autumn equinox in self-quarantine

9.22.20 ~ our pumpkin and gourds

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

~ Bliss Carman
(A Vagabond Song)

Not only is this our first autumn in self-quarantine, it is my first one without apples since my radiation proctocolitis diagnosis. If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years you know how much I LOVE apples. But they make me ill now. 🙁 In spite of this I wanted to go to Holmberg Orchards to celebrate the equinox anyway. We didn’t pick any apples because Tim doesn’t want to eat stuff I can’t have in front of me, even though I keep telling him he doesn’t have to give things up just because I have to.

9.22.20 ~ morning at Holmberg Orchards

Today was a perfect autumn day…. And there I go, slipping out of fall into autumn…. All right, a perfect fall day, too.
~ Hal Borland
(Hal Borland’s Book of Days)

But it was fun to pick out a pumpkin and some gourds for our garden and the corn maze was open! We felt it was safe enough as everything was outside and everyone was required to wear masks and keep 6′ away from each other. When we got to the corn maze we were happy to see a sign that said there were no dead ends this year, because of the pandemic. You were to just follow the winding path and keep six feet apart. No getting hopelessly lost. Being there early on a Tuesday morning we were the only ones in the maze. Yay! It took us half an hour to walk through it.

9.22.20 ~ our dinner

I am inclined to think of late that as much depends on the state of the bowels as of the stars.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, December 12, 1859)

We had grilled marinated swordfish and green beans for dinner out on the balcony. Simple but delicious and that’s how life has got to be these days. 🙂 Keeping my gut soothed is of utmost importance! I’ve had a few setbacks since the midsummer alcohol fiasco but feel that on the whole, things are better. As far as autumn goes, I’m going to try to focus on the leaves changing colors and long walks in the fresh air and not think so much about apples!

midsummer in self-quarantine

6.20.20 ~ our geranium
“Calliope Medium Pink Flame”

All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Walden)

Oh my, how things do change! Perhaps because of the poison ivy blunder, and the coronavirus pandemic, as Midsummer approached I was feeling pretty glum. Wistfully my thoughts drifted to memories of celebrations gone by, like the ones in 2016 and 2009. But then I remembered Tim & I had celebrated alone before. 2011. So we tried to make this Midsummer special, too.

We haven’t used our balcony for outdoor living in a long time because it is badly deteriorated and needs replacing. Our turn to have it replaced hasn’t come up yet, but we decided to bring the little outdoor dining set out of storage and make the best of it. We had also bought a pink geranium at the end of May and it was blossoming profusely. In fact, I had to deadhead it before I could take the picture. 🙂

6.20.20 ~ our dinner

Each new season grows from the leftovers from the past. That is the essence of change, and change is the basic law.
~ Hal Borland
(Sundial of the Seasons)

Since before my radiation proctocolitis diagnosis in January, food has been a big problem for me. I’m still losing weight and have now lost 40 lbs. since November. Sticking to a low-FODMAP diet seems to be my only option for avoiding painful flare-ups.

So we splurged and grilled a marinated swordfish steak to celebrate. Delicious! And we made a low-FODMAP potato salad from my new cookbook, which was pretty good. The Gut-Friendly Cookbook: Delicious, Low-FODMAP, Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly Recipes for a Happy Tummy by Alana Scott.

Last fall I had a margarita and got pretty sick, and have avoided alcohol since, but for this occasion I decided to try a Cape Codder made with gluten-free vodka. Mistake. I enjoyed it but a couple of hours later I was very sorry. 🙁 It looks like alcohol is out of the picture for me for good. Lesson learned.

6.20.20 ~ sunset at Avery Point

The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
(Small Wonder: Essays)

Fortunately we were able to go down to Avery Point to see the sunset before my gut turned on me. It was beautiful! We had a nice chat with another couple from behind our masks and from a distance. They were sitting on their own lawn chairs. Why hadn’t we thought of that? Instead of going to the beach and sitting on public park benches this summer, which we have decided isn’t an option for us, we can bring our lawn chairs to Avery Point and sit for a while. 🙂

Things change, we make adjustments, modify our habits. Nothing will ever be the same.

healing

5.21.20 ~ garter snake
Fennerswood Preserve, Stonington, Connecticut

Some animals are archetypal symbols of healing. The snake is one such animal. It sheds the old skin and moves into the new. It is a symbol of leaving the old behind for the new. As a symbol of transformation, meditating and focusing on the snake during times of illness will help accelerate the healing process. Animals that appear to us at times of illness, provide clues as to the best way to focus our healing energies.
~ Ted Andrews
(The Intercession of Spirits)

For the second time in a little over a month a garter snake has slithered across the path in front of me and then stopped in the leaves right beside me. The first time the snake kept its head hidden but this second snake lifted its head up and looked at me.

Rod of Asclepius

At first I was excited about the photo opportunity but after I got home I started wondering about the significance snake encounters might hold. In Greek mythology, Asclepius is a deity associated with healing and medicine. The Rod of Asclepius features a snake.

So what meaning did meeting these snakes hold for me? Since November I’ve been struggling to cope with radiation proctitis/colitis, which is incurable, but with the help of a wonderful gastroenterologist I’ve been figuring out how to manage the symptoms. It involves medication and strictly avoiding certain foods. Too many foods!

