Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

I started seeing a counselor. I’ve never seen one before. I just thought it might be good to get guidance from someone who might be able to help me figure out my way through this grief. I’ve never had anyone close to me die before. All of my grandparents have died, and I did mourn for them, but this is entirely different.

My company offers six free office visits per crisis. Very nice of them. They hooked me up with someone in their system. I was worried I wouldn’t get along with this person, but somehow I ended up with a great match. The doctor’s name is Jennifer. She got her undergrad at App State, she’s young (about my age, I think), and we seem to have compatible personalities. She reminds me a bit of my friend Libby from the Peace Corps, who was my unofficial psychologist during my tenure in Lesotho. I like her.

The best thing so far is that she’s told me all my symptoms (emotional eating, lack of focus, depression, etc.) are normal and that they’ll pass. When I mentioned that I felt like I hadn’t had time to grieve due to all of the immediate funeral preparations, she said that it’s typical for grief to be delayed a bit, so I should be expecting it to hit right about now anyway. She suggested that I make time to grieve. It’s an interesting concept. She also suggested that I keep a journal. I told her I had a blog. I’m sure she meant an actual journal, but I got burnt out on handwriting journal entries in the Peace Corps. I’m afraid this will have to do for now.

She asked how I was sleeping, and I said I got to sleep fine, but I woke up around 3 or so to use the bathroom, then just couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour or two. I also said my nights were punctuated with a number of strange dreams, most involving mom or something related to what’s going on. And they’re weird: I usually dream familiar settings, places I’ve been before, but most of these dreams are in strange locations. I never really remember them. I did remember my dream this morning, maybe because I’d been wondering why I can’t remember any. “We” (and by “we,” I don’t really know whom, just me and my crew, maybe family, I don’t know) were in this house that we had to dismantle. It was two stories, and we had to rip it apart by hand. We were able to punch holes in the floors by jumping very hard, and then they kind of wobbled and disconnected…hard to explain. At some point, people I didn’t know came in to portion out mom’s things. That wasn’t cool. The meaning of this dream seems rather obvious. It’s a common theme these nights.

So I got a little under six hours of sleep last night (with that dream and all), and then I had to get up to run the Free to Breathe 5k at North Hills. I contemplated not going…I was tired, it was cold, etc. But I went.

I wasn’t expecting it to be so hard. But it was HARD. I walked up and saw all these memorials and all of these “I’m running in memory of” signs and I just lost it. Duke Raleigh was one of the sponsors, and they had this big table. I went over and asked if any of the doctors were around. They said there was a Dr. White there, someone I’d never heard of. Then I asked if Brenda was around…she’s what they call a “patient navigator.” We got interrupted by a very frustrating moment of silence before the lady pointed me to Brenda.

Brenda is the most empathetic person I have ever met. She is the definition of kind and caring. I don’t know how she does it. Mom adored her. Brenda can make everything better by just walking into a room: somehow you know everything’s going to be okay because she’s there. The first time I met Brenda was at one of mom’s radiation treatments. Brenda explained the Tarceva to mom while we were in the waiting room, then she sat with me for a while during mom’s treatment and answered all of my questions. I shared my delicious almond-flour chocolate chip cookies with Brenda at mom’s first chemo treatment. I think the last time I saw Brenda was mom’s last trip to the hospital. I remember that we were feeling lost and confused, and then she came. And wow, how mom smiled.

Brenda recognized me immediately, even though I was all bundled up. I starting crying as soon as she looked at me. She gave me a hug and didn’t let me go for a long time. When she pulled back, she was crying too. She told me that I had nothing to regret and that I was there every step of the way for my mom. She asked when the service had been and then told me she couldn’t believe that I was there at that race. I told her it was hard, but I’d run it off. She asked about dad, then told me we could come talk with her at any time.

I’m so glad she was there.

