Tag Archives: Cancer

The Blackboard, or, “My Cancer Recovery Meme”

Picture a blackboard. On the blackboard are written two paragraphs, in chalk. The first one reads:

A nurse walks in to the cubicle. She is dressed in a hazmat suit. Fluid-proof gown down to her shins. Booties over her shoes. There’s a paper cap over her hair. She wears a face mask with clear plastic eye protection. On her hands, industrial-strength rubber gloves. She carries a 60cc syringe (very large!) filled with a red liquid called “The Red Devil”. This is the Infusion Center, where chemotherapy happens. She injects the liquid, all of it, into the port in my right upper chest. The chest tubing dumps the chemotherapy agent, Adriamycin, into a subclavian vein, which only has a few inches to go to my right heart where the poison gets circulated to every cell in my body.

The second paragraph goes like this:

I haven’t looked at my chest in the mirror yet. It’s been several weeks since the bilateral mastectomy and the bandages covered me for the first two weeks. I’m beginning to feel a bit stronger and maybe I’m ready to take a look at myself. I have to do it someday. So far, I’ve been quite skillful in taking care of myself without actually looking at my chest, mostly because David has been monitoring my wounds and bandages. But today’s the day, so I look. It’s bad. But, I knew it would be. Livid red scars running across my chest where my beautiful breasts used to be. I am now concave. I don’t have  any flesh at all there. I look like an old, old man. I take a deep breath and remind myself that the surgery saved my life. I may have been in hospice by now without any treatment. So, if this is the way it’s going to be, well, I can live with that. The scars will fade. Then, I notice a small, pale pink dot, about a quarter of an inch wide, down near the scar on my right chest. Is that a piece of surgical adhesive? Suddenly, I feel sick. I sit down hard on the toilet seat. That little pale mole is one that used to ride high on my breast, like a little ornament. Now its several inches lower and flat against my rib. I start to cry…

Well, the good thing is that these two paragraphs are getting erased, bit by bit, from the blackboard. It started right away, the first time I could walk farther than around the block with David. It happens every time I laugh with my daughter. An eraser comes into the picture and removes a few more letters.


The Tramper Voyage is helping. Each time something wonderful happens, the eraser comes along and removes some of the paragraph. Looking up at the starry sky at Baxter State Park.  Gracie smiling at me when we played together. Swimming in the warm Gulf of Mexico at Cape San Blas. Zealen running out in the morning saying “I’m a blueberry!!” because he dressed himself all in blue. Riding a bike out into the beautiful wilderness with David.

At these times I am filled up with happiness and more words are erased.


I’m not the only person in the world with a blackboard. These paragraphs, written in chalk, are my own personal events from cancer treatment. But, everyone has a blackboard, deep inside, where hurtful things are written. Nobody gets through life without one. The trick is to let awesome things happen, then recognize that your own personal blackboard is slowly being erased.


I fully realize that my rate of erasure is accelerated by being on an extended vacation. But, good things and good people happen everywhere, all the time. Even at work. Sometimes, even in traffic!

With grace and love and hope, we can all heal.

– Jane

“He said”, “She said” – WHY we are doing this ?…

Here, on this post, we both address the question “Why are we doing this?”. For some, the answer is obvious. They know why. Others, well, we just might be sharing a bit of inspiration to get you going on your own Tramper Voyage. We’ll explain how we, ordinary middle class people with debt, are able to do this, in another post. 

We didn’t read each other’s entries so there may be duplications.


Why?:  Well of course, haven’t you ever wished your vacation would last “just a few more days”?  I like to play.  If you know me well enough though, you’ll concede I love to work too.  Balancing both is not an automatic function for me.  I often have to remind myself to leave work, to not go see “one more patient”, or to just sit still for a change.  My most common activity after a full day at work is to stuff in a meal, head for my workshop and attack some project or home repair until just minutes before going to sleep.  I’m told I have 2 speeds, busy and asleep.  Most of our biggest home projects (including several of over 400 hours) were all completed while also working full-time and without investing significant vacation time into them.  It is this same drive that completed the camper and safening-up the truck just before this adventure.

With this zeal, I bike, ski, hike or just plain have fun.  I find laughter easily and love nothing more than to share it.  In the 80’s I moved to Silverthorne, Colorado and taught skiing, such that I skied 183 days in one year.  Some of my skiing peers left the Rockies for South America or New Zealand for Winters there.  Play can be a way of life.  Teaching all abilities and ages of people is an avenue into their joys and ways.  I know from those days that too much work dulls me.  PT has held my interest longer than any other career or job and I expect it will do so for many more years to come.

Jane and I imagined some of this trip to follow “retirement”, that traditional time when we would have more time, to have earned enough money to “stop working”.  In the hospital I see the tragic reality of people not being well enough to get out there and do those things they’ve planned.  Jane’s Cancer shook our world.  It could come back any time, or I could find one of my own.   Or, I could “get hit by a bus” as they say.

