10 December 2011

Imagine Being Invisible

Imagine what it would be like to be invisible. You would sit quietly, or not so quietly, and people would walk by not acknowledging your presence. And then what about when you spoke to them. Obviously, they would hear you, but they would ignore you...and pretend that they hadn't heard you.
This is what life is like for most of our homeless population on the streets of Los Angeles. Our monthly outreach to the Skid Row area of L.A., with our group, In His Shoes, has shed a different perspective for me on the population on the streets. With the economic downturn, there are more and more people on the street. Not just men, but women...families. I often think that we are all just a paycheck away from the street if it weren't for our support systems, be they family, friends, church.
Not all who are living on the street are "crazy", "mental patients", or "social deviants." I have met many types. For the four years that we have been doing our monthly outreach in Los Angeles, I have met the "regulars" as well as those who are in transition. From what I see, there are 4 different types on the street.
  1. There are those that live there and LIKE living there. They are usually men in their 30's and 40's who thrive on the environment, seeing their friends on a day-to-day basis. They may be living in Single Room Occupancy apartments with very low rent, but hardly have enough for food.
  2. The mentally challenged. There are those that have mental issues, or that have drug-related problems and they cannot function in a "normal" society
  3. The newly homeless. This includes those that have newly lost everything, their jobs and homes. They are the ones that are trying hard to get off the streets, trying to make the best of the programs that are out there. But the programs are so impacted that they may or may not get the help that they need.
  4. Those that are living in the shelters but don't have the ability to provide for themselves and therefore end up begging for food and clothing on the street.
I suppose what sparked this writing is a conversation that I had recently with Bob, one of my homeless friends. I see Bob on a daily basis as I walk to my car on Figueroa. Bob is disabled, in a wheelchair with one leg only. He is the kindest, gentlest and most positive soul. As passersby walk to their destinations, Bob sits there, her cup for donations on the sidewalk. He does not beg, but the cup is there. Instead he greets people, compliments them on their clothing, discusses the sporting events that happened, yet as I approach I notice that there are not many that even make eye contact with Bob. And I started wondering what that would feel like, to be a "non-person." I imagine it would disheartening, if not incredibly lonely.
A couple months ago, I noticed that Bob was wearing glasses. I asked him about it. "A couple months ago, some people took me to Costco to get my eyes checked. They ordered glasses for me, but I wasn't able to go there to pick them up." They picked them up for me and now I can see. I asked him, 'So now that you can see all of us, tell me, are we as beautiful and handsome as you always tell us we are? I mean, now that you can see." He laughed and said, "Everyone is beautiful. I love Los Angeles. I'm blesed to be here."
A couple months ago, I overheard Bob tell someone that his birthday was coming up. When I asked him, he told me his birthday was on December 7 - Pearl Harbor Day. He was going to be 53. As the weeks went by, Bob referenced his upcoming birthday a few times to me. I told him that I had the date in mind - December 7. Bob's birthday was two days ago. As I wished him happy birthday on my way to the car, and handed him a bad with his birthday gift (a pack of underwear that he had asked for), he said something to me that I will not forget. I wanted to share it with you.
After thanking me for the gift, he said, "You always remember my name. And I appreciate that, ma'am. You know who I am." I can't forget this. Our homeless brothers and sisters are people, just like you and I. They are the children of fathers and mothers. They are the brothers and sisters of families. Those families may or may not know where they are, or care about them. But this doesn't discount the fact that they are human beings with needs, fears, hopes and dreams like all of us. They just lack the support systems that we so readily enjoy. They have names and birthdays.
Happy Birthday to Bob. May your life be filled with the beauty and goodness that you so readily see in all of us.
Here's what you can donate to the homeless in your community
It's often difficult to know what to give to the homeless. I hear people tell me they don't want to give money because they fear the person will use it for alcohol or drugs. That may or may not be the case, however, if you would prefer to give items to the homeless in your community, here are some suggestions that I find are asked for on a regular basis on our homeless outreach.
  • Socks
  • Blankets/Sleeping Bags
  • Toiletries (the little bottles from hotels are a great size for the homeless)
  • Towels
  • Sweatshirts, Sweatpants or Jeans
  • Shoes

