What if …

Such a powerful phrase. It’s doubtful, questioning, and paralyzing. “What if I had …?”

What if, I didn’t go for an MRI in August of 2018? What if, I didn’t go for my mammogram this past July? What if, Jeff and I never met? I have a busy mind and often contemplate the “what ifs” in my life. To what end? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s to sort out a quandary, other times it becomes torture. It’s “what ifs” that cause me to assess what has come to pass or to question a decision.

Here is the largest “what if” in my life. When I was offered my current job at the university, I was also entertaining another one. That job was with a ski manufacturer. It aligned with the fun aspects of my life and would have been beneficial to mine and Jeff’s part-time business. However, the university job was better for our family. I chose what was better for the collective and don’t regret it. But, what if …?

If I didn’t take my current job, I wouldn’t have earned a Bachelor’s degree. I got an Associate’s right out of high school, but then I never went on to finish because I got engaged to Jeff. If we never met, I would have finished that degree. What would my life look like today? That is a giant “what if.”

After I earned my Bachelor’s, I decided to earn a Master’s degree. Because of that decision, I am now working my dream job. What if …?

Here is another brain buster (no pun intended). If I took that ski job, I know my brain surgery and hysterectomy sixteen weeks after the craniotomy would have financially ruined Jeff and me. My tumor was well established in my head, and growing, years ago when I was deciding between jobs. Fast forward six years, and I was facing two surgeries in a matter of months, and they spanned two calendar periods, so two annual deductibles would have needed to be met. I shudder when I think, “What if I didn’t have the benefits I have?” The university offers the finest benefits Jeff and I had in decades and are truly blessed, thus my surgeries didn’t have a major financial impact on our lives. What if …?

Ski Job? University Job? As it turns out, I chose the right road although it didn’t always feel that way.

“What ifs” are crossroad, right? Standing at a crossroad, one asks “what if.” When I think about the choices I’ve made, there were hundreds of “what ifs” that quantified those decisions.

Here’s another example of “what ifs” that have haunted me. Before I landed this dream job of mine, I had four interviews in the university. After I got my Bachelor’s, I wanted to move up. I applied for three jobs in as many years and was turned down for all of them. This caused me to question remaining at the university.

Weeks before the pandemic and quarantine hit the states, I applied for a job I really wanted. Incidentally, that was the role which was the impetus for me pursuing a masters, that’s how much I wanted that role. Well, I didn’t get it. Four strikeouts; I thought there were only three in a game. To add insult to injury, I never received a courtesy call or email to inform me I wasn’t chosen. I was crestfallen. I replayed that interview over and over in my mind. “What if I said this, that, or another thing?” Weeks later, while I still trying to sort out why I didn’t get that other job, a friend told me about the role I have now. That interview was flawless and I was offered the position within a matter of days. “What ifs” be damned.

My point; looking back now, even when I thought I’d made a wrong decision, or I wasn’t chosen because I bumbled an interview, I realized those disappointments happened for a reason. I played the “what if” game with myself, but now understood why things happened. The role I was supposed to move to, i.e. my current role, was under construction. When I thought I’d chosen the wrong road, and I kept asking myself “what if,” I didn’t know my road was being paved ahead of me. The paver was far in the distance so I couldn’t see it. But, even when I thought I was on the wrong road, I stayed. I course corrected as necessary but remained because all roads in life are one way. No matter how difficult it became, there was no going back. So, after I ruminated over my decisions, I knew I needed to let go and trust. Faith. I tapped into it. Faith in myself, the Good Lord, and my decisions have allowed me to find contentment, which got me through. It kept me strong. It kept the “what ifs” from making me crazy and helped me realize why all events in my life happened. I trusted I was where I needed to be and good things came to pass. Take that, “what if.”

Charlie Brown Apple Tree: Fall Harvest

No idea what kind they are, but they are so good.

