Monday, February 17, 2014

'All Growed Up', as my friend Laura would say...

2014 Feb 17

Yesterday I met one of our neighbors here in the RV Park for the first time. She and I were comparing notes on how challenging this winter has been for so many folks, health wise, and in other ways, as well.

I mentioned, in conversation, that my father passed away in January. It was the first time, I realized later, that I had spoken those words without tears welling up. And, as I thought about that later, I wondered what kind of a daughter can reach such a point in so short a time frame?  I felt guilty. 

However, as I sit typing those words, I am crying. So, I am guessing that I am the kind of daughter who now grieves alone, rather than in public. I am the kind of daughter who dreams of her Daddy, and wakens sobbing. I am the kind of daughter who knows I will see him again, but who is saddened that he is away from my senses at present. I am a daughter like many others, I suppose. Certain dates will bring tears to my eyes and longing to my heart. Yet, I will bear that pain in private, rather than uncontrollably, wherever I happen to be when it rises up. 

Is this what it means to "be grown up'?

Monday, February 3, 2014

2014 Feb 2 A New Beginnng

2014 Feb 2

Very recently, my husband had a bout of pancreatitis. It was the worst he's experienced, and he's had some bad ones, starting back in June, 2004. For years our PCP has treated him while continually explaining to him the need for him to stop drinking. While he did finally forgo hard liquors, he continued to consume beer, on a daily basis, and occasionally wine. The decision to stop is one that only the person consuming alcohol can make. 

My husband says he has made that decision. 

Great! Wonderful! To God be the glory! Well, yes. Absolutely. 

Yet, as with any change, there is something frightening about this shift in the whole dynamic of our relationship. This is all new, for both of us. Our roles have been well established over our long years together. Sometimes there has been an irritating imbalance. Yet, our patterns seemed set and there was a certain comfort in the familiarity, even when it was irritating.

We are currently just a few days into our brave new world and the only things we have going for us in this sobriety, are honesty, caring, and our long history, along with the fact that we each made a commitment to be in this relationship for the long haul. That, and the fact that, In spite of all our ups and downs, and round the bends, we do love each other. Not that we haven't questioned that basic tenet. But, as Tevye and Golde so eloquently sang in Fiddler on the Roof, "Do you love me?" "I suppose I do."  Yet I find myself wondering if that will be enough in the days, weeks and months to come.

For years, I prayed that God would do whatever it took to make my husband stop drinking. In fact, I was on a bus in Ireland, praying exactly that, when he had his first pancreatic attack, in 2004. Gradually, I prayed less. Sometimes I nagged more. Neither seemed an effective strategy. Now, it seems my husband's eyes are finally opened, and I am afraid. Of what, you ask. I suppose the whole paradigm shift that is taking place scares me. What if we are too comfortable with our old roles? What if, in his sobriety, he realizes that he doesn't really love me? What if I am unable to adjust to these changing patterns? What if the strain of getting and staying sober is too much for us, as a couple to handle?   

Please, do not counsel us to go to therapy. I suggested that several months ago during a particularly rocky patch, and was met with a resounding, "NO!" I suppose I may revisit Al-Anon, at least for awhile. I am grateful to have several people in my life who have walked this road and who, I am sure, will be willing to offer whatever guidance they can. I am praying again. This time, for both of us, that God will provide His wisdom, and most of all, His love as we navigate these new circumstances. The times they are a-changing. Lord, give us grace to change with them.

Friday, January 31, 2014

In honor of William (Bill, Will, Willie) Balkovec, 1925 - 2014

 In honor of William (Bill, Will, Willie) Balkovec, 1925 - 2014

The Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think I
Said 'I love you' near enough

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

This song reminds me of my Daddy. Not because he was ever a band leader, but because of his love of music, especially the music of the Big Bands of the 40s and early 50s. Lately, the stanza about thanks has meant a lot to me.

