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December first(ish) marks the start of my holiday season.   The lights go on, the mantel is decorated, the tree goes up.

Tra-la-la-la-la!

Our fireplace mantel, decorated with greenery and vintage Christmas children's books.

In our house, we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve at this time of year.  We are more spiritual than religious but we still have family gatherings and dates with friends, snow-filled New-Year’s Eves at a favourite place in the deep, deep woods, and stockings filled with chocolate that you’re allowed to eat for breakfast (it’s a rule).  Some years, we have a festive gathering in December, where we invite friends and family to join us at our wildly festooned house for snacks and visiting but this year, things are a bit different.

This year, we have an extra visitor and it’s the visitor no one wants.

Practical Man was diagnosed with cancer in September and started treatment in November.  He’s supposed to be finished the actual treatments on December 20 (Merry Christmas!) but the side effect symptoms likely continue to worsen for a few weeks after that.  His type of cancer has a good prognosis (everyone keeps telling us) so we’re hoping that this “blip” will be something we will simply remember years from now as “that time he had cancer”.

Say it enough and that will someday become a sentence that just rolls off the tongue, right?

Anyhoo.

Throat (oropharyngeal) cancer may be quite curable but the recovery from it seems especially cruel — the treatments wants to attack your speech, your skin, your swallowing, your saliva, your breathing, your nourishment and YOUR BEARD!  Food tastes terrible and he chokes quite frequently and he is more tired than I’ve ever seen him.  But, his treatment is manageable at the moment, if he rests.  What the final few weeks will bring, we don’t know.

It could be a lot worse.  We tell ourselves this with every new symptom and struggle. We are grateful that we can be together through this, without worry over money or time.  We are fortunate not to have to forgo food or housing to find the funds needed every day for parking or new creams or medicines that could help.  We are blessed to have supportive family and friends and to be enduring treatment with a likely positive outcome.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

“You’re getting to the hard part now,” they said this week.

His “team” keeps close tabs on his symptoms and weight, prescribing jams and jellies with long names and lineups at the pharmacy.  When you’re using the over-burdened Canadian healthcare system and you have a TEAM that meets with you every week, you get the idea that it’s fairly serious business. He endures the mask of torture with each of his 35 treatments and never complains, even though I see the toll it takes on him to be pinned to a table under an extremely tight web of fibres across his face and throat.

Practical Man in the treatment mask

The Team warns constantly of the “cumulative effects of radiation” and what’s to come with worried eyes and check-ins that make my stomach drop out.  He made it through a rare arterial hemorrhage, surgery to fix it, and repeated hospital visits and stays in week #2 of treatment.

But, that was early days–the supposedly “easy” part of treatment.

“You’re doing really well,” they also said this week, their tone telling us not to get complacent.

Despite everything that has already happened, I constantly feel like we are waiting for something large and mysterious to come down the chimney–and it’s not Santa.

Christmas tree - daytime

When the treatment dates were revealed, it got me thinking about what our holiday season would look like this year.  We have no children of our own, so who would miss it, if we didn’t bother with the lights going on, the mantel being decorated, the tree going up?

Practical Man endures the holiday palooza for me.  He wouldn’t mind skipping it.  So, why do it?

Um…have you met me?  The one who loves little more than some seasonally-approved festooning?

Still, maybe we should just forgo the lot for this year, I thought.  Decorations are really superficial, after all.  He won’t feel well enough to attend many gatherings and we anticipate the height of pain and symptoms to be around Christmas Day.  We should just skip it.

But, but, but.

A thought caught my breath in my throat:  what if?

What if we were like my friend?  Her daughter took her last breath on Monday as her body rejected the lungs that were transplanted in her only last year.

My heart breaks.

What if we were like others we know of who endure radiation and chemotherapy and still face a terminal outcome?

More breaking.

What if?

Would I want this Christmas to be festooned and full of light?

Or dark and passed over, as not worth the effort?

I realize how fortunate we are to worry about something so seemingly trivial.  But, when I called it “silly”, Practical Man pointed out:

“If you turn off the lights before it’s time, you may never find a reason to turn them back on.”

And our decision to partake in the sparkle of the season is not to say everyone should do it this way.  But, I am a silly, festive-loving person and even if the holiday festooning is a bit much for him, Practical Man loves that about me.

And I love him.  So very much.

The lights are up and they get to stay on.  Which reminds me again:

Despite this very cancer Christmas, we are so very blessed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Festive Season to all who celebrate at this time of year.
Our wish for you this year is a most precious one:  good health for you and your loved ones.

Lit tree reflected again the window

Know someone who is thinking about becoming a doctor?  My new book, “Just What the Doctor Ordered:  The Insider’s Guide to Getting into Medical School in Canada” is now available.


spaghetti eis, from GermanyI scream,  You scream,  We all scream, for ice cream.