If you haven’t read about my Charlie Brown Apple Tree, please start here; the story continues. If you’ve been following me this summer, then you know Jeff and I have a free-range apple tree. Update: I just picked the apples, and they are amazing. They taste so fresh, like I got them from the apple farm. To be fair, I pretty much did. Except that farm is my own personal apple farm.

I plan to make at least one pie or crisp, but I have a feeling I may not have enough left by the weekend. They are so good; everyone is eating them. That’s not a bad thing; it’s what they grew for.

I have a friend who told me Jeff and I should consider pruning our tree this year to encourage growth. But, I’m afraid to mess with it. It produces such nice fruit. I hate to fix what isn’t broken. Besides, it came to be on its own. I’m afraid it won’t take to outside interference very well. If any gardeners read this, I’d love some advice. Prune, or not to prune? That is the question.

That crazy little tree produced 16 apples. If you count 14, two have already been eaten.

Ahhh, Fall! What comes next?

A winter moon over snowy trees.
What could be more beautiful?

Winter; it suits me. I despise spring. It’s cold, grey, and ugly. The trees look dead, not like winter dead covered in snow, but muddy, rotted-looking dead. The ground is spongy and smells of rot. The leftover snow is sullied with dirt; violated. Spring steals winter from me, so me and it, we have issues.

Now summer. I do like it, but the heat wears on me and zaps my happiness. The only time I tolerate being hot and sweaty is when I’m at the gym because if one is using the gym properly, they will become hot and sweaty. Otherwise, I prefer to be normal temperature or even a bit cooler. When it’s cold, you can layer up. When you’re hot, well the only option one has is not socially acceptable. Thus, one must tolerate the heat.

That said, I do like the long days that summer brings, being able to go out after dinner and work in the yard. I love to see my gardens grow and reap the benefits of my work.

This year though, the vegetable garden kind of went bunk. We had zucchini and summer squash in June. By the looks of the plants and the early harvest, I thought I’d be eating those veggies with every meal through September. However, by mid-July, the plants seemed to give up. The leaves turned yellow and any fruit that was produced looked anemic or withered on the vine.

As far as the rest of the garden, we got a handful of green peppers, no cucumbers at all, and the eggplant plants that looked so robust in June went the way of the zucchini and summer squash in July. Tomatoes were mediocre; enough to make one sauce and have tomato on a few sandwiches. Pumpkin and watermelon looked robust but amounted to only two little pumpkins, one of which rotted, and one anemic watermelon. The potatoes produced, but not as much as last year.

So, the Summer of 2020, which thankfully allowed me to reconnect safely with friends outside, didn’t yield much in the way of gardening; kind of a letdown, much like the rest of the year. I can’t entirely blame it for my garden though. I’m sure there’s an issue with the soil; I’ll have it tested next year.

Thus, I am very much looking forward to fall. The weather has already turned nicely. I’m enjoying the sunny, warm days. The cool nights are tailor made for sleeping; cool air making me feel alive. It welcomes back my spirit who walled itself off to avoid the heat months ago. No longer do I feel tired and weary. No longer do I fear mosquitoes and horseflies. They are gone with the heat. Now, I await winter.

Winter Cardinal

Thoughts of winter winter bring exuberance. The long nights are just right for getting in my jammies early, curling up and reading while Jeff makes supper. Or, on the nights when I cook, sitting down after dinner and writing for a bit or playing Words With Friends before watching TV to unwind from the day.

The wood stove runs non-stop for three to four months. The warmth it lends to the house, the beautiful bed of embers that emits light through the glass front, soothes me. Winter suits me; rejuvenates me. My introverted spirit thrives on peace and quiet which is perfectly staged in the starkness that winter offers. Walking outside on a cold winter morning, hearing nothing, and feeling the cool air kiss my cheeks stills me, making me whole. I am filled with enough happiness to endure the spring, get me through summer, knowing it will begin to be restocked after the heat of summer migrates south with the summer birds.

This right here is me!