08 December 2011

Conversations about Underwear on Figueroa

About a month or so ago, I was heading toward my car on Figueroa after finishing up at work.  As usual, Bob was in his spot, sitting in his wheelchair, he greeted the passers-by with "Your hair looks nice," "What a game last night, huh?", and "I like your earrings."  I would say about 50% don't even make eye contact.  That's pretty good considering most homeless people on the street.  Bob is different.  He's likeable.  Very even tempered, and very complimentary.  That's his schtick.  That's Bob.  On that day, he was asking someone if they had seen Puss n' Boots.  He said that he thought it was a funny film and recommended that this man take his son to see the film.  "My son is 18.  He's not going to sit through Puss n' Boots."  To which Bob replied, "Well, I'm going to be 53, and I sat through it...and really liked it!"  At that time, I was approaching, and he starting asking me if I had seen the movie.  I told him I hadn't, but asked him when his upcoming birthday was having overheard his conversation.

"December 7!  I was born on Pearl Harbor Day,1958."  So I remembered.  For the past 6 weeks or so, every once in a while Bob would mention that he had an upcoming birthday, to which I'd say, "I know. Pearl Harbor Day, 1958."  Everytime I say this, Bob says, "Aw, ma'am...you remembered my birthday."  I've told Bob my name, but he calls me "ma'am" which I would hate from anyone else, but from Bob, it's okay. 

So yesterday as I passed Bob, I asked him what he needed for his birthday.  "Aw, ma'am, you remembered!...Well, I could use some pants, but I know a couple people that said they would get me some."  I asked about food thinking I could get him a gift card to Corner Bakery (I know he likes their chili).    But he said, "no, I have enough food...I get so much from people going by that sometimes I have to give it away."  So that was out.  Then he said, "Ma'am?  I could actually use some underwear though."  I said okay, happy to have a definite gift idea.  And then there I was.  On Figueroa, discussing underwear with Bob.  What kind?  Boxers?  Tighty whiteys?  What size?  And it struck me as funny as I was walking away because I was having this conversation about something somewhat intimate with Bob who is just really an acquaintance...but an acquaintance in need of underwear.  That evening, in Costco, I told my husband that I was picking up underwear for Bob.  "Who's Bob?" he asked.  "Bob, my friend in the wheelchair."  "Oh, okay."  Neddy know I have a soft spot for the homeless.    

Bob is 53 today.  It's Pearl Harbor day.  He has a long gray beard, long gray hair tied back in a pony tail.  He has one leg and sits in a wheelchair with all his belongings tied to it.   He has soft green eyes, and would actually be a handsome man if he wasn't so unkempt.  He's about the most positive man I've met.  Despite the adversity, he sits there every day as the world walks by, talking to whomever will carry a conversation with him.  When I ask, "How are you today, Bob."  He says, "Keepin' positive!  God is good."  He has every  reason to think the opposite.  Just last week when it got to be so chilly, I asked him where he goes at night.  He said that last night he spent the night on the floor of his friend's bathroom, and in his positive way said, "but it was indoors and out of the cold!"  That's how Bob is.  Always positive.

As I approached him today, he was talking to another homeless man who was standing close by.    I watched as Bob counted out money from his cup and gave it to the man.   The man looked at me and said, "I'm hungry and just need some money for food...for a burrito."  Bob was sharing his money with him, and I gave him the rest.  I've seen this many times before on our homeless outreach.  The sense of community and belonging of the homeless toward one another.  After the man had left, I handed Bob the bag with his gift.  I had wrapped his underwear six-pack in colorful paper and added a card.  Bob looked inside the bag.  "Aw ma'am, you remembered my birthday...and you even wrapped my present...and there's a card too?  And you always remember my name.  I appreciate that, ma'am, that you know my name." 

