Hats Again, in California
11 Months Ago
Last October, I wore my Lake Tahoe hat when I visited my great nephews in California. I felt pretty normal with my half wig. Only once did I come close to revealing my bald head, when 3-year old Colden made a grab for my hat.
It was fun being back in California this September. The boys were almost a year older and I was 11 months stronger. Last October when we visited, I had just finished chemo. I was all giddy about my hair growing back. I'm glad I didn't know then, how slow the process would be.
I didn't wear a hat when we saw the boys this time, but I probably should have.
We had a wonderful hike near Squaw Valley and paused for a photo. All 3 boys look like they're laughing at my worn out Brillo Pad hair, in this photo. That's not true, though. Nobody, including me, was thinking of hair when this photo was taken.
But there was another moment during our visit, when 7 year old Silas did take notice of my curls.
I'm used to adults cautiously mentioning my hair, but I'm not used to the honesty of a child. It was such a simple remark, with no concern or opinion. I laughed and agreed with him, that my hair was indeed curly. Silas turned his focus back to his building, but he continued to talk.
"I have a girl in my class and her hair is really, really curly. There's nothing she can do about it. She tries to use barrettes sometimes, but it's still curly." I asked if his friend was okay her hair. Silas answered, "Yep, I think so."
I loved our little hair talk. I loved picturing the little girl, who probably looked adorable in her barrettes. She could probably give me some pointers!
Harvey... Then Irma
Now we're worried about those we know in the path of Hurricane Irma.
This morning, I ran my usual route on Homeward Way. It was dry and clear, making it hard to remember the eerie sight of the flooded car and kayaks.
I'm already forgetting how it felt 12 days ago, when we hiked back to check on the house. We were still on edge, waiting for the river to crest... anxious as we visualized homes flooding. For many in Texas and Florida, it will be a long time until there can be any forgetting.
It seems like we Texans should have advice for Florida. I feel like I should at least have some tips, for those very friends in the southeast who recently checked in on me!
A week before Harvey I heard from 2 friends who asked for a different kind of advice. Each had a friend, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. When questioned, I realized I that I have never taken time to sort out my thoughts about my cancer experience, to help with others. Now I need to stop and think about what I learned with Harvey... before I move on.
There's so much we learned those days before and after the storms. Storm prep, evacuation, flood insurance and even volunteering... But I'll have to organize those thoughts, later. For now, I'll throw some photos on this post, so I can come back to this and recall.
These aren't scary photos like they show on the news, but they are good reminders. I'm reminded of the stress and worry about all the what ifs. And I'm reminded of how lucky we were.
We were lucky with Harvey. This was our third hurricane scare in 12 years. This was our first evacuation and I need to do my work and make notes to be better prepared if this ever happens again. Like cancer, you hope it's a one time deal. But I might as well figure out what I've learned from both experiences, so I can better help others.
Survivor's Remorse with Hurricane Harvey
We returned home after 4 days of mandatory evacuation. Our house didn't flood, but over 100,000 homes in our area were affected. I felt guilty that I got to sleep in my own bed that night. But no one really wants to hear about my survivor's remorse.
I know I need to stop the guilt stuff, but I got in the habit a year ago with my cancer. I felt guilty accepting help when others needed it more. I felt guilty last spring when I gathered at a celebration for Cancer Survivors Day. I dealt with such a minor battle compared to many.
I didn't really earn a cancer or hurricane survivor badge. But the initial fear that came with both announcements, was similar. Maybe I earned a badge for that. Mostly, I'm grateful that my cancer was treatable and thankful that water didn't reach the house.
Feeling guilty is a waste of time. So on Saturday, I headed to Sugar Land's baseball stadium to donate blood. I heard the hospitals were running low.
I was turned away because I wasn't 3 years cancer free. I no longer felt guilty. I felt mad. Mad to be in that stupid cancer club with rules that make me feel like my blood is flawed. Mad that I couldn't join the club of Givers that was lined up.
Relaxing When Others Aren't
I started feeling guilty before we even knew our house was going to be safe. We were invited to evacuate to a safe home just miles from ours.
The sun came out by the second day and I was able to run... which helped with stress. The dry paths were lovely in the morning, but I could hardly enjoy, when I felt I should be helping others. Everything looked oddly normal, until I approached the closed grocery stores and restaurants. The sounds of rescue helicopters reminded me that all was not well.
How to Help?
The day we got home, I began fretting over how to help. I saw images on TV of boat rescues and flooded homes with neighbors pitching in. I wanted to jump in and be a part of the help. But how? I'm the person who doesn't do groups. This is when it pays to be a part of an organization that pulls together and helps others. So much for my independence.
