When I began this post, I thought I would write about something light and cheerful, like the fun leading up to the Kentucky Derby, or the interesting restaurant where I ate last week. But this is a more serious post; one I thought may help others make decisions and make changes in their lives. (OK, those of you who like light posts may want to leave now. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh, my!) In this post I am baring my soul to you in hopes of helping someone else with decision making. I am getting better at it.
One of the most beautiful places on earth to me is Dale Hollow Lake. It has parts in Kentucky and Tennessee. We stay on the Tennessee side at Obey River. Parts of our family have gone there since about 1963. I took a break for several years when my kids were growing up. My parents took the girls some of the years I stayed home. When my girls were in their teens, I wanted to go back and enjoy the lake with my three daughters and my family. My husband is not a big fan of camping, so it was the three girls and me. We bought a tent, shade for our table, an outdoor tablecloth, and some other basics for camping. We pulled out sleeping bags, pillows, and flashlights. We packed our swimming and camping clothes, and loaded our mini-van to head to the lake. When we arrived, we had lots of help, and the tent was up in no time.
Some of the things I loved about the lake at this time were as follows:
I loved waking up in the tent and hearing my family all around me, cooking breakfast, working on the boats, going for ice trips to fill our coolers.
I loved packing a lunch and going out for the day with my family. Sometimes we packed a whole lunch, and sometimes we brought sides and my brother-in-law, Wendell, would cook hot dogs for us.
I loved pouring on the sunscreen and then getting in a position where I could get the best tan. I also loved riding in the front of the boat, the wind whipping through my hair.
I loved being in the boat all day, watching the skiers ski and the younger ones try to ride all types of boards. Everyone took a turn tubing, and one sister and her husband brought a jet ski, which added to the fun. I loved hopping out of the boat at every stop because it was so hot!
I loved cleaning up in the bathhouse and going out to dinner with the gang; afterward there was a campfire and singing. We talked and dozed in the lawn chairs until we eventually made ourselves go to the tent.
Those were all the things I loved about the week at the lake.
Then in June of 2007, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I told myself that I would make it through treatments and be just like I was before cancer.
Unfortunately, as a result of treatments, I developed lymphedema. When lymph nodes are taken out to test for cancer, the lymph system breaks down in that area. The condition is chronic, and can cause fatigue, swelling, depression and pain. The way to control lympedema, or LE, is to wear a medical compression that keeps the limb from swelling. I was just getting used to wearing my arm sleeve and felt that it was very manageable, when I developed LE all down my trunk. This was a different ballgame. Now I was learning to wear compression on my right arm and also from my shoulders to mid-thigh. The truncal compression helped with the swelling, but could not keep it totally at bay. I had to begin nerve blockers and anti-anxiety meds to help with the pain.
Yes, I wear all of the above: arm sleeve (except mine has a gauntlet to cover my hand with only the tips of my fingers exposed), truncal compression (mine is skin toned), compression bra, and night compression, which is a quilted set (mine is hot pink – I was just trying to mix it up a little). You understand that these are models. It is not this pretty in real life. Not at all.
When I visited one of my doctors and described our lake vacation, she said, “You know that cannot be part of your life anymore.” Her statement caused me to try to find a way to continue to enjoy the lake as if I had never had LE. For the last five years, I have gone to the lake and tried to pretend like I was just like everyone there.
When talk of the trip began this year, I went ahead and paid a deposit on my cabin. I can no longer sleep outdoors because of the heat and because I use medical devices that need electricity to run them. As the trip was getting closer, I began to have my doubts about going. I decided to make a list of what I enjoy about this vacation now.
I still love being with my family, but it is different. One or two of my girls may come now, but it is irregular. As young adults, they have built their own lives.
The lake now is this to me:
I wake up alone in a cabin across the road from the campground, as I can no longer camp.
I put on a Miracle swimsuit, which offers some compression. I add an athletic compression top and actually put my life jacket on to help with compression. The total of the three comes nowhere near to the amount of compression I need.
I drive to the campground and find a lawn chair that I can lie all the way back in to keep my fluids at bay until time to get on a boat.
Once in the boat, if I lean back right, I can be comfortable for about an hour. I jump in the water as many times as I possibly can, because water is a natural compressor.
After a couple of hours of being in the boat, I could easily be finished for the day, but we have headed far from our campground by that time, and I don’t want to ask anyone to drive me back. When we leave the boats for the day, after about six hours and many different positions later, I drive back to my cabin and change quickly to meet everyone for dinner. I am always late.
After dinner, we have a campfire. There is no longer music. We usually get a late start and I have to leave the campground before 10:00 PM when the gates close.
I go back to my cabin, where I do my therapy and go to bed.
When I looked at this second list, I knew that I was trying to hang on to something that was very different than when I started camping again. I don’t like to think about it, and I still don’t accept it in many areas, because I don’t want to admit that cancer did change my life, mostly through the LE. It is so much better and so much healthier for me to just admit the changes and then say, “What am I still able to do?” I am still able to go to the pool, where I can lie flat or spend most of the time in the water, and I can leave when I get tired.
I am not writing this for self-pity; I just realize that when I begin to make lists in the ways things are different in my life, I am actually facing my situation, and learning that I need to make the adjustments to take of myself and enjoy life.
I know there are much bigger decisions; this is just a decision about a traditional lake trip. Some of you deal with decisions I can’t even begin to comprehend. I am just pointing out the benefits of listmaking and how lists help me make decisions.
By the way, I cancelled my cabin right after I made this list. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever go back to Dale Hollow, or I may not go in the same way. Hopefully, I have many years to go and enjoy what I can.
Have you ever had a decision that was important for you to make? How did you arrive at your conclusion?