Makes you think, doesn't it?    The little things are what matter.  To someone who is "invisible" to the general populace, having someone know/remember your name is a big deal.  Having someone even acknowledge your presence is special.  And I suppose having them remember your birthday is just icing on the cake! 

Happy Birthday Bob.  May your life be filled with the beauty that you so easily see in all of us!

24 November 2011

Epiphany at Thanksgiving

Epiphany - noun - a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely or commonplace occurrence or experience. 

You know the final scene of Dickens' Christmas Carol, where Ebeneezer Scrooge, enlightened by the meaning of Christmas, opens his window on the village below and wishes passersby a Merry Christmas?  Well, that's how it is for me this year with Thanksgiving.  Upon leaving work yesterday, I was wishing everyone (and I mean everyone!) a happy Thanksgiving.  I even hugged building security on my way out.

I have always loved Thanksgiving and the concept behind it.  A day to give thanks to God for all our blessings.  A day to enjoy the family.  But this year is different.  It's more than a "concept" and so much more than a day.  In reflection of all that has happened, healthwise, this year - recovery from gallbladder surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer round two/mastectomy surgery, my brother's colon cancer - it's actually been a very BLESSED year and I am so much richer, more blessed, and in a better place for it.  My heart is filled with joy, thankfulness, love, and compassion because of the experiences of this year.

Yes, we went through some tough times....BUT, today, on November 24, I am alive and well.  Not only that, but I am thriving.  This year, I saw my daughter graduate nursing school and move on to be a successful pediatric nurse.  I have seen my son thrive in his job as a project manager.  I have witnessed the love shared between my future son-in-law and my daughter and the respect and caring they have toward one another.  I have known true love from my husband who has been there for me every step of this journey...and who worries about me.  : ) 

I am blessed with a close family...that love and care for me.  That are there for me.  That support me, pray for me, cooked for me when I came home from the hospital.  I am thankful for a mom that came over to take care of me, even when she wasn't feeling well herself....who loves to spend time with me, watch dr. phil, judge judy and oprah with me....and give me advice on what vitamins to take and what books to read.  I am blessed with a closeness between my brothers and sister who send me sound clips of TV shows of the past - no brag, just fact - who text me to see how my doctor's appointments went, who buy me a bag of 36 popsicles when I just mentioned that "a" popsicle sounds good, and who share with me the stories of my nephews and nieces to put into perpective the beauty and preciousness of life.

I am blessed with a handful of true friends who are there for me through thick and thin.  Who email me throughout my day, one or two sentences, to commiserate about how we wish were were home now, or to share our days - happy or nerve-wracking --, or send me funny photos at just the right time.  : )   Who share crochet patterns with me, and laugh with me.  Who reach out to the homeless with me and who work toward making the world a better place.  Who rent a van and drive all the way out to Carpinteria, potluck in tow, to cheer my daughter and I cross the finish line after walking 39 miles for breast cancer.  AND THEN...who sign up to walk those 39 miles with me next year!  You have made my life better - every one of you. 

I have another family - a church family - that I am grateful for.  These are family members some of whose last names I don't even know. But it's not important.  We're all part of a larger family.  These are people that come up to me on Sundays, embrace me and ask how I'm feeling.  And tell me that they have been praying for me.  I know.  I can feel it.   I am humbled by them.

I am in tune as well to the blessings of my body and how it is working, despite it's problems.  The coordination it is taking for my brain to put the thought into motion, typing it on my screen right now, seeing the words pop up, hearing the clicking of the keys while being able to hear Segovia play Mendelssohn's String quartet No. 1 in E flat major.  Miraculous.  Smelling and tasting the coffee.  Feeling the warmth of my robe, enjoying the light in my dining room, and the love of my kitties that are "kuskurduvel"ing on against my legs. 

I am thankful for all my medical providers, whose hands - guided by God - helped me be here today.  My surgeons who removed cancer, re-routed me, created new parts for me -- I am truly grateful.  And for the nurses who took care of me around the clock ....and even the workers that cooked the meals in the hospital, and those who came and cleaned my room.  I appreciate them all so much more now.

