Huge things have been occurring. Since my lungs are a risk factor in any surgery that may be necessary, I am doing what I can to heal without it. Primarily, I have been enjoying life, receiving reiki and practicing meditation. Besides, I use Low Dose Naltrexone and take many supplements.
When I made an appointment with another urologist, I asked if she did partial or complete nephrectomies. There is no way of telling from internet information. The nurse I spoke with me assured me that this doctor does both. I needed to ask since one urologist, Dr. B, kept me going to see him for two years before admitting that he “was not allowed to do complete nephrectomies (cutting out the whole kidney), only partials.” Due to the location of the tumor, I knew from the start that I am not a candidate for partial, meaning taking only the tumor and leaving the rest of the kidney.
After six weeks of waiting for this appointment, today I saw urologist Dr. R. She told me she does neither type of nephrectomies. Happily, she stated that the doctor in her group who does complete neprectomies is Dr K, who happens to be the first urologist I saw four and a half years ago. He is the one who told me it was necessary to have surgery immediately. He told me the date he had schedule my surgery, without consulting me.
Meanwhile, Dr. R said my only option was surgery, despite my risks. There was no discussion of surgery benefits vs. risks, so I mentioned a few risks I knew. 1) For healthy people there’s only an 87% chance of surviving and 13% chance of not surviving. There’s a very good chance my 38% capacity lungs will not withstand the three-hour operation. 2) Most people in otherwise good health who get complete nephrectomies due to cancer will die within ten years. This is due to increased risk of cardiovascular health. My heart is already compromised by my lungs.
When I stated this, Dr. R acknowledged that it was true, treating these as insignificant details. She clearly expected me to go to Dr. K for surgery.
My response was: “If I wanted to see Dr K, I would have made an appointment with him. I would have said yes four and a half years ago.”
In Cincinnati, it appears the urologists are in three groups: The Urology Group, the UC Group and the Christ Hospital Group. I have been to at least one doctor in each group. So I came home and made an appointment with yet another urologist. The earliest appointment is over a month away. In case I have to resort to surgery as my last option, I got assurances that this new doctor does complete nephrectomies. Wish me luck.
The usual winter news tells us of flight delays, people stuck in airports, others stuck in cars, houses cracking from snow and ice jams, followed by flooding when snow melts. Are you suffering winter weariness? It seems longer and more difficult this year in Cincinnati and elsewhere. There is more snow on the way, just in time for Valentine’s Day in this area. Wanting a way out, I know I can’t take a southern vacation. There must be another way to escape the winter malaise.
Has it felt to you that this has been a prolonged Winter of Disappointment? It is not over. For ten weeks, many plans have been thwarted by the weather. Before winter was on the calendar, we had winter weather. Hearing just the winter collective calamities locally and world-wide, it has been hard to take. Clearly I am done with winter. Knowing there are over five weeks remaining, I want to know how to make it through. My mood is dark. It is not fun for me to be around me. I need to change my attitude.
The irony is that I was prepared to hibernate. I expected to be recovering all January through March. Though surgery did not happen, I thought I would be fine taking time off from the world. Now the whole winter thing is getting tiring. Unable to turn off the desire to do something, I want to get going. At the same time, I feel stalled on big things, like finishing that workbook for publication.
Some other personal complaints are that I have had to miss important meetings. Birthday parties had to be canceled. Several group events were impossible to attend. Many exercise classes I blew off because it was so bitter cold out. This is only a small part of what I have missed. Everything is uncertain. The usual speedy pace of life has shut down to a cringe-like crawl. Getting out is challenging. Shoveling a long driveway several times a week takes an agonizingly long time, even though I am not doing the work.
Do you feel the insecurity of not knowing whether any event will happen due to possible snowstorms or ice storms? Have you ever been so bothered by winter that it is hard to concentrate? Have you experienced the inability to accomplish goals indoors when you cannot go outdoors? Does the shutting down of activities ever shut down your normally good mood? Does shutting down your mood ever lead to lack of accomplishment indoors?
One’s spirit can become tattered and threadbare in this rough weather. All the cold, snow and ice may be pretty on the eyes, yet freezing to the soul.