The race was nice, actually. I wasn’t expecting much. I was wearing an extra 5 lbs of clothes, hadn’t rested well at all, had exercised the night before…basically, I didn’t think I’d even make it running the whole way. But it was sunny and I got kinda overheated at one point. It was a very hilly course, but not one single car passed us, which was heavenly. And not only did I run the whole way, but it was my fastest race time ever: 27:53.

After the race, I came home and changed, then went to a two-hour “restorative yoga” session, which was basically just resting in different bodily configurations. That was relaxing. Then it was a rush to get back home to make the first meeting of our non-profit…we had to officially elect board members and officers and such before we could file for 501(c)3 status. So that’s done. And then it was off to dad’s house to cook dinner. I wrote a bunch of thank-you notes, had a lovely dinner with dad, picked up the little heart that has a bit of mom’s ashes inside, and then came home to feed the kitties. Long day.

I have to spend tomorrow (and probably Monday) revising my thesis in the hopes that we can keep the 11/11 defense date. Busy busy. Who’s got time for grief?



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November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Rather fitting, don’t you think?

I’ll be running in the Free to Breathe 5k at North Hills on Saturday morning in honor of mom. I don’t think I’ll be breaking any records since I haven’t trained for it, it’s going to be freezing, and I’m not taking Friday off (I always run better if I rest the day before), but I’ll still have my shoes to the pavement. My company is some sort of sponsor, so they’re even paying for my registration fee.

I hope you will all continue to remember my mom and her valiant fight against lung cancer in your own ways. I still count her among my heroes.

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Another week, another Tuesday. Dad had an early appointment, so I’ve been here alone with mom for most of the day. No one was sure whether or not the CNA was supposed to come sometime (they’re moving her up to four days a week, but I guess no one had said which four), but no other visits were scheduled. It’s kinda nice.

I went in to see what mom wanted for breakfast and noticed that she had thrown up during the night. There was dry, crusty stuff that looked mostly like blood to me all down the front and side of her shirt and on the pad underneath her. I did my best to change her shirt (watching me try to take the old one off would have been hilarious had it not been so sad…it’s very difficult to change someone’s shirt when she’s just lying there), and I put a clean pad over her old one while I called to see if the CNA was indeed coming (if not, I’d go ahead and try to change everything). After a few rounds of phone tag with hospice, the CNA called to say she was on her way.

Of course, she came right when I have my weekly (phone) meeting with my manager. The one appointment I have all day. So there’s me with my cell phone pinned between my shoulder and ear, talking with my manager about a matter of procedure, kneeling in the middle of mom’s bed, and helping the CNA slide mom in and up on the bed. Talk about multi-tasking.

Mom’s always exhausted after nurse visits. I’m sure it’s because she gets manhandled and has to expend a lot of her energy. I was trying to get her settled and get her some food since she said she felt nauseated again. She’s on a two-bite kick: two bites of breakfast, two crackers, two bites of sandwich, two spoons of yoghurt or smoothie, two sips of water. I wonder if she’s aware. But that’s all she’ll take these days. Anyway, I got her some crackers, and she didn’t seem to like the way they stuck to her teeth, so I figured it would be a great time to brush her teeth, especially since I’d forgotten to do it earlier. Bad caregiver.

I’ve been working with mom for MONTHS about not swallowing toothpaste. Apparently this is something she’s done her whole life, I don’t know. But the first time I had to help her to the sink a while back, I noticed she wasn’t rinsing and spitting. She was under the assumption that if it’s safe to put in your mouth, it’s safe to swallow. I know she never reads ingredient lists, but toothpaste is not your friend! So now I make a big deal out of “rinse and spit!” I brushed her teeth for her (awkward if you’ve never done that before; all previous times, she’s done it herself) and held up a cup. I must have said over a dozen times, “rinse and spit; please don’t swallow!” I don’t know if she couldn’t understand or was just in the habit of swallowing, but she swished the water around and swallowed. Ugh. I made her rinse and spit anyway, though it was very hard for her to figure out how to do it. When we were done, I asked if she needed anything. “Yeah,” she said, giving me a nasty look. “I want my life back.”