I think I could go on and on...all day.   The Epiphany of Thanksgiving...on this very special Thanksgiving, is that everyday is a day of thanks.  The miracle of life is a blessing.  Our hearts beating, day in and day out since the day we were born; the wonder of our bodies working on their own...breathing without our conscious effort.  And the realization that we are not alone here...we all are part of one another.  We belong to one another. 

Life is precious and I am so blessed to live the life I do.  A full life.  A life filled with love and fullness because of so many who grace it. 

It has been an amazing year!  A Blessed Year!  Happy Thanksgiving!

19 November 2011

Team In Her Shoes - Walking Glendale

It was a beautiful fall morning.  The air was chilly and crisp, there were clouds teasing us of a chance of rain, but seven of us on Team In Her Shoes met at the Von's market in Glendale at the 134 to train.  It was our very first training walk.  We met between 7:00 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.

We are Team In Her Shoes.  We're the sister organization of In His Shoes a group that rallies support for those who are suffering in the world.  This year, we decided to sign up to participate in next year's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Santa Barbara because we are putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are fighting the battle with cancers of all types, but namely, breast cancer.
We have 19 team members signed up to walk.  And we have all committed to raising a minimum of $1800 for breast cancer.  Raising the money is not as hard as training.  The walk takes place over the course of 2 days, and we'll be walking 39 miles.  We started off today in Glendale with the goal of walking 3.2 miles. It was a fun walk.  We kept the pace and walked down and through the Americana and back up to the 134.

Along the way we stopped for photo ops at the new Armenian consulate building, and the Christmas tree at the Americana.  It was a fun morning and a great way to start off a productive day.

Would you like to donate to team In Her Shoes?  Please email me at anush@pomegranate-n-eye.com  I'll be setting up our team donation page.  Do you have a business that would like to sponsor our team?  Would you like us to walk in honor or memory of your friend or loved one?  We're here to do that.  We are putting ourselves In Her Shoes!

Like us on Facebook:  "Team In Her Shoes"
Find out more about In His Shoes outreach:  www.inhisshoes.org

PMPS? Or What?

You know the feeling of being bitten by an insect where you get that sting feeling followed by an itch?  And then you have that terrible need to scratch?  Now think of that same feeling, but imagine that your body was numb, so no matter how you scratch or try to remedy that the itch, it doesn't help, because the feeling is not caused by a bite on the surface of your skin, but by nerves that are damaged in your body.  This is what I've been experiencing for the past 3 days.   It's been rough.

Three days ago, I was woken up from my sleep by shooting nerve pains.  The pain started at my incision site below my underarm but deep inside.  It was so intense I didn't know what to do.  Rubbing the area was futile.  As hard as I rubbed, I still couldn't get relief since my incision areas and areas around them are numb.  That first night the itching/stabbing pain lasted about 15 minutes.  The next morning, it came back...on and off throughout the day for short bursts.  By the following evening, I was wincing in pain.  The attacks were lasting longer.  Unable to sleep, I tried an ice pack, then icy hot, then arnica gel.  Nothing worked.  Motrin.... 800 mgs.  No relief.  I got up and tried to research the net.  Googling "Terrible itching pain at incision site after mastectomy" I found a link describing my symptoms and a thread called PMPS or Post Mastectomy Pain Syndrome.  As much as I found relief in reading that others were having symptoms like mine, I am still concerned that this pain is going to be chronic.  What I read stated that there was no "cure" and people were living with the pain.  Up to 30% of post mastectomy women experience this, but the medical community often dismisses it because it's nothing that can be pinpointed, and there's no cure.  

