As has been echoed over and over these days, humanity feels precarious, a time to cherish being alive.
My cancer experience and recent events have caused me to crystallize my vision for the remainder of my life. I used to think I had to live into some grand gesture, not just accomplishment, but that I needed to be doing something more than I am to make a living, more than I am to give to others.
Now I have my sights set on this: To cultivate a peaceful life and radiate peace.
Part of making peace is definitely making through my craft, and after a several month knitting hiatus and healing post cancer treatment, I have a few objects to share.
1) Cedar Brook Pullover by Tamy Gore - Ella Rae DK Superwash Merino wool used
2) Inclinations Shawl by Andrea Mowry - Self-striping 50/50 wool/acrylic blend, DK Skeinz wool. I intend to make a larger and more colorful one with many different stripes.
3) Cozy Comfort Throw by A Homespun House - Bio Balance yarn, 50/50 cotton/wool with colorful strand of Wensleydale Gems wool. Plan to change colors to use scraps as I go once these colors are gone.
4) Spring Shoots Tam by Kate Davies
Next On Needles - 2 projects to benefit Ukraine
This week has not been easy and because of that, I have experienced moments of great joy. I experienced a few days of physical pain and exhaustion, which made me feel all the more incredibly lucky to be able to walk in the glorious woods and labyrinth of the Whidbey Institute on my way home after my four-hour commute for radiation each day. This week, a pedometer app I downloaded 8 months ago on my phone started spontaneously cheering. Huh? Turns out I have walked 500 K steps, or half a million, which apparently is more than 99% of those who downloaded the app. Considering I have a sedentary job, this affirms for me the value of footsteps for my overall wellbeing. Labyrinths are wonderful mind re-setters, as they allow you to turn your body one direction going in and unwind your body-mind going out.
All week, my commute by sea and road has been in dense fog. Today one of two radiation machines broke down and is unlikely to be fixed by Monday, so we shall see if my treatments will continue as planned. But I continue to be grateful for my waiting room camaraderie with folks facing cancer treatment, and my knitting which helps me find calm in "waiting" for anything.
I have met several folks who are planning once-in-a-lifetime vacations after their cancer treatment ends. I have decided when my treatment is over (after I take ancient car for repairs), I am going to celebrate by leaving early morning dark and taking myself on a day-long hiking trip to see as many waterfalls as possible in Olympic National Park, since I do not need to go far and spend much money to experience a most beautiful green space remaining on Earth.
I also experienced great appreciation reflecting on teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) who passed this week at age 95. I love what he told the filmmaker of Walk With Me about his sangha and life. When he learned there was consideration of a temple being built in his honor in Vietnam:
“I said, don’t waste the land of the temple in order to build me a stupha. Do not put me in a small pot and put me in there. I don’t want to continue like that. It is better to put the ash outside to help the trees to grow. That is a meditation. I recommend that they make the inscription outside on the front:
‘I am not in here’
and then if people do not understand, you add a second sentence;
‘I am not out there either’
and if still they don’t understand on the third and the last;
‘I may be found maybe in your way of breathing or walking.'”
BREATHE is Thay's calligraphy on a sticker that sits on my car's dashboard. When my car had trouble starting, I did as it said and breathed, and the car started. I wish the same instruction for those who are eager to start another Neanderthal war humanity does not need. Breathing in our common humanity is the only way forward, or we stop breathing.
2022 Vision Board
I've registered for the Portland Half Marathon in October in order to give myself a rehabilitative goal a year out from surgery, so I include an image of me crossing finish line in the 2015 Full Marathon. Time means little to me, and I was honored to mark that milestone with a 90-year-old man I did not know. For 2022, everything is different. Masks will be worn at all times except during active race (I imagine I'd keep mine on). There is a time limit I do not walk, so I will be interval training in order to attempt to stay on the course. At the moment, it's hard to know if the event will be able to happen with Covid, but worst case scenario, I will have spent five months strengthening my body. FYI for anyone interested in attempting a couch to half marathon even for yourself, this is roughly the training schedule I will be following, as it's similar to what I did in past marathons.
Kate Davies' Dathan. I elongated sleeves per daughter's request, and loved working with 15 colors despite the challenge of making a millimeter or two of progress each row. As the shoulders are grafted, I'm grateful for this tutorial that means I will never forget Kitchener stitch the rest of my life!
2022 Garment Making List
After decades of being an "almost finisher" of garments that rarely fit well, I am determined to learn as much as possible about sweater and garment construction to make well-fitting sweaters for self and others who appreciate slow fashion.
