Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ice... 2.0

I am writing this short missive mostly for my friends and family whose only familiarity with ice is having something to clink around in a glass while keeping your Mimosa cold. (Does one put ice in a mimosa??)  I have to say - you are the smart ones.  You may be missing out on the bewitching reality of four seasons and be singing "I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas" wearing your sandals and Bermuda shorts, you are not, however, trying to stay upright on a sheet of ice.

Ice? We don't need no stinkin' ice!

Normally we get some snow.  and then some more snow.  and then, lest we forget, some more snow.  So far this winter, we got some snow. Then it warmed up and we got some rain (Rain? really?) Then, of course, the temps dropped to the single digits.  Even those of you in temperate climes know what that  means: I...C...E... (yes, icy).

Well, we are tough go-getters out here, so we strap our ice cleats on our snow boots and sally forth.  No problemo. 

Okay, the weather says, that was not enough?  We now introduce...

ICE 2.0

This is not your beginner's ice.  Let me draw an analogy here.  Imagine, if you will, that someone has replaced your front side walk with a mirror.  And on this mirror they have emptied a 5 gallon bucket of mineral oil.  You are now expected to walk across this without falling on your arse.  This is ice.

ICE 2.0 is this base of oiled mirror with a 2 pound box of BBs dumped on it.  I double-dog dare you to be able to walk on that.

This is what we awakened to this morning:  Nine degrees (F) and a light dusting of slick dry snow on top of sheer ice. Yes, ICE 2.0

Suffice it to say that my walk across the field to work this morning was punctuated with shrieks of terror and curse words.

I did not, however, fall on my arse. 


Monday, November 4, 2013


I wrote this post shortly before I went into the hospital for my bilateral mastectomy.  Even though the rain has turned to snow, it is all still pertinent...
One of the many things I am grateful for: little, sweet, deaf Bear dog.  The loveliest dog on earth.

I have been thinking lately about how thankful I am.  At the school where I work, every day at lunch, after announcements but before we eat, they have a ritual.  It is called "Moment of Silence".  It is one of my favorite parts of the work day.  It only lasts 30 seconds or so, but it gives me a chance to slow down, take a deep breath and make conscious note of the things for which I am grateful.

Invariably, my list begins with my husband.  When I say to myself "I am thankful for Brian." it encompasses everything.  It is like having a file drawer in my mind with his name on it and when you open it, there is a whole world of gratitude.  I am thankful for his adventurous spirit and his just do it attitude, without which I would have missed out on so many wonderful experiences.  I am thankful for his encouragement and his belief that I am capable of doing things, even when I am sure I can't. He pushes me to try harder and do more, he pushes me to be a better me.  I can't really think of a better life companion.  This is of course all bundled up with his sometimes silly, always hilarious personality, his strength and bravery, his love and commitment to our animals and the life we have built together, his genuine curiosity in the world around him and his ability to engineer and build almost anything.  Yes, I am very thankful for my husband.

Of course, the list doesn't end there.  I am thankful for this place we live in.  As I write this, it is POURING rain outside, the corrals are ankle deep in mud, the sun is a distant memory,  but still I love this place.  When I look out my window, I don't see another house crowding in on us.  I don't see pavement or a busy highway or neon lights.  I see a thick wall of evergreen trees.  I see our sheep, huddling in their shed to keep out of the rain.  I don't hear traffic or people arguing or even really dogs barking (unless they are our own!). I hear the chickens clucking, the horses nickering at each other and, of course, the rain.  This stillness, this sanctuary is what I have yearned for my whole life.  When I look around and see what Brian and I have built here; physical things like the sheep shed, the hay barn, the fencing, and less tangible things like a sense of deeper purpose and a connection to the earth, I can't help but feel blessed.  

I feel doubly blessed that we can actually make a go of it here.  This is a tough place to make a living.  The economy is... well, beyond struggling.  If it were your dog, you would have put an end to its misery a long time ago.  And while we bitch, whine, moan and complain about it, we are both very thankful to be employed locally.  No one hour each way commute for another job that, face it, we would bitch, whine, moan and complain about!  It doesn't hurt that I have a super boss, who is always on my side and helps me to do my best at work.  Especially grateful for her :).