She was sure she had to be somewhere for bridge, either at church or her friend’s house. It took some convincing for her to believe she didn’t have to go anywhere. I put on the TV and tried to get some work done. When I went back, I asked if she was okay…she looked very confused. She said she was confused. I asked what about. She told me that it was like she had two lives, one on the TV that was causing her to miss the other. I turned off the TV and asked what she wanted to do. She said sudoku or read, which is what she always used to do, so I got her the sudoku book and a pen that writes easily.

Boy, that didn’t go well. I don’t know what she was doing, or what she thought she was doing. She started by putting a 1 in a box that already had a 1, then told me I was wrong when I told her she couldn’t do that. So I just agreed and let her do her thing. I checked back on her a few times, and there were some scribbles in a few places, but no numbers. Every time I walked by the room, though, she was staring at it intently. I wish I knew what was going on in her mind.

When I walked by and she was asleep with the book in her hand, I took it away. I got her two bites of lunch, and then she agreed to read a book. She’s been in bed reading for a while. It’s really a small miracle. She hasn’t read, to my knowledge, for a long, long time. It used to be her favorite thing to do. I hope she’s getting some enjoyment out of it.

I also hope she’s getting some sunlight. I opened the blinds in her room. Poor dad…he loves birds, and he said the last time he opened the blinds, a bird flew into the window and killed itself. He just can’t win. (And, yes, he even has those decals on the windows that are supposed to tell the birds that there’s glass there.)

I’ve been doing a little better these past couple of days myself. I went to yoga, which I haven’t done in ages, with an instructor I haven’t seen in months. She was my first real personal trainer. She’s a very kind soul, and I was hoping that yoga with her might help me remember to treat myself with kindness and compassion. I spoke with her a bit after class, and it turns out when she was 16, she lost her mother to cancer. They had a four-month warning. It’s so sad, how many people this disease touches. It seems like everyone. I hope I can make yoga a part of my regular routine. It’s another thing I can’t afford, and I’m horribly inflexible, but it’s a nice way to touch base with what’s going on with myself. Just like meditation, it brings a lot of crap to the surface that can then be scraped away. I hope.

So here’s to small miracles, two bites, and two lives. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have with mom, but I hope she can spend that time doing what she loves to do.

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We had a volunteer expo today at work where several non-profits set up booths to try to recruit volunteers. The Backpack Buddies brought empty backpacks for us to fill, which was fun, and some group promoting weatherproofing had us fill buckets with things like caulk, insulation, and weatherstripping for them to give away in Durham (…I didn’t ask). I’m a bit strapped right now, and my company doesn’t give us free volunteer days like another place I’ve work, so I was mostly there to pack a few backpacks and poke around.

The YMCA had several tables. A couple of ladies tried to talk me into mentoring/tutoring, but I enthusiastically told them that I’m a horrible teacher. That’s something I learned in the Peace Corps. Good teachers have dozens of ways to explain the same concept. I have one or two, and if the kid doesn’t get it after that, I get frustrated and then angry. Not at the kid, but at myself and my inability to communicate well. Some people are great teachers. I am not. And that is okay. So long as I know it and don’t try to teach anymore. 😉

Anyway, one of the YMCA tables was about their Livestrong program. They have free 12-week exercise programs for adult cancer survivors (where “survivor” means you have survived the diagnosis, so these folks are in all stages of the disease). There’s room to volunteer as an exercise mentor, so I would basically hang out with the trainer and act as support for folks working out.

I don’t know if you know it or not, but I’m really into fitness. I’ve been working out seriously for almost a decade now (holy cow!), and while I’m not a certified trainer, I know my way around and can help folks with proper form, etc. I was talking with the lady there, and she said that if this was something I was interested in and showed myself to be a good volunteer, they might even be willing to put me through personal training certification as well as the certification required to train cancer patients. How awesome would that be?! She said there’s an evening program that’s twice a week from about 7-8:30 or so, which might just fit into my impossibly busy schedule. It would be a great way for me marry what I know about fitness with what I’m learning about caregiving.

