" I implore you, my child; observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of nothing (ex nihilo), and that mankind comes into being in the same way..." 2 Maccabees 7:28

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A typical youth hostel.

Email sent Aug. 2 2005

HI ,everyone!

Still doing well and have not yet collapsed from electrolyte imbalance thanks to mass intake of Polish gatorade.

Sorry, Dad- I have not asked your average man on the streets his opinion on the current administration in America for 2 reasons- first, normal people don't begin conversations that way, even outside the US and second, because the average man- on- the streets speaks only Polish and I can't pantomime "how do you REALLY feel about the Bush administration? When you come to Poland you can give it a try.

I have been very interested in the way the Polish relate to Catholicism and it is clear, after a few days here that it is a bit more complex than I originally thought. They do seem to have deep ties to their faith, but it doesn't always look the way I would've thought. When POland was split up into various pieces and parcelled off to neighboring countries, a common faith was really all that it had to remind itself of who it was and that it still existed, despite all the turmoil. However, I was very surprised at Sunday mass to notice that out of a full church (maybe 150 people) only about 20 or so received communion- an extremely small percentage. In fact, it was over so quickly that I missed it. People don't come out and line up to receive as we are accustomed to doing, rather they just sort of move towards the end of the pew and the priest gives communion to the few interested, mainly the elderly. In fact, the priest doesn't even come into the second half of the church at all. It seems to be understood that if you are going to receive communion you would sit towards the front. I was sitting behind a whole family- mother, father and three young kids, and none of them made any effort to receive communion.

Well, the hostel is filling up now and I have a bunch of male roomates. Right now in the next room the guys are talking about where the best strip clubs are and how "hot Polish women are, despite the fact that they don't photograph well". What a bunch of pigs. The one doing all the talking is American, too. If he's my roomate, I'm gonna urinate on his bunk.

Well, I was gonna write a long e-mail but these dorks in the next room are breaking my concentration. I'll write later.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2 of 4

Today I'm in Krakow. It is a beautiful city- full of things to do. I really don't know what to take pictures of, as I don't really enjoy looking at pictures of other peoples vacation spots. I grudgingly take a picture of Wawel castle solely because I feel I have to, but I take 3 of some chubby little baby trying to feed the pigeons. I think I was kind of creeping her parents out.

At Wawel castle, which is also the cathedral where JP II lived while he was bishop of Krakow, there is a spot that is supposed to be one of the seven "chakra" spots in the world. So there are these hippie types who stand in this particularily "charged" corner of the courtyard and there are smudges on the wall where pepole try to hug it ( I hope that's what they're trying to do). I did get a picture of a goofy guy standing funny. I wonder if these people know that this area was once Nazi headquarters in Poland? Wouldn't that have a damaging effect on the chakra? Apparently not.

Today, instead of taking the "pope train" to the JP II sites I pulled a yuppie maeuver and just got a cab driver to take me to them (the train schedule was too kooky and I would be stuck in each place for too long). I fell for the oldest trick in the book, though; the old "oh, I said I'd take you there but you have to pay again if you want me to take you back..." Sheesh. I would have called him some choice words in Polish if I knew any, but it is so much more dramatic to speak words in righteous indignation than it is to rifle through a dictionary and end up settling for the one Polish word "sneak" only to find out later that it really has the connotation of "to smuggle". Oh, well. Better travellers than me have fallen for that trick, so at least I'm in good company. I settled for slamming his cab door. He didn't seem to pick up on my anger as he offered to drive me to Czestochowa the next day. Funny thing- I hear that there was a time when all the Polish old ladies had their hair dyed the same magenta color because it was the only dye available in the stores. It was either go magenta, or go gray. I saw a bunch of old women at a bus stop all with magenta hair- I guess some really grew to like it.

