Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Writing for such a public forum is a new experience for me. I have always shared my writing with my students, and I have many folders and notebooks full of my writing in my classroom. I tend to do the assignments I give them and show them my process. Because English teachers did not teach it as a process when I was a kid, or maybe just because it's the way I am, my process is messy. I rarely prewrite - I just jump in and start writing. I always do my introductions last when writing an essay. I don't know what I'm going to say until I say it and I write the intro to fit what I said. If it's something I intend to share I go through many drafts and revisions. I know to walk away from it and revisit it later before I share it or publish it in any way. If it is going out to parents I had better ask Debbie Martin to proof it for me, because as writers we don't see our own mistakes. In the beginning, I only wrote when I had a topic in mind. Now I write every day I feel up to it and I just jump in and get started. Like I tell my students, getting started is the hardest part.

Last night I amused myself by reading my blog posts on my big Google TV. There is at least one error in every one of them, which is embarrassing for an English teacher. I never took a typing class, and I am a terrible typist. Add chemo brain to that and mistakes happen. I write these entries quickly, read them over once and publish. I think from now on I will take my own advice and let is rest awhile before I publish. I can't be setting a bad example for my students!!

One lesson I am learning here is that it is very good for my psyche to write every day. I tell my students it is cathartic to write and I encourage them to keep a journal. I get so busy during the school year that I don't take the time to follow my own advice. Many years I have had a local poet from California Poets in the Schools come into my classroom and teach a poetry workshop for a few days. I sit down and write with the class and I always share what I write with them. I find this inspires me and I start writing poetry at home for awhile afterward. I find it very rewarding and I don't know why I always stop at some point.

The writing folders in my classroom are full of all different kinds of writing. Poetry, Quick Writes, essays, even a short story or two. The short stories are, frankly, embarrassing. As much as I love reading it, fiction writing is not my thing. I really enjoy reading my poems the most. As I said in as earlier blog, when we write it captures who we are in that moment in time. Sometimes I'm surprised that some of my poems are actually pretty good. Even when they're not, they remind me of something I was going through or feeling when I wrote it.

I know a lot of people are reading this who are not official followers. It seems whenever I talk to someone they tell me they are reading it. I appreciate the support and encouragement - despite the imperfections I get lots of positive feedback. It's one more way of feeling connected and that's a beautiful thing. I encourage all of you to write a poem, write in a journal, write a blog...keep a record of your life. Believe me, the older you get the less you remember!!

Namaste, Jill

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The past week had been amazing. I have not been nauseous in over a week, and I still have hair! I went to the doctor yesterday and both the nurse and my doc commented on how good my hair looks. Not bad, considering it hasn't been colored or cut in over two months. I know I am going to lose it at some point, so I am grateful every day it's still with me!! It's so nice to feel relatively normal and healthy. I was nauseous for so long that it was starting to feel like a permanent state of being. I still have limitations and I still have some pain, but I can now do two or three loads of laundry instead of having to go back to bed after one. I have been cooking breakfast and doing all the dishes. These things makes me feel good for accomplishing something and also for lightening Casey's load. I'm used to being a busy, productive person. Lying in bed reading and watching TV not only gets boring, it starts to affect my self esteem. Our self worth comes from what we accomplish. I know I am battling cancer and accomplishing something extremely important, but it's difficult to feel helpless and dependent on others. It feels good to contribute. Casey, as usual, has been wonderful. When I was unable to get out of bed without a struggle he did everything for me. He took charge of everything from my medication to my meals. Suddenly everything I usually do became his responsibility. He never complains and he does everything with a smile and a song. After the surgery I had a period where I was experiencing anxiety in the evenings. Casey would bring his guitar and either he'd sing to me or we'd sing together. It would calm me down and help me to sleep. He takes me to every doctor and chemo appointment. He is so much more than a husband and a caregiver. He's my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. I can't imagine going through this, or anything else, without him. I go back in for chemo tomorrow, but I'm sure the nausea will be minor and I'll recover quickly. Thanksgiving with Casey and Sydney!!