I am grateful for my health.  I know you are thinking, WAIT, you have cancer! How can you be grateful for you health? But I am deeply grateful.  Except for that one little tumor (which yucky chemo shrank away to next to nothing!) my body is a rockstar.  I admit, I took that for granted for a long time.  Before my appendix ruptured (3 years ago?) I had never been in the hospital.  Never broken a bone, never had a serious illness or injury.  Never even had stitches.  Now, of course, I know WAY too much about doctors and hospitals and needles and all that.  However, I still feel like one of the healthiest people I know. And I am determined not to take that for granted anymore.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Magpie swims!

I got the toy!!!
This little cutie pie loves the water! She will even jump off the dock!  We go every evening after work to swim and play in the reservoir.  Her brother, Bear, loves to swim too.

Jumping off the "dock" before the dock was put in
Willow, not so much.

Oh my God! I think they splashed water up my nose!  MOOOOMMM!

And of course, their cool chariot.

1965 Ford Ranchero. Yeah, I know, it's cool.
This is what we do for fun in summer.  After we do this.

and this.

Yes, this is me riding my horse. With bald chemo head. You can't even tell with my hat on, I just look like a bad-ass cowgirl!
and this.

Which leads to this.

Magpie enjoying the big stack of loose hay in the barn.
We pack a lot into a day out here.  Good thing it doesn't get dark until 10 pm!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chemo sucks...

There, I said it.  In fact I will say it again. Chemo sucks.  Sucks the life right out of you.

Now, don't think I am ungrateful.  I fully appreciate my blessings at having access to this modern miracle and insurance to pay for it and a body that is capable of (mostly) tolerating it. But at this point in treatment I feel like maybe I should have high-tailed it to that Mexican clinic and tried to cure this cancer with organic vegetable juices and coffee enemas.  It couldn't be as bad as this.

Don't worry, I also appreciate the fact that my tumor is dissolving much like an Alka Seltzer in a glass of water.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh what a relief it is...

Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but it is what I imagine is happening in there. Anyway, I won't be border-bound any time real soon.

So ultimately the big drawbacks with chemo are:
  1. you lose your hair.  ok, not so much your leg hair, but hair on head? Yes. Bald chemo head, not exactly my best look. and I am oh so challenged with tying on scarves.  The big bonus is no shampoo, conditioner, de tangling, etc. Not entirely a fair trade.
  2. the fatigue... oh my gosh. the fatigue is unbearable. I personally slept all night Monday, all day Tuesday and all night Tuesday. and guess what - I am soooooooo tired right now.
  3. the nausea.  The anti-nausea drugs are great, I haven't barfed at all (sorry if that is too graphic), but I feel perpetually hung over (without the fun of the night before) and no food sounds yummy.
  4. the time suck.  This is one I hadn't really thought about but since we live in the middle of beautiful nowhere, it takes us 3 hours to get to the treatment center. then another 3-4 hours there and then 3 hours home. A BIG DAY. 
Since there are drawbacks there must be some benefits, right?... um besides the obvious one of dissolving the tumor.  Let's see...
  1. weight loss- a direct benefit of all food sounding and smelling gross.
  2. scarves- everyone wants to get you a beautiful scarf- that is definitely fun!
  3. um... at a loss for a number 3.
Anyway, I am happy to be 3/8 of the way through this part and it is making me look forward to the actual surgery (maybe that could be bennie number 3).

Hopefully, I will have something different than cancer and cancer treatment to talk about next time.  Maybe how Magpie jumps off the dock into the river all by herself!!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Saga Part 2: Letting Go and the Cancer checklist!

After the trauma of the biopsy there is the torture of the wait.   

You know, the wait for THE CALL.  Anyone who has ever experienced any kind of investigational procedure knows that feeling.  Luckily, the call came from my family doctor (and friend) and not some anonymous person I had never met.  She was so awesome, to call us at home, after office hours, as soon as she had the pathology report- she knows the waiting is unbearable.  She was very thorough and caring, explaining everything as she read us the report, but she had to say the 3 words no woman ever wants to hear about her breasts:

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma

Carcinoma, of course, is the word that strikes the most fear into one’s heart, although invasive is a close second.  Yep, I had the most common form of breast cancer.  Very treatable, with a high survival rate, which is good.  However, still breast cancer which sucks is not that good.  Especially for someone who already had every spare moment of the summer planned up with fun stuff to do.  Somehow, surgeries and chemotherapy had not come to mind when planning up our calendar.   