The following day, exhausted, I had to go to work.  The pain was terrible, and throughout the day in my cubicle, I found myself applying pressure to my incision site....pushing, massaging, leaning forward in my chair.  Trying everything possible to get it to stop.  I called the doctor.  "My appointment is not til the 23rd.  But I'm having this terrible pain and I can't seem to get any relief.  I wanted to call and let you know.  The doctor had said that I did have some swelling at my last appointment and I still do.  Is there anything I can take for the pain?"  The receptionist told me she'd discuss it with the surgeon and get back to me.  Fine.  After an hour she called back.  Nothing can be done.  The doctor told me that as long as the breast was not red or hot to the touch, it was okay.  Otherwise, I would just need to let it get better on its own. "The nerves have been cut, and they're regenerating."    I mentioned what I had read about PMPS, but it was dismissed.  "What if I don't get better?"  "You will."  :::shrug:::

Last night I was exhausted from pain, and lack of sleep.  I tried the heating pad on the area.  During the day I had my Rx for Norco refilled.  And today I have been taking it around the clock.  It seems to have helped a bit though it leaves my  head wonky.  I've also limited my caffeine as I read that it over stimulates the nerves and makes you more susceptible to the pain.  The attacks are not as bad though they are still there.  I've also been trying to stretch my arm out during an attack.  In my thinking, I imagine that it's "stretching the nerves" that may be rebelling or pinched or unhappy.

I wanted to post this because this pain was completely unexpected...and not explained to me as a side effect of mastectomy.  You think when you're post op, and healing that you're out of the woods...and then BAM it hits you.  And from what I read, this can be experienced even a year or two (or more) after surgery.  I also wanted to put PMPS out there, in case others are having these feelings/pain.  There's not a lot of info out there, but we're not going crazy.  That feeling of being wrapped in barbed wire is not in your head.  It's in your nerve endings and very real. 

I hope and pray that this will get better and that I do not suffer from this syndrome, but that I'm just healing.  I'm still trying to figure it out.  For now, the pain seems managed, and I'm going to try to get some sleep while I can.  

08 November 2011

Fall Seven Times -- (One Week Post Op)

I went back to work this week -- Wait!  It was only yesterday.  Geez...okay, so you can tell how exhausting it's been....felt like Thursday.  Thankfully, I don't have a physically demanding job -- I work at a computer all day -- but still, sitting in one place and dealing with work demands has been draining.

The drain site is still sore even though the drain is out.  It's going to take time to heal.  I am still heavily bandaged...and I always forget to allow extra time to my morning/evening routine.  Changing dressings takes me an extra 10 minutes.  I was told that there can be absolutely NO PRESSURE applied to the wound site, so I have layer upon layer of gauze stacked up to help me achieve this.  
Tomorrow is my post op appointment with the surgeon.  I'm curious if he'll remove the stitches.  The Steri-Strips are still in place (they haven't fallen off yet like they said they would).  We'll see.

Another big change has been that Ani has started working the night shift at Children's Hospital.  This is going to be a "regular" thing for the next year.  I'm so used to having her around.  And now, when she's working, I don't get to see her but for an hour, when I come home and she's getting ready to leave.  We are getting creative in our texting.  I've been staying up late working on jewelry, and we'll send a text here and there at odd hours just to "check in".  But the house is quiet now, and it's a big change for me.  That, coupled with the darkness after the time change, and it's a bit gloomy.  : (

That being said though, all in all, I am feeling optimistic.  I have been thinking a lot about this past year now that we're just a couple months from the end of it.  It's been a tough ride, and 
I'm ready for the New Year to start.  But I am also grateful.  Yes, it's been a tough year...but I am alive!  I made it through, and I'm still fighting!  : )  

"Fall 7 times - stand up 8." Japanese Proverb
That's it right there.  Just keep on standing up!  Keep fighting for what you believe in.  Life is precious!

04 November 2011

Rain, Drain and BlogWorld Again!

It's November 4, just 3 days after surgery.  Today was the BlogWorld Expo at the L.A. Convention Center, and DV, Suzie and I had planned on going prior to my surgery.  It rained today and my brother didn't want me driving so soon after surgery, so he decided to come pick me up at the house and we'd go together.  I'm doing well...for being only three days post op, there's been very little drainage and after a call to the surgeon's office it was decided that I could have my drain taken out today.  This is a wonderful thing.  The drain leaves my body right under my right arm pit....with tubing that continues to a Jackson Pratt drain that hangs from a clip attached to my waistband.  Not only is it ugly, but it's very painful.  So the idea that I can have this removed today is wonderful.

