Tag Archives: Moving

Yellow Submarine

A few months in the life–part of an in-progress memoir. Lori PohlmanFallWinter2015Mostly 079

The duplex days were numbered, and surprisingly sweet. Billy and I had to go to a different school, but I walked in the first day, and every day, with my new best friend. She was a quiet girl, but obviously respected among the kids and teachers there. She did, indeed, sleep in a very small bed in her mother’s room, but it wasn’t a crib.

“My three brothers are in the other bedroom,” Cheryl said, indicating her tiny wooden “youth bed” at the foot of her mom’s bed.  “This is my bed.”  Her eyebrows raised, disappearing under her bangs. “Bed,” she repeated.

“Yeah, it’s a bed.” I wasn’t about to argue with her, even though I’d never seen a “youth bed” before. It didn’t have really high rails on the side like baby cribs had, so I decided it was just some special privilege she had, being so small, I mean. A special bed just her size.

She gave me a knowing look, “I’m sure not gonna sleep in my brothers’ room.”

I didn’t know what to say. On my side of the duplex, my mom had her own room and I shared the other one with my brother. She seemed to sense my discomfort.

“I don’t mean it’s weird you share a room with your brother,” she said.  “He’s not that old and he’s just one boy.”

I nodded. “He’s not that bad,” I said.

Cheryl put a hand on my shoulder. “I believe you,” she said, her large blue eyes solemn. “Over here though, there are three brothers. Great, big, loud, smelly teenagers,” she said, “Ugh.”

They seemed pretty cool to me. I could hear their laughter, their deep voices, one of them strumming a guitar, a record playing I’d never heard before. They played a lot of Beatles music.

At school, no one gave me any trouble. I barely remember the place, to be honest, which probably means I had already entered my “amnesia” period. Huge chunks of time that I can’t remember or account for. The school year ended quickly, leaving us kids with long, largely unsupervised, summer days. I remember making holes in the dirt, paths for the clear and colored glass marbles-the cat’s eyes, the pearlies, and the steelies that we flicked expertly with our thumbs and forefingers. On a good day we could earn enough pennies to buy ourselves a bag of French fries at the Chat-n-Chew drive-in restaurant.

With Billy and his new friends, we explored the open concrete tunnel that ran the length of the property and beyond, always daring one another to go in just a little bit farther. We played Monopoly, a game I hated, and Billy would reach over and openly take all of Cheryl’s winnings, prodding her to talk to him. But she never would. When it came to him, she was mute.

“He took my money,” she’d whisper in my ear.

I was always ready to do battle for her, and in fact, enjoyed fighting with my brother. It was probably the only time I felt any power, though I always lost. Even so, I could fight, and he wouldn’t really hurt me back too bad, and was never mad at me afterward.

We kids began to settle in to this new life, and I suppose imagined that when summer ended we would go back to Curtis Strange School and become, rather than faceless new kids, kids who belonged.

But our dad had other ideas

.FallWinter2015Mostly 059We left Wisconsin before summer’s end.

 

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Filed under childhood, Divorce, Loss, Relationship, School

Scanxiety

billyandloribabes

I belong to an appendix cancer support group, and one of the non-words I see quite often in posts is scanxiety, a condition related to the anxiety felt about medical scans that are given regularly for an indefinite amount of time after cancer treatment. In the beginning my scans were spaced three months apart; now they are six months apart. I’ve gotten good at coping with the anxiety nowadays (four years post diagnosis) most of the time, but when I get to the day before testing, as I have today, I find my mind casting away from anything productive.

My creativity is gone. I can’t concentrate on writing my novel or even reading someone else’s novel. I want to talk about it, but I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac. I don’t want to seem negative. I don’t want to be told not to worry, everything will be fine. Even though I know it probably will be.

IMG_0679 This photo depicts my usual outlook on life, and was taken on my beloved mountain. This is not to say that I don’t love, love, love Wisconsin!

The thing is, I’ve never gotten over that initial out of nowhere diagnosis. I can only say that I feel vulnerable to invasion, or worse, that I feel like an unknowing host. I don’t understand cancer. There are so many different kinds of cancer, so many different treatments, so many different outcomes. Mine, Goblet Cell Adenocarcinoid Cancer of the Appendix, is supposed to be quite rare. It doesn’t seem so rare when I read the stories in my support group.

Sometimes I think I should drop out of the group; it reminds me daily of something I should not dwell upon. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and maybe reading the very real cancer stories, takes some of my shine away. But I also think that I should buck up—you know, be there for those who ask for a prayer or just need to vent and need to know someone out there really hears them.