I am grateful for his love of music and the exposure to it in our house. I am thankful to know who Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Bunny Berrigen, Fred Waring, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddy Duchin, Count Basie, Glenn Gray, Duke Ellington, Sammy Kaye, Louis Jordan, and many others I'm sure I've forgotten, are. I might have been one of the few kids in my age group to know the words to songs like "Skylark", or "Pennsylvania 6-5000", or "Chattanooga Choo-choo".

My daddy's stories were not "of the road", but rather of his times playing baseball, or times growing up with his family, or his friends in the Army. He always had stories to tell. Only in the last couple of years did I listen intently. I am sorry for not listening with greater appreciation through the years. 

We left Pittsburgh several times over the last few years and each time it was with my dad's blessing. So, indeed, I thank him for "the freedom when it came my time to go". And I thank him especially for telling me when I needed to come home.

My Daddy was almost always kind. He stood up for me when others did not. He may not have always understood my choices, but he loved me enough to always have my back. I hope he knew how much that meant to me. I can't say Daddy got tough with me too many times, but there are a couple that stand out in my memory. Those were turning points to a better relationship between us, I think.

As to whether I told him I loved him enough…I did not. I don't think "I love you" was a phrase used in our house when I was growing up. Consequently, I never told my Dad I loved him until I was 25. And I was afraid to say it. Amazingly, once it was out there, that first time, and Daddy responded with, "I love you, too, kid," there was never anything holding back our mutual "I love you". Still, "Papa, I don't think I said 'I love you' near enough".  

The leader of our family has moved beyond this life. He was tired. Not just his eyes, but all of him. But, his blood, does run through each of my his children's instruments. His songs live on in our hearts and souls. And I think I speak for each of us when I say that, indeed, our lives have been a poor attempt to imitate a good, loving, caring, kind-hearted man, whom we were blessed to call our Dad. I pray we are a legacy of which he can be proud.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


2014 Jan 27

Where to begin? My family of origin doesn't really have anger issues. I do not ever recall seeing my paternal or maternal grandparents get angry. My Mom had lots of issues, but I'm not sure anger was one of them. My Dad was not an angry man. Yet of the eight siblings in our family, at least four have or have had anger issues. Currently, I would say at least two of us, maybe three need to work on our anger. 

So where does this anger originate? According to Pastor Bertine's sermon yesterday, at Gulf to Lake Church, anger generally originates as a result of hurt, and or frustration, and or fear. Since I can only speak to my own stuff, I would say that I have the trifecta of origins going on.

Most of my anger is involved in my relationship with my husband. Hurt? Yes.
Frustration? Yes. Fear? Yes, but not of him, rather of where our relationship is headed.

The past year has been a most difficult one for me, for our marriage, and for the general feelings of marital joy. Neither Raymond or I are the perfect spouse. But, I thought we shared in common, a strong sense of family. 

Now, for some recent background.

Last February, as we were planning our travels for 2013, my Dad had emergency surgery for a hernia repair and bowel resection. At that hospitalization it was discovered that he had stage 4 small cell lung cancer. We changed our plans, and instead of heading to Texas, drove to Pennsylvania. Dad's oncologist would not discuss life expectations, so we took up residence at a local campground, uncertain how long we would be in Pennsylvania.

By summer, Raymond was getting the urge to move on. Since he doesn't drive, any moving that was going to take place had to involve me. We made plans to travel from Pittsburgh through upstate New York, into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Then, on our way to Florida, we would come back through Pittsburgh for my doctor appointments and for Dad's 88th birthday.

Throughout the spring I had been experiencing numbness and tingling from my chin to my shoulder. My PCP suggested I see an Orthopedic neck specialist, which was one of the appointments scheduled for September. I have had severe arthritic changes in my cervical spine for several years, but they had only begun to be intrusive during 2013.

On our return to Pittsburgh in September, we opted to park in Raymond's brother and sister-in-law's driveway, since the plan was to be in the area for about two weeks. Even so, Raymond disliked the location because he felt too isolated in the far northern suburbs, since very little was in walking distance, and I was rarely available since I was spending as much time as possible with my Dad.