How quickly things change.

My husband and I cried and held each other and tried to process what this really meant.
Cancer? Really? Me? Why? Why me? Why me? Why me?

After the shock and disbelief wore off, all that was left was the anger.  I was pissed.  I mean really pissed. I love my life, really truly love it.  I love my husband.  I love the person I‘ve become.  I love where we live, how we live, our animals, our friends- everything, all of it.  How in the hell could this monster be here? And how could it slam its iron foot down and change everything- our plans, our diet, how could it steal our summer away? 

Well, screaming into the wind might feel good, but it is not very productive. 

It was work, but with the sage advice and support of my friends, I got over it.  After all- it is one shit summer for let’s say 30 or 40 more years… fair trade, I guess.

A beautiful painting made by my friend Jamie, based on a dream I had.
The hardest part is letting go.  Letting go of what you thought was going to happen, what you had planned to achieve.  Letting go of what you thought of as healthy.  Letting go of your pre-conceived notion of who you are and what you will or will not do.  Letting go of the idea of control. 

The second hardest part is acceptance.  Accepting that sacrificing this summer will give you a lifetime of opportunity.  Accepting that even if you can’t work as hard as you used to, you are still good enough.  Accepting that each day is a gift, each hug, each laugh, each smile is all you ever need.

Apparently the lesson the Universe is trying to teach me is:

Let go and Accept...

Okay, I got it, I’m trying- stop nagging.

From there to here, it has been a dizzying maze of doctors, nurses, hospitals, blood draws, waiting rooms filled with patients that “really” have cancer.  Also, since everything is 3 hours from here, every appointment is an all-day affair.  Fortunately (or really unfortunately) I know quite a few women who have gone through breast cancer treatment.  Fortunate because I got all sorts of recommendations, referrals, ideas and support.  Unfortunate for the obvious reason that breast cancer is running rampant.

I’ll just hit the high points here, as I don’t need to drag you through this endless process:

This is the “I Have Breast Cancer Checklist”

1.       Find an oncology surgeon- Check. 
a.       The oncology surgeon is the one who actually cuts the G-D tumor out.  Got a fantastic recommendation for a surgeon we love!
2.       Find a medical oncologist (aka chemotherapy doctor)- Check. 
a.       This one took 2 tries but the second doc is awesome and we are super happy with the “Chemo Suite”
3.       Get an MRI- Check. 
a.       This was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  It’s loud and you have to lay with your boobies through a slot in the table for 45 minutes, but it doesn’t hurt or make you sick.  The hardest part is not thinking “Don’t move.” Because once you think that, it becomes nearly impossible to stay still.
4.       Get results from MRI- Check. 
a.       Showing a “suspicious” lymph node and a “busy” other breast and a mass that is fairly large- like 3 cm x 3 cm x 2 cm. Hmmm…
5.       Get a Sentinel Lymph Node (SLN) biopsy with the added bonus of having a Port-A-Cath installed at the same time- Check. 
a.       So this is actually pretty interesting- They “inject” a radioactive isotope right near the tumor (I use the term inject loosely- they actually use something like an air pistol to force the liquid through the skin.  Yes, it hurt.  A lot.) Once the liquid is in there, your lymph system gets to work to flush it out.  Then the surgeon can use a Geiger counter (yes like after a radioactive spill) to see where the first 3 or 4 lymph nodes are.  Then they can be removed and biopsied for cancer cells.  My nodes were negative- hurray!
b.      The Power Port Port-A-Cath is something they use for chemotherapy- it is like having a permanent IV in your chest.  It does not hurt but definitely looks like an alien is about to erupt from under my skin – a tad bit creepy.
6.       Find a plastic surgeon- Check. 
a.       Okay, of all the things I thought I would do in my life, talking to a plastic surgeon was not one of them.  My body was just my body and I worked with what I had.  Well, lo and behold, breast cancer changed this too.  I was a little skeptical about meeting this guy, after all wasn’t he all about making the pretty people prettier?  That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  He is down to earth and kind and just wants people to be comfortable in their bodies.  We talked about all the options available to me and my husband and I have decided on this most radical surgery : the TRAM flap.  It is almost as weird as the name sounds, but the short of it is- bilateral mastectomy (both those things are getting the hell away from me, thank you very much) then immediate reconstruction using, get this, my belly fat!  So boob job and tummy tuck for me- a breast cancer perk, yay!