I wasted lots of time on the internet and phone, trying to find areas of need that were reachable. Don learned that a friend in the flooded and neglected town of Wharton, was preparing a BBQ for over 400. We drove out and delivered some goods, but there was little else for us to do. The small group seemed to have everything under control. I was in awe, watching how smoothly they prepared for the crowds, around pots of beans and rice and the giant grill. This was a hardworking group, used to pulling together and helping one another. Cooking a pot of beans to feed 300 was no big deal. I took it in and vowed I would learn from what I saw.
Shelters and Centers
I felt disappointed the next day, that they didn't need my help when I showed up at an evacuation shelter in Richmond. I drove to a church shelter, but it had already closed. I don't know why it took me so long to realize I just needed to get back to being with the people in the centers, where I already volunteer. I had gone in circles for days, before returning to my senior groups and the kids at the Women's shelter. Everyone had been affected by the hurricane whether they had dealt with floods or not.
Helping Each Other
It was a joy to hug some of my sweet seniors and hear their stories. We had all been worried about each other when the center was closed for 10 days. We shared and then we forgot about Harvey and distracted ourselves with fun. I left realizing they had helped me as much as I'd helped them.
Kids and More Seniors
My Alzheimer's group delighted me with their ability to live in the moment. No one was talking about hurricanes! Then I moved on, to the Women's Shelter where the moms were the happiest to see me. After almost 2 weeks of school closings, there was a fair amount of tension in the air. After games and songs, puppets and outside play I left the kids worn out... but not as worn out as me.
So, in the future I'll try to remind myself to keep this guilt thing from getting in the way. Sometimes my urge to race out there and do something "big" distracts me from caring about the people who are right near me.
Hurricane Harvey - 3 Days After Landfall
Exactly a week ago, we woke to images on TV of the devastation in Houston. I couldn't imagine the horrors of escaping, in flood waters. I worried about the people I knew in those areas, 20 miles from our home in Sugar Land. But, I didn't worry about our house. Fort Bend County has had 3 major floods in 3 years and we've always been fine.
A Week Ago, Sunday
On Sunday, we grew more concerned as we learned about the Brazos River, which borders our neighborhood. Predictions of rising waters had us slightly on edge. Then, late Sunday night we got word of the mandatory evacuation and I suddenly realized how unprepared we were.
Luckily we had until the next day, but we began frantically working. I texted and phoned friends and neighbors for the next couple of hours, carrying the phone with me as I made endless trips up and down stairs... carrying what we could from the first floor to what we hoped would be the dry floor. At 2 am, we tried to sleep for a few hours, but it wasn't restful.
I scolded myself a few times as I carried boxes of memorabilia, photo albums and antique treasures upstairs. In August 2016, I had promised myself I would take a serious look at the collections that fill my house. Why hadn't I scanned all those old photos, like I said I would?
This time last year, I had just begun chemo treatments and often pondered the obvious question. "What is really important?" I was more anchored to home then, with so much time to stare at the "stuff" surrounding me. I did spend some time in the late summer and fall, sorting, deciding, donating and discarding. Now it's clear, those efforts hardly made a dent.
On Monday, before we locked up, I took one last look and hoped "the stuff" would be safe. Surely my grandmother's bears, the Sicilian puppet and the Uncle Sam doll, would be safe upstairs. Downstairs the only thing I really worried about was the old Meyer family table. I was pretty sure if we flooded, our lame attempt to lift the pedestal on bricks would not keep water from the lion's mouths. I said good-bye to the house.
4 Nights Away... Then Home
During our hectic scramble to get out, we changed our evacuation plan 3 times. News of flooded roads stopped our attempts to leave town. We ended up staying in a safe home, thanks to our generous friends.
It felt odd that first night, to eat dinner in a nice home, 3 miles from our evacuated neighborhood. I allowed myself to imagine the river rising 59 feet and flooding all our homes. Oddly though, I felt calm. I thought back to those anxious hours of frantic decisions and stair climbing and it suddenly seemed like the biggest stress was over. "If we lose it all, that will be okay." (I may have been fooling myself) But maybe a year ago, I really did learn more about what's important. It seems so cliche, to claim your cancer taught you that. But this past year, I've begun to face the reality that our "treasures" and "keepsakes" can be a burden. I had 4 nights to stew over that, before we returned to our dry home.
We came home yesterday and I spent a fair amount of time planning how I could volunteer this week. Today, I have spent many hours making more decisions as I put things back in order... and box up the things, I now plan to part with.
Cancer to Covid
I started this complaining list/blog, in May 2016. I posted 200 gripes about my breast cancer and then I was done.
On March 17, 2020, I started venting all over again, when another disease (starting with a C) interfered with my life. Only this time, it was affecting more than me.
Coronavirus and Cancer! Both are evil, but neither can totally get me down... if I vent! I hope with Covid, I run out of complaints before 200!