The disappointment can go beyond the avalanche of event cancellations. Have you ever felt you should not get disappointed, no matter what happens? Having been a ‘grown-up’ for quite awhile, do you think you should never get caught up in negative feelings? Do you think you should be above that, never being disappointed in circumstances, or in people? Do you feel you should not disappoint others either? Can you relate to any of this?
OK, your mind and my mind know better. As much as I’d prefer to never be disappointed and never to disappoint, I consciously know that is impossible. It is my emotions that are singing this song of deep discontent. While I must accept my humanity, at times like this I don’t feel I can dial it down, turn it off, or lower the volume. Really, I need to change my attitude.
How can I escape an emotional tune that haunts my head? In the course of writing this, telling the truth has me opening up to other ways to think about this.
1) Realizing that this insane theme song was a temper tantrum, I can start giving up the security of planning on outcomes for events and for accomplishments. It is when I am not aware, that emotions overwhelm me. In the larger scheme of life, I have it easy. My complaints are based on annoyances. My suffering comes from my own making.
2) Being realistic, I can remember that my family, friends and I have warmth inside our homes, and have all basic needs met. Outside of minor scrapes, no one I know has suffered a serious accident this winter. I have been super lucky, unlike some people in Atlanta, GA, who got stuck in the cold overnight in their car due to a winter storm. Others have been stuck in airports and some schools have kept children overnight to keep them safe. There are many weather problems I have not had to deal with this season. My complaints are lightweight. And they still need to be examined.
3) Examining my feelings more deeply, I found the real gray area in the emotional smokescreen. What I noticed is that when I do not get big projects done, I am bothered the most. Knowing this, the rest of my crabby feelings begin to dissipate. Moreover, I saw that I can only be disappointed by what I care strongly about.
4) Seeking support is everything. My friend and mentor, Sheila Finkelstein, suggested I start with realistic expectations. Her coaching is that I simplify what I attempt to accomplish each day. Sheila reminded me to break down the goal into pieces. So, I discovered chunks to achieve. That way, I can appreciate success, capture satisfaction, and realize accomplishment. When I complete and acknowledge small achievements, I see it is not an all-or-nothing world. Building on successes, I can enjoy more as I judge myself less. Thanks Sheila.
So Disappointment, take that! On another day, I will tackle the Need-to-Achieve Issue. Meanwhile, I have work to do; I have exciting chunks to choose.
“Do I need BOTH my adrenal glands?” I asked Dr. S., the pulmonologist. “Yes,” he asserted. “Two really are better than one. Together they affect every organ and every gland of the body. They produce hormones you need. Indirectly, adrenals are useful to the lungs.” When I told him that the urologist and I had parted ways over that point, he simply said I should find someone else to do the surgery.
Then he informed me that he would not approved of me for surgery just now anyway. He recommends eight weeks of pulmonary rehab first. “Your lungs are at high risk for surgery,” he asserted. Though he stated that damaged lungs do not improve and that lungs get worse as one ages, he believes that rehab could improve my lungs by 10 percent. Doesn’t that seem a contradiction? And why wait until I need surgery to improve my lungs by 10 percent?
Accustomed to doctors not making sense to me, I did not verbalize the incongruity, though I wish I had.
One thing I did say was: “The idea that damaged lungs cannot improve, and only get worse, is very depressing.” Dr. S. neither said a word, nor did he look at me. What I was struck with was the pure hopelessness of it all, as I was seeing his viewpoint. While not fully accepting it for myself, I remembered hearing this before.
Also, I was pointing to the fact that his job must be depressing since no patient with damaged lungs gets better. That seems like it would be most, if not all, his patients. All he can do is give medications to make life somewhat bearable, while he watches those patients get worse.
The belief that damaged lungs never improve was one I heard when I went to my first pulmonologist. It was in 1985 and I was already a busy wife, mother and youth director. A nurse-acquaintance in a seminar reached out and shared concern for me. My breathing was labored, though no different than what I was used to. Sally suggested a pulmonologist at the hospital where she worked. She may have saved my life. At least, Sally saved what was left of my lungs after 41 years of breathing challenges from birth.