So first things first, the three of us checked in at the BlogWorld Expo.  It's so much fun.  We went around to all the booths learning about blogging, marketing, monetizing, promoting, and picking up great swag from tshirts, and back scratchers, to insulated cups...you name it.  Belesh!  "The Next Step with Fr. Vazken" Podcast was nominated for a People's Choice award for best religious podcast.  As Suzie is the producer of the show and DV is the host, we were anxious to find out if they had won, but found out that the winners will be announced tomorrow (not today).  Here they are relaxing at the SouthWest Airlines both at the convention center:

Blogger also had a cool photo booth where we took our individual photos.  Here's mine:

After several hours of the show though,  I have to admit that I was exhausted.  My arms and shoulders were aching, and I was just pooped.  We decided to drive out to Encino, closer to my surgeon's office and find a place to have lunch rather than staying around L.A. and risking the traffic.  It was raining, and things were getting messy.

We had lunch together and then made it to the doctor on time.   After a definite okay from the nurse, they removed my drain!  I also have permission to shower now, rather than taking a sponge bath.  More great news.  

Hand bruised from three tries to get the
IV line started
Forearm is bruised as well....
another two tries there.  Imagine, he wanted
to then try my neck!
I am still bandaged but healing okay.  I'm still pretty bruised up from the whole IV line fiasco.  I'm posting a couple pics so you get the idea.  So I went to the doctor today, and the nurse removed my drain!  Afterward, the doctor checked in on me.  I showed him my bruised hands and arm and thanked him for not letting the anesthesiologist tap into my neck vein.  He said, "Well, at least you have a sense of humor about it...I just didn't see why we couldn't use your bad arm for the couple hours we'd be in surgery."  Okay by me!

I have a follow up appointment on November 9 -- next Wednesday, when hopefully, I'll get my stitches removed.  Til then, just taking it a day at a time.

02 November 2011

In Praise and Appreciation of My Mom

It's day one of post-op.  I got the call yesterday from my mom.  "I'm coming over to help."  I am blessed to have such a sweet mom.  At 78, she has health issues of her own: arthritis in her knees, back and shoulder.  Still, when her babies are hurting, she wants to be there for them.  I had to admonish her this time, "Mom, I love that you're coming, but please, don't bring food!"  Even though she agreed, I know that she's bringing something that she deems "healthy" for me.  So maybe some fruit, or some Trader Joe's tomato/red pepper soup, some produce that she picked up at the Armenian market.  She won't come empty handed.  That's how she is.

My mom has always been there for me.  She has been my mom, my friend, my prayer support.  To this day, when we go to visit her, or drop her off, she stands at the door waiting for us to pull out of the driveway.  I tell her to relax, we can show ourselves out, but she stands there so she can pray after us for a safe 3 mile journey home.  I have to say there is comfort in this....as a mom myself now, I do the same when Ani leave for work every morning (really early...even on weekends!).   I make her wake me to say goodbye.  I stand at the door and say a prayer for her, for my son, for my family...that God keep them safe and wrap them all in the wings of His angels.

This year, with all my surgeries, we have had a lot of mother/daughter time as I have spent over 10 weeks off work recuperating from the cancers.  This week I'm off 4 days.  Our time together is good.  I am more of a "peace and quiet" person...I like to read or listen to music.  Mom is more of a TV person.  She likes to fill me in on all the shows that I miss while I'm at work.  This runs the gamut from The Doctors, to Judge Judy, Dr. Oz, Oprah (back when she was in her final series) and of course, Dr. Phil.   For the time that I'm home recuperating, when mom is over, we have the TV on.  It's always great to shut it off at the end of our time together...but don't get me wrong, when we are together, it's a change of pace for me as well and I love the time that we share talking through the show, predicting outcomes.  I'm always the cynic when it comes to Dr. Phil and his advice, or Dr. Oz and his generalizations about how this/or that is good for the general populace.  But she doesn't listen to me.   She takes notes during Dr. Oz, and goes and researches the various vitamins.  At 78, I have to say, she has taken a few falls and thank God, she hasn't broken anything (knock on wood!), so I'm guessing all the vitamins are working for her!

