70!

Today is the day that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time… my 70th birthday! When I was diagnosed with my first cancer nine years ago, I didn’t expect to live to see this day, but here I am and it feels like a victory!

Months ago, I began to think about what I wanted to do to celebrate this milestone. Being an avid traveler, the first thing that came to mind was a trip. I visualized us packing a suitcase and climbing aboard a plane for the first time in over three years. Where would we go? The possibilities were endless, but Newfoundland was high on my list. We’d explore its rugged landscape, visit isolated coastal villages, and eat our fill of fresh seafood! Yes, Newfoundland was a definite possibility.

Then came hubby’s cancer diagnosis and the all-important consultation with a specialist to determine whether or not he’d be able to have surgery was booked for October 4. So, we’d be in Edmonton, not Newfoundland or some other more exotic location. The iconic “going to Winnipeg” ad that used to air on Canadian TV came to mind.

Oh well, there are lots of things to do in Edmonton. I looked into booking a hot air balloon ride as that’s been on my unwritten bucket list for a long time. We’d enjoy the fall colours in the river valley as we drifted silently over the city and then we’d sip champagne when we came back to earth. Unfortunately, however, the hot air balloon season closed last week! I’d have to think of something else. 

Then came Covid and even the long awaited doctor’s appointment had to be postponed. So here we are at home, doing nothing but watching rain fall outside the window! Earlier in the week, I felt pretty depressed about the lack of a plan for celebrating this special day, but we’re both feeling better and we’ve put in our five plus days of isolation. Regardless of where we are (or aren’t) and what we’re doing (or not doing) I’m 70 and I’m excited to be here! 

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Now, what will I do with the rest of this day?

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Sippin’ Pretty

When a former student of mine retired from teaching school (how old do you think that makes me feel?), she decided that she needed a hobby. She loved wine, loved teaching, and happened to have an empty  1927 house sitting on her farm property. She and her daughter, also a teacher, studied wine and food pairing courses, researched the history of the house and the people who lived there, then took it back to its original look and turned it into a 1920s speakeasy called Sippin’ Pretty!

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What is a speakeasy, you ask? During Prohibition (a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol in the United States that lasted from 1920 to 1933) hidden bars and nightclubs sprung up in cities across the country. The term speakeasy is thought to have come from the fact that patrons had to whisper, or speak “easy”, when attempting to enter these illicit establishments.

Sippin’ Pretty, located just a few minutes from Killam, Alberta, offers classes teaching the basics of wine tasting and food pairing to small groups in an intimate setting. It was there that I spent Thursday evening with a very special group of friends.

Craft night ladies sippin wine

On a September evening, thirty-three years ago, four young women gathered around a kitchen table and Craft Night was born. I was invited to join the group a few months later and not long afterward, a sixth member completed the group. We were all busy young moms and in the early days our monthly Craft Night was as much about having an evening out as it was about the crafts that we did. Whether we were knitting, crocheting, cross stitching or tole painting, we shared our lives and our stories. Several years ago, two of the original members moved away and since then another joined us. Then came Covid and like everything else, Craft Night came to a sudden end, or so it seemed.

That was not to be, however. After not meeting together for more than two years, a couple of us heard about Sippin’ Pretty and decided that it would be the perfect setting for our group to reconvene. It seemed appropriate since sipping wine was always an essential part of Craft Night! One of the former members who moved away was even able to join us for the evening. We sampled six different wines, three white and three red, discussing their colour and aroma and learning how to taste for things like sweetness and acidity and in the case of the reds, tannin. We learned about the kinds of food that each of the wines pairs best with by sampling a variety of meats, cheeses and delicious pasta dishes.

And we talked! In fact, I think we could have talked all night! We’ll have more time to catch up with one another soon though as I’ll be hosting Craft Night again next month and the tradition will continue! Although we actually abandoned doing crafts years ago, the name stuck. Thursday night we talked about the possibility of changing it, but we decided not to. Thirty-three years is a long time and it just wouldn’t seem right to call it anything else! 

Here we go again!

We were camping almost nine years ago when my doctor called to tell me that I had cancer. The news was completely unexpected and, in that moment, our lives changed forever. We were camping again this summer when hubby’s urologist called to tell him that he has two different kinds of prostate cancer, so here we go again!

A recent biopsy took 12 tissue samples from Richard’s prostate. Two of those, taken from one side of the heart shaped gland, showed a low-risk, non-aggressive cancer that is common in older men and usually requires nothing more than surveillance. Unfortunately, one sample from the other side proved to be a somewhat more aggressive form. According to the Gleason score, a scale used to evaluate the grade of prostate cancer cells, it’s a medium-grade cancer meaning that treatment ought to be considered.

