As in knitting, so in life. Sometimes you need to take out a bit you'd sewn together and redo to make the whole thing turn out better.
Last week is fuzzy in my memory, so I will attempt to recreate. Monday started out with a power outage in the middle of a job, resulting in me heading toward my folks' space because they have a generator and running water. I lose water in power outages due to being on a well. That went on to Tuesday. Tuesday morning, I woke with shaking chills and muscle cramps, went back to sleep thinking I'd just been overheated with the power returning in the middle of the night. Returning home, I cranked through a few hours of work while my own space reheated itself, and I proceeded to experience 3 hours of shaking chills, only ceasing when under heavy blankets. I took my temperature. No fever. Hmmm, I thought, could this be Covid?
I looked into getting a Covid test anywhere that did not involve me driving two hours roundtrip, and found one available Saturday. I slept most of Wednesday and Thursday with intermittent shaking chills despite somehow working a few hours in there. No recall at this point what I worked on.
By Thursday night my temperature rose over 100.4, the cutoff to call medical office. I was not seeing any visible signs of change to my surgical sites, so the after hours doc told me to take Tylenol to break the fever and let them know if I worsened overnight. By Friday morning, fever rose and an obvious raging red skin infection was going on. I drove myself to local rural ER with Tylenol keeping fever down, and spent all of Friday in ER getting IV antibiotics, Covid test (negative, whew!), and reopening a bit of one incision from 5 weeks ago to drain infection. Relief!
Now home on antibiotics with every couple hours doing dressing changes on a draining wound...and medical tape to hold on dressings making equally reddened skin as infection. Hypoallergenic cloth tape is on mail order.
Upshot is this delay means adding on 3 weeks to my 6-week surgical recovery until back to "normal activity" (read: I can stop walking like a zombie at a snail's pace) and my radiation has now been scheduled for December 20th. The first day is simulation, so my actual first day of 6-1/2 weeks of radiation will be Winter Solstice, December 21st. Since I prefer to celebrate Solstice over other winter holidays, I'm not sure what to make of a metaphor of creating fire on skin to reduce risk of death as we return to the light from cosmic darkness, but it is what it is.
Hence, I have reaffirmed for myself that knitting is my lifeline and gives me joy of creating to look forward to each and every day through all of the 8 months total of cancer-related crappola.
Works in Progress
Joji Locatelli's Frank Shawl. (What looks like rust color in photo is actually red). Perfect piece to work on when one is on two medications with the side effect "May cause confusion and/or unusual fatigue." A stunning piece that will look amazing when washed and blocked. I intend to make another in earth tones.
And green and copper piece is another The Shift cowl after completing my first in other images, Andrea Mowry's pattern. Plans to make three others out of different stash yarns as gifts.
This shawl was the most fun I've ever had knitting. To learn new techniques (brioche for me) and watch the colors play with one another was brilliant. The design is like a shape shifter depending on the five colors chosen, as you can view in other samples in #shawlographyMKAL2021. My hand-dyed yarns from five different sources have a bit of variegation creating some streaks across the brioche section, and being a mystery knit-a-long, I likely would have chosen a different color palate to work with if I had known what I know now. I ran out of orange near the end, so substituted a yarn that had orange tones in it, and made one ridge per stripe for the border. The yarn chicken gods were with me, because I had exactly one yard remaining at the end.
Unlike anything I've ever made, it miraculously mirrors the colors and design elements of the quilt hanging above my "knitting nest" couch, which was donated during my daughter's cancer journey. I love the transformation theme of that quilt, from caterpillars to butterflies, and how this shawl saw me through a transformation of my own before and recovering from breast cancer surgery. I completed the shawl just as my constant pain is easing.
The music is me on harpsichord in a college practice room at age 18, composer Frescobaldi in the 1600s from the era which reminds me of design elements in the shawl. Elizabethan era ruff collars were all the rage, and the collars were so labor-intensive to make and keep that people had special carrying cases for them. I think this shawl deserves a special carrying case.
I am thrilled to have found out yesterday that I do not need to endure chemo!! I have watched so many people go through it and knew what I was potentially facing in the weeks awaiting results of a test on my tumor. Thanks to scientists who developed a lab gene test to separate out those with Stage 2A breast cancer whose survival can benefit from chemo on top of hormonal blocker and radiation and those for whom chemo actually increases chance of recurrence, I find I fall happily into the latter category. All I have left is 6-1/2 weeks of daily radiation (and 7 years of hormone blockers to starve cancer cells).
I admire herbalists and those who study and practice healing with and from nature. I appreciate integrative medicine centers that are increasing in visibility. But when it comes to skilled surgeons and examples of those who spend careers in labs creating tools to limit harm when the most blunt tool has formerly been the only option, I am thrilled with scientific advances. Reflecting on how things were in the 1970s in a time when all axillary lymph nodes would be removed and only option was mastectomy no matter the type of cancer, a time when one of the first public figures used her status to discuss the "woman's disease" openly, Betty Ford, and seeing now how treatments have become more harm-sparing is inspiring.