I rarely participate in any length, usually just a word or two. Others in the group are much better at knowing what to say. Quite a few of them even offer up-to-the-minute cutting edge medical information, where the best hospitals are, how to connect with an appendix cancer specialist, the ins and outs of health insurance, tumor markers, treatment experiences—all sorts of really important information. I can’t help but feel I haven’t found a place of usefulness within the group.

And here I am tonight, inexplicably sad about the way that cancer changed my life and knowing I might be able to get some help from the group if I could just express myself without sounding like an infant. Most of the posts I read are written by or for those of us who are currently in the throes of the worst of the disease—those reeling and just diagnosed, those going in for their 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th surgery. Those who are in palliative care. The loved ones of those recently passed who write to break the news to the group.

And here I am feeling pretty darn good. I am one of the lucky ones. Makes me feel like a phony just wallowing in a selfish bout of survival guilt. And yet. And yet I am sad. Sad that my life changed so drastically since my initial appendicitis attack. The appendicitis that turned out to be hiding cancer.

Four years ago I was a teacher living on a mountain, surrounded by family, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors that I loved. My four grandchildren all lived within a few miles of me.

That is not to say that my life is not good today, but it has changed dramatically. I miss my old life. I miss my kids. The circumstances of my life after cancer and my second surgery have impacted almost every aspect of my personal life and my career. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. I’m not going to lie.

Paris to home 2013 085

Sometimes survival calls for sacrifice, or at least that’s the way I’ve come to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s nothing as noble sounding as that. Maybe I just got lazy. Teaching, one of my great passions, had always required great energy, energy that I no longer seemed able to summon. I was eligible for retirement. My husband needed work and found a good position in another state. My tumor marker tests showed increasing evidence of cancer at the cellular level, yet my scans were clear.

I’m not sure what tipped the scale and brought us to this new place. Maybe it was down deep merely an urge to run, something I’d done plenty of times in my earlier years. Grief over my brother’s death, financial hardship, chemo-brain, depression, debilitating chronic health issues, fear of recurrence…all of these things and more must have played a part. I only know for sure that the world changed after my diagnosis.

That’s the thing about cancer. It sneaks up on you. I had no idea that I had cancer until I went in for my post-operative check after my appendicitis surgery. And that’s probably the root of my malaise. If I didn’t know I had it then…

Scanxiety.

I’m grateful for what I have; I still have love and family, however far away some of my loved ones are, and I will be forever grateful for what I have had. Nothing can take that away.

Mahalo.GrandmaJazz

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Filed under Cancer, Cancer Journey, Patient Advice and Support, Support Groups, Teacher, Writing

July 2, 2014, Salem, Wisconsin–Two Days In.

     About a week ago, I retired from a fantastic teaching job after nearly two decades so that I could write. And because my loving, and much-loved husband got a job across the country. A job he needed, wanted and deserved.
      And because I was tired.
      And frankly, because I was afraid. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace and do it with love and style. Afraid that my cancer wasn’t going to stay in the past, was sending me signals through chromogranin blood and 24 hour urine collection tests that I took regularly and that I didn’t understand but sure saw going up. That I’d be dealing with “it” once again, and I’d miss too much, too many hours of planning lessons worth learning, giving relevant feedback, and connecting with love and meaning to my dear students and their families.
To those of you who scoff at my description of 8th grade kids as dear, I say, throw away that prejudice. Junior High age children haven’t changed a bit. They are as lovely and strong and confused and thirsty for answers as they’ve always been. They are gorgeous and deserving of love, respect, and guidance. They are us when we were twelve, thirteen. Filled with energy, depression, fear, joy, and self-indulgent superiority. Us. Then. They need us, and if we love them, they even want us around—old people who care and are willing to suspend the easy judgments that flow and have always flowed, like a mean, mean river around us, separating us, generation by generation—now that we are so experienced and “wise.”
And because, forgive me, my intestinal health was much compromised by my earlier surgeries and my condition, and I hate, hate, hated having to run out of class, interrupting the art class next door, putting my wondrous friend/fellow teacher Heide on notice that I was already gone, could she please watch my class as well as her own.
It seemed enough.
This meant leaving California. The San Bernardino Mountains. The Rim of the World. An amazing community—a gorgeous resort I was more than privileged to live in. A real home. Friends to die for (and I would!). Church. School. Family.
My daughter, son-in-law, and four grandchildren, all of whom love me as dearly as I love them.
Am I crazy, selfish, cold-hearted? What? I pray it’s none of that.
I was an unlikely nomad in childhood, spent hundreds of hours in cars moving from one place to another. Lived with a lot of people. Only had one house my mother owned, and that for just a few years. I more than loved that place on Winslow. It was haven, heaven, heart. But I learned to move on. When I was young, I learned that.
Hated it, but learned it. Change is as inevitable as death and taxes. There’s no getting around it for most of us. I know we can all site examples of people we know who never changed their address, and maybe they were even lucky enough to die before their loved ones, but those people are few and far between. For most of us, we either keep going or we lose more than we had.
I won’t lose the love of my home in California, my community, my students, their families, the pines, or the spectacular rocky cliffs. They will always be right here. My daughter sometimes doubts that we will survive this. She counts the likely number of times we will be together again before I die. I wish I could explain. I’m trying to now. I’ve lost mother, father, step-father, brother, mother-in-law- so many. But I’m not alone, nor empty. Perhaps I am fuller, feeling each of them taking up such a large part of my heart. They, those who loved me, and everyone else, every place else, stay with me. And I will stay with them.
If they wish it.
Mahalo, and greetings from Wisconsin, USA. May your path be as valuable to your heart as mine has been to me.