When I got my official diagnosis in January I highly doubted I would ever be able to take a long walk again. And there are still days when I’ve eaten the wrong thing and cannot leave the house.

My goal is to take a walk in the woods one of these days. And to have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer.
~ my blog post, 8 January 2020

At first we made tentative little visits to local cemeteries to find the graves of more ancestors. I learned that three of my ancestors lost their lives in the winter of 1711-1712, probably victims of a ‘malignant distemper’ epidemic that swept through Connecticut. I had no idea our own lives would soon be turned upside down by a pandemic just two short months later. But then, on March 21, mostly because of self-quarantine and having nowhere else safe to go, it finally happened. We took a walk in the woods! And we have continued walking!

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we probably won’t have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer, which was my second goal. But we’ve decided to make the best of the situation so we put our outdoor dining set out on the balcony and plan to get some flowers from the nursery so we can enjoy eating outside. Who knows? Maybe we will make a new bird friend.

Our lives have definitely been transformed and I’ve experienced more healing than expected. I also started taking bioflavonoids because they are supposed to help with radiation damage, tinnitus, and allergies. It does feel like the chance meetings of two snakes in the woods highlighted us leaving the old behind for the new.

On Monday I fell. I was weeding my garden (a little plot in front of our condo), bending over at the hip. One weed resisted and I pulled harder. It let go and so I fell on my side on top of the stones bordering the garden. Nothing broken but my right shoulder, arm and leg are aching quite a lot. And I have a huge bruise on my hip! But it still felt satisfying getting the garden tidied up for the summer.

ten years blogging

“Getting Ready for Winter” by Šarūnas Burdulis
American red squirrel descaling and eating hemlock seeds

I found this picture some time ago on Wikimedia Commons and have been saving it for pairing with a poem or a quote but, so far, nothing has turned up to inspire. However, today is my ten year blogging anniversary and the timing seems right. The picture captures the best of my childhood memories in the woods. I used to pretend those tiny hemlock cones were bushes for the landscaping around the little houses I built in my sandbox…

After about a month of doing well on medication for the radiation proctitis I suffered a setback at the end of January, leaving me frustrated and discouraged and tied to the house again. We’re trying something new and hoping things will improve soon. In the meantime I’ve pushed myself to resume my yoga for seniors, which I hadn’t done since last fall when I got so sick. And much to my surprise, I’ve taken up doing jigsaw puzzles! It seems easier than reading these days. Using a different part of my weary brain, no doubt. Watching the birds at my feeder provides hours of entertainment.

Naturally a lot has changed in ten years since I started blogging! I used to spend more time sharing images, lyrics, poetry, and quotes, and I still love a good pairing of words and pictures now and then. Now, my main joys seem to be nature walks and photography and family history research. I do hope I will be able to get back to them in the near future.

diagnosis: radiation proctitis

Radiation proctitis (and the related radiation colitis) is inflammation and damage to the lower parts of the colon after exposure to x-rays or other ionizing radiation as a part of radiation therapy.

In January and February of 2018 I had three radiation treatments for endometrial cancer, following a hysterectomy. In July 2018 I began having distressing gastrointestinal symptoms which kept getting worse for the next 18 months. Now that I finally have a diagnosis I decided to create this narrative to keep track of how it all unfolded.

At first I made no connection between my symptoms and the treatment, assuming I had developed the irritable bowel syndrome that seems to run in my family. Dietary changes brought some relief at first but things kept getting worse.

In June of 2019 I described all my symptoms to the radiologist who had treated me but she dismissed my concerns, she said it sounded like irritable bowel syndrome that was made worse by the emotional stress of having cancer. Not anything related to the radiation therapy. I’m still angry about this.

In August of 2019 I saw my oncologist who agreed with the radiologist. Meanwhile I kept eliminating foods from my diet and looked into stress management. No signs of cancer returning but could worrying about the possibility really be causing all this? If I was worried it was definitely subconscious.

Early in November 2019 granddaughter Katherine came to visit us for three wonderful days. We had so much fun with her! But on the last day our visit was cut short when I had a very painful attack of ischemic colitis which landed me in the emergency department, getting all kinds of tests and a shot of morphine. It took me two weeks to recover, although the remaining gastrointestinal symptoms were worse than ever.

Tim spent some time searching for a new gastroenterologist and found an all-female practice. I took a chance and am so pleased with my new doctor and her APRN. They listened to my concerns!

A colonoscopy was scheduled for December 18 and we made it to the clinic driving through an ice storm. When I woke up afterwards the doctor told me my intestines were definitely damaged from the radiation. Physical evidence. Tears of relief ran down my cheeks, not for the news, but for feeling validated. It wasn’t psychosomatic.

On January 3, 2020, on my follow-up appointment with the APRN, I received the official diagnosis, radiation proctosis. I also have radiation colitis on the other side of my pelvis, where the small intestine joins the large intestine. It’s permanent. It’s a relief to know I’m not crazy and my focus is shifting from trying to “cure” my symptoms but now to finding ways to manage and live with them. I’ve started one med which has helped me enough to make a trip to the grocery store possible. (I hadn’t been out of the house, except for medical appointments, for two months!)

Another med the insurance company won’t cover. Still waiting to see what, if any, substitute can be made. The strategy is to reduce the inflammation as much as possible.

My goal is to take a walk in the woods one of these days. And to have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer.