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00 -finding pinecones-

Two Sunday mornings ago when the rain finally stopped, I ventured outside. Fallen branches greeted me, a bit embarrassed to be on the grass.

That’s because three Tuesdays ago a fierce Westerly Wind roared over the water, ripped past our town, raged up the hill, right through and around MacMurtree the tree. Try as Mac might to be flexible, the Wind won the wrestle, ripping off branches that crashed to the ground.

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And nearby those branches, all over the yard, I found pinecones. Knocked loose from their limbs, still tightly coiled and sealed in sweet sap.

I felt sorrow to see them sprawled on the lawn because I remember last summer, how I sat on my picnic blanket, witnessing dainty gold-dusted fairy seeds fluttering free.

I herded the pinecones into a pile. They didn’t know what to do next, stunned anxious at their unexpected separation.

“How are we supposed to seed forests?” they cried, rolling around on the ground in dismay. “We’re supposed to stay on our limbs and open up slowly. We’re not ready for this!!”

“I don’t know,” I replied, feeling their angst.“Come up on the porch. Come sit with me and we’ll figure it out.”

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While they gathered themselves and their thoughts, I ran inside and brought back a book. I thought they could use some encouraging words.

Pinecones - 1

“I know you’re not where you thought you should be. That means your Plans must become entirely new. You’re gonna need Courage for that!”

Pinecones - 3

The pinecones lined up to listen, and we all wondered what words might spill forth from the pages to bolster their spirits.

Pinecones - 5

I fluttered pages at random to see what the old book hoped these friends might find out. A bird pulled up a fencepost to listen.

Pinecones - 7 bird

“Give us, O give us, the person who sings at her work. I found words by Thomas Carlyle. One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst marching to music.”

The bird whistled Yes!

“What song might you hear in your heart?” I asked the pinecones.

“Lollipop, lollipop!” one pinecone piped up after the briefest of pause.

“We are the Champions my friends” sang another with lyrics.

Pinecones - 10 text

After the singing slowed down I read further down on the page.

“No pinecone is born into this world, whose work is not born with her.

Pinecones - 11

“Like the tree seeds within me!” said this pinecone who then sat up straighter.

Pinecones - 5

I sat up straighter, too, realizing that Book’s favorite words in her pages weren’t all that these pinecones needed to know.

“Do any of you remember the wonder of where you come from?” I asked the dear lovely tree seeds.

Pinecones - 6

“We come from our mother, MacMurtree, a Deodar Cedar. She’s at least a century old, probably more,” said the eldest pinecone.

“We each belong to the Deodar family. In Sanskrit that’s devadāru, which means wood of the Gods.”

Pinecones - 12

“Why that means me! Daughter of the tree gods. Oh my! I better get up!” this one said out loud to herself.

Pinecones - 13

“Imagine the many trees waiting inside us!” said that one out loud.“There must be a way to get our Possibilities into the world.”

“I have an idea,” I said.“I have friends all over the planet. What if I put you each in a box and ask the Mail to take you someplace new? That will be like the Wind carrying your seeds, except this time you get to go along and see where they land. You’ll meet the most amazing people!”

“You can ask them to bring me inside where it’s warm,” said one pinecone.

“And put me on a table by a window so I can see where I am,” said another.

“I would enjoy spending the holidays with a family,” added that one.

“And,” I said,“as their fireplaces heat up their homes, your wings will unwind. And your fairy seeds will unfold from inside. Just like they would have next summer if you had stayed here.”

Their excitement was mounting as plans started to form.

“And perhaps, just perhaps,” I suggested, “they will know a good place with soil and sunshine and some magic. And on some sunny day, when a soft breeze is blowing, they’ll toss your seeds into the air and away they will float, just as they should. Just as they would have, but somewhere exotic and fun. It’s a bit avante garde, I suppose.

“How about it?”

Well, it took us a week to figure it out. We gathered up boxes. I found my address book. And seven brave pinecones volunteered for adventure.

Pinecones - 15-inbox

Into boxes they jumped. Tucked in with some branches. And a note with instructions.  P.S. Watch out for the sap, we said.

Not everyone wanted to travel. And that is just fine. One for sure is staying with me. Another one asked to be strapped by the birdhouse so she can try spreading her wings in the spring.

And this group, well they’re having fun talking. So they’re hanging out on the porch for a little while longer. They don’t mind the rain.

Pinecones - 16-rain

Check your mailbox!!

Here’s the wordless musical version:

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We interrupt our regularly posted Emotikin photo-stories to add our story to “The Next Big Thing” a blog chain winding its way through the internet from SheWrites.com.  I’m happy to participate by answering 10 questions about my new book, Damocles’ Wife. Many thanks to Deborah Strobin for inviting me to join.

damocles-emotikin-posterized

1.  What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Under the Sword of DamoclesThe book is titled Damocles’ Wife: The Inside Story of Cancer Caregiving & Long-Term Survival in the Midst of Motherhood, Marriage & Making Life Matter. You wouldn’t believe how many working titles I had and how many years it took to find the right one!  I had settled on the subtitle before the title came to me.

Only Scott and I knew, as we feasted, that a sharp samurai sword hung in the air over our table, over Scott’s head, his Sword of Damocles. From where I sat, I could see it quite plainly. Is that the caregiver’s curse—to notice that sword on a thread more often, more clearly, than the patient himself? It was time to step out from under that sword.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a feeling as soon as my husband was diagnosed with his brain tumor that I would want to write a book someday to capture what was going on inside my head and heart and maybe help others on the same path. I also credit Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I read the Little House on the Prairie series too many times as a kid, assuming everyone kept journals to someday write books based on their own life.

Scott sat on the exam table and I sat in the chair, facing the door. Such a small room, I was thinking, seeming narrow enough for my hands to push out on both walls, left to right, as if reality was already squeezing in. We didn’t talk. I kept clicking my ballpoint pen, poised over my brand new five-subject spiral notebook, and I turned to the third blank page, as if leaving room for a title and preface. It’s a habit I have with all my new notebooks

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Cancer caregiver memoir. I’d file it under “Health & Healing” with non-fiction cancer or caregiving or self help books.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, John Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick were already us in Phenomenon in 1996 – before our own story even started in 1998. For Damocles’ Wife on the big screen, I used to imagine Helen Hunt for me and for Scott, Mark Ruffalo (ironically, he actually had his own benign brain tumor in 2002). Since most of the book is when we’re only 33 years old, I’ll have to think of younger actors now!

It was two years after Phenomenon when Scott’s brain tumor arrived. Watching our videotape of the movie one night, we gasped at the moment when the character was diagnosed with an astrocytoma.

“God, maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop crying when we first saw the movie. Remember? What if part of me knew this was coming.”

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

These one-sentence rules are just SO hard! I’m trying to become a rule-breaker, so here’s my two:

Damocles’ Wife reveals the inner journey of a cancer caregiver, a young wife and mother whose husband becomes a long-term survivor of brain cancer. It’s the whole family’s story of summoning courage, hope and faith while learning to cope not only with the practical aspects of cancer and caregiving but, most essentially, how to really survive—in your soul.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is self-published under Two Louise Press … “because I could.” I learned the ropes in my former publishing job and I love the whole process of book editing and design, too.

7.   How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I lived my first draft by writing in my journals and wrote emails to document our cancer treatment phase, so that was about one year. Then a few years later I spent one focused hard-working summer to write actual chapters. That was wrapped between a few incredibly supportive semesters in a writing group under Women Writing for (a) Change. Some parts were really hard to remember and to put into words.

All summer of 2004, I had been struggling to write our stem cell chapter, still trapped in my fear on the church lawn that long-ago Sunday morning. But now I thought I could write of it, starting with the meaning of the oriole moment.

The bird story poured out on paper, but when I tried again to recreate the day in 1999, I was still stumped, unable to release my memory clamped shut by fear. So I revisited my 7/11/99 journal entry, looking for clues to my courage back then.