Namaste, Jill

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I think the best thing about the Thanksgiving holiday is that people tend to take the time to think about what they're grateful for. Counting your blessings instead of dwelling on your problems is always a good idea. I did not write a blog the first time I battled cancer, despite my good intentions, but I did sporadically write in my journal. Many days my entries are nothing more than a list of what I was grateful for. It's one way of staying strong, and it's much more productive than railing at fate. Sure, it sucks that I have cancer, but being angry about it would help nothing. Instead, I feel grateful for my excellent health benefits, for teachers who are willing to donate sick leave time so I continue to get paid, for my husband who is a wonderful caregiver, for my vast network of friends who pitch in and help, for all of the people and prayer groups who are praying for me, for all the yogis putting me in their intention, for everyone sending out love and positive energy on my behalf, for everyone who has sent a card, email or facebook message, for everyone who has brought or sent books, flowers and meals, for my yoga teachers...you get the idea. I even count the cancer among my blessings because it has brought so many positive things into my life. I expect it to go now and leave me in peace forever, but I don't entirely regret the experience. So this is me, sending a great big thank you out into the universe for all of my blessings.

Namaste, Jill

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vicarious Living

Last night my brother David and his wife Chris went to see Michael Franti and Spearhead at Chico State, in a venue that only holds about 1,000 people. That is twice they have seen them since we all saw them together at Power to the Peaceful in September. I hate missing a show, although realistically if I weren't sick I would be working and unable to go anyway. It makes me happy to see them loving Michael like I do. It makes me happy to see them driving 90 minutes to a show on a work night. Driving to Santa Barbara or San Francisco to see a show on a week night used to be something I did regularly. I never thought I'd quit wanting to do that, but the past few years I won't even travel on a week night for Franti. Somewhere along the line, sleep became more important than the shows. Old age creeping up on me, I guess. I'm glad my big brother will still travel on a week night!

Next week David and Chris are going to spend Thanksgiving and Chris's birthday (Happy birthday, Chrissy!!) in a cabin on the Smith river. They will not be far from "The Ranch." Our parents bought The ranch in 1964. We called it The ranch because the sign above the gate said "Sissi Q Ranch." It was 60 acres on the north fork of the Smith River. The older couple who had lived there before left the house fully furnished and equipped, from dishes to linens. I remember being confused, at 4, about why our summer place was so much nicer than our house in town. The house was gorgeous, all knotty pine and ceiling beams. There was a loft overlooking the living room, and an upstairs reached by a ladder that pulled down out of the ceiling. The Smith River ran through the property, crystal clear, clean and wild. Near the house was an enormous old wooden bridge. You could stand on that bridge and gaze down into the river, which was so clear you could see every fish and rock clearly. There were three swimming holes on the property, and whenever I need to go to my happy place I go to one of them. It is the most beautiful place on earth. It is 26 miles on a winding, narrow mountain road to the nearest civilization. There was no other private property near us, and when we went up there it was peaceful, quiet, and amazing. In the early years it was rare for a car to drive by. The ranch was a huge part of what made my childhood magical. I spent many happy hours swimming and playing in the river. I made rock forts for lizards I caught and would briefly imprison in a cat carrier until I could move them into their new home. I caught water snakes and wore them as bracelets around my wrist. For a few years my sister and I had our horses up there and we would ride. I remember riding to the lower meadow with my brother once and coming across a world that was literally covered with lady bugs. I put my hand down on a tree stump and my hand was instantly covered with millions of them. We would spend the fourth of July up there, and Daddy would set off fireworks that would light up the night sky and the mountain across the river. When the old bridge wore out and they were going to tear it down to build a new one, Dad negotiated and instead they built the bridge upriver a bit and the old, majestic wooden bridge became ours. The bridge dedication party with my parents' old friends was something to remember. One year that old bridge buckled under the weight of snow and ice during a harsh winter and it collapsed into the river. Apparently the noise was deafening and scared the caretaker half to death. I never went up there after the bridge fell, and after Dad had his stroke we ended up selling the place. It has been on the market on and off since. For a long time I thought I would never go up there again, because it would make me too sad. That changed a few years ago. I want Casey to see it, because it means more to me than any place on earth or any childhood memory. The breathtaking beauty of the place will be the same, whether it belongs to us or not. I have always felt so blessed that I grew up in a place full of mountains, redwoods, rivers and rhododendrons, and that we also had The Ranch. My father's love of the outdoors was a blessing to us all. The older I get, the more I miss Northern California. If it weren't for my stupid cancer, Casey and I would be going with David and Chris next week. I've told him we will need to plan a similar trip next summer. I want to see The Ranch again, and I want to be with my big brother when I do. For now, I will live vicariously through their trip, and count the days until I am well enough to make one of my own.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yoga, Part Two

On September 10th I wrote "Yoga, Part One." It was the day before Power to the Peaceful, and four days before surgery. I intended for my next post to be part two, and I expected that to be a day or two after surgery. I actually did write it, but I neglected to save because this site automatically saves. Perhaps because of poor connectivity, it didn't save that day. I was only able to sit up because I was in a hospital bed, and writing it was difficult. I labored over it, then lost it. I had to distance myself from it before I could rewrite it, so I just reread the first one for the first time. One of the great things about writing is it creates a record of who you were in that moment in time. I had no idea what I was really getting into, and that's a good thing. Anyway, back to yoga.