I am grateful for the friendly and caring "co-patients" I meet in the oncology waiting room as our random convergence in time and place allows for spontaneous conversation and nuggets of wisdom. I received a brilliant teaching today of "what you resist persists" from a gentleman of color as it relates to racism and also electrical engineering (you had to be there - not to say we should not actively work to dismantle racism). We talked about how resistance in life only causes more suffering for ourselves, and how we can learn from everything.
One bit of inspiration I shared with the waiting room crowd was what has been gifted to me by my sisters, and people were moved to tears. The idea took flight. I was given a paper chain with as many links as days of treatment. It's made from colorful strips with a phrase or words of encouragement or humor inside each one. Every day when I return home, I cut one open and soak in the words. Several people including a social worker loved this concept so much they are passing it on and intend to do something similar for other patients. Feels especially powerful for those of us who live alone and/or have minimal support.
Punch the Air, Follow the Light
I've developed a routine that is a bit elongated now that ferry service to the island is reduced, but after I return from radiation each day, I walk 2-3 miles in the woods before starting work. Some days, in order to process anger about my situation, about life feeling difficult in general for so many right now, I have begun punching the air as I walk (especially when no one is nearby) and finding it very helpful to shift my energy. Not to mention my knitting arms could use the movement. And then I follow the light and see where it takes me. I took this image of an amazing sunrise this morning after taking a detour from the ferry terminal, and everyone in the waiting room wanted to see. It's such a gift to be able to share with people who want to linger on every sunrise.
Last But Not Least
For a second time I'll be participating in Knit for Food Knit-a-thon with all donations divided among four organizations working hard to feed fellow humans in hard times. Please consider a gift via my link on image below so that I can reach the minimum to participate and possibly even my goal. If you click the sparkly "Donate" button in the right-hand corner, I will get credit. This event falls during my last weeks of cancer treatment, so I deeply appreciate any support you might send along to keep me awake and the good folks at Meals on Wheels, World Central Kitchen, Team No Kid Hungry, and Feeding America going the distance.
I will make a Shift Cowl for anyone who donates $50, in colors of your choosing. I've made four thus far for folks who asked, and they are an awesome, colorful neck warmer that stays put rather than a pesky scarf.
2021 has felt like staying close to a focus on survival has also meant greater appreciation for the spark of life we are. I read today the Netherlands is in complete lockdown, while Japan has near zero Covid cases for a population of 125 million. Extremes that often confound seem to be the context we are living in.
Highlights for me as I review my year are spending June attempting to walk 100 miles for fundraising for pediatric cancer because it got me off my pandemic spreading derrière and rehabilitated my sedentary body (round two of that happening now), and raising funds for ecovillages in Senegal through a handknit shawl auction. I loved having the fortune to live next door to an organic farm that supplied me with CSA veggies all growing season. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with my adult daughter watching a movie and trying to understand the complexity of the Marvel/DC Comic universe this week during her brief holiday visit.
Holiday knits from L to R Kate Davies' Dathan sweater hoping to complete by New Year's, two of four The Shift Cowls by Andrea Mowry. Several people have requested the great cowl so I've got two in progress not imaged. With the intense cold, I've also got her Inclination Shawl in progress to wrap myself in and will photograph when complete.
With icy roads, temps below freezing, ferry boats running at half service, and my ancient car (22 years old) my cancer treatment is once again delayed. If I understand correctly, my cancer was determined to have a 32% chance of recurrence after surgery, but oral medication reduces that by 15-20% and radiation by another 10%. So even though my radiation course is now being delayed 5 weeks past intended start, in the scheme of things I trust it will still reduce risk.
Currently everything feels like one big risk ratio. Risk of Covid or freak weather becoming normalized shortening our lives can feel on par with cancer, and so it can all feel relative. Making peace with my life at any moment is my biggest project. I feel at peace when knitting and walking, and fortunately I have been able to do a lot of that as my workload has been slow this month as is par for the freelancing course. The cancer process has put me in greater touch with appreciating the vehicle for my spirit and being more patient with it. But there have been many days of scar healing I wish I could just be a crustacean and molt. : ) Finally I have more pain-free days and can go on strenuous walks, and for that I am truly grateful.
Donning Knits of Yesteryear to Walk in Snow
My own fir tree hat design and Erica Heusser's Wishmaker Mitts.
2022 Wall Calendar Offering
I have 12 copies of this calendar of beauty from Whidbey Island ready to ship by December 20th. Contact me for more information and I'm happy to send one as a companion for your next year.
Beethoven's 251st Birthday
As a young classical music geek, I requested birthday cakes with a nod to Beethoven. A happy feature of sharing Ludwig's birthday is being able to turn on any classical radio station on my birthday and listen, between Christmas tunes, to the great composer's work. In the era of online music, I still enjoy the randomness of radio stations. For the most part, I've lost touch with the world of music thanks to my career involving day-long, intensive audio listening. But today I woke thinking about the most intense work I did in my young life on a bit of Beethoven's music.