8.   What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

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As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked long and hard, this is the first cancer caregiving memoir to cover long-term survival. Most books for caregivers are non-fiction “how to” books and memoirs are written after a patient dies. Cancer survival, for us at least, was surprisingly harder than the treatment — facing permanent disability and how life changes so much.  There are cancer survival books written by the patient. Embrace, Release, Heal by three-time cancer survivor Leigh Fortson (who is my friend) is a memoir that addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects, and alternative medicine — it’s from the patient’s perspective not the caregiver’s. Mine is a hybrid memoir that shows the practical tools in action for facing cancer and also delves into the inner life of the caregiver. There are classic books that just help address the spiritual aspect of deep change that inspired me to keep going.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Julie with her Emotikin in 2003I had so much inspiration. The samurai-like bravery of my husband Scott for the way he faced his cancer, and my good friend Julie (pictured here), who had breast cancer at the same time (she was our trailblazer, with her diagnosis one month sooner than Scott’s).  And as the years unfolded, we became friends with so many other young couples facing brain tumors. Having met them made us feel more hopeful and connected, and I wanted to pay it forward by sharing our story in depth. Finally, our neuro-oncologist is one of the very few in the country who is beating the odds for brain cancer survival, so this is also a tribute to him and his team. Also see #10 below!

As we cleaned up the dishes and put plastic wrap on the leftover pies, Scott and I talked about how impressed we were by the McDowell’s calm grace and their willingness to interrupt their own treacherous, hectic journey to spend an hour with us. They didn’t come to solve our problems, but to share a slice of pie and their compassion.

“I hope we can do the same thing for other patients some day,” I said.

“Me, too,” he agreed.

You can meet someone with another type of cancer and feel some sense of connection. But until you meet someone with the same diagnosis, in the same boat, the same situation, you can’t help but feel alone, as if nobody has walked in your shoes.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My son was only four-years old at the time his dad was diagnosed, and so much of the book is about being a mom and all the considerations like child care, separation anxiety, talks about death, anger. On top of that, my mom is a long-term survivor of ovarian cancer, but her survival was a mystery to me and the book reflects on that.

And then there’s the Healing Touch, a complementary energy medicine treatment, that I think was as essential to  our family’s health/soul-survival as it was to coping with Scott’s brain surgeries, chemo, radiation and stem-cell rescue.

Caregiver burnout is a real thing and a health crisis that people are just starting to talk about – this book is my small way of trying to raise awareness by offering our story like a case study. In April 2012, TEDMED named “The Caregiving Crisis” the #2 most important health and medical issue of the year. My book is part of a caregiver support website that began long before the book called www.CaregiverHope.com.

Finally, as a clue to what I allude to in chapter 47, Learning to Play, this Emotikin website represents the creative project that saved me from caregiver burnout before I could even begin writing my book.

Creativity was my lifeboat. It not only kept me afloat, but it gave me the buoyancy to lift my arms and my face to the surface, frog kicking, breast stroking my way to the shore. Creativity was swinging from a rope like Tarzan’s transformed Jane, letting go, falling, feet first in a pond, squealing and yelling just to be loud, not caring how stupid you look soaking wet in a swimsuit. Skinny dip, if you dare. 

bella-wil-atriver-posterizedBella Luna’s photographic debut on the banks of the Colorado River, April 2003.

P.S. I have some emails out to other writers but don’t have names to list yet for the blog chain.

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Does Emotikin’s wife have an ever better view of that damn sword?

Under the Sword of Damocles

Get out from under that Damocles Sword

Read Damocles’ Wife to see how one family learned how to get out
from under that sword and finally embrace life with all of its changes.

Read Damocles' Wife

Damocles’ Wife: The Inside Story of Cancer Caregiving & Long-Term Survival in the Midst of Motherhood, Marriage & Making Life Matter
by Shelly L. Francis  

If you’ve ever wondered how you might find the courage, hope, and faith to face the challenges of cancer and caregiving, you’re not alone. Damocles’ Wife reveals the inner journey of a cancer caregiver, a young wife and mother whose husband becomes a long-term survivor of brain cancer.