As soon as I was well enough after surgery in 2008, I would go to Yoga in the Vines for a private, therapeutic yoga class with Cathy. She helped me to regain my physical strength and to develop my spiritual strength. It's wonderful how much strength turning inward, breathing, and meditating gives you. The poses become meditative also, so the yoga experience is very zen. Everyone should take the time to find their zen state, every day. It has multiple benefits for your physical, emotional and spiritual health. I don't remember now how long we did private classes before I was strong enough to go back to regular classes at the studio, but I do know I took a class with Jean for the first time in November. It was another private class because only I showed up that day. I was weak and I remember struggling with the vinyasas. I took classes with both Cathy and Jean until January, when Cathy sold the studio to Danielle. When Cathy stopped teaching yoga, I knew I would have to try yogaflirt as soon as I was strong enough. I couldn't imagine my life without regular classes with Cathy. Thankfully there was still Jean.

Jean D'Abreau has been teaching yoga for 6 years, and he is only 23. I love that he is so young and has so much to teach me. I have not practiced with lots of different teachers, but I know Jean's class is unique. He often plays Jimmy Hendrix during class. He can twist and contort his body into any shape, I think. His classes are fun, challenging, and deeply spiritual for me. He makes me laugh, he makes me think, and he taught me to do inversions. Going upside down was terrifying for me at first. Jean would help me get up, than I would experience fear and disorientation once I got there. The first time I did a headstand, and later a handstand, by myself I was so excited! Fighting cancer made the fear of going upside down seem silly, and Jean gave me the confidence to make it happen. As my yoga journey continued, I gained strength and got to the point where I was strong enough to try level one at Cathy's yogaflirt studio.

People tend to think stripper when they hear about yogaflirt, but that's not what it's all about. It's more like spinning on the playground bars, with a lot more athleticism. The spins are fun and very challenging. The flirts who have been spinning since the beginning are amazing to behold, and watching Cathy is a jaw dropping experience. Being a flirt is also a very spiritual experience. The friendship and camaraderie that develops as you go through the levels with the same group of women is extraordinary. You begin learning about concepts like ahimsa from the beginning - no judgement of yourself or of others. There were spins I never mastered, but I got nothing but encouragement and support from the teachers and the other flirts. Like yoga, it helped me to conquer my fears. I never played on the playground bars because I was too scared. Some of the spins are terrifying at first, and if felt so good the first time I successfully mastered one, with helpful tips from Julie, Becca or Cathy. Angela offers a monthly meditation workshop for flirts called Inner Journey, where we meditate, journal, and share our thoughts. Yogaflirt changed us all in positive ways. For me, I gained even more strength, both physically and spiritually. Yoga and yogaflirt, for me, put me in touch with my mind, body and spirit connection. They gave me the strength to fight cancer, and I firmly believe that they saved my life once and will do so again.

Where am I in my yoga journey now? I am doing private classes with Jean on Saturdays. Yesterday I did a private with Cathy and we'll do another next Monday. They both come to my home and they are both wonderful. I have learned so much from both of them, and I feel so blessed to have them in my life. The universe sent them to me to help me grow and to help me fight. Jean's early morning class in SLO often send their intention out to me, and it is powerful and much appreciated. I intend to start attending that class next summer. I will go back to level one and restart my yogaflirt journey as soon as I am able. In the meantime, my private classes with my two awesome teachers are making me strong and happy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had not been in the hospital since I was born. Hospitals were scary places to me, things where bad things happened. My journey has changed that misconception completely. Every hospital I have been in - Sequoia, Twin Cities and French - have been positive experiences and this is due to the nurses. Nursing is obviously a calling and the nurses are angels. I loved some of my nurses and liked some, but every single one of them took excellent care of me and was kind. When I went to Sequoia for my second cancer debulking surgery, the nurse I saw first who puts in the IV and does the intake information was the same nurse I had the first time. Two years later and she remembered me. She sees lots of patients every day, yet after all that time she remembered me. I was very impressed by that. After the surgery, for two or three days I had a nurse named Catherine. I liked her immediately because she shares her name with my beloved niece, but she proved to be an exceptional nurse and person. She was funny, she was kind, she was encouraging. She came in often and spent time with Casey and me. She brought a roll away bed in so Casey could sleep in the room with me. She made sure I had Julie as my nurse one night because I had fond memories of her from two years before. She brought me a small pillow to press against my stomach when I painfully got out of bed to walk. She decorated the pillow case with a picture of her cat, and she wrote on both sides. One side says "The nurses think you are awesome" and the other side said "Walk, walk, walk, deep breathe." I brought it home with me. I had one male nurse who was nice but not very warm. After Catherine came in to visit and spent time with him in my room he warmed up and became much more friendly. I don't remember all of their names, but every one of them was wonderful and took excellent care of me and also of Casey. When we got home from the hospital I had not eaten solid food for over a week and I was miserable. I was nauseous and weak. Our friend Linda, who is a nurse at Sierra Vista, came over about a week later. In addition to being an angel, she is superwoman. She is a nurse, a mom, a massage therapist, a Reiki healer, and she sings in a band. She brought me pressure point wrist bands, aloe vera juice for my digestive tract, made me kim chi which was the first food I was able to eat, and she gave me a massage because my back was hurting from being in bed. I felt mothered, which meant a lot to me because my mom had just died. She put me on the road to recovery and made my nausea manageable. I no longer fear hospitals, IVs, or surgery. I know now that hospitals are there to help us, and nurses are earth bound angels.