That said, our ability to keep these small cancers from spreading still feels brutally blunt. As I viewed images of countless women's surgical scars and was experiencing the worst pain of my life in one of my pre-surgery procedures, I thought to myself we don't live in Medieval times, but that time period sure echoes into our present humanity in more ways than we progress-minded folks might like to believe.
I have been working part-time and knitting part-time since surgery. My small couch has become a knitting nest with future completed items to share. Having this pause in my 6-day-a-week work schedule has been the closest thing to a vacation I've experienced in years, albeit in a bit more pain than I'd like to think an ideal vacation would entail.
This mortality-facing pause allowed me to crystallize things I'd like to live into and experience in my remaining time here. I've lived a rich life, and feel blessed in countless ways. Nonetheless, in all honesty, cancer appeared in my life at a moment where I was having difficulty seeing a future for myself. Cloudy confusion about where we're headed is collective as well, so I know I'm not alone. But I was personally feeling I'd reached an ending point, a wall beyond which I could not see. Now I have greater clarity.
My Field of Dreams
PDF of my practices with nature
I made it through surgery and here's what I wrote in my blurry state the next morning.
All of your intentions, prayers, and well wishes helped me through 14 hours yesterday in hospital. I arrived at 7 am driven by my daughter who stayed with me 4 hours in prep and imaging, and wire placement (for surgeon to identify area to remove). Then I had 4-5 hours of surgery, 5 hours in recovery, then picked up by my sister at 9 pm and taken back to her house to rest. I feel support and love from everyone. "
Now I am in my cozy home for last 24 hours waiting for edge of "cyclone" to pass my region of the Pacific NW, bracing for power loss but lucky thus far.
My 20 or so inches of incisions appear to be healing well. Restricted in movement, I am very grateful to those who have driven me places, gotten groceries and food, lifted things for me, etc. I meet my medical oncologist Wednesday and hope to have a clearer idea of my treatment plan, but all I know for certain at this point is I will need a broader area of radiation that could impact my right arm more, so I am knitting and typing while I can. It appears likely I may need chemo after all on top of hormonal blocking treatment and radiation, so I will update as I know.
Thank you to all again who have contributed to my gofundme bill paying fund, and those who have supported me in countless invisible and visible ways.
A most colorful distraction. Stephen West's design is the perfect journey to recover from surgery. Each section is like visiting a new country or tasting a new food.
SPOILER ALERT: Clue #1 of Shawlography Mystery Knit-a-Long. I am nearly done with Clue #2 and will post next.
I am humbled. My siblings have pulled together to raise funds for my lost wages while recovering my health.
GoFundMe - https://gofund.me/8bb72bbc
Grateful to a local group called Friends of Friends that has covered some of my medical bills not covered by insurance, and financial assistance from my hospital covering other bills. As I learned with my daughter, it seriously takes a village to recover from cancer.
If you feel so inclined, I appreciate any and all forms of support including nonmonetary energy, prayers and thoughts for surgery and beyond.
My first attempt at a Pi Shawl is Expression Fiber Arts Montagne. I would like to find someone willing to help me frame it as wall art, because I clearly misinterpreted something or knit very tightly the last sections of the pattern to end up with a difference of 10 inches in diameter and a skein and a half of yarn leftover from the original design's intent.
Regardless, it was a fun knit, and I would like to make another Pi Shawl next year.
For the next three weeks, I have decided to transform my yarn library into the pattern that literally every knitter I've met says is their most fun thing to make - Andrea Mowry's Shift Cowl. Love to mix and match colors and see what appears, and what a great shape to throw around the neck for fall/winter.
Between working FT, I have been busy having MRIs, ultrasounds, mammograms and biopsies over the last two months, and now my surgery is scheduled for October 15. Until then, it's knit while the sun shines, because I have no idea how long it will be until my arms, body and mind will be recovered enough to knit and work. For sure I will have four weeks of radiation after healing from surgery, and will learn if anything changes for my treatment when pathology returns from surgery around October 22.
Any prayers and well wishes around that time for swift healing are much appreciated!
You probably shouldn't (think).
Wow it's been a doozy folks! All around the world, the little chaos meter is bubbling away. It can be hard to take our eyes off it all.
But maybe it's time for a few more naps, a little more reminding ourselves of our lesser known moments like joy and humor. Last night I experienced deep belly laughs in a family game night with old-fashioned games like Password with little plastic sleeves called "leatherettes". In the 1980s, these game companies really thought we'd be fooled that plastic is leather, apparently.
My vegan, nonsmoking, nondrinking, organic food eating, distance walking self was shocked to learn last week that I have breast cancer. And yet it somehow feels in keeping with the patterns of my life or life in general. Just when you get a little too comfortable ... like 6 months after moving into the first rental in a long while that feels like home and you restore your financial losses from 2020 ... whamo, the chaos meter dials up a notch and you are back to an uncertain path of entering countless medical facilities during a pandemic.
