Marifran Korb

Tag: relationship

My Relationship with Cancer, Part 10

by on Jul.20, 2012, under Life is a celebration., Overcoming Cancer

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.

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by on Oct.18, 2011, under Random Writings on Relationship

… the kaleidoscope of trees dressed in gorgeous shades of orange, yellow, and red. Evergreens give just enough green to accent the deciduous tree colors this time of year.

Change surrounds me and affects all my senses. I love the varied shaped leaves and how they fall. Some flip over and tumble-spin in a circular, somersault fashion and some plummet straight down in Olympic diver fashion. Some leaves swing and sway in a zigzag pattern, and some dive gently with no particular pattern. Each has its own dance of descent. It’s amusing, especially when many different leaves fall in various ways all at the same time.

The freshness of the air rejuvenates my sense of smell after the sultry summer. The shapes and colors of the pumpkins, the gourds and the corn appeal to my visual sense. Their textures stimulate my tactile sense. The strong, tangy smell of apples waft around me.

As in any relationship there are changes, and those can cause some slightly mixed feelings. Changes occur in the sunlight coming into the house at different angles and the earlier evenings. I feel some loss of direct light and warmth. When I come to terms with less light and earlier evenings, I find ways I can enjoy it. For one, there is more snuggle time.

When trees are bare, I enjoy seeing the trunk and branch structure. Each tree has its unique look. And when trees are leaf-free, I can see the sunrises and sunsets that are hidden by the leaves during the warm seasons. Every season has something to look forward to.

Taste buds change from light meals to heavier fare. Squash comes into my recipes, along with chili on the chilly nights. Hardy thick stew replaces thin soup.

Sounds change. Leaf blowers swap out lawn mowers. Crickets are quiet. Flies no longer buzz. The crackling of dry leaves under my feet tingle my senses. I’m ready to make a pile of leaves and jump in the center. Now who will join me?

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by on Nov.13, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

As with any relationship, this one continues to evolve.  Surprises occur, some I like and some I don’t.  Cancer doesn’t care about my opinion.  It just is.  Or is it?  One thing I know for sure: I’m in this to learn.  This crash course in life has provided enormous opportunities to widen my scope.

No advanced doctorate degree could be more intense.  My cancer education has been on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scale.

It started with a routine chest CT scan six months ago.  The radiology department had scanned from chest to kidneys.  Three weeks after the scan, I managed to get an appointment to hear the scan results. “Look, you’ve got cancer in both kidneys,” exclaimed my pulmonologist.  Excitedly, she pointed to a screen with black, gray and white marks on it.  I took her word for it. Not sharing her enthusiasm, I didn’t react.

There was no time to talk about my lungs on that visit. Rather, there was a flurry of activity around scheduling an abdomen scan to see the kidney more clearly. Within a week it was confirmed that I needed a specialist.

My history kept me calm and objective.  In 1991, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I had been coughing up blood from my lungs, something that was not new.  After a CT scan, the pulmonologist at the time, told me I needed surgery to remove my whole right lung.  I took the CT scan to a second pulmonologist who said: “Yes, it could be cancer. And with your lungs, the surgery could kill you.”

Since I said no to that first diagnosing doctor in 1991, he actually called my husband and enrolled him in the idea of surgery for me.  Figuring I could die if I did, or die if I didn’t, I refused.  Nothing bad happened as a result.

With that experience in my background, I decided not to worry about anything until I knew for sure.  The thought of having two cancerous kidneys would at times shock my mind, and I would remind myself that I did not have any physical pain. I knew I had to focus on the possibility the CT scan was wrong.

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by on Mar.25, 2010, under Random Writings on Relationship

Connection is powerful. Omnipresent, it is ready for us to just reach for it. One person who did not believe in connection was a sullen 14-year old girl who was in the Youth-At-Risk Program.*  Since I had recently left my job and left my husband, I definitely was not looking to volunteer for this yearlong commitment. Yet, there I was. After Natalie’s difficult behavior, her mentor quit before the program started. No adult was willing to take her on, so it was either no one, or I.

Raised by her grandmother who died two years earlier on Natalie’s twelfth birthday, Natalie had been shuttled around to live with whatever relative had the temerity to take her in. Her mother’s current lover had shot her young mother. Her father was in jail for another 3 years for robbery. She moved five times that year. With just a spoonful more stability, I moved three times in the same period.

Natalie’s first communication to me was that I was too short, too white and too old. I had to pull the sword out of my heart on that last part.

Our first scheduled meeting was memorable. She had planned on ditching me before I could find her. Deliberately she gave me a bogus street number on a very busy street. Since her aunt’s last name was not the same as Natalie’s, I could not find her in the phone book. As soon as I left the public phone booth, it started to rain.   Walking back to my car to get my umbrella, I considered my options.   Discovering that I had locked myself out,  there was no turning back.

Remembering that another mentor had mentioned that Natalie lived on that busy street,  I asked a small boy if he knew her.  Natalie lived on the top floor of the corner building, he assured me.  A fortress of four floors, the red brick building itself absorbed the odor from a garbage-strewn courtyard. There was no doorbell to alert anyone that I was there. By then, the rain poured out in endless buckets and the odor of the garbage was getting more foul. My hair was already soaked, and my sandals were getting squishy.  I was in no position to wait around. There had to be another entrance.

After finding a tall child, I started climbing the fire escape that had been out of reach for me, though not for the pre-teen.

People on all the lower floors came out of their windows and screamed, wanting to know what I was doing. They said they’d get Natalie. Yes Natalie, the teen that did not like being found, came out to get me. She brought me in with the air of one who had been outsmarted … this time. Whenever I called after that, her grandfather answered the phone and yelled loudly: “It’s that crazy white woman.”

She tested me all along the way that bumpy year. At times she growled menacingly that she could beat me up. Never doubting that she could, I gazed at her unflinchingly without comment.

Our conversations were curious. One of our agreements and obligations of the program was to meet with other mentors and youths in the Youth-At-Risk Program. The day before each all- day Saturday session, I’d inform her of the next program, the new great speaker and the reason she would want to hear the valuable information. Her response was: “I’m not going.” Ignoring that, I’d keep rhapsodizing about the other youths that would be there, what benefit was in it for her, and what time I’d pick her up. She’d repeat: “I’m not going,” exactly as Poe’s Raven reiterated “Nevermore.” After several rounds of this, I’d depart cheerfully reminding her: “Be outside by the curb at 9 AM when I pick you up.” Getting the last word, Natalie would say: “I’m not going” as I waved good-bye.

Most Saturdays at 9, she’d be waiting at the curb. I never acted surprised, though I always allowed extra travel time in case I had to chase her down.

Through the year there were many challenges and ample unwelcome surprises in our relationship. At the end of the year I was astonished when I heard her insist that the other youths should vote me the title of Most Dedicated Mentor. It was a revelation that Natalie admired my commitment and determination. I didn’t let her get away with her behaviors and I never shamed her either. We were connected. Though she disappeared soon after the year was up, we were never separated and remain together on some level.

* The Youth At Risk Program was an international organization that made a difference to at-risk teens.  It no longer exists as it originated.  In every city where it existed, crime rates were reduced.

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A Relationship Book that I Recommend

by on Oct.13, 2009, under Random Writings on Relationship

The number one best book I ever read about intimate monogamous partnership is the best seller Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix Ph.D. When my husband Ed and I got back together after five years apart, we took turns reading to each other from this book every night. It helped us realize what brought us together and what made it difficult to stay together.

Harville Hendrix co-founded a coaching business, Imago Relationships International together with his partner, Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The coaching is based on this book.

Writing with love, Harville Hendrix transfers his wisdom in a way that helps any couple have compassion for oneself and for each other. It has worked for Ed and me. We have been back together since 1997.

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