I wanted to go from place to place, adventure to adventure and not agonize over a “vacation ending too soon”.  So many times I go to some incredible place or just meet a great group of people there and have to “rush back on Monday for work”.  I feel anyone who can arrange a dream deserves to try it.


I love the world.  I love mountains, streams, valleys and the variety found in nature.  A mountain vista is not a coffee-table book to look at.  I love to be a part of it, to sweat the work of uphills, and generally just to say “weee!”  I love to share that glee and my overall zest for life.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If I felt any need to “justify” this much fun, and I don’t, I would think back to my 23 credit semester in undergrad.  I would think back to grinding through Physical Therapy School at University of Maryland, Baltimore.  I would think about coming in early, leaving late at work everywhere I’ve ever worked.  Or being oily and covered with various grits or metal dusts as a machinist.  Wearing earplugs, eye protection and a respirator for eight hours makes for a long day.  I always seem to throw myself into projects or jobs, so its only natural to throw myself into this.

A little rust repair but the price was right

A little rust repair but the price was right

Some other dreams of mine simmer still.  They include sailing the Intracoastal Waterway.  Riding a motorcycle on a cool trip.  Introducing people to some of the many skills I’ve been blessed with.  Growing more of my own food, raising animals for milk or meat.  None of these are off the table.  I hope you have a bunch of your own dreams too.  The “daily grind” sort of camouflages and envelopes dreams.  Credit cards pound your possibilities lower.  The biggest dream killer is “evaluation”, thinking “I can’t do that”.  Other people are often incredulous; listen to them too much and that can stop you too.


Another big motivator is our own surprise in our “fifties” at our current ability to bike, hike, and ski.  With a little pre-season prep, a sensible plan and tempered paces we “go for six hours and more”.  We can’t imagine this duration or intensity at 65  or 70 years old.  Our midlife career changes almost guarantee we’ll be working way past 62.  So, there is NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT!  We are in the Tramper Voyage, an adventure of a lifetime.  Join us if you can, whether online, in spirit or at any stop along the way.

– David


Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I went on vacation to the Outer Banks every September. Our group of several young couples rented an isolated beach house. We stayed on the beach all day and prepared gourmet meals in the evening in the spacious house. It was idyllic, to say the least. I remember with what great longing I wanted my life to always be like our Hatteras weeks. Leisure, exercise, lots of time outdoors, visiting with friends. Reality always called me painfully back to the world of working, home maintenance, traffic and bill-paying.

But, then, inevitably, I grew up. Maturity cast a hazy distance over those free, wild weeks of my youth. I became totally engaged and happy with child-rearing and returning to college for a career I loved.

Years passed and, being a realist, I thought little about the life of leisurely exploring the beautiful world around all of us. Oh, there were trips and vacations aplenty. Wonderful trips into the wild or off on a bike or to a child’s playground. But, always there was a returning, too soon, to the “real” world.

But, over time, things happen that offer lessons. Lessons about how fragile and short life is. Lessons like the one my brother-in-law, Ed, taught me. Ed worked very long and very hard at his job as an investment banker. His dream was to live on the water and roam around on a boat. They bought the house on the water, but soon after, Ed was diagnosed with lymphoma. He died before he could enjoy the boat and take it out on the sea. The boat’s name? “SOMEDAY”. Ed’s ‘someday’ never happened.

As a health care worker, I see many people who retire only to find that they can no longer do the things they loved because of sickness or infirmity. Sometimes, sickness or infirmity happen very shortly after the long-awaited retirement date. So, there’s a lifetime of working and, of necessity, putting off ‘someday’. Then ‘someday’ never comes.

Some of the lessons we got at our jobs were joyful ones, of course. Like patient Louis C, who, well into his ninety’s, was as spry and quick-witted as you could want to be. Witnessing his sparkle, he would be asked for his secret. He summed it up thusly: “Don’t let the chair get ya!” Good advice, for daily living and good health. But it’s also good advice for life, especially if you paraphrase a bit to “Don’t let the negative get ya!”

Then, two days before Christmas in 2009, I got the hardest lesson of all. Stage 3 breast cancer. A very difficult year followed.

David and I had been talking about taking a sabbatical before the cancer diagnosis. Kind of a mini pre-retirement while we could still ski and mountain bike the way we like. Not a real sabbatical where they hold your job for you. Maybe even pay you a stipend? No, not that kind. A long trip. Longer than 2 weeks; longer that 8 weeks. Maybe for six months to a year!

Long enough to immerse ourselves in nature, to acclimate ourselves to be physically as strong as we can be, to ingratiate ourselves into the lives of far-flung family and friends and to indulge ourselves in seeing and experiencing some of the most beautiful things this country has to offer.

After cancer came calling, our resolve was strengthened. We bought a trailer. David spent two years fixing it up. We did the math and determined that we had just enough money for our trip. We dreamed of where we’d go.