Here in Krakow I am staying in a hostel. It really is pretty nice for the price (about $15 a night). Krakow also has the reputation of being something of a party town though and most of my fellow residents stay up until the wee hours drinking and then don't arise until 10 am. The problem with hanging out with serious drinkers when one is not a serious drinker is that the same point where the non- drinker starts to think that these people are beginning to act ridiculous is the same point when the drinkers start thinking that things are REALLY getting fun. Luckily this works out okay for me, as I am first to get to bed and first in the shower in the morning. Since the bathrooms are co -ed, this really is a necessity rather than a luxury. They probably all think I'm an aspiring nun or something. The rooms are co- ed as well, but as there are not many people in the hostel right now, I have my own room . I hope I don't get a snorer.

Speaking of snorers... dad, how much is the PLN worth compared to the US dollar? I keep getting different answers.

Today I went out to Wadowice and saw the popes chldhood home which has now turned into a museum. I saw, among, other things, a pair of his socks, a can of wax that he used on his skis, and those brown plastic overlays you clip on to the front of your regular glasses to make them sunglasses. There were other things, like his report cards and various vestments, but those were the things I found most amusing.

Okay, Steve, so maybe Polish food isn't exactly good when you compare it to, say, Italian food, but when you compare it to itself it is not bad. Meaning that the odds are any given dish is slightly more likely to be good than bad, therefore Polish food is good.

It is raining outside very hard (the first since I've been here) so it is a nice break from the heat. I am in an internet cafe- don't worry about the KGB reading my e-mails, Jim. I figure I'm not telling them anything they didn't already know anyway.

Trisha, you would like it here in Krakow- lots of cheap clothing stores. Fortunately I have NO room in my backpack for acquiring anything new. Besides, shopping by yourself is boring. Maybe next year...

I also went today to the Shrine of Divine Mercy and the sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebredosca (or something like that) which is a whole village designed to be a miniature Holy Land. In the 1600's the owner realized that his land looked a lot like Jerusalem and set about making the transformation. Now it is. of course, a shrine for pilgrims and was the pope's favorite childhood shrine. Of course, everything out here was the pope's favorite something or other. It sells better that way. IN fact, when I leave here I am going to find a bakery that sells this cream cake said to be his favorite boyhood dessert.

God bless you all,


Friday, July 25, 2008

Poland #1

First of all, there are 2 new people to pray for;
Jackie- 29 years old with a brain tumor. This Monday at 7:30 am she goes in for surgery on her right frontal lobe, it will be removed.

Also Debbie, wife of blogger Anamchara (see new link on the right) whose wife also has a brain tumor.

A few years back I had a really difficult year, probably the hardest of my life, including this one. Anyway, in June I had this certainty that I needed to go to Poland. Rather a homebody by nature, I didn't want to go alone and searched for a friend to travel with. When none turned up, I assumed it wouldn't work out and the desire to go began to fade. Then one day I just overheard someone say the word "Poland" in another context, and out of nowhere the desire to go returned one hundred fold. So I made plans to go by myself- I would participate in a walking pilgrimage starting in Warsaw and finishing in Czestochowa on the Feast of the Assumption. We walked 150 miles in the rain and sun, slept in barns, etc. But before that I travelled by myself around Poland, visiting many shrines and sites related to John Paul II. But I was so profoundly lonely! Before the start of the pilgrimage, God and John Paul II were my only companions. Anyway, now that we are nearing that time of year again, I am revisiting the emails I sent during that time. It's a long post, sorry. You can stop reading now and there will be no hard feelings.