There are several possible options. Surgical removal of the prostate, in spite of the fact that it has some negative effects, is thought to be the best choice for long-term survival, but the urologist warned us that the maximum age for a radical prostatectomy has always been a matter of debate and many specialists consider 70 to be the upper limit for performing this surgery. At 72, Richard is otherwise in excellent health and physical condition, so he has been referred to a specialist who does robotic prostate surgery, the most advanced treatment option available. We are praying that he’ll be approved and that the procedure will go ahead. If not, we’ll have to consider other options.

Over the past nine years, we have learned many things. The word cancer, itself, isn’t as scary as it once was. Though not to be taken lightly, it isn’t necessarily a death sentence either. We’ve learned to live life to the fullest and to consider every day a gift. We’ve learned the importance of living in and enjoying the moment. We’ve learned that a positive attitude makes the fight easier and adds to the quality of our days. We’ve learned not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. As Matthew 34:6 says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We’ve learned to focus on the things that are important in life and to let go of things that drain us for no good purpose. We’ve learned that there can be joy in the midst of challenging times. These are all lessons that we’ll take with us as we embark on this next journey.

Ultimately, we know that we have a God who walks this pathway with us and promises to take care of us. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

imagesAs always, the blog will be about more than cancer, but from time to time I will be using it to share progress reports. The only difference from the past will be that now I’ll be reporting on both of us!

A walk in God’s garden

Several of our planned hikes over the past two weeks were cut short or thwarted entirely by flooding due to unusually high water levels. In spite of that, we did manage to complete a few and one of them stands out as being the most amazing and unique.

An esker is a long, narrow ridge of winding hills composed of sand and gravel that was deposited thousands of years ago by a stream that ran underneath a glacier that once covered the land. One such ridge lies to the west of Laurier Lake and extends south into Borden Lake in Alberta’s Whitney Lakes Provincial Park. The 5.8-km out-and-back Borden Lake trail follows the top of the esker. 

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The trail is considered a moderately challenging one because the esker is far from flat. As we made our way up and down its rolling hills, we found ourselves surrounded by a myriad of wildflowers in bloom. I truly felt like I was walking in God’s garden! 

While I recognize some of the flowers like the wild rose, Alberta’s provincial flower, and the lone tiger lily, there were many others that I didn’t know by name.

We had the trail entirely to ourselves. There were no people for miles around. Thankfully, we didn’t see any bears either although there was some fairly fresh sign on the path and with bushes loaded with berries alongside the trail, they probably weren’t very far away. We kept our bear bell jingling and our bear spray close at hand just in case it was needed! We actually did see a young bear in the campground the following day, but thankfully, we were in the vehicle at the time and it was nowhere near our campsite. 

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As we continued hiking, Borden Lake soon came into view and if you look closely, you can see the esker jutting out into the water. The trail goes to the very end.

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When we reached the end, hubby sat down to rest, but I took off my shoes and socks and waded right in! 

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The water was refreshing, but soon it was time to retrace our steps back through the garden and return to camp. 

Taking time to recharge

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I ran across this recently and it resonated with me as it describes what I’m planning to do over the next little while. I won’t disappear completely, but I won’t be spending as much time as usual on social media and I probably won’t be blogging very regularly. Over the next 6 to 8 weeks I’ll be spending lots of time camping, hiking, and paddling quiet waters; time away from my keyboard and often far from internet connection.

Writing is who I am. It’s what I do. To me, it’s almost as important as breathing, but spending time in nature is one of the ways that I recharge my batteries and perhaps in the silence I’ll find some new things to write about.

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Perspectives on growing older

Earlier this month, Sue Burpee, writer of High Heels in the Wilderness, wrote a very thought provoking post about the feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction that she was experiencing as she contemplated the realities of getting older (she’s 66). It obviously resonated with many women as it generated a vast number of heartfelt comments. In fact, it struck such a chord with Frances, over at Materfamilias Writes, that she responded with this post on her blog. Again, the comment section exploded with women in their 60s, 70s, and beyond expressing feelings of worry and despair as they faced their own mortality. Many wrote of feeling that time was running out and one of Sue’s readers likened it to falling into an abyss. Some wrote of physical decline or the fear of losing their spouse. Others were already alone. Some mentioned lack of purpose, having nothing good to look forward to, or feeling invisible to those around them. There was also an acknowledgement by many that the pandemic had robbed them of valuable time that they’d never get back.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those two posts and the comments that they generated. I keep asking myself why I don’t share the feelings that so many women expressed so poignantly. I do lament time lost to the pandemic, but I’m just three months short of 70 and rather than feeling down about it, I’m excited! I’m already thinking about how I want to celebrate that milestone. But why? Why don’t I feel the way they do?