So goes the vintage saying, but actually, I scream when I see old Volkswagens (giving Practical Man heart failure, in the process) and occasionally, I scream for cows. Because, they have big teeth and even bigger, hairy tongues.

Stop snickering.

The other day, I zigged when I should have zagged during lunch and the resulting coughing fit caused my body to try to faint for nearly an hour afterwards.

Dear nervous system:  you are seriously high maintenance.

But, I take medication so I can (mostly) avoid having things like this happen.  That is, if along with the drugs, I live a careful, don’t zig instead of zag, I’m-basically-a-Jane-Austen-character-even-though-I-don’t-wear-corsets kind of life.

Here are the BAD things about being a fainter:

  1. I am not, actually, a character in a Jane Austen novel.  Although, I can play the pianoforte (as they called it in Jane Austen’s time) and recite long-winded poetry (okay, Alice’s Restaurant is a vintage song not a poem, but it sort of counts).  Not being a Jane Austen character is unfortunate because my waist would look much smaller if I had to wear a corset.  Or, if I stopped eating Wispa chocolate bars, which I obviously can’t because being a fainter, one has to have some compensatory perks in life.  It’s a yin-yang sort of thing.   So there.  And, I’m pretty sure Jane Austen would wholeheartedly approve (and subsequently write about how a true gentleman brings offerings of “delectable sweeties”, which everyone knows–well, at least Practical Man does–is Jane Austen-ish code for: Wispa chocolate bars.)
  2. I have landed with my head on un-glamorous things:  like toilet bowls and berber carpet and my boss’s lap.  Um, yeah.
  3. I got a large, oozing, rug burn wound on my forehead the last time I fainted, from fainting off our pillow-top mattress–which is tantamount to Olympic diving.  Have you seen how high North-American beds are these days?   I tried to tell people that the cucumber slice-sized mess on my forehead was from stealing jewels in my alter-ego life as a cat burglar but, apparently fainting goes hand-in-hand with fibbing and tall tales.
  4. There isn’t a frequent fainter’s club where I get sent free stuff.  Y’know, an “every fourth time you faint, you get a trip to Paris” club, or something.  I think that should really be a thing.  Instead, it’s “every time you faint, you lose your driver’s license“.  That club is not tra-la-la at ALL.
  5. When people compare you to a FAINTING GOAT.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Hey, aren’t there goats on the internet or something that faint?” and get to marvel at being compared, yet again, to a farm animal that went viral because that’s just so very flattering and sweet.  And, we already know how I feel about farm animals…like scary, scary cows.  Jane Austen would not approve of my being lumped in with that feral lot.  Neither would Mrs. Bennett.  Think of the disastrous consequences to my marriage prospects!
  6. No one ever picks me up and carries off my teeny-tiny, waif-like, unconscious body, the way they would in a movie.  I am 5’9″ and I eat Wispa bars whenever I can get my hands on them so, it’s completely sensible, of course, that people don’t try to heave me over their shoulder, because one doesn’t want to cause other people to have hernias but, I really think the faint-and-go-to-Paris (maybe, with Mr. Darcy) thing should be a thing, don’t you?

But, like other annoying life stuff, it’s not all bad.  Here are the GOOD things about being a fainter:

  1. I feel very tra-la-la when I’m not fainting.  As in, since I started taking medication, I don’t spend nearly as much time whacking my head on toilet bowls, berber carpeting or my boss’s lap.  Um, yeah.  Even better:  I don’t spend nearly as much time WONDERING if I’m going to be whacking my head on toilet bowls, berber carpeting or my boss’s lap.  This leaves my brain time to think of pithy banter I can exchange with Practical Man, a la characters in a Jane Austen novel.  And, for him to roll his eyes, but never mind about that.
  2. When you get your driver’s license back and then Practical Man suggests that you buy the vintage car of your dreams, it is THE BEST DAY (even if there are no Wispa bars around.)  Insert an ugly cry here (but don’t cry too hard because you may not know it, but, crying leads to fainting, which in turn leads to losing driver’s license and, well, this lovely circle of drama is how things go when one is afflicted with the tendency to swoon.)
  3. Fainting seems vintage, somehow.  As in, the manner of swoony women from times gone by.   This sometimes makes me feel vintage and lovely (a la Jane Austen) and sometimes makes me feel vintage and pathetic (a la Jane Austen).  When it’s pathetic, I console myself with images of highly-trained, stoic male and female soldiers standing on parade and keeling over.  Or, that guy from The Wiggles.  I remind myself that fainting is a non-gendered, training and stoic-ignoring, international activity.  Plus, in the hierarchy of diseases, this is pretty darn minor.  I could be allergic to chocolate – quelle horreur!  There, I’ve found my happy place again.
  4. I get to be sanctimonious in the manner of ex-smokers, ex-wheat eaters, ex-aerobic exercisers:  because no doctor ever harasses me about high blood pressure.  In fact, when they’re finished looking alarmed at how low my blood pressure is, they proceed to order me in a stern voice to “eat more salt”.  Obviously, I can’t be in the middle of ages, because what chubby, 40-something human from a G10 country is told to “eat MORE salt” in this day and age?  A woman living the faint-y life of a Jane Austen character, that’s who.  I am also grateful that my neuro-cardiogenic syncope syndrome hasn’t been diagnosed as “female hysteria” or “neurasthenia” which, if I lived in Jane Austen’s time (or even mine, in select locales), would be a certainty.
  5. When you get your driver’s license back (I can’t quite emphasize this one enough) for the umpteenth time, it is THE BEST DAY AGAIN, even if there are no Wispa bars or vintage automobiles around.  Although, as every frequent fainter knows, this losing/getting back/losing thing gets old really quickly, so maybe some Wispa bars will be required in the future.  Or the get-a-free-trip-to-Paris thing.  Yes, that one, pretty please.
  6. I am medically required to have regular ice cream.  I am not medically required to have Wispa bars but,  lucky for me, the doctor told me that ice cream is apparently loaded with sodium.  Sodium:  as in “eat MORE salt”.  I am pretty sure that means that ice cream counts as first aid and preventative medicine, for me.  Not only that, but, I’m positive that eating ice cream WHILE IN Paris WITH MR. DARCY (aka Practical Man) will cure me of fainting, forever.

I’m almost sure of it.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2016.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet


The finished cake

I had a birthday last week and I’ve decided that I need a sign.

Maybe, if I wear a sign, it will prevent the bullying.  The “do you really think you need that piece of cake?” that the woman at a friend’s wedding felt it was entirely her right to say to me, while I was (sound the alarms!) eating cake with the rest of the guests.

In fairness to her, I don’t look like someone who exercises most days every week.

In other words:  I don’t look like someone who deserves cake.  (Cake is to be earned, defended, and rationed, I have learned).  So, I figure I need to wear a sign.

I wasn’t an overweight child or teenager.  But, since adulthood, I’ve grown chubby.  Sometimes, I’m really fat.  Morbidly Obese, the medical charts say.  Morbid, oh yes indeedy, that’s how I have felt.

Even at my fittest and most cake-less, I have flab under my arms and my chin.  I’m tall and I take up considerable space.  My belly sticks out and I have a very pronounced bottom.  Obvious also, to anyone who has worked with or befriended me for over a decade, I have a difficult relationship with food.  Sadly, I think it’s the dominating relationship of my life and it makes my weight oscillate visibly and dramatically.  Some years, I’m up by 80-100 pounds.  Other years, I’m down by the same amount.

At both ends of that deserving or not deserving cake spectrum, I don’t look like someone who sweats through cardio and weight training and biking and running and metabolic resistance and blah, blah, blah exercises for an hour, most days, every week.  Because exercise-surely regular exercise–makes you healthy.

But, I don’t always look healthy.   I don’t look like a regular exerciser.

For a Capital P-People-Pleaser like me, that really hurts.

You see, I have been programmed–by family, by society, by myself–to equate (low) weight with worth.  And not only that, but I am continuously getting bombarded with the message that (low) weight equals health.

Famous people have commented about the maximum size of a woman’s waist being important for health and that to put a plus-size model on the cover of a magazine, as Sports Illustrated did recently, is to “glorify” obesity and ignore its health consequences.  There is, in this commentary on women’s “health”, however, no mention of a minimum size of a woman’s waist or the very life-threatening consequences of anorexia that comes from glorifying women (or y’know, any humans) who weigh far too little.  Yet, we have done that without any mention of “health” for decades.

I find this oversight interesting.  (And when, I am interested, I feel I deserve cake.)

But, not yet.

First, I keep exercising.  I keep losing and gaining dramatic amounts of weight.  I want to deserve the piece of cake.  I want to be healthy.  No, actually, I want to LOOK like someone who others think is healthy.  Because, that’s what seems to count when I’m eating the cake at a wedding.

Sometimes, I admit to getting discouraged.  I stop the exercise for a while.  “Why bother?” I fume, “You don’t get credit for exercising, by yourself, where no one can see you or compliment your race time.  What matters is what you weigh.”

I gnash my teeth and I forget How Far I’ve Come.

When I can muffle the nasty voices in my head (and those of rude wedding guests), I am surprised to realize that How Far I’ve Come with exercise is not about what I weigh anymore.