Made it here with no problems or glitches and have had an easy time getting around as well. I am in Warsaw now, but will leave for Krakow tomorrow morning. Everyone I have spoken to has said it is best to go to Warsaw first, because if you see Krakow first, then Warsaw is sort of disappointing. I foolowed Kasia's advice about people who are younger being more helpful and friendly than the older ones who worked under the communist regime. So far I have had only good experiences with all the various workers, although the guidebook referred to the train station agents as "monolingual grouches". Of course, I use my Polish dictionary and write down everything in Polish, so that helps as long as they don't ask me any questions.
The part of the city where my hotel is is big and ugly and very busy. My room overlooks a 5 way intersection and you cross the street by way of a circular underground tunnel with stairs back up to the street level every so often. I get really disoriented underground and can't tell where I am so I poke my head up every opening, get my bearings, then head back underground. I must look like one of those moles in that video game we used to play at the pizza parlor ("Whack- A- Mole, I think it's called) where the moles stick their heads up and you try to bang them with a mallet before they disappear.
Just 2 blocks away is the nice part of the city- Nowy Swiat I think it's called. Lots of upscale (for Poland) shops and colorful buildings leading to the city center which really starts to look European. It's all fairly close so I can get everywhere on foot.
The food is good and pretty inexpensive. They have these things called "milk bars", a relic from communism where the workers were supposed to be able to take their family out for a break. The food is simple and VERY inexpensive (bowl of soup for about .40 USD) but they have plain brown walls and no adornments at all. It is a bit dreary inside, really. Human beings need beauty. Some of the typical Polish food is a bit heavy- lots of sausage and pierogi. It sometimes feels a bit heavy for my liking, but that might be because of the heat as well. When it is really hot, you don't want heavy food. Lots of berries, though.
Mom, I have been drinking lots of Polish Gatorade. It keeps me from getting "mud-WOOSH-che, (Hope can translate). They even have a flavor here that Trish and I loved but disappeared from the shelves, remember that, Trish? It tasted a bit like Grapefruit. Here it is called Poweraid (I think they have that brand in the US as well). The weather has been in the high 80's and pretty humid. Only the most high end establishments have air conditioning, and as I frequent the lower end establishments I have gotten used to being hot and sticky. You don't even notice it after a while. Or not so much, at least...
The drivers here are similar to Roman drivers, yet they really do defer to the pedestrians (unlike in Italy) They will always slow down for a walker, and even seem to do it gladly, yet they are going at such high speeds they couldn't possibly spot them all in time. It doesn't surprise me that John Paul II was hit by car in his youth- I would think it was so common as to become a rite of passage for young Poles.
No aggressive men yet, Charity, so I'm glad I did not take your proferred bull horn or mace. There are some weird panhandlers who dress up like executioners and put on a sort of funny show where they drag a tourist over to a "guillotine" and say they will liberate his head from his body unless they give them some pocket change. I guess it is a creative idea for making money if you have few marketable skills and little drive or ambition. I hear that they actually speak English but I didn't talk to them. I mean. what would I say, really?
Then there are the people who walk around in the city center with a picture of a baby. I'm not sure what the storyline is but as they speak no English I can get away pretty easily. Cute baby, though.
Found a local church that has mass almost every hour all the way up to 8 pm. Haven't really met any other travellers though as I am currently staying at a hotel. When I get to Krakow I will be at a youth hostel and I am sure to meet lots of people. Travelling solo is a mixed blessing- it is nice to be able to set one's own pace and schedule, yet it would also be nice to have someone to share the funny things with. Such as the ice cream cone with a scoop of ice cream so small it was barely visible over the top of the cone (I can't really complain as it only cost about .30). .Or the tallest building in Warsaw, given to them as a "gift" ,not that they had any say in the matter one way or the other. In honor of the donor it is affectionately referred to as "Stalin's Penis". Anything reminding the Polish people of their repressed past, especially communism, is the butt of many such jokes. There are other buildings in Poland with nicknames relative to the genitalia of various communist leaders.
Well, that's all for the present. I'm thinking of you all and praying for you. Hope you are doing well.
Love, Faith

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Down Side Of Antioxidants

After reading one of my previous posts mentioning dropping $$ for blueberries, my aunt began saving up her blueberries from her backyard to bring to me. We finally met up last weekend, and she gave me bags and bags of frozen blueberries; the kind that really TASTE like blueberries. Much better than the ones you buy in stores. The next day I made blueberry pancakes for the family. So good!