The real curve ball came just before we were scheduled to leave for Florida. My symptoms were progressing and I really felt, as did my surgeon, that waiting till spring for neck surgery was a gamble. So, I scheduled the cervical surgery and fusion for mid October. Raymond was very unhappy. Between the surgery and recovery, the absolute earliest I would be available to drive our RV to Florida would be the last week on November.

Raymond acted in a manner that hurt me deeply. Later when we talked about it, he explained that his reaction was because he felt blindsided. 

Shortly before my surgery, my Dad began radiation therapy to attempt to shrink one of his tumors which was causing him difficulty breathing. He finished radiation while I was recovering, but still unable to drive. 

I began driving when my surgeon OK'd it. Slowly, I began to build my strength and my range of motion. By my final post op visit, early in the last week of November, Dr. Smith gave the OK for me to try the drive to Florida in the RV. It was two days before Thanksgiving. Raymond wanted to leave immediately. I want to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and brothers. At this point I was feeling both fear and frustration. The fear was two pronged. I was afraid of Raymond's reaction if I told him I wanted to stay on longer in Pittsburgh, as well as feeling fear that this would be my Dad's last Thanksgiving. Frustration was full blown because Raymond seemed to be lacking an empathy for my needs, at that point. Frustration was also in play because of my father's situation.

Yep, I had the full trifecta, of hurt, frustration and fear. Only I didn't know it at the time.

Truth be told, I didn't want to leave Pittsburgh at the end of November. But we were already paying for a lot in Florida that we hadn't used in October or November. The weather was freezing in Pittsburgh, and our RV is not really made for winter camping. Raymond was unhappy in the extreme. I was depressed. My Dad was dying. Life was overwhelming. So, in an attempt to be "a good wife", we left for Florida on November 29.

The drive took a lot longer than any before.  Apparently I still did not have the stamina to drive long distances and found it necessary to stop frequently for rest and naps. When we made to to Edisto Beach State Park, in SC, we stayed four days. I needed three of those just to recharge.

After arrival at Nature Coast Landing, in Crystal River, FL, the thought of immediately turning around and driving back to Pittsburgh was daunting. So, I didn't think about it. Instead, I called home every other day or so to see how things were going. I distracted myself by decorating the lot and the RV for Christmas. 

On Christmas, I was very homesick. Raymond was very melancholy and seemed to be missing his parents, who died several years ago. Because of Raymond's emotional state, I was glad that I hadn't left him and Greyla alone over Christmas. Although, I was still torn by thinking of Daddy and the fact that this might be his last Christmas. Still, when I spoke with Daddy on Christmas morning, he seemed in good spirits. But there was still some part of me that was resentful of Raymond and his blindness to my needs and wishes.

New Year's day arrived and I called to wish my Dad and brothers a Happy New Year. My brother informed me of Daddy's decline & after talking to Daddy, I knew I had to return to Pittsburgh. I explained to Raymond that I needed to face this own my own. I would be wanting to focus all my energy and time on my Dad, at my brother's house, and that to have him & Greyla along at a local motel (which was what Ray wanted), would be too much of a distraction. Perhaps that hurt him. I don't know. I just knew it was the truth as I was experiencing it.

I arrived in Pittsburgh on the afternoon on Jan 5, after driving from Florida.
I spent time talking with my Dad. My brothers and I spent time trying to care for him over the next several days. He passed away in the wee hours of Jan 9. Following Daddy's last wishes, we arranged for his cremation, with no viewing. There was a service the day of the interment of his ashes, at the chapel at the cemetery, on Jan 14.

The next day, Raymond began pressuring me to return to Florida. I was not ready. There were things to be done. There was a need to be with my brothers and sister. There was a need to grieve with my family. Raymond seemed not to have any understanding of these feelings.