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Leaving Lake Arrowhead

ImageStaying Up, Falling Down, and Surviving Sea Level

January 7, 2014

Over the edge.  That’s a very genuine concern I’ve had as a mountain citizen.  Staying up here, not falling over the edge, I mean.  And I’m sure I’m not in a minority.  It happens all too often; a vibrant life taken by a curve, a boulder, a patch of ice, another driver.  Going over the edge is the risk we mountain folk  take living a life which propels us along a highway called Rim of the World, many of us climbing up and down and far into the tangled freeways below on a regular, if not constant, basis.   I tuck the fear away and try to imagine myself connected to the road, guided by an invisible yet powerful track that won’t ever allow me to really experience that dream sequence free-fall into nothing.  You know the one.  That’s my secret for staying on the Rim.  But it’s more than the roads; it’s the life.  The life above.  The views, the air, the bears, the lake.  Knowing you’ve been granted something very rare, somehow you’ve been allowed to live for a while in a place of great beauty.

We’ve been approaching that edge, my husband and I, none-the-less, for quite some time.  As much as we’ve tried to maintain our security here, the ground has been relentlessly slipping away beneath us.  It began, as far I can tell, about the time my brother became ill and we brought him to live with us.  I had idolized him all of my life.  My husband loved him dearly.  Despite our efforts, hopes, and our very deep love, we soon realized that he wasn’t going to get better, was in fact getting worse, and that we weren’t going to be able to save his life.  Slip.

That was also a time of financial hardship for much of the country.  While my job was secure, there were no foreseeable raises, and benefits were costing more.  My husband, used to working long hours and getting plenty of overtime, was reduced to part-time hours and part-time wages.  Slip.

Soon, my emergency appendectomy, a surprise in itself, removed another wedge of stability when we learned the appendix had contained a rare goblet cell adenocarcinoid tumor.  Slip.

I began to hear a quiet rumble.  Felt it under my feet and inside my soul.

Mike was no longer working at all.

Billy was so sick.

I was scheduled for surgery and then chemotherapy.

Over the edge.  Slipping.  Fearing a violent end.  Praying for peace.

When Billy died, so did a part of me.  We mourned him as we tried to maintain our balance, still on the edge, and teetering.  Within two weeks, our dear old dog died.  She had refused to eat after losing Billy.  Then our darling seventeen-year-old cat followed.

We lived in a house of death, set on top of a purple mountain, surrounded by deep green forests, and lit by gentle sun and easy moon.  I held on to the beauty, clung to it for life, dug my heels into the slivering earth wanting nothing more than stability…that and an end to death and was that too much to ask?

Slipping.

Those months, those years, did take us over the edge.  And we’re leaving the mountain now.  But not into the abyss.  We chose Wisconsin, instead.  It’s pretty flat there, and Mike has a new job.  It’s a bittersweet compromise.  My grown children and grandchildren will be so far away.  They are sad, and I am torn.  I trust we will find wonderful new ways to connect, both in Wisconsin and back here in California when I’m able to visit.  I’m also leaving friends, a church family, and the amazing students, teachers, administrators, and staff of Rim of the World Unified School District.  A career that’s given me a heart so full that I know I will never be lonely.  A community I love.

But we didn’t fall off the mountain.  We leave here whole and nourished.  Back at sea level, Mike begins a new job doing what he loves most.  I will rest and write and maybe escape the ghosts I loved and left up in a beautiful place, on the edge of a continent, a place called Lake Arrowhead.

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