I was 16 in a two-week summer workshop where a trio of young musicians met for the first time. We were challenged to learn completely new music to us and then, after two weeks of practice, perform said music in front of the Guarneri Quartet members in a masterclass. I was in a group assigned the "Ghost Trio" by Beethoven, nicknamed for its spooky second movement. Looking back through time, this has to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Here is a recent recording of a group playing it, in case anyone else wants to listen in on a little Beethoven on what would be his 251st birthday.
My pain levels took a backslide since last blog post, so my hopes of hiking full bore are not realized quite yet. But my radiation schedule has been pushed out by my surgeon one more week to December 27, so I am relieved to be able to focus on knitting and family during Christmas/Solstice week instead.
I am once again reminded of how grateful I am for all the support of those who donated to help me bridge the gap of months of appointments and healing time and still stay in shelter and pay bills. I anticipate feeling well and able to work FT by mid-March. I find it helpful just as in marathons I've done to visualize a finish line and see yourself strong. Understanding that 99% of all people who start a marathon finish is what I'm trying to keep front of mind on days of strong mental resistance to the whole thing.
One thing I discovered since consuming the Outlander films is that the group could benefit from a knitting historian. While the artistic team had great medical and military coaching, none of the knitting worn by the actors is accurate for the mid-1700s, a kind of huge irony when you consider knitters are some of the show's biggest global fans. Perhaps next season a knitting consultant is included, perhaps we suspend disbelief because the film is about time travel, or perhaps it only bothers a very few people who are dismayed to find 20th/21st century knits plopped into scenes from 200 years earlier. One thing I did not realize until looking into it was shawls were not even widely worn and made until the 19th century.
The modern hand knitting craze that seemed to start in the US around year 2000 is a bit fascinating in itself, perhaps representing a yearning for the comfort of slow-making traditions in the face of big box stores, globalization, and disposable fast fashion. I definitely became a compulsive shawl knitter around 2012, despite not wearing them. I've donated and gifted most.
A Scottish knitting history blog.
A knitwear in period film critique.
December 3rd was my first pain-free walk in two months! And today was my first long walk in the woods up and down hills. A wondrous homecoming to my body and my favorite trails. Everything seems better when we lose it, and I intend to embrace the window of good days between now and December 20th when I start radiation.
I'm feeling super clear about wanting to rehabilitate my body to the point of hiring a personal trainer eventually next year so that I can achieve my goal of a wilderness trek in 2023. One thing that should help toward my goal is that a side effect of tamoxifen for me seems to be zero craving for chocolate and/or sugar. I have never experienced this a day in my life until now. I can see the pounds melting off. Literally from start of taking the medication, I have only craved apples. Applesauce, apple juice, apples in any form.
Surely that old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" must mean something. (or not)
I made it through biopsies and surgery and 24 inches of scars, but for some reason knowing I need to submit myself to 33 radiation treatments is what makes me most emotional. I will get through it just as I have everything else and will fully recover, but for now in this window of time before then I will let my emotions flow like the water I will be ferrying over each day for treatment.
As my treatment and work disruptions drag on totaling eight months, I am increasingly aware it has taken a village to keep me afloat. For anyone who donated to my siblings' GoFundMe campaign on my behalf, thank you once again. I wish you moments of joy this holiday season and as we lean into our collective uncertain future. In fact, one thing that does feel certain we can create for ourselves is a moment of joy.
Knitting has been such an oasis through all crises in my life that I am considering enrolling in the years-long Master Hand Knitting program with The Knitting Guild Association. I've taught myself many techniques, but I can always improve and love the concept of apprenticeship in any craft. I would enjoy research and writing on the history of knitting, and gaining confidence to teach others.
Here are images from my reunion with the woods today and of the knitting of Scottish wool, mostly done while binge-watching and finally giving in to the Outlander phenom (never a first person to catch onto a trend), along with watching the entire series Men in Kilts. Ten percent of my DNA is Scottish (settlers in early Virginia), so apparently it's enough to make me appreciate instead of detest the sound of bagpipes and be fascinated by how anyone can play that instrument. I've watched hours of videos/vlogs from knitters of the Scottish Isles, so perhaps I'll create myself a wee research project on the topic. I dreamed of visiting Ireland and Scotland in my lifetime, and as an English & Music major in college missed an opportunity to do a study of Celtic harp in Ireland due to my asthma causing the student health center not to approve my travel after group orientation. I did get to watch the returning students' slideshow.
None of us know how long travel restrictions may be in our pandemic future, so if I cannot visit Scotland in my lifetime, I can be grateful for the internet and movies that allow me to travel through space and time. And the Scottish sheep wool that can arrive to me in the mail.
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.
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.