I'm getting tested for BRCA gene, withdrew prior plans to forge a new way to live into my heart, and will spend the next months focused on paying medical bills and recovery from surgery. I will not be using this blog to list all details of my journey, but instead will mention only the big-ticket items and insights. I imagine the slowness of recovery may involve the eternal life raft of knitting, so to that end, I'll share here. Fortunately, I am surrounded by loving family and community charities who can pick up pieces for me, but oh how I really don't wish to be here again, seeking support in order to survive.
Interestingly, as an acupuncturist told me, energetically breast cancer represents overgiving patterns and blocks against receiving, so I will practice receiving and trying not to feel so darn bad for the people caring for me. I tend to go to nature to receive, but I am awful at it for humans.
Now that I am experiencing the C-beast from the caregiver, clinic note (transcribed oncology reports 2 years), and patient side, I hope I can use my wisdom someday to serve others. For a decade I've held a vision of myself leading/guiding small circles of diverse people in the woods. I'm pretty clear at this point that I do not want to be sitting in a room alone typing until my last breath, but for now it continues to be my 26-year self-supporting survival mechanism. Transcribing continues, with some measure of gratitude I can work from home protected in a physically compromised state while pandemic surges.
I've started a private Facebook group called Healing Outdoors Now where anyone can gather to share nature images and words of inspiration about nature's nourishment. You don't need to be in the cancer world to join. Feel free to stop on by.
In order to have a compelling structure to get me off my behind, I have pledged to walk 100 miles in June to raise funds for expanding pediatric cancer treatments. I tend to walk roughly 50 miles a month, so it'll be an experiment to see if I can double the mileage without cramming 75 miles into the final week (egads!). Here is my fundraising link which will run through the end of June:
A Mile For a Child
I have been knitting a lot, with very little to show from a mystery knit-a-long until it's complete, as well as a top secret test knit.
Completed a course on expanding my intuition which was a blast and put me in touch with an amazing virtual community, and now am beginning an 8-week course on intuitive plant medicine with Asia Suler, whose programs are pure magic. Soon I will restart volunteering with Whidbey Institute in their medicinal herb garden, and after a lifetime conversing with and observing the plant world, I love being a student expanding this exploration further and filling my cup to create deeper offerings after ANFT certification.
Images from last few weeks include a drenching rain walk through 7 miles of a land trust trail, glimpses of plants surrounding my abode, and two beaches within 20 minutes drive. I truly feel blessed to live surrounded by all this abundance of the non-human world.
Yes!! We with #KnitforFood collectively raised $270,660 for Meals on Wheels, Feeding America, World Central Kitchen, and No Kid Hungry. As someone who raised a child with help of a food bank, I am amazed by the generosity and accomplishment.
It was one amazing day, and now as I return without injury to my full day of typing, I think the stretches I learned during the Knit-a-Thon from an athletic trainer Mara Smith (mara_knits_on in Instagram) who teaches knitters how to avoid injury, and the talk by Carson Demers on ergonomics really helped and will help me going forward in my work and knit life. Below are pics I took during the event, including walking on a beach at glorious low tide, chilly in the 40-degree range, which allowed me to master slow walk-knitting. I will be walk-knitting my yarn with backpack in the future for sure to keep the blood flowing.
The Math: Over 12 hours, I completed 11, 520 stitches on my Pi Shawl, an inch on my linen stitch cowl, a thumb gusset on a fingerless mitt. I will be participating next year with a lot more lead time to fundraise.
An amazing thing happened when a knitter offered to help another knitter in need. A group of us Fruity Knitting Patreon patrons from around the world gathered to help publish a beautiful pattern designed by a woman who has no desire to receive accolades or be a designer, only wanting to do what she could to thank the people who have given us so much incredible content over the years. If you are looking for a fingerless mitt design complete with video tutorials, charts, and written pattern, please take a look by clicking on the image above to access the pattern on Ravelry.
It is inspired by Andrew and Andrea of the Fruity Knitting Podcast, and the Black Forest. Andrew was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor a few months ago and sadly recently we learned passed. He will be sorely missed by all whose lives he touched. Since the podcast was their only source of income, and we – patrons – have already received a goldmine’s-worth of knitting content carefully created by them, we want to support the family during these challenging times. Therefore, 100% of the revenues from this pattern will go to the family. Please do check out their podcast, consider becoming a Patreon patron or making a one-off donation.
For me personally, I am honored to be a store conduit for the pattern due to the synergy of healing provided by the Black Forest with my future intention to become a Nature and Forest Therapy guide, and my prior history as a cancer caregiver. May this pattern go far and wide in gratitude to Andrea and Andrew and may the forest be with them.
Staying close to the wealth of nature and making with my hands bring me greatest joy and comfort. You can find me on Instagram as @waterwomanknits, and on Ravelry as Waterwoman-Knits.