Then, the ultimate step that made it all real: We quit our jobs!

On September 15, 2012 we pulled out of Towson, overloaded and overjoyed!

– Jane

(PS – I was feeling down one day, letting the negative run away with me, and I wrote this paragraph, which is now funny and completely unworthy of this blog post:

“People who do not take tramper voyages don’t go because they’re afraid of what might happen or because they think they can’t afford it. People don’t go on tramper voyages b/c they know that crap, ridiculous crap, happens everywhere. Things you buy turn out to be crap, services you depend on turn out to be unreliable, people let you down, no matter if you’re on an extended vacation or fully in the rat race. It’s very disappointing to experience this crap when you’ve set up your expectations that things will go well, because you feel you’ve done such a good job of insulating yourself. People don’t go on tramper voyages because they know that crap follows you everywhere.”)

DAY 20 – 10/4/2012 somewhere in the Maine Woods, in which we see a moose!

Impossibly tall, with an appearance at once majestic and goofy, we rounded a corner and saw a Moose! On bikes on the logging road, we were about 40 yards away. We knew he was a boy – he had a beautiful rack of antlers. Agog, we could barely get the camera out for a few photos as he stalked away into the trees. We’ve never been in close proximity to a moose before – just distant glimpses in Wyoming.

We had set up camp on a wooded rise at the confluence of Machias River and the West Branch of the Machias. This night, we were in an actual campsite. It was about 5 miles into the woods on the dirt logging road. But the campsite was completely deserted at this time of year except for us and the birds and chipmunks. After our moose bike ride, we put the kayak in the Machias at our camp.

I used to do sprint-distance triathlons. Doing two out of the three sports in a training session was called a ‘brick’. So, on this day in the beautiful wilds of Maine, our brick was a bike ride and paddle.

Gratitude was the overriding emotion of the day for me. I am grateful that, after the cancer ordeal, here I am, in this beautiful place far from civilization. I’m also so grateful for my wonderful husband, who really made this possible. We’re just ordinary middle-class people. Yet we were able to stop working for awhile and go off into the woods. Absolutely priceless!

We don’t shoot the rapids. We only paddle up to take the picture of the rapids!

– Jane

Good News!

We are celebrating! The frozen section done during surgery was NEGATORY for cancer! Whew!! Dodged a bullet on that one.

There are more pathology results to come but I believe they will also be negative since the frozen section was negative.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts and prayers. It means so much.

We leave tomorrow or Sunday. We’ll do a phone consult with the surgeon next week. I won’t be able to bike for awhile but I don’t really care ’cause I’m in the cancer-free zone! Woo hoo!!


– Jane

at the Rattling Creek Single Trackers’ Mountain Bike Bash a few years ago

Everyone needs a Mantra: “The Mechanic Way Will Have His Way”

Dory had: “Just keep swimming”.  Lucky fish. Every time they see the little castle its a new surprise. (or at least Ani DiFranco says so).  Here I sit again in a hospital waiting room while Jane gets another procedure.  It’s an odd state, just me and my thoughts…how do I keep them positive.  During chemo I liked reading Jane’s blog (janesposse) because I learned things she wasn’t saying out loud.  One day I realized in my empty house that if she didn’t make it she would have insisted that I grieve then recover and celebrate her life and my own.  Fortunately she made it through that ordeal.  Today I pore through my orthopedic knowledge that most fractured clavicles don’t heal.   Metastasis is not the only reason a clavicle wont heal.  Non-unions are common.  During the amazing flexibility of shoulder ROM the clavicle rotates  60 degrees during its vertical and angular translation.  When people sleep, they can’t help but lay on it so the bone  often doesn’t knit well and folks just get a cute little bump while they return to function.

The origin of  “The Mechanic Way Will Have His Way” goes 14 years back to moving into our current home.  the ceiling fan was warm, wet, and still turned on after we took possession of the house!  I took down the trashed plaster lathe ceiling, to find the tub drain in the bathroom above leaking.  Jane watched as I moved through a progression of “Bigger Wrenches”.  When I hung on a 6 foot cheater bar (extension for a pipe wrench) and the pipe didn’t budge, Jane said; “thats never going to come apart”.  My reply:  “Don’t worry, The Mechanic Will Have his Way”.  (In the end, I used a sawzall to cut neatly through the fittings, just kissing the threads of the pipe I wanted to preserve.  The culprit unscrewed like butter or some better analogy).

Since that day, every time I face an insurmountable barrier, I think….”Don’t worry, The Mechanic Will Have his Way”.

Yup, at work, under the car, looking at bounced checks, in traffic…any time I need to remind myself to relax (Don’t tell Jane to Relax)…just keep swimming.  Each morning, if you’ve been fortunate enough to sleep well in that safe place we call our bed, you wake up”Re-set”.  Think about it, muscles healing and a new perspective: EVERY MORNING!

Treasure your mantra