So we have all our ducks in a row.  Now, it is just getting through the chemo.  I have had my first treatment and aside from being excruciatingly fatigued, no big side effects. One down, seven to go.

The chemo doc told me to expect my hair to fall out around the 21st day after the first treatment.  So I went and got it cut. Short.  I mean super short, like high school gym teacher short.  I hate it, but at least I won’t miss it as much when it falls out!  And my beautiful long hair was donated to Locks of Love.  Another breast cancer perk!
Anyway, I think you can tell that I am in a pretty good space with all this now.  There are times (okay days really) when I feel pretty sorry for myself, but honestly if this had to happen now is a good time -  I am young, strong and otherwise healthy.  I have the most awesome support team, headed up by my husband and rounded out by everyone I work and play with.  It’s summer so the days are long and the roads are good.  I mean really, what have I got to complain about?  Oh, that big tumor?  Forget about it- we are kickin’ some cancer ass over here!

And next summer- look out!  I’ll have perky new boobs, a flat tiny belly and a big attitude.  What more could a girl ask for?

As a sign off, I want to share this comic I love from Dharma Comics , although it would be more applicable to me if it said "I'm Pissed."  and then the other guy could say "I know!"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Saga

I hesitated whether to post about this…My posts are usually light-hearted accounts of life on the ranch.  This one, not so much.

Some of you may know and some of you may not know, but I have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It sounds shocking, and it is really. I am young and healthy, I eat a fairly good diet, my life is mostly low-stress. Yes, I like to drink a few beers.  Yes, I love cheeseburgers, fries and chocolate shakes.  But seriously?  I see how other people live- they smoke, drink excessively, eat junk food as their staple diet… they don’t have cancer.  It doesn’t really seem fair. But then, I guess there were never any guarantees about fairness when I signed up for life on planet Earth.

So enough whining (for this moment anyway).  This is where it is.

Early this year, I felt a lump in my right breast.  Ever the optimist, I assumed a cyst or something benign like that.  I finally went to my doctor in March and she recommended a mammogram and an ultrasound.  Still unworried, I went to these appointments. My first twinge of concern came when the ultrasound showed this big, black tentacled monster thing in my boob.    

This is basically what I imagined was living in there:

 I Googled tentacled monster and this image came up.
Courtesy of

This twinge was confirmed when the ultrasound doctor came in and was very concerned and caring.  The reason this freaked me out is because looking at him I could tell he was the “typical scientist”- not unfriendly or unkind, but business like and probably just a little reserved.   When you get concerned eye contact and arm patting from a scientist, it sets off some warning bells…

Next step: Needle biopsy.

I pride myself on not being scared of needles- I’m just not. I’ve donated blood, received injections, given injections, all stuff needle-related is no issue. So when they recommended a needle biopsy on the lump, I thought no big deal- I even told my husband “No reason for you to go, it will only take a few minutes and it’s just a needle for cripes’ sake.”

Famous. Last. Words.

What they failed to tell me is that the more correct term for the procedure I was getting is Core Biopsy.
Core Biopsy… inherently different from a needle.  Think ice-cores, treecores, even an apple corer and you can see the difference.  Well, I didn’t know any of this when I waltzed into the surgeon’s office all proud and brave.  Here is a photo of the device used to “harvest” 3 samples:

Celero breast biopsy device
I laid on my hands so that I wouldn’t slap the surgeon.

Yeah. So not a needle.  

 As Lou Reed aptly put it:
 “Then I guess she had to crash,
Valium would have helped that bash…
She said, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"

Walk on the wild side indeed. They do give you a local anesthetic, but it really doesn't reach in to where this cutting dagger goes.  Let's just say I screamed bloody murder and then burst into uncontrollable tears.  and then they had to do it 2 more times...

After regaining my composure and drying my hysterical tears, I was able to walk out with my dignity and my boob mostly intact.

Take home lesson: 
NEVER go to a biopsy appointment without your support person.

Tomorrow I will post the subsequent scenarios, as this is a pretty long story!

Stay happy. Stay healthy. And check your boobs- seriously.