Tuesday evening at our womens group E. made blueberry cobbler for us. We ate it first and then did scripture reflections; for me it was a little hard to talk theology when the whole group looked like we were suffering from lack of oxygen. I wish I had gotten a picture of this group of adult women with blue lips, teeth and tongues talkin' bible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gross Post

Now I have no problems being direct about medical details, but I know it makes some people uncomfortable. In fact, my brother in law said he stopped reading my blog when I mentioned menopause. Poor fellow, his loss. And my favorite quote from my good friend Justin "you use words that I wouldn't even write!" Oh boys, really.

But if you find such details too much, you'd better stop now. Really. I mean it, go no further. Are you still reading? Okay it's your own fault.

Tomorrow I need to stick close to home, because I have to take a 24 hour urine sample. That's right-24 hours worth; part of the test kit it a big red jug that is supposed to be kept refrigerated. Now THAT is even too gross for me, and I'm not easily grossed out. So I think I'm just going to keep a cooler in the bathtub with some ice in it; surely that will suffice. I just can't bear to see my big red jug smiling at me from the refrigerator shelf it shares with the iced tea.

By the way, I received the results from the genetic testing, they were negative (as I had been told was most likely the case). SO that's good news, because it means there is no reason to believe I am at an increased risk of ovarian cancer (or no higher than anyone else who has had breast cancer).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Quickly Things Change...

On Saturday afternoon we met up with my cousin Carrie, her husband Ed and their new baby. We went to a smorgasborg style restaurant, ate more than was healthy for us and considered touring the local Budweiser factory.

On Sunday morning we were notified by email that Ed's brother, sister- in- law and nephew had died in a plane crash on Saturday afternoon, leaving behind two teenagers. It was a horrible shock to hear, so I can only imagine what the family is going through right now. Please say a prayer for comfort for the family and especially the children.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to the future...

As of Monday, I am finished with chemotherapy. I should be elated and there is a part of me that is, but there is also much anxiety. Now I have to face the future again with all its pitfalls and unknowns. As difficult as the last 4 months have been, there was a very sweet, comforting knowledge that I was exactly where God wanted me, doing what he wanted me to do... Nothing to discern or question. I'm glad to be going back to the world, but I think that I will look back on this time and miss it, strange as that may sound.

In 2 weeks I'll meet with the oncologist to discuss the next plan of action. I will be on Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, as well as a new clinical trial drug that I will receive by infusion every 6 months for 4 years. And for awhile I will have scans every 3 months, then every 6... I've been crying a lot the last few days as a side effect of the hormone deficiency, but it's also the relief of having chemo over and not having to be so strong anymore, fear of the future, gratitude... You name it, I'm feeling it. So many thoughts going around in my head, I guess why I've used so many ellipses in this post, it's easier than finishing off a sentence. OKay, enough for now...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Please Say a Prayer...

Please, even if you're not a praying person or don't even know what you believe, please say a prayer for Monica Rodriguez. She finished chemo 3 months ago for a very rare form of cancer and her first 3 month scan showed that the cancer had already come back in her liver and lungs. Even if the best you can do is "God, if you exist, please heal Monica" that is still a valuable prayer!! She is 32 years old and has a 2 year old son. It looks like she will be going back into chemo and surgery.

For those interested, Trisha and I are starting a novena to St Peregrine today (June 15) to St Peregrine for Monica and all those we know who have cancer or incurable diseases. (For those unfamiliar with novenas, it is just a prayer you say for 9 days for a specific intention, in this case the healing of Monica from angiosarcoma). If you want to join us, please do. Here is the link to the novena; please cut and paste.

Thank you!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Does Love LOOK Like?