That first pulmonologist, Doctor B, sent me for lung tests that showed I had only 16% of my lungs functioning. I’m not sure if it was the same exact PF Tests as is done now. The results were enough of a shock to the doctor that he said he could not help me. So he put his pulmonary nurse, Nancy, in charge of overseeing my care for whenever I needed something.
Five years later I had pulmonary tests again and results went up to 19%. The same pulmonologist was stunned. He informed me that when there is lung damage, lungs never improve. Besides having asthma and emphysema early in life, I had repeated bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiectasis that created damaged lungs resembling Swiss cheese. Yet, my lungs expanded in some ways.
Recently, when I saw the present pulmonologist, he clarified the ‘gold standard’ that doctors now use to evaluate stages of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Explaining the stages, he said that there is no category for less than 15% of lung function. That is because the body cannot sustain lungs that function at 15% or less, he stated. No one ever told me that. Without knowing it, I was so close to the edge all my life before seeing that first pulmonologist. I knew that when I saw that first pulmonologist, I was no worse than I was when I grew up.
Also, on this latest visit, I had lung tests resulting in a score of 39% of capacity for a woman of my age. The norm is 80-100% for any age. At less than half the norm, I still live a normal life. Despite having less than half of my capacity, I live a normal life. Yes, I may have a more difficult time climbing up hills, walking up stairs, dancing in the rain, breathing frigid air, and facing heavy winds than others. And, I still do those things. Always, I manage to do what I want and need to do. I have no complaints.
It is astonishing, considering that my lungs are not supposed to improve and considering how much better my lungs are since 1985, despite the fact that I am now much older.
Everyday, I feel the difference. In the past, breathing was so difficult that I struggled all the time, even when I rested. While it took many years of gradual progress, I breathe well when resting now. Greater physical endurance is another way my lungs have progressed. So much for that theory about damaged lungs.
It appears I have overcome more than I realized.
Due to irreconcilable differences, the surgeon and I parted ways. A week ago, I met with my urologist surgeon for a consultation so I could ask questions. My husband Ed attended the meeting and neither of us liked what we heard.
The main disagreement was that Dr. W. planned to remove my adrenal gland along with the kidney. Never did he reveal that until I asked about it. He insisted I don’t need the adrenal gland since I have two. I said I want to keep it to help my lungs. Without acknowledging my point, he said: “I don’t want to be bothered with that little thing.”
Though I did not say that the adrenal gland was a deal breaker for me, immediately I did say I would have to reconsider the surgery. Dr. W. seemed unconcerned about my hesitation.
Though I had told him of the COPD that I’ve had since age 14, the surgeon said he wasn’t doing anything different for my lungs during the three hours of surgery since he “can’t imagine any problem.” He did not talk to the pulmonologist as I requested. There’s more, but those were the most problematic issues.
It is sobering to realize that surgeons can do things without your permission. They can justify it and get away with it. Had I not read about the frequency of kidney surgeries resulting in loss of the adrenal gland, I would never have known. Whenever I would discover it, the damage would have been done and it would be too late. Then the surgeon can say: “I was only trying to protect you.” I want to have the choice to say yes or no to the risk. I want to be included in the decision, so that if the adrenal gland is fine, I want it saved.
Hoping to bridge the gap between the surgeon and me, my daughter Ilona spoke to the doctor. She quoted a study that said if a kidney tumor is less than 8 cm, the adrenal gland should remain in the body. Dr. W. said he knew of the study and he thought the tumor could spread to the adrenal gland anyway, despite my smaller than 4 cm tumor. In other words, he knew better than the study and he would do as he pleased. His real motivation came when he spontaneously said to me: “I don’t want to be bothered …”
Already I had been through many pre-op tests this month, including a nuclear scan, and a CT scan with contrast that I drank and contrast in my veins. After seeing the surgeon, I cancelled the pre-op blood tests. Interestingly, I had scheduled lung function tests for this morning. The pulmonologist got sick and it was rescheduled for January 9. If I were still planning on surgery, I would need the lung function tests and it would be very difficult to schedule them before the surgery date of January 6. The lung function tests would have determined definitively whether or not my lungs could handle the surgery.
Looking forward to having this all over with, I was prepared to be recovering for three months. Totally, I was ready to put all the searching, all the questioning, and all the recovering behind me so I could greet the spring with a new tumor-free body.