I think that there are three reasons.

The first was a major shift in perspective that happened almost ten years ago. I’ve written before about the fact that I spent the whole year that I was 59 fretting about turning 60. It sounded so old! How had I got there so quickly? Then came 60 and it wasn’t so bad after all, but before I turned 61, I was diagnosed with cancer and within a year, a second unrelated one. If you’ve been following my blog for very long, you know that the past decade has brought a number of other diagnoses as well as surgeries, treatments, and medications. Now, still with one incurable cancer, but stable and feeling 100%, I’ve learned that every day is a gift. Nine years ago, I had no reason to think that I would make it to 70. Now it feels like a victory!

The second reason that I feel optimistic about the future is the faith that sustained me through all the ups and downs of the past decade and for many years before that. I, who in my childhood and young adult years had an abnormal fear of death, of disappearing into nothingness and no longer existing, found peace with that when I finally cried out to God in desperation and asked Him to remove my fear. That was forty years ago and to this point, it has never returned. I don’t pretend to know what life beyond the grave will be like, but I firmly believe that it does go on and that those of us who have a personal relationship with the Creator will continue in His presence. That’s all I really need to know. That may sound naive or foolish to those who don’t share my faith, but that’s not surprising. Scripture says that that will be so. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Perhaps the main reason that I’m not burdened by the dark thoughts and feelings that seem to plague so many of my fellow seniors is that my life has purpose. Hubby and I fairly recently gave up a volunteer position that was beginning to become too physically taxing, but as my father always said, there’s no end to the things that you can do in retirement as long as you don’t need to be paid. I’ve edited almost 750 Kiva loans since I took on that role early last year. When I was younger, I led a ladies Bible study for more than twenty years. I didn’t expect to find myself doing that again in my late 60s, but I just wrapped up my second year back in that role and I look forward to continuing in the fall. In addition, I have a leadership position with an online women’s ministry and I’ve just been accepted into another role that will put my writing skills to good use. Nine years ago when I was looking death in the face, I certainly didn’t anticipate new beginnings at age 70! Clearly God isn’t finished with me yet!

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Hoodoos and buffalo beans

The last time we hiked the Meeting Creek Coulee near the village of Donalda was late in the fall. The trees were bare and the landscape was shades of gold and brown. Today’s hike through the same area was entirely different! 

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Everything was so green and there were wildflowers everywhere, especially the bright yellow buffalo beans that bloom across the southern half of Alberta and Saskatchewan at this time of year. 

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I’ve always wondered why they were called buffalo beans, so when we got home today I consulted Google and learned that the flowers appear around the same time as the Indigenous people of the prairie used to conduct their spring buffalo hunt. Apparently the plant produces bean-like seed pods later in the season, but they shouldn’t be eaten as the entire plant contains poisonous alkaloids.

We started today’s hike on the woodland trail that follows the rim of the massive coulee, the northernmost part of the Canadian Badlands, but we soon dropped down into the valley. As we wandered up, down, and around the bluffs that form its walls I spotted an impressive looking hoodoo emerging from the bushes on the hillside above us. Of course, we had to climb up and take a closer look.

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 We decided to sit and eat our lunch on the hillside where Richard is standing in this photo.

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As I looked at our backpack perched on the hoodoo’s capstone, I thought of all the places it’s been with us over the years. It’s even been to the top of Mt Fuji, the highest and most famous mountain in Japan! 

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The view from our lunch spot included a perfect mound protruding from the flat valley floor. I decided that when we finished eating, we should hike down and walk around it which we did. We considered climbing it, but it would have been a challenge and since we still had to climb back up out of the valley, we quickly rejected that idea. 

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Eventually, after wandering for awhile longer, we made our way back up the hillside and rejoined the woodland trail that took us back to our vehicle. After a long cold winter, it’s so good to be able to get out on the trails again! I wonder where else our feet will take us this summer. 

Another diagnosis, another pill

No, it’s not another cancer this time!