The lady mentioned that she’d love to tap my brain about ways to care for the families. She said that the biggest concern for their participants is that their families be cared for as well. I said that the biggest problem my dad had was how to get out of the house. Lots of friends had volunteered to stay and sit with mom, but it’s more serious than just coming and sitting in a chair…there is some care involved, and there are a lot of things you need to know and be aware of before you can be left alone with mom. This lady said no one had mentioned that before, but they might be able to start up a training program for volunteers, give them background checks and all that, and then offer their services to caregivers. I think that’s a great idea. Hospice does something similar, and I think dad’s going to start tapping into that resource, but I think a ton of people would get value out of a volunteer program like that.

Anyway, that’s all from me today. No real updates on mom, other than she doesn’t want to eat anything and is having some personal issues that aren’t very blog-appropriate. I’m still due to go over there tomorrow. Dad said most of the chores have already been done, so I don’t know what I’m going to do all day. Work, I suppose! 😉

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Ocean Water

Dad took me out yesterday to rent a bike.

This is the first road bike I’ve ridden since I visited a friend on the Google campus in 2008. And before that, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a dozen years. I remember having a hard time keeping my balance when I was at Google, but I didn’t have any issues this time. It might be due to the RealRyder classes I’ve been taking at HEAT (best gym in the world!).

Anyway, I went out this morning for a ride down to the inlet. There were hardly any people. It was lovely. I can’t believe that I’ve been coming here for my entire life and have never been down there. There was a man with a bike who spoke with me for a while, and he said the inlet hadn’t always been that way…there used to be water flowing through, but the landscape changed every decade or so. I guess I caught it in a good decade!

There were shells everywhere! I looked for sand dollars, too, but I didn’t see any of those. I did pick up two beauties to bring home to mom. I don’t know if she was very impressed, but I thought they were great.

The bike ride was nice. I don’t know if this is TMI or not, but no matter how fast I rode or how strong the wind was in my face, I could not outrace the smell of mom’s catheter. It’s permeating, and I think it’s taken up permanent residence in my nostrils.

She hasn’t had a bath in about a week (see previous posts about idiots letting her fall over in the shower), so we made that our top priority for today. Dad’s sister is here with us, and she brought a little bench that fits inside the tub. So we stuck that in there. I got mom in and gave her a bath as best I could. I hope it was okay. I kept checking in with her, and she didn’t seem to mind what was going on, though I know it was a lot of work for her to get up and down so much. Probably much-needed exercise, too. 🙂 I washed her hair using a drink pitcher. Good times.

Her skin is SO dry, it’s ridiculous. She needs to get some lotion on every day, even if she doesn’t bathe. Her poor skin is flaking everywhere.

I asked mom if she was happy to be here. She said it was different, that she had more chances to spend quality time with friends when they were at home. I said that dad was at least getting a chance to relax a bit here, and she said that’s what she was hoping would happen. She’s still pretty much hanging out in bed all day. I hope I can get her to stay up after lunch. If she doesn’t start exercising and walking more, I’m afraid she won’t be able to much longer.

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Life has admittedly been a bit hard lately. My new job keeps me busy all day (if I let it!), and I would be 100% thrilled about that if I didn’t have what seems like a million other things to do too. I’m struggling to find time to do my thesis research, which needs to be complete by the end of the month; I did recently find a great lead that makes me feel like I’m on the right track, though. It’s also been a struggle to fill a parental role at home.

I will take yesterday as an example. I blocked out some time over my lunch “break” (still me at my computer tied to email and IRC) to do some of my reading, and I was feeling great about all I had accomplished for work and school during the day. I was thrilled that I would have a relaxing evening at home to veg out and rest before starting early again the next day. I came home in a great mood. I walked in the door to, “Oh, I thought you were your father.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” I say.