Namaste, Jill

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feeling Better

I feel better today then I have since this whole thing started, I think. I have come to really appreciate my week off, when the nausea lessens and I feel more like myself. Even on days like these, things that used to be small have become large - like laundry. Today I put away laundry that Maria, our wonderful housekeeper, did last time she was here. Then I did two loads of sheets and towels. Walking back and forth from the bedroom to the laundry room a few times makes me tired and I have to sit down and rest. My goal was to do all of the laundry today, but after just that much I realize I've done enough for today and the clothes will have to wait until tomorrow. It's hard being so fragile and easily tired. Just three months ago I was so strong. The surgery robbed me of my strength and my energy. I am slowly getting it back, by taking baby steps. Two loads of laundry today, two more tomorrow. In a little while Casey, the dogs and I will take our little walk around the block, and after that I will have to rest.

I read Dan Brown's latest, The Lost Symbol, over the weekend. I loved it. One of the best books I've read in awhile. It's so good to be off the pain meds and able to read. I don't understand how anyone can do pain medication for recreation or get addicted to them. I hate the way they make me feel and how they affect me. So happy to have that part of this journey behind me!

Namaste, Jill

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Big Love

Like anything else in life that is hard, cancer also has its gifts. A big one for me has been the connections it has brought and the amount of love people have shown me. People who don't even know me have reached out by donating sick leave, sending me emails, posting on my Facebook wall, responding to my blog posts - once a woman approached me in the grocery store to express her support. It was when I was bald last time, so it was obvious what I was dealing with. Almost every day there is at least one card, if not multiple cards, in the mail from people expressing love and support. Current and former students send me Facebook messages and posts telling me they love and miss me. So many people have offered to cook for us, to grocery shop, to stay with me so Casey can go for a mountain bike ride...these are the things that help me to stay strong. Sydney comes every weekend she can to do our laundry, grocery shop, and spend time with me. Susan comes almost every Friday to help and hang out with me. The other day our cupboards were bare and Peter showed up with flowers and delicious casserole. The day I finished that Mary came over with homemade muffins and soup. Kelli will make me anything I ask for, and she is a fabulous cook. Johnna offers her own cooking and that of the students in her hospitality classes at the junior high. I ask for novels and I get two from Mary and two from Debbie the next day. Cathy and Jean both offer private yoga in my home whenever I feel up to it. I feel truly loved and blessed to know that so many people care about Casey and me. Casey is so loving and supportive, even though this is just as hard on him as it is on me. Most people live their entire lives without knowing how loved they are. Although this is the hardest thing I have ever faced, and it sucks to go through it twice, the love and support from so many people warm my heart and give me strength. A big, heart felt thank you from me to everyone out there who cares about me and is cheering me on. With your help, I will be healthy and cancer free before too long.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Comfort Food