"Jesus Loves You". I have heard this phrase many times; haven't we all, religious or not? I may even have said it. And I've certainly thought it, and believe it, though I may find it incomprehensible at times. Not just incomprehensible because I'm feeling unloveable, but because I have no idea what that would look like. What does God's love look like? I start to feel like an agnostic when I think too much on some of these questions. But I think there are plenty of metaphors that give us a good place to start

There is an image that has always been very real to me; in fact it has become such a popular image of Christ's love that it is sometimes put on tabernacles in Catholic churches, the place where the Eucharist is stored. It is the image of a stork- legend has it that, in times of famine a mother stork will actually rip open her own chest and feed her children her heart so that they may live.

"When I'm running, I don't feel disabled." This is what Rick Hoyt said to his father, a pudgy, self- proclaimed couch potato. But love was inspired, and this father got off the couch and began training so that his son could experience the joy of the race. They have competed in the Boston marathon 3 times, as well as numerous triathlons. I love the images in the video of his son, riding in his wheelchair with joy on his face, while dad is running behind, hair plastered to his skin with sweat. Or pulling Rick in an inflatable canoe while dad swims. But enough of the spoilers. I will let the video, and the father, speak for themselves.

Dick Hoyt is just an ordinary man who loves his family. If a mere human being can love his child with this kind of wholehearted passion, intensity and self- sacrifice, what kind of love must God the Father be capable of?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Intravenous Encouragement

Every time I go in for a chemo infusion, my oncologist comes in and checks my heartbeat, takes my pulse, etc. She also checks my lips and mouth to check for excessive dryness (a side effect of chemo). It's not uncommon for her to say "you look a little dry. WHy don't I just order an extra bag of saline in your drip"? THat extra bag of saline really does the trick. Even my skin looks better when I leave from that extra hydration.

SOmetimes I wish someone could come in and check my vitals and say "hmm... you're looking a bit discouraged and tired. Why don't I just hook you up to this extra bag of hope and feed it directly into your veins? You'll feel better in no time!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hopeful Dreams

As I write this, it is 5:37 on Tuesday morning. I just had a dream that was so hopeful and brought up so many excited thoughts that now I have to write it down before I will be able to sleep again. I've never been much for journaling, I've realized of late it's because I have to write TO someone. Somehow things don't feel real until I can give it away and have it received.

But first some background on the pictures in the dream-I know that some of the images came from real life. There is a new cookie store that just opened at the local mall, and I really like their cookies. On weekends they sometimes have a girl walking around giving free samples,and my sisters and I had just been there. I ventured off to try to find her (the cookie chick), and when I rejoined my sisters they were eating samples and said I had just missed her. So off I went again on a hunt around the mall for those elusive little nuggets. Also, every day after mass I've been trying to say a quick prayer at the feet of the statue of Mary and Joseph- asking them to be both spouse and parent to me in this time.

Now the dream. In my dream, I was feeling so sorry for myself. Woe is me; I had to bake 5 dozen cookies! Although I liked doing it, the solitude was making it a drudgery. And there was just so much DOUGH everywhere; bowls and bowls of the stuff! To top it all off, my parents (I knew it was my parents, though I never saw their faces) came home from having gone out to dinner with MY friends and were being very evasive about where they'd been. That just made me feel even sorrier for myself- here baking cookies while my parents and friends were out enjoying themselves without me. I asked them where they'd been and saw them giving each other looks, like "don't tell her yet" or "she's not ready to know". Well, that just really sent me over the edge and I started pouting for all I was worth. But I couldn't dampen their good spirits, and the more I groused the more they smiled. Finally they decided to reveal the truth. My friends were having a baby, and they wanted my parents to raise it! They said they had chosen my parents because they knew that a child raised by my parents would be smothered in love by a whole family. I was ashamed at myself for my own childish behavior, but my shame was drowned by my joy- we were going to have a baby! It's all rather strange when I put it out into words like this- I know nothing can convey the excitement I felt.

But even as I awoke, the message in the dream was clear: in the end when all is revealed, it is only the lack of trust that you will regret.

(Psalm 127:2 In vain are your earlier risings, your going later to bed, eating the bread of anxiety; for he pours out blessings on his beloved while thry sleep...)