Dad had gone into the hospital to have a minor procedure, and he should have been home much earlier, but his appointment was delayed. Mom had been cooped up at home alone all day (she still can’t drive, and she can’t do all that much on her own, so I’m sure she was stir crazy). Mom immediately went into telling me why she didn’t want to shop at Whole Foods (I’m afraid I’ve been overly aggressive about the eat-better thing, but I can’t stand to watch her killing herself anymore), and hearing all of her excuses (all of which boil down essentially to laziness or apathy) got me all riled up again. Then dad got home, and he needed prescriptions filled, but neither one of them could drive, so I had to go back out to the store to get those filled and pick up another one for mom.

So much for a relaxing evening.

Now, none of this is their fault, and I’m not writing about this here so you’ll think I have awful parents. This is just my new reality, and I’m having trouble adjusting. I love my parents very, very much. I wish I could do more for them. I wish I were more patient. I sometimes feel like they don’t realize how much I’m doing…or how much I’m doing for them. I don’t want them to quit asking me to do things for them; I love being able to help out, and that’s why I moved back, but I wish I could plan for these things. If I had known I had to go get prescriptions after work, for example, it wouldn’t have been an issue at all: I wouldn’t have set myself up to expect a free evening, and thus I wouldn’t have been disappointed. If I know I have to help with laundry, I can build that into my Saturday plans. If I know I have to cook…well, you get the idea. I know you will say that some things can’t be planned for, and that’s true. I wish it were just the exception instead of the rule.

Mom isn’t doing very well. She keeps ignoring the advice of her therapist and ends up doing things like falling on the deck. She’s a strange mix of stubbornness and apathy. She’s frustrated that her energy level is still so low. I wish she’d believe me that diet will make a HUGE difference.

Food matters, folks. Think about how you feel after you eat a huge burger and plate of fries. Heavy, greasy, and exhausted, right? Like you just want to take a nap? What about when you skip a meal? Get tired and grumpy? Or what about when you eat a candy bar? That rush and crash? And you still want to believe that food doesn’t matter?!

They did make an appointment with a dietitian, but that isn’t until September. Dad’s trying really hard, but they still end up with things full of junk like sucralose, which is a known toxin. The fact that they shrug it off bothers me. Sometimes I think it would be better not to care. There was this guy on the Biggest Loser last season…his son had basically disowned him, saying that if his father was insisting on killing himself with food, it would be better for him to start thinking of him dead now. That motivated the father to change. I wonder if that’s the last resort here. Nothing else I’ve tried seems to work.

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I had the chance to visit with my folks last week. Mom seems to be doing okay, just still struggling with her energy level. I really think that she needs to find something to *do*. She’s always been actively engaged in multiple projects at a time: work, church, volunteering. I don’t think she liked being retired and having nothing to do, so she started on some of those multi-level marketing things and has done pretty well. She’s still selling for Jockey, but she hasn’t felt up to giving it 100% like she used to.

I just hate that she wakes up, eats, reads, does some puzzles, eats, and goes to sleep. I know that mom and I are a lot alike, and if that were me and that were all I had to look forward to, I know I’d be dealing with fatigue and depression. I don’t have many suggestions for her, but I like having something to do that has an end goal. Like scrapbooking, painting, making something. Or working on a volunteer project. Or taking some classes. Something that stretches your brain and helps you work toward something. I’m sure it’s hard to commit to any project when you’re not sure what your energy levels or wellness will be like from day to day, but there has to be something out there for her that will help her regain some purpose.

But maybe she’s happy just reading and doing puzzles. I don’t know. I just know I wouldn’t be.

Other than that, nothing much is new. Dad’s still being very supportive and caring, which is awesome. He worked out with me one day at a pretty hardcore gym. He never gave up, and I’m really proud of him! I hope he continues exercising and convinces mom to go with him. They both seem to want to exercise but want to wait for the other to make the first effort. Part of me wishes I could give up everything to hang out at their house, cook, and go to the gym with them. I’m not sure they could afford me, though! 😀

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