My feelings of anger grew. Each time Raymond called, I dreaded answering, knowing one of his first questions would be, "When are you coming back?" I wanted to stay at my brother's house. I wanted to be with people who were experiencing the same pain and loss I was feeling. Twice I put off my return date. I really couldn't understand Ray's impatience for my return. Especially since every time we spoke, I cried. Finally, when there was news of an anticipated storm and snow accumulation, I relented, and planned my departure. 

Then, my brother, Vinny, developed a problem with his left arm. His doctor's appointment was scheduled for 8:15 AM, the day I was scheduled to leave. I called Ray to let him know that I would be getting on the road later in the morning that day, and his reaction was not positive. He assumed I was going to stay to see what Vinny's outcome would be. I had to explain, more than once, that I would drive Vinny to the doctor and get on the road around 10:30, rather than the 8 AM departure we had originally figured. Regardless of Vinny's status, I was not yet prepared to leave. However, I felt I had to in order to placate Raymond.

Several times on my way back to Florida, I became overwhelmed by emotions and cried. Some of that was loss. Some was anger.

Having arrived back in Florida on Jan 25, just three weeks to the day since I left, I was in full on anger mode with regard to Raymond. At this point I knew it was anger, because God graciously pointed it out to me as I drove. And there was an assurance that I had to return to Gulf to Lake Church on Sunday morning. I knew that the sermon was one I needed to hear. It was!

I am now trying to work through both my anger and my loss. Pray for me. And for Ray.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


2013 October 5

Life Goes On

First, the update on my 88 year old Daddy. On September 30, my brother, Vinny, and I accompanied Daddy to his oncology appointment.  Daddy has been experiencing a cough which often produces mucus and blood. This is relatively new. He is apparently losing weight again. He has intermittent pain, although Dr. G, the oncologist, assures us that if this were cancer pain, it would be "persistent and progressive", rather than intermittent.  Daddy is also very frail, as he likes to say, "well below his fighting weight", and his balance and gait are unsteady. Add to that the fact that he is a stubborn old man, who refuses to use any steadying device when he's at home and only a cane when he goes out. Plus, if he begins to wobble, and you touch him to offer a steadying hand, he becomes angry. He is constantly at risk for falling, but refuses to acknowledge it. 

Since Dr. G is an oncologist, he tried very hard to explain to Daddy which symptoms were cancer related and which were related to aging and frailty. I'm not sure how much Daddy actually heard. The next step, with regard to the lung cancer, was a CAT scan, to check the progression of the tumors, followed by two doctor's appointments, one with Dr. G and one with a radiologist on the same day. Those will happen on Tuesday of this coming week. Depending on what the scan showed, Daddy may have 10 days of radiation therapy, in an attempt to slow the tumor's growth and control the bleeding. 

It is very difficult for me to watch my Father become a shadow of himself, and an angry shadow, at that. I can only imagine how hard it is for Vinny, with whom my Dad lives. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013


2013 September 

Too Much in a Short Time

There have been multiple events that have had the effect of overwhelming me both very recently, and over the last several months. I want to share, because I think part of the centering process for me, is in sharing.

There is the ongoing circumstance of my Dad and his cancer diagnosis and prognosis. After spending about five months in Pittsburgh after Daddy's surgery, unrelated to the cancer, and the cancer diagnosis, we spent eight weeks traveling before returning to the area on September 19.

One reason for the return to Pittsburgh was my Dad's 88th birthday. Another, was a series of doctor's appointments and procedures that I wanted to accomplish before heading south for the winter. And, additionally, it was time to have the difficult conversations with Daddy regarding his wishes regarding end of life issues. 

All of this has been emotionally draining. Add to that, the fact that I have been diligently trying to reduce my dependence of Prozac to treat my depressive symptoms for the last year, and I seem to have hit an emotional wall. In fact, I hit that wall and began to slide down it. The fact that I was also ingesting a hormone as part of the treatment of hyper estrogen production, contributed to my emotional fragility, too. And that hormone was making me extremely emotional and skewed my already impaired perceptions.

The breaking point seemed to come about three weeks ago. My thought processes became very dark. I recognized the shift enough to reach out via text message to my former therapist, requesting an appointment when we arrived in Pittsburgh. I am grateful that her cell number hadn't changed, and that I kept that number. I am also grateful that I knew that if I made an appointment to see her, it would help me hang on until we got back in the Pittsburgh area.

All of that is related to the emotional aspects of my life. Then there are the physical aspects.

We arrived in the Pittsburgh area in September 19. The morning of the 20th, I had an appointment for a uterine biopsy. Still feeling very depressed, and anxious, I was overreactive when the OB-Gyn was, as usual, running behind schedule. Our interaction was less than pleasant, especially when I was emphatic about NEVER taking progesterone ever again. I left his office angry and unsatisfied with regard to the state of my estrogen/uterine health, and awaiting biopsy results. 

The following Monday, I had three doctor's appointments. First was my PCP, for an annual check up, for which I had already had blood work done. Because she is a caring and thorough doctor, she is also notorious for running behind schedule, and because I love her, I forgive her. It is also why, if possible, I try to schedule to be her first appointment of the day. I arrived at 7:50, for my 8AM appointment. At 8:20, I was getting extremely nervous and agitated, as my next appointment was at 8:45, one floor above. I set the timer on my phone to go off with enough time to get up the stairwell and to the next appointment on time. When my Dr. entered the room, I held up the phone, showing her the timer and announced that she had six minutes. To her credit, she took one look at me and asked, "Are you thinking of harming yourself?"  I immediately broke down, sobbing. Her ability to cut to the chase when necessary is another reason I love her. We discussed, (quickly), my Prozac dosage, my upcoming therapy appointment, the results of my blood work, and my Dad's situation. When my alarm went off, she told me to take the emergency door, so as not to be late for my urology appointment, and to come back later to pay my co-pay and pick up prescriptions. 

By the time I made it into the Urologist's office, only one minute late, I was feeling like maybe the world wasn't collapsing in on me, and that maybe, if I increased my Prozac, even temporarily, I might find my way out into daylight again.

My urologist is another doctor whom I love. I am completely comfortable with him. When he entered the room, he asked if I had any questions. I told him my only question was the date of my last bladder tumor and if it was long enough ago, could I move to yearly cystos. He said that he had wondered that very thing himself, and checked my records. Turned out my last "new" tumor had been in August 2009, so barring any developments, I could move to yearly checks of my bladder. As he was doing the procedure, I was chatting with the nurse, so I was unprepared when Dr. Traub said, " We may have jinxed ourselves. There is a new growth at the top of your bladder wall that we need to remove."  While I do love Dr. Traub, I was looking forward to seeing him once a year. Now, suddenly, I knew I was back to the every three month schedule, and it felt like the low point in my day. The good news was that because he is aware of our lifestyle, he went above and beyond to schedule the removal (fulgeration) later the same week. 

When I finished with the urologist, I had thirty minutes before my next and final appointment of the day at the Orthopedic surgeon's. I went and paid my PCP and picked up paperwork. If I had eaten, I would've gone and had some follow up blood work done, but since I hadn't and Dr. Ebbert clearly stated this was "non-fasting", I put it off for another day.

At the Orthopedist's office, I got taken back to an exam room right at 10. Things were looking up again, since my appointment was for 10. Little did I know… Dr. Smith arrived in the exam room around 10:15, which wasn't too bad. He was much more engaging than on my previous visit. He showed me my MRI and explained all that was happening in my cervical spine, little of which was good. We discussed my initial positive response to Medrol and the return of my symptoms after seven weeks. We discussed my symptoms and the probability of their progression. He tested my arm strength, which shortly thereafter induced more symptoms. He told me that I was "on the surgery track." This was NOT something I had expected to hear. He also said that surgery wasn't necessary immediately, but would be in the near future. I asked about cortisone injections. He explained that he generally doesn't like to inject necks, but that, in any case, mine was not a single area problem, but rather, a three tier problem. That means that my cervical spine isn't just screwed up in one area, but in three! (Just typing that makes me want to cry.) 