This whole dream was even more significant as a few days ago a friend sent me an excited letter; she had a dream that filled her with so much hope that she felt it had to be from God. I won't go into the details of her dream, but she was sure her dream meant that we were entering a beautiful new place in our lives, despite our present doubts and fears. Her own life situation, though differing in plot from mine is still very parallel; we are both worried about what the future holds and struggle with anxiety that we may have somehow been "forgotten".

So now I can click post, and send my hope out into the void...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Super Powers

If watching the TV show "Alias" made me conscious of my lack of abilities, watching "Heroes" makes me feel positively irrelevant. On that show, they have all sorts of super powers; flying, bending time and space, spontaneous healing, predicting the future...

Super powers do run in my family, though. My sister Hope says her super power is her ability to digest rotten food. Charity is a menstrual mimic- she steals other peoples menstrual cycles.

Together they will save the world.

Good news and bad news...

The good news is that I am definitely getting the fuzz of a peach all over my head ( it sounds like I translated that from Italian or something), which is the first stage of re-growth.

The bad news is that I am down to my last six eyelashes. I had seven yesterday when I went to sleep, and then first thing this morning I noticed that Jerome was missing. I should never have named them; you get too attached that way.

Also the lack of eyelashes makes my eyes water even more and contributes to my random acts of spontaneous and inappropriate weeping.

Also, on the recommendation of the Eastern medicine specialist I had a test taken to measure my VItamin D levels. VIt D, as mentioned in previous posts, is now known to be a tumor suppressor, as well as helping your body to absorb calcium. It is extremely rare for someone my age to have a deficiency as my oncologist pointed out, however as statistics have already failed me once I was still inclined to take the test. Optimum level of Vit D is 50, below 30 they will put you on prescription strength supplements. My level was 19, so I guess that means I have a severe deficiency. I know, I know , it's not exactly good news if what you mean by good news is something that makes you happy and makes the future look rosy and bright, but it is at least treatable and may give a hint as to why my body couldn't fight off cancer. Of course, it also indicates a number of other likely problems, such as poor bone density and other mineral deficiencies. But hey, the suns out and I'm feeling lucky to be alive, so it feels like good news to me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Maybe Too Early To Tell

Well, this might be a preemptive post, but just in case... I MIGHT have a little bit of hair growing on my head! Not sure, though. As I never completely lost all the stubble on my scalp after shaving my head, it is hard to be sure whether the fuzz I thought I saw is new growth, or just fuzz from my sleeping cap. But hair or no hair, the future still looks bright as Monday was chemo #7- ONE MORE TO GO! And not a moment too soon, as I have been having what I think might be minor hot flashes (a side- effect of chemo) and they are making it difficult to sleep well at night.

I wake up, bald and sweaty and kick off all my covers, then wake up again 45 minutes later and have to turn on the electric blanket to warm up. Repeat as necessary. Wake exhausted. I might just have too many blankets on my bed, though. That's another possibility.

There is a breast cancer fundraising dinner coming up in September here in Marin. They want breast cancer patients of every age and in every stage of treatment to model clothes donated by local companies. It might be kind of fun to take part in, and when else would I ever get a chance to model anything? Last year they had their first male breast cancer patient take part (breast cancer in men is very rare, but not unheard of.) I'm sure he was the hit of the party!

An excerpt from an email my dad sent out:
Alice, the world's Greatest Dog was honored with the grand title after accomplishing an unexpected feat. She successfully climbed the apricot tree, no, she wasn't picking fruit, but searching for the bird that had been teasing. Alice ventured out on the limb, but stalled when reaching the outspreading branches. Alice turned around and headed down when the bird took flight.

Her return to ground was uneventful except when in a moment of unbalance she had to spread from limb to limb. The sight was so exciting that a lady passing with her dog cautioned the pooch, a common dog: "Don't you try that at home."

Love Faith