Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When life gives you Potholes...

A few summers ago, we purchased our Canon. We started taking photos of everything around us and then Neil decided we needed to go somewhere scenic to really try it out. So we packed the car and headed to Canada.

We ended up in Sault St. Marie, where we rented a room for the long weekend. We barely slept there...we discovered the Trans-Canada highway and made daily excursions along the Lake Superior Circle Tour route.

I'm a big planner, and have binders (yes, binders) from past trips, full of itineraries, maps, menus and notes. This trip, however, was as random and whimsical as could be. When we got tired, we pulled into a parking lot and slept for an hour. When we saw a waterfall on the side of the road, we got out and spent hours exploring. We ate lunch in the Canada Goose Capital of the World. We kept seeing a weird sign with some sort of monster on it (it turned out to be a sign for Agawa Rock, an amazing place that needs a whole other post).

The most special place we found, a little park with a funny name, is what you might call our happy place. Potholes Provincial Park is located in Chapleau, Ontario (although I don't recall seeing anything resembling civilization). We found ourselves alone, walking in the afternoon sun along a trail filled with grouse and wild blueberries. I can't describe that was just one where we felt good, had all the time in the world and just felt right being there. We spent hours on the rocks, in the water and eating the wild berries.

Whenever we're sad or Neil is sick from treatments, we talk about Potholes and what a wonderful day we had there. It's an instant mood lifter. In the past few months, we've talked about going back.

Today at lunch, Neil mentioned that he'd like to go up for our anniversary. It seems like so much has happened since we were last there, but I can't wait to renew my passport and head up to the place that holds so much meaning.

Monday, February 1, 2010


If you're here, you know my love of symbols. Before my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in October, I sometimes sported a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness since it's a cause I like to support. However, it wasn't until I had a reason to wear a violet ribbon that I truly understood the point of awareness symbols.

In college, I had a professor rant one day about the pointlessness of wearing awareness ribbons (as half the class sat wearing them since it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they were being sold on campus). He criticized it as a way to show off instead of a way to draw attention to a cause. He reasoned that all the money spent on making awareness items could be that much more money given to a cause. I did that day, and still do, somewhat agree with his points. However, I think there's much, much more to the story.

When my husband was diagnosed, I felt very alone. Here I was, 27 and my husband 26. Within a matter of hours, we had to make decisions about our future such as if we would ever want to undergo IVF if chemo made him sterile, which oncologist he wanted to see and if we would go through with the purchase of the home we were building. When he called to tell me the bad news, I don't remember how I ended up in a chair in the lobby of my office. I sort of fell into it, not attaching the words to our lives. "They think it's lymphoma." Boom. I watched other office workers walk by the windows. I had been one of them a few minutes ago.

It took me a long time to want to be part of the cancer community. I cried during my husband's first chemo, watching as the drugs dripped down a long tube into the port in his chest. We were given materials...lots of lighthouse imagery, soft colors and line drawings of how to live with cancer. Not anything I wanted to face.

Eventually, though, I started looking for a way to own my role as a caretaker and spouse of a cancer patient. I exhausted my vacation and sick leave almost immediately with his two surgeries and first chemo. His mom doesn't work on Fridays, so she offered to take him to treatments. Other family members and friends stepped in to take him too. There was nothing worse that trying to concentrate at work knowing that I couldn't be there for him. And so I started to wear a red rubber bracelet from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society . It might sound silly, but it was a constant reminder of his fight and made me feel like I was there in spirit when I couldn't be there in person. I gave them to our family members and friends, who all wear them too. Whenever we're all together or I see a photo of someone wearing their bracelet, I feel a connection. We're all in this together.

Since the red bracelets are a symbol of the LLS, I also purchased buttons specific to Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Friends and family also sport these, some with violet ribbons attached, to show support and solidarity. I've been asked about mine several times, leading not only to discussion about this specific cancer, but also to recommendations for diet and exercise, offers to visit and promises to take better care of oneself by not avoiding routine exams.

Right before Neil's first surgery, a biopsy and removal of lymph nodes in his neck, family friends stopped over with a St. Christopher medal. While we are not Catholic and do not attend church, the gesture and meaning was appreciated. "He's the patron saint of long journeys," the husband said, "and you're about to go on one." Since Neil could not wear it comfortably during chemo, I held it in my hand as I sat on the hospital bed with him.

It's been some time since those rubber awareness bracelets were at the peak of popularity.And some may misunderstand my wearing of a button and ribbon as a way to get attention or show off chartiable giving. And though you'll never find me at mass, I still take out the St. Christopher medal from time to time, reflecting on our journey...something I'm sure people balk at.

I hope my experience will show others that these symbols are so much more than a fashion statement or attention-grabber. They are a connection and a comfort.