Yet, I have to see everything that happens as part of my path to wellness. All I know for sure is I will not be having surgery next week. While I sort out what my next move is, I am as surprised as you about the twists and turns in this story.
Clear that I am making the right decision in this moment, I eagerly await what opens up next. Meanwhile plenty of parties are planned for New Years Eve and New years Day. I will enjoy them all. Wishing each of you a healthy and happy 2014.
In the last 15 months the kidney tumor did not grow more than a millimeter. That tiny difference was in only the width of the tumor. The rest stayed the same. While that sounds good, I realize that it is not good enough.
In October I went to a new urologist, Dr. W. After looking at the known history of the tumor, he informed me that the one centimeter growth between the previous two years was an ominous sign. He contends that any growth at all indicates that there is a 90% chance the tumor is aggressive cancer, rather than the 75% chance it is cancer.
Deciding that I could no longer afford to risk the spread of cancer, I gave myself six weeks to try some new strategies. At the same time I continued to take many supplements, practice Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and Reiki. No one can try all strategies, all supplements or all methods to heal cancer. There are a multiplicity of modalities. Presently, there is no way to know which healing methods or supplements would work best for any particular individual. After reading and studying all I could find, I followed my intuition.
Happy in the knowledge that I did all I could handle, I know I gave it my best efforts. My new approaches caused me to find wonderful practitioners in healing professions. These practitioners have become friends. I have met fabulous people along this entire three and a half year journey. I am deeply grateful to all the support I have received along the way from friends and family. The Cancer Center has provided helpful classes, including a weekend Reiki Program led by Reiki Master and Teacher Sarah Dailey.
Satisfied that I did what I could, I look forward to a surgical cure. While I won’t have one kidney, I also won’t have the perpetual CT scan surveillance, nor the threat of cancer spreading. Realistically, I know it could come back, and I am not expecting that.
On January 6, I will be in surgery as long as I get clearance from the pulmonologist. Then it will be three months of healing. This journey is not over by any means. There still will be check ups for some years ahead to make sure no cancer cells escaped into the blood stream. For now I am looking forward to a cancer-free future.
My dear friend, Sheila Bakely Finkelstein, gave me the book: Help Me to Heal by Bernie Siegel.
Here is a quote from the book: Healing is a process, not a product – a journey, not a single destination. When you’re healed, your body is not necessarily free of afflictions, but your life is.
Never have I felt I had afflictions, merely challenges to contend with. Meanwhile, I am expanding joy and celebrating life everyday. Looking forward to exciting and satisfying adventures, I wish the same for you, dear Reader.
The tumor is still there. Of course it is, you and I say. Who gets rid of a tumor without surgery? My thought is that it does happen. If it happened once, it could happen again. There are many routes to healing. Any of us could be that person who heals. Am I delusional to think the tumor could go away?
Though I am taking a risk not to have surgery, surgery itself is a big risk for me, given my lungs. Constantly, I am weighing the odds. Right now, I feel I am not putting myself in ridiculous danger.
To this day, it has been three years since it was confirmed I had cancer. Since I have been on the prescribed Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) for seven months, I decided to see if is working. So, three days ago, I had an ultrasound.
When I arrived in urologist Dr. B’s office, he said that ultrasounds are too dark to determine anything. When I protested that he was the one who ordered it, he said he was trying to save me from too many CT scans.
No amount of my questioning Dr. B, gave me the information I wanted to know. Did the 51 ultrasound pictures of my kidney show enlargement, shrinkage, or similar size to the CT scan in October? He dismissed the questions. That part of the appointment was over in a minute. So I had time to ask about whether he offered gene mutation testing. After Dr. B talked in a long circuitous route, the short answer was a big fat no. Then, he said I should come back in two weeks to have a CT scan and to see him again.
While I was in a daze of disappointment from having no information in exchange for the cost of time and money there, I followed Dr. B to the secretary’s office. He instructed her to schedule me for an appointment in two weeks. As the secretary dialed the radiology department for a CT scan schedule, I woke up from my shock and told her: “Thanks anyway, but no.” Politely, I stated I would call her if I decided to do anything.
Yes, a CT scan would more accurately determine the size of the tumor so I could see if all I am doing is making any difference. Yet, knowing the tumor is there is enough for me to step up my plan of action.