Stress Not

Despite my recent diagnosis, I can’t say I feel awful. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about regarding a diagnosis, please go to my last blog post. So, I don’t have cancer but would have if I didn’t get my mammogram when I did in July. However, unlike how shattered I felt when I found out I had a brain tumor, I wasn’t remarkably worried waiting for all the tests I had to go through to get to my almost cancer diagnosis.

Here is my theory: unlike many other people I know, including many of my coworkers, quarantine has been a nice change for me. Less stress = less worry in my life. Throughout quarantine, I have flourished. I found a new job in the university I work for. I feel like I’ve found my work tribe, even though I’ve only virtually met them. My stress level working from home is remarkably low, and because of all this, I feel relaxed for the first time in a long time, maybe in my entire adult life.

Before Covid hit, I really felt like I had a major brain defect as a result of my craniotomy. To be fair, I still feel the effects of it in that I have a bit of a recall problem, but it was so much worse when I was at work 40 hours a week. I made mistakes in that role I never had in the seven years I held it, including data entry and clerical errors. That was never my style until I had brain surgery.

Judy, pre-Covid

Now, I realize it was partly the surgery but mostly the stress of trying to prove to my coworkers I was OK. I pushed myself so hard last year that I never allowed myself to recover fully, and it showed in my work. Then quarantine hit, and things began to change for me.

I can now work 45-50 hours at home and not feel the same stress I did. I know working from home suits me. I work at my own pace, get things done, don’t have to worry about being judged or letting people down, and I feel great. My creative juices are flowing at a remarkable pace; it feels like they had been dammed to a trickle for years, and they are flowing free now.

What’s even better is when the workforce returns to its offices, my team will not. I’ve been told that we will likely meet weekly for our one-on-ones and staff meetings, work in the office that day, lunch with the team, and work from home the rest of the week. So, one day in the office and four days at home. Bliss!

Me, relaxed and waiting for winter

Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t want to sound insensitive. I understand this pandemic has been hard on the masses. This change to our lives, this social hiccup is frightening and has devastated so many lives, but it has brought about good change for me. I’m weary when I go out, and I am cautious, but I can’t help recognize the blessings that have been given to me. I am so thankful for the lack of stress and the relief I feel working from home. I pray Covid can be conquered and we can go back to some semblance of normal as far as travel and socializing; it is greatly needed. I will welcome normal back with open arms and welcome the hugs I have been missing. But I also know now, when things go back to whatever normal awaits us, I will continue to be able to work from home, and the stress in my life will remain at a minimum. That is the greatest gift of all.

Veiled Good News

I must say, my 50s have been good but also kind of shitty to me, too. For the good: three months ago I started a fantastic job at Southern New Hampshire University. I love working for the school. I’ve been there for eight years, but my new role is the job I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m really happy about it. Besides work, prior to the pandemic, I traveled a lot and went on amazing ski trips, been wine tasting in New Orleans and Atlanta, and explored the Lakes Region in New Hampshire. To stay active, I started spinning and rediscovered my love of outdoor biking.

Now for the shitty: I turned 50 in January of 2018, and in August of that year I found out I had a benign brain tumor. In the midst of my 50th year, prior to the brain tumor diagnosis, I was having serious feminine problems that warranted a hysterectomy. My doctor and I were in the planning phases of having said hysterectomy when I found out about the tumor.

September 2018, I had a successful craniotomy. As I mentioned, I was 50. January 2019, three weeks shy of my 51st birthday, and sixteen weeks after my craniotomy, I finally had that hysterectomy and it was full abdominal surgery. For those who don’t know, there is a technique for a minimally invasive hysterectomy, and I was hoping for that but instead woke from my surgery with an incision that ran almost entirely from one hip to the other. That was a six-week recovery, and it was quite painful. I can safely say it was a more difficult recovery than the craniotomy. I spent the rest of 2019 trying to get my strength back to try and feel normal again.