I go in for chemo this afternoon, but it's one kind instead of two so hopefully I will feel as well afterward as I do now. The first time I fought this battle the chemo left me with neuropathy (numbness in the hands and feet) and it affected my brain. Specifically my short term memory and my ability to spell. Fortunately over time I recovered fully. This time, so far, the only problem I'm having other than the nausea is that my mouth tastes like metal...all of the time. No amount of flossing, brushing or rinsing helps. Water tastes just awful right now, and I really need to be drinking lots of it. Sparkling water helps. My friend Mary brought me some and it was an excellent idea. I find myself craving milk and drinking lots of it, which is something I haven't done in years. I think I had 4 glasses of milk yesterday! I also crave sweet things - cookies etc - which is really not the best thing for me. Many people believe that cancer loves sugar, and that cancer patients should stay away from it. It's hard to deny the cravings, however. Sugar has always been comfort food for me. When we were sick, our Mom would buy us candy and make us ice cream sodas. As a child my favorite lunch was sugar and butter sandwiches on white bread washed down with a glass of chocolate milk. To me, getting sick means watching TV and eating goodies, which is pretty much what I've been doing. When this is all over, I'll have a healthier diet. Right now, my oncologist and Casey are worried about my weight loss, so calories are good. Bring on the cookies and milk!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gaining Strength

I haven't written in awhile because I didn't really have anything to say. My life, for now, has shrunk down to dealing with the side effects of the treatment. I rarely leave the house except to go to the doctor. Yesterday I felt pretty good, so I dealt with some laundry and went for a walk with Casey. It was my first walk outside the yard since the surgery. We walked once around the block and I had to come home and get in bed right away to recover. I was nauseous, my ears hurt for some reason, and my heart was pounding. I know I need to push myself, but the only place I feel good these days is in my big, wonderful bed.

The new TV is helping a lot. This morning I finished the last chapter of the first season of Heroes, streamed directly to my TV from Netflix. I watched all 23 episodes in 3 days. It was compelling and entertaining. I have put the next 3 seasons in my "Instant Queue." Thanks goodness for technology, or I would be going out of my mind with boredom. It's nice to watch something new, although I am still addicted to Charmed!

I go in for chemo tomorrow, and then I get next week off. I plan on going around the block every day, so that I can rebuild my strength. Right now a few minutes doing dishes or laundry send me back to bed. The surgery was big, cancer is big - but my will is bigger. I will prevail!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Entertaiment, Magic, and Chemo

I haven't written for awhile, not because I'm too sick, mostly because I can't think of anything to say. The Cancer and the treatment have taken over my life, for now, and other than visits to the doctor I am always home. I spend 90% of my time in my big, comfy bed, either reading, watching my Google TV, or I'm on my laptop writing my blog, answering emails or Facebooking. Thank goodness for technology!

I read 2 more of the books Kimberly sent me: Desert Eyes (I think that's the title. It's about scheherazade and it's beautifully written) and Take Another Look which was compelling and hard to put down. I also read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and I highly recommend that trilogy. All 3 were hard to put down. So sad that the author died shortly after delivering the 3 manuscripts. I'm always up for a good read if anyone would like to send me books or suggestions so I can get them through amazon.com. I like novels that are literary and look at human universals through the characters. I'm kind of over sci-fi and fantasy, although I do enjoy a good vampire story - loved the Twilight series, the House of Night Series, and the Sookie Stackhouse series.

I admit I have been watching too much TV. Other than Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, most of what I watch is old. When I was a kid I loved Bewitched and wanted to be Samantha, or at least have her powers! I love Charmed even more than Bewitched, because the Halliwell sisters don't have wimpy men who try to prohibit their use of magic! I evolved from wanting to be Samantha to wanting to be Phoebe. There are 4 episodes of Charmed on, every day. I tend to watch all 4, even though I have seen the series from the beginning to the end (7 seasons) countless times. It just never gets old for me. The Power of Three!!

I have also been streaming Netflix onto my TV. Send me movie ideas - I'm running out!

I saw my oncologist yesterday and had chemo. I will be doing Gemzar one week and then Gemzar and Carboplatinum the second week, both on Wednesday afternoons, through December. I'll have the CA125 blood test and a PET scan after 3 rounds to see how it's going. At some point after that I will have Taxol in my IP Port (goes directly into my abdomen and requires 24 hospitalization). The Taxol will cause my hair to fall out, so before that happens I will have Lizette shave it off. After the chemo is over I will probably have radiation. My cancer has stayed in the pelvic region, so they can zap it directly. The samples they sent to the lab didn't grow and the results were inconclusive. Hopefully that means they are finished growing inside me!!

I have been reading and hearing about lots of women with my cancer who have one or two recurrences and then go on to be cancer free for years. The treatments are improving all the time and my doctors are wonderful. I know I will, indeed, Kick Cancer's Butt. I am feeling positive, well cared for, and very loved.

I miss the yoga studio, walking my dog, teaching my students, leaving my house to do anything...preferably something fun! I know my life will get back to that, so I am patient and confident that I am winning this battle.

Namaste, Jill