Today, I received the radiologist’s report with specific measurements. It showed that the tumor is seven millimeters smaller. That difference may seem small, but it appears to be going in the right direction. That is not how it usually goes with tumors.
While I do have to acknowledge that ultrasounds are not considered to have pinpoint accuracy compared to CT scans, I’m elated about this apparent progress. Still, I’ll continue taking LDN and high doses of tumeric, reishi mushrooms, and vitamin D3.
Just in this past year, I have not been 100% disciplined about avoiding sugar, grain, wine and cheese. These are my biggest temptations that may increase cancer. Now my commitment to speedy recovery is to go off these substances again. In these last 3 days I have lost a pound of weight from renewed self-discipline.
An interesting note here is that recently, on a CD, I heard the voice of a healer named Braco speaking in his native Croatian language. Wanting to do all I can to heal no matter how strange, I sat for about 45 minutes listening to words I could not translate.
What I am about to tell you sounds bizarre to me. About 25 minutes into listening to the CD, I had a dramatic and unexpected feeling on my right side. It was not painful, but seemed like a lightning bolt with its strong, sudden start and quick, abrupt exit. Getting my attention, it took a minute to realize it struck where my tumor is.
Never have I had an experience like this. If someone else told me this story, I might think they were wacko. Definitely, I would not be able to relate. If I tried, I couldn’t make this very real experience happen. Unwilling to assume anything, I wondered why it happened. While I am skeptical, I could not deny this experience. I do not know what it might mean, if anything.
Was the smaller tumor due to the LDN, the supplements, or hearing Braco? I have no idea.
Braco will be in Indianapolis, Indiana in person on June 26 and 27. His site is
While I am not counting on healing through Braco, and I am not counting on healing at all, what I can count on is what I do. Since I am taking many supplements, taking prescribed LDN and improving healthful eating, I hope to have even better scan results in the future. If it does not happen the way I would like, I will have surgery, despite its danger to my lungs. No matter where this journey with cancer takes me, I am finding things that intrigue and amaze me as a result.
Five friends and I use prompts to write for four minutes a quote. Using several quotes, we write for an hour a week. This was one quote from today:
When I stopped seeing my mother with the eyes of a child, I saw the woman who helped me give birth to myself. ~ Nancy Friday
For those who have read my book Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents, they know my relationship with my mother was difficult, at best. Grieving that I could not connect with her bi-polar moods, I loved her. While her gift of helping me to birth myself started earlier than I, or anyone, could be ready, and though helping me give birth to myself was a terribly painful process, my mother did accomplish that, for sure. Through not-so-loving ways, my mother’s darkness sparked the need and desire for me to love and be loved.
And due to neglect, my mother granted me self-sufficiency. By the time I was ten years old living in suburbia, I knew the local bus system and traveled wherever I wanted. Before I was out of grade school, I learned I could go anywhere, make new friends, and find my way. That has helped throughout my life.
For a few examples of self-sufficiency, I moved 500 miles away to attend college and worked to pay for text books and personal my expenses. My first post-college career took me over 1,100 miles from my family and friends. In my twenties, I designed an eleven country itinerary and traveled through Europe alone for eight weeks. Now that my daughter is grown, she and I travel to Europe in self-directed adventures for two weeks each year. In Europe, unexpected obstacles can and have shown up. Familiar with challenges, I have dealt with them efficiently and effectively. My mother’s gifts have made me grateful both for the life lessons and for the fact that those early experiences are in the past. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to every mother. May we all honor our mother for helping us give birth to ourself.
“Sometimes you need to talk with a two-year old just so you can understand life again.” ~ Unknown
A Facebook friend posted this quote with a picture. It depicted a little girl with sand soaked, muddy legs, arms, and clothes. Her head is between her sand soaked hands and arms and her head is on the wet sandy, muddy ground. Most of her blond wavy hair is touching the wet sandy beach.
Maybe no two-year old child ever has the concept of mud, of dirty hair, or dirty legs or dirty clothes. Everything is superseded by the desire for, and love of, experience. Certainly the two-year old Inner Child within each of us fears no discomfort if there is fun to be had.