Follow their story, inside and out, through nine months of treatment: brain surgery, radiation, tumor doubles, second opinions, second surgery–this time awake–with photodynamic therapy, chemo, chemo, chemo, then high-dose chemotherapy with stem-cell rescue. Recovery…

Given a prognosis of two to five years, maybe ten, for his astrocytoma, Scott invoked his inner samurai to face aggressive traditional treatment, combined with integrative medicine like Healing Touch. Meanwhile, Shelly called on her inner resources, plus the rest of Scott’s caregiving crew, so that she could take care of him, herself, and their preschooler son, Wil, and still be standing no matter what.

This is the whole family’s story of learning to cope not only with the practical aspects of cancer and caregiving but, most essentially, how to really survive—in your soul. Join their journey as they learn to take down the Sword of Damocles hanging over Scott’s head and finally embrace life with all of its changes.

The first caregiver memoir to address long-term cancer survival, Damocles’ Wife will resonate with families facing cancer of all kinds, families dealing with chronic illness, disability, and dementia, as well as families of returning soldiers now facing life with traumatic brain injury.

What is the Sword of Damocles ( DAM-uh-kleez) ?

Read more about Damocles at WikipediaIn Damocles’ Stories, the foreword written by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD (author of Women Who Run with the Wolves), readers will gain insight into the cultural legend of the Sword of Damocles (pronounced DAM-uh-kleez) from Greek history and her own “peasant” family’s stories passed down through generations. The anecdote originates from the 4th century court of Dionysius II, as told by Cicero. A courtier, Damocles, so admired and pandered to the king that Dionysius invited Damocles to sit on his throne at a feast. But he arranged for a sharp sword to hang over Damocles’ head by the single hair of a horse’s tail, proving to Damocles the sense of constant fear under which “the great man lives.” (Illustration from the Damocles entry in WikipediaRichard Westall’s Sword of Damocles, 1812.)

In 1981, researchers named Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, and John D. O’Malley, MD, authored a book called TheDamocles’ Syndrome in which they described the long-term, persistent fear that survivors of childhood cancer feel, ever wondering when their cancer might return and kill them.

In Damocles’ Wife, Shelly Francis offers her own viewpoint of how cancer caregivers are perhaps even more aware of that Sword of Damocles’ hanging over the head of their loved one and what the threat of cancer recurrence means for their own unknown future. Here is an excerpt from Damocles’ Wife:

“Only Scott and I knew, as we feasted, that a sharp samurai sword hung in the air over our table, over Scott’s head, his Sword of Damocles. From where I sat, I could see it quite plainly. Is that the caregiver’s curse—to notice that sword on a thread more often, more clearly, than the patient himself? It was time to step out from under that sword.”

Download Chapter One (PDF)

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Reading Rock Chick Rescue in bed

Reading "Rock Chick Rescue" in bed

I decided that my Creative Every Day Challenge today (other than being creative at work which doesn’t necessarily count for CED2010, or creating a colorful salad for dinner, or taking a few mobile photos while walking home today sans Emotikin) is going to be reading my new favorite book, Rock Chick Rescue by my favorite sexy mystery-romance writer friend, Kristen Ashley. The green cover just happens to be in keeping with my green-week theme.

This is the second in Kristen’s Rock Chick series, which my bookgroup read last summer and then met at The Hornet on 76 Broadway to discuss it (because much of the book takes place in the Baker District and downtown Denver). Being a Denver native, I love her crowd of colorful characters you wish you could party with (but you might be too shy), or meet at the coffee shop and live vicariously through their raucous hot escapades while sipping a latte and pretending to read. Her version of a bookstore/coffee shop, Fortnums, makes me wish our Starbucks could be like that! Well, not counting the crazy crime scenes.

Last night I devoured the first 45 pages over a quiet solo dinner. Then devoured more til midnight, reading in bed. Tonight, I need to pry the book out of Emotikin’s hands (big Emotikin and Tattoo Emotikin were fighting over who got to read it during the photo shoot)  so I can find out what happens next with Jet and Eddie.

Thanks a LOT Kristen!

Getting to the good stuff in "Rock Chick Rescue"

Getting to the good stuff in "Rock Chick Rescue"

Read Kristen’s website and blog about her books series
and media attention in the UK, where she lives & writes
(and makes us who know & love her proud).

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