Then there are the books and magazines.  My mom is an avid reader.  She is usually reading a couple books at a time.  These are either financial self help books, or biographies about anyone and everyone (Dr. Phil's wife, Winona Judd, and who knows who else.)  When she finishes these books, she always brings them to me to read.  I never accept them because I don't have time to read the books that I'm reading.  But she tries.  : )  She also brings over magazines with notes written on the cover as to what page the articles I should read are on.  These articles range from news on refinancing our home (which we've been trying unsuccessfully to do), finances, health articles, breaking news about how chocolate is good for you, and how a handful of blueberries can help stave off cancer.)

So I'm sitting here, knowing that mom is coming over soon.  And I'm so grateful and feel so blessed for the relationship that I share with her.  Our time together is precious to me and I am blessed to have such a wonderful, warm and caring mom in my life.   When she comes over, I'm going to share this with her...and I know that she'll get her "bunny nose" -- as we call it -- when she gets all choked up and her nose crinkles.  She's the best.  I love you, mom!

Surgery Part Two: Reconstruction

It's a little past midnight.  The wind is howling in Sunland this early morning rattling my doors.  I've been napping on pain meds since I got home from outpatient surgery this evening and now I'm awake til the next dose kicks in.  My day started at yesterday midnight when the doctor's orders were "nothing to eat or drink after midnight."  Eating is not a problem; but no water or the morning coffee is a bit tougher.  Still, I did okay, and made it to the Surgi-Center at New Age Aesthetic's - my surgeon's practice in Encino.

I met with the anesthesiologist who attempted to start my IV line.  Attempted.  I have only one good arm for this type of thing, and that one they can't use because of all the surgeries, lymph node dissection, and because the veins have been scarred beyond use from all the surgeries.  Not wise to use it anyways, unless it's an absolute necessity.  So SEVEN tries on the left arm.  I have never had such an experience.  I usually get the comments that my veins are very small...and they attempt my crook of the arm...and usually advance to the back of my hand.  But this doctor tried 7 times.  Two in the crook of the arm, three in the back of the hand, 2 in my underside of my forearm...and then gave me the option:  Either we try in the neck (EWWWW!) or we try the right arm.  All this time I'm praying for him to find a vein.  I asked him to please call the surgeon in the other room, and ask him what he suggested.  We opted for the back of the hand on my right, and thank God he finally found it.  Needless to say my left arm is nicely bruised.

Then I had to be photographed...the "before" pictures.  Humiliating.  But because it's reconstruction from a medical point of view, it's required by the insurance.  Okay.  Then meet with the surgeon for markings.  It's totally like the beginning of the TV series, Nip/Tuck when you see the doctor marking up the patient with dashed lines on the skin.  He explained to me what he was going to do.  I had a lot of hard scar tissue under my arm area where the incision was made 18 years ago for the lymph node dissection, and then more scarring on top of that from the mastectomy.  He wanted to remove that a bit.  Then some contouring to remove the necrosis (more hard areas), and then creating a nipple.

Then into the operating room where I was put in the usual "crucifixion position".  Arms out to my sides and restrained.  As always, in my head at this point...and at points throughout this whole cancer, I start reciting the 23rd Psalm in my head.  This beautiful Psalm helped me get through my daily radiation treatments and brings me a lot of comfort when I need it most.  I love the verse, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."  It's beautiful.

Anyways, I woke up in recovery.  My hands are still swollen from the IV fluids.  And I DID have to have a drain, despite my positive thoughts not to get one.  Hopefully it will come out on Tuesday.  I have a lot more pain than I thought I would have.  Especially in the exit point of the drain.  Every time I