One does not have to be just two years old to have this mindset. You can be any age. You just have to be free and willing to value full out experience over comfort.
Awhile ago, I was at sitting by the river walk on the Cincinnati side of the Ohio River. In a pretty yellow flowered short frock, a little girl of about five-years old, was hand-in-hand walking a tall man, two baby steps ahead of him at all times.
Suddenly, she led this man to a puddle. “Look, Daddy,” she squealed. Surely, he saw what was coming. Feeling tightness in my body, I cringed thinking that she was going to get her dress dirty and then feel uncomfortable with the water splashing all over her. At the same moment, I was surprised at my internal reaction. Clearly, I was projecting.
Watching the external and internal action unfold, I fully expected to see the dad divert the child’s direction and attention. No such thing occurred. Splashing in the pool of liquid with such gusto and glee, the young one smiled broadly, spread her arms wide, and circled in a dance.
Her dad did not resist, nor pull her away. After dancing she appeared to embrace every droplet of water by stomping at first with alternate feet, and then jumping with both feet. When done stomping, she kicked water like a football player kicking a ball in that rather large body of water for her little frame. Finally, she pranced away soaked, and satisfied.
Did this father have to sit her in the car with her wet shoes and wet dress? If so, he appeared unconcerned. Nor did he seem nearly as amused as I was in what just happened. He must have been accustomed to this self-expression from this beautiful, happy child.
I was riveted. It has been a long time since I had seen such joy achieved so quickly and naturally. Furthermore, it was free of monetary cost. And, I am sure it happened all the time with this tiny girl.
Asking myself some questions, I started wondering just when it was that I got so careful. When did I start trading in pure fun for comfort and ease? When was it that I gave up spontaneity due to an insignificant price such as the momentary uneasiness of wet clothes and wet shoes? For the five year-old girl, there appeared to be no discomfort.
Why was I so emotionally distant from this sort of happiness? Hadn’t I allowed my daughter daily as a child to follow her own expression with messiness? Yet, when was the last time I allowed that for myself? It’s not that I don’t take risks. I published a book I thought would be rejected. I traveled through 11 countries in Europe for eight weeks alone when I was 25. All the careers I had, I had to learn by the seat of my pants. For the nine years that I have been traveling to Europe with my daughter, I travel without travel agencies and do all the research myself. I take chances on renting cars and hotels, while knowing only small amounts of the language of each country. Yet, I wonder: What are the areas of my life where I am too cautious?
You can join me in considering this self inquiry for yourself:
Where have I cut corners to make life easier and not questioned what I was missing in self-expression?
How can I choose another option for my creativity to let loose like this five year old?
What do my self-inflicted walls consist of?
What can I do to knock down some of the walls I’ve erected to protect myself from open freedom and unadulterated joy?
What could occur if I let myself out of the comfort and safety that limits me?
What would it be like to prance into satisfaction?
How would that be expressed through me?
What would it look like?
Today I had CT scans with and without contrast. Met with Dr. B who had good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the tumor grew.
The good news is that it was a normal growth for two years since the last CT kidney scan. Dr. B now says it is expected to grow 2 to 3 mm a year. The details of the exact difference in size were not in yet from the radiologist report. It will be coming soon.
Dr. B is still not recommending surgery because the tumor is considered small. It has a 1% chance of spreading. Due to the location of the tumor, surgery would mean loss of kidney, not partial loss. If I lose a kidney, my heart has 50% chance of being deleteriously affected.
The result was disappointing. It indicates that all that I am doing is not working as well as I had hoped. Back to the reinventing a new plan of action. First, I am going to do something fun.
After two years of living with cancer, and overcoming the physical challenge of losing weight and the emotional challenge of overcoming fears, I set a destination celebration that would test me to the core. What I chose was akin to aiming for the distant stars.
With my daughter Ilona, I planned an 18-day independent trip to Italy’s hill towns. For a long time I have wanted to go, and I figured I wasn’t getting any younger. It was a test of strength to stand up to the cancer and to defy life-long lung damage.
From a trip to Italy seven years ago, I knew what I was in for. Among a few Italian cities we visited, the so-called “hill” town of Siena was one. More accurately, it was a mountain town.