I told him that I had gotten the cervical traction kit and he suggested I also get a soft cervical collar to wear at night, in hopes of making sleeping easier. We discussed the possibility of anti-inflammatory drugs. But all of these are short term, stop gap measures, until I decide to have him cut my neck. 

He explained the procedure, too. A small incision would be made in my left anterior neck. My trachea and esophagus would be moved to the right, while my carotid artery and large neck muscle would be moved to the left, allowing a clear plane for the surgeon. He would then chip away the bone which is causing pressure on the nerve that passes through it, in several areas. Then cadaver bone would be placed, essentially as a spacer. And this comes with all the "normal" surgical risks, in addition to the additional risks involved with spinal surgery. As to the cadaver bone, it is used because to use bone from one's own hip is extremely painful, and, I am assured, cadaver bone works just as well. 

To say I was overwhelmed would be a gross understatement!

I did ask if I could wait until spring for the surgery. Dr. Smith said I could, if my symptoms allowed, and revisited the progression I might experience. I explained that we have a rental commitment in Florida for the winter. His response, is still puzzling to me. He said, " Well, if you wait until February for the surgery, I'll need to re-evaluate you in January."  In what universe is February, spring? Anyway, what he meant was that if I put the surgery off for longer that 90 days, the insurance company will require him to re-evaluate me prior to the scheduling process. To be honest, I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around all the logistics involved when I schedule the surgery. But, more about that later. 

That was all on Monday. Monday night, I did increase my Prozac dosage as suggested by Dr. Ebbert. Tuesday, I had an appointment with my former therapist, Lisa. Wednesday, I bought a soft cervical collar, which produced my first good night's sleep in several weeks. I also tried to fill a prescription for anti-inflammatories, but ran into an insurance snag. Still trying to get that sorted. On Thursday, I had my fulgeration of my "new" tumor, and Dr. Traub graciously has allowed me to either have my next cyst in March, or, if I come back sooner for the neck surgery, he'll see me sooner.

I am feeling brighter, thanks to increased Prozac. So, the emotional strains are getting under control. The physical strains? Well, that remains to be seen.

Today is Saturday. Monday my brother, Vinny and I will take our Dad for his oncology recheck. Perhaps the emotional strains will be tested further. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Going Back

2013 SEPT 18

Going Back 

What is it about each return trip to Pittsburgh that fills me with anxiety?  

I know, this time I am concerned for my Dad's appointment with his oncologist, and I am a bit swamped by the number of my own doctor's appointments. Yet, truth be told, each time we return to the town where we grew up and spent most of our adult lives, I am overwhelmed intense feelings. Sometimes these are unexplained anxiety. Sometimes, grief. Sometimes intense sadness. And before you jump to the conclusion that the grief and sadness are because I miss my hometown, let me assure you, the feelings do not spring from anything so mundane as homesickness.

I do sometimes miss my family, especially my Dad. But, I do not miss the city.

As we were driving across Pennsylvania today, I was relatively relaxed. I noted, though, as we began moving farther west, I felt less at ease. Some of the tension may have been simple fatigue. I was up early and had driven many hours, and I begin to really wind down after 2PM. Yet, there is a feeling of dread that I cannot fully contribute to being tired.

Over the years, I have become more and more aware of the effect certain places have on my sense of well being, and on my psyche. Our old house in Pittsburgh was a place I never felt comfortable in, even long before it was "our house".  On our visit to that property last September, my level of discomfort was so fierce that it made me physically uncomfortable to be there. In addition, it made me psychologically uncomfortable, as well. I have had visceral reactions to places while traveling, too. Some in a negative sense, others in a very positive way.

What is it about returning to Pittsburgh that causes such an extreme reaction in me? I am sitting in a campground in Bellefonte, PA, trying to sort out these feelings of anxiety, grief, tearfulness, and dread.