Fast forward to January 2020, I had a terrible skiing accident and broke a rib. I thought, “Well, I got that over with at the beginning of the year.” That meaning an unfortunate event in my life. However, we all know how the rest of 2020 turned out. I thought I was covered for any additional trouble. As it turns out, I’m in a bit of trouble again. I have some veiled good news to share. I don’t have breast cancer, but I am walking around with cells in my left breast that if left unattended will grow up and become breast cancer. Let me explain.

I had my mammogram in July and got a call-back on it, meaning I had to go for another one. I wasn’t too worried about it because the rescan was on the breast that I thundered down on when I broke my rib. Naturally, I was convinced there was probably a bone fragment in there that needed further investigation, being told the images showed calcifications. I went back and after the scan was told I would need a biopsy.

I still wasn’t worried because I thought, “There is no f-n way I have breast cancer, not after all I’ve been through.” As it turns out, it’s not cancer but will be, and after the biopsy results came back as precancerous, I made an appointment to meet with a surgeon. I met with her last week and am having surgery the end of September to have the small mass taken out. It’s actually not even a mass yet; it’s a small cluster of trouble making cells. So, I need to have another surgery. But like the craniotomy, this is a good one because it’s taking trouble out of my body.

After my meeting with the surgeon, her nurse gave me the low-down on what I have to do surgery day, “You need to shower the morning of surgery. Please don’t put anything in your hair or wear deodorant; it’s flammable.”

I looked at Jeff and smirked.

The nurse stopped and gently said, “With your history you probably already know all this, but I need to tell you.”

“I understand,” I said, smiling. “I know the drill but you need to tell me; it’s all good. Maybe some things have changed since my last surgery.”

Jeff and I listened to the rest of the instructions, including that I’d need a Covid test a few days before. We left there feeling good that I wouldn’t need any major follow ups like medication, chemo, or radiation. I was afraid I’d need something to suppress the cancer growth, but the cells that were found were so immature, the surgeon was certain she would get it all, and I would only need annual follow-ups.

Surgery scheduled; I’ll get the junk out before it can cause mayhem. I’m not done my story though. There is a strange anecdote I need to share detailing how I arrived at this diagnosis. It was actually a series of random events that reminds me of the goodness of the Lord, and despite everything, he does have my back.

These mishaps saved my life

I was supposed to have my mammogram in the spring of 2019; I think it was April because we would be out west skiing, so I cancelled. I put it off until the fall because I was kind of flaky like that; I’ve always been an 18- to 24-month mammogram person. No reason why; I just never had an urgency to get it done.

In the fall of 2019 when I was supposed to go, I was having a lot of shoulder trouble and in physical therapy. I put it off again because I couldn’t lift my left arm well enough to be able to survive the imaging. I rescheduled for January but then I broke my rib. When I saw my doctor about the rib, she looked at my history and said, “Oh, you have a mammogram scheduled for next week. That will need to be cancelled.” So, she did, and I got a call a week later and rescheduled for April. We all know about April.

I shudder to think what would have happened had I gone a year and half ago.

My point is, had I gone in April of 2019 or even November of 2019, I wonder if those gremlin cells would have been visible yet. Also, had I gone when I was supposed to, and everything was fine, I would have flaked and not gone again for another year-and-a-half or two years. Then what? That little cluster of cells I’m having removed in a couple weeks would have grown up into bon-a-fide cancer.

I know the good Lord thinks I’m a badass or he wouldn’t have given me so much strife to handle in my life. I now feel my series of scheduling mishaps and other life knockabouts that delayed my mammogram happened for a reason. Those little cells needed to grow up so they could be found. I would have preferred not breaking my rib or Covid to get me to arrive at a July 2020 scan. What might have been nice would have been, in January, a simple all-expenses paid vacation to get me to reschedule instead of a broken rib. A bad cold in April forcing me to reschedule would have been better than a pandemic. Anyway, good and bad aside, I arrived at my July scan, the bad cells were found, and the rest is behind me. I’ve survived 100% of my bad days thus far, and I intend to continue to do so. I’ll get through this; I always do. I’ve had three pretty bad things in three years. So, now I’m wondering, can I be done yet?