You may wonder: Why walk when you can drive? The only cars and motor cycles allowed are ones belonging to the towns folk. And yes, the police know immediately if you are a local or not. They will find you and ticket you, even if you are from a different country. As a non-local, you can drive to the town. Then, you have to park at the foot of the hill and walk up, and up, and up. In Siena it felt like my lungs would explode, even while I was moving at a sloth’s pace.
Knowing what I was up against, I trained on a treadmill from January to May 2012. No stranger to the treadmill, I’ve been walking on it for years at the lowest level. Due to the pre-condition of serious COPD, that is all I thought I could, or should, do.
Twenty years ago, I told my pulmonary nurse that I planned to expand my lungs through vigorous walking and exercising. Kindly and gently, she told me that my lungs “do not do the whole alphabet.” “Your lungs,” she told me, “only go from A to B. You cannot expand your lungs.”
In spite of the advice, I continued to climb steps, walk fast and lift weights. Regularly, I go to a gym. So when I knew I was facing and embracing almost vertical hills, I set goals to see if I could go beyond my most recent best efforts. Each day I pushed myself for a few minutes more on the next highest level on the treadmill. By the time the month of May came, I had moved as far as the treadmill goes. Besides walking a few minutes a day at level ten, I did not go lower than level eight. It was very strenuous for me. Still, I was not sure it was enough.
Level ten on the treadmill was nothing compared to the hills I climbed. They were equally as vertical as Siena. Fortunately, Cordova, Orvieto, and Perugia have escalators to get into the towns. Once inside, only your legs will get you up the steep streets within the town.
As a result of my work, I made it up ALL the slopes in the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. It was slow and steady. Usually, Ilona insisted on going slow with her mother, the turtle. Once, I sent her ahead so she would possibly see the Rocca Maggiore Castle before it closed. It was situated at the highest hilltop in the precipitous town of Assisi. Eventually, I got there, though it was already closed for both of us.
Assisi has buses. Yet, those buses only go so far. There still remain at least half the hilly streets where buses do not go.
Ilona and I walked up the arduous streets and alleys of Volterra, San Gimignano, Cortona, Orvieto, Perugia, Spello, Spoleto and Assisi. And, we spent a day in each of two easier walking cities of Milan and Bologna. When we enjoyed two days near Rome, one at Hadrian’s Villa and another at Villa D’Este, both had innumerable steps. Yet these two days seemed less strenuous compared to the hill towns.
Travel is invigorating. We experienced sights we cannot see anywhere else, foods we cannot eat anywhere else, and met people we cannot meet at home.
While I ingested lots of pasta, gelato, and wine, I did not gain a pound. All that walking and climbing paid off. Yes, I went off my sugar free diet for cancer, but it was only 18 days.
Besides the ancient towns, the medieval buildings, the art museums, and the sensational scenery, we loved the people we met in Italy. On every trip, we meet people from all over the world. With our limited knowledge of Italian words, we connected briefly with some who speak no English. The language of love really is universal.
Some memories include Ilona and I surviving a level 6 earthquake and two aftershocks that happened at 4 AM on May 20. We were in a modern hotel that withstood the quake. Most homes and hotels evacuated people immediately. some people died. Two weeks later on May 29, a second earthquake occurred in that same area. At the time, we were safely in Assisi, about 120 miles away. Sadly, the epicenter was turned to rubble. Thousand year-old homes, museums, and churches were destroyed entirely.
Other memories include facing the fact that we did not like the hotel in Assisi as much as we expected. So we arranged to go back to Orvieto, where we were the happiest. It was there that we excitedly and cheerfully talked politics with like-minded couples from four different states all at once.
We enjoyed the many kindnesses of B&B owner in Orvieto. On returning, we were treated like royalty. When we left, the owner and his staff lined up to hug us and wish us farewell.
Another experience was staying up to wee hours drinking wine and limoncello with an English speaking couple from Belgium. For several nights, we had animated discussions on their culture and ours. Now we have a standing invitation to visit them. They are invited to visit us. Meanwhile, we stay in touch by email. Cheers to them, and to all the delightful people we met.
It required patience and perseverance to prepare mentally and physically for that journey. It was a personal triumph for me to overcome every challenge and to scale those hilly mountains.