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed as pre diabetic. I managed to control it with diet alone until recently when I gradually slipped into the diabetic range. Though I’d originally hoped that this would never happen, it comes as no real surprise. In some ways, I’m not a usual candidate for diabetes. I’ve never been overweight, I’m not a smoker, and I ate a healthy diet and exercised regularly long before the pre diabetes diagnosis. In addition to a family history of diabetes, however, the injection of Sandostatin that I receive every 28 days for my neuroendocrine cancer (NETS) can suppress the release of insulin and cause elevated blood glucose levels. With those two strikes against me, I’ve now reached the stage where I need medication and my doctor has prescribed Metformin, the most common treatment for type 2 diabetes. I’m also going to be meeting with a dietician to find out if there are ways that I can further tweak my diet.

If there’s one good thing about having NETS, it’s the fact that the regular surveillance that it requires brings other health issues to light before they become as serious as they might otherwise. Typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, and frequent infections. I have experienced none of these. If it wasn’t for the regular blood tests that I undergo because of my cancer, I likely wouldn’t have known that I was pre diabetic seven years ago and without the dietary changes that I made back then, I probably would have reached the diabetes threshold much sooner. Looking for silver linings helps me maintain a positive attitude!

I don’t share these health updates to garner sympathy. In spite of cancer, diabetes, and several other health concerns, I continue to enjoy excellent quality of life. Hopefully, with the help of medication, excellent health care practitioners, and healthy lifestyle choices, that will continue for a long time yet!

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Trying a new hobby

Inspired by a fellow blogger who sometimes shares sketches with her readers, and perhaps by the young artists in my family, I recently decided that I wanted a sketchbook. I’ve always enjoyed art, but never really pursued it as a hobby. Perhaps now was the right time?

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In addition to the sketchbook, I also bought a basic set of sketching pencils, charcoal pencils, charcoal sticks, soft pastels, erasers, a sharpener, a couple of stumps, and a tortillon. At the time, I didn’t even know what the last two items were!

When I brought my purchases home, did I crack them open and start drawing right away? No, not me! I was always that little girl who, at the beginning of each September, loved getting new school supplies; the little girl who hated to make the first mark in that brand new, spotless notebook. So, before I started sketching, I simply savoured the idea for a few days. Then I got started.

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I knew exactly what I wanted to draw, one of my favourite sights from our recent trip… Fisgard Lighthouse at Victoria, BC.

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I worked on it a little at a time. First, just an outline, then gradually adding details. With my mind focused on nothing but what I was doing, I found it very relaxing.

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After awhile, I figured out that I could use one of the stumps to smudge, blend, smooth, and maybe even add depth.

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I’m pretty happy with the finished result!

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For my first drawing, I only used one of the sketching pencils, an eraser (quite a lot!), and one of the stumps. Now I’m eager to turn the page and experiment with some of the other supplies.

I think I’ve found a new hobby!

Which house was it?

On our way to the coast we stopped in Jasper for a few hours to visit my 98-year-old aunt who lives there. When I told her that we were coming to Victoria, she reminded me that she and my mother lived here for a year when they were young children. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and, like so many other men at that time, my grandfather was out of work. His brother had found employment at the paper mill in Powell River, so he went there to apply for a job and then proceeded to build a small house for his young family. In the meantime, my grandmother and her two little girls shared a single room in a boarding house here in Victoria not far from where his parents lived. Curious, I asked Auntie Norma if she remembered what part of the city they lived in. I could hardly believe it when she told me that they lived on Government Street within a block or two of the BC Legislative Building. That’s less than a kilometre from our hotel! 

I decided that when we got to Victoria, we’d go for a walk down Government Street. I didn’t expect to find a trace of what was there 90+ years ago when two little girls walked down the street and across the parking lot behind the Legislative Building on their way to school. I thought I’d find modern apartment or office buildings or perhaps stores and hotels. Instead, I found a street lined with heritage houses! Was one of them the boarding house where Nana, Mom, and Auntie Norma lived? 

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I was enthralled as I walked up and down the street taking photos of house after house and wondering if Auntie Norma will recognize one of them when I show her the pictures. Of course, they’ve probably undergone many changes since she was here, but I’m hoping that something looks familiar.  

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I love the contrast of old and new in this photo…

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Even if Auntie Norma doesn’t recognize any of the houses, this little confectionary should bring back memories. It’s been standing on the corner of Government and Michigan Streets since 1915! 

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This building, now the Rosewood Inn, is located kitty-corner from the little store. Could it have been a boarding house at one time? 

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What must it have been like for my grandmother and her little girls to spend a year sharing a single room in a house full of boarders? Auntie Norma did say that it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Apparently, the woman who ran the boarding house befriended my grandmother and became like an another grandma to the two little girls while they lived under her roof, but I’m sure that they were all very glad when the little house in Powell River was ready and the family could be together again!