Really?

How Far I’ve Come is that in recent years, I have started to motivate myself to exercise with different goals than weight loss or a feeling that I need to earn my cake.  I have a chronic fainting syndrome for which I take daily medication and modify my lifestyle (no alcohol, caffeine, late nights or excitement–surely, I deserve cake!)  With my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, I look like a super athlete on paper.

Famous TV doctors would be so pleased.

But, they wouldn’t declare me “healthy” because I have trouble dieting as it tends to make me faint.  And modern-day-defined-by-media-sound-bytes health is apparently not about all the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, it is apparently only about weight.  Weight trumps ALL.  And, I’m not thin.  I’m just naturally zombie-like with blue fingernails and a tendency to swoon.  The walking half-dead, as it were.

So, lose weight, I must.

I’m very good at it.  I hope you’ll agree that 80+ pounds lost is an impressive achievement.  Especially when it’s been accomplished several times.  Exercise has made me dramatically thinner sometimes.  But, so many pounds lost has also sometimes made me forget How Far I’ve Come.

In the beginning, being a fainter made exercise really scary because when my heart started beating really fast and the pulse pounded in my ears, it felt alarmingly similar to what happens just before I skid, unconscious, across my bedroom carpet on my face and end up with an oozing forehead abrasion the size of a cookie (mmmm: cookies.)  But, Practical Man (who cleans up the mess that is me and the carpet in the middle of the night) and I believe that exercising actually increases my tolerance against fainting.  We think it helps my cardiac and nervous systems get used to being pushed and they learn not to react quite so dramatically at the slightest assault.

I faint far less frequently than I used to.  I am healthier–even when my bum won’t always fit into the XL pants.

But, I continue to ignore How Far I’m Come re exercise when I forget that I have adapted exercise in recent years to help me cope with chronic vertigo (a sensation that the room is spinning very rapidly around me).  I have to be very careful how I hold my head or move my eyes.  I can’t do most yoga poses.  I sleep sitting partially up and elbow Practical Man in the forehead when I roll my eyes the wrong way during a dream and everything spins violently.  I can’t let my body escape completely in dance, in the ways that I used to.  My balance problems have reached a place that I can’t walk quietly around my neighbourhood with a friend, without sweating profusely and feeling as if I have just disembarked from a boat on rocky seas.  But, I’ve learned to exercise despite my fear of triggering an intense spinning episode that can last weeks or even months.

I can do it, even though I have to be careful.  In this way, exercise has made me braver, which I think is healthier–whether or not my maximum waist size meets a former super model’s approval.  

I’m also minimizing How Far I’ve Come with exercise when I overlook that nowadays, I exercise to reduce the chronic pain I have when I move my left eye.  I take medications and vitamins and see specialists to try to solve the mystery of what causes only one of my eyes to hurt with every glance and feel as if it’s boring its way into my brain.  The working theories so far have been serious and even life-threatening possibilities.   But, I have learned that exercising produces endorphins that give me a few minutes or half an hour of all-natural pain relief.   I can look around “recklessly” without it hurting for a while.

Such a blessing that I never knew exercise could give.  I thought it was all about making me allowed to eat cake but, no.  Exercise makes me happier to live for a while without pain and healthier–even though I still have double chins.

Most of all, I realize How Far I’ve Come because even when my thighs rub together with every kilometre I clock, exercising makes me feel strong.  Even without losing a pound or an inch, the deep breathing and physical release is a boost to my mental health.  It reminds me that even though I am a fainting, spinning, eyeball aching sicko, I am also brave, strong and capable of valuing myself for more than my size.

Yep, I had a birthday last week and there are so many interesting things to do and contribute and learn in life.   I am dealing with–and may be facing more-chronic or serious illness.  And, with all my health issues — with all that doesn’t work in my body, with all that I continue to try, I want to appreciate my body for what it lets me do, not what shape it has.

So, keep your pursed lips and disapproving eyes to yourself, rude wedding lady.  Ditto to you famous people commenting on things under the dubious label of “health“.

But, staying in that, ahem, healthy head space–where I can believe that I deserve to have my cake and eat it like everyone else–will continue to be difficult.

We live in a world where instead of worrying about how our bodies are FUNCTIONING and CONTRIBUTING and LOVING, we are bombarded with messages that tell us that the only thing that really counts is how our bodies are LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING.

Because if we don’t focus on the LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING – well, then, we’re obviously not healthy.

And since health is something that apparently can be measured simply by glancing at someone, that means that anyone can–ahem–weigh in on our right to cake, or to be on the cover of a magazine.

I say that’s a sign that needs changing.

 

Copyright Christine Fader, 2016.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet