years I’ve heard so much about.

I am struggling with it all, wondering what I might have done to deserve this.  And I realize in asking that question, I am being about as ridiculous as can be.  It is just a function of biology, not divine retribution for anything I might have done or not done.  I am simply the lucky recipient of this particular set of genes with this particular autoimmune combination.

I have a lot to learn about what lies ahead.  I am going to continue to work at optimism, balanced with realism so as to not piss myself off.  I will list all the things I want to do and get busy.  I will take inventory of my life and make sure I am living it with intention and with passion.  I will listen to what I need to do to take care of myself and not burn out.  I will accept that this is what is and no amount of bitching about it will change things.  I will suck it up and get on with living.  In short, after another round of knock down punches, I’m going to have to bounce back up again and be the Weeble ® I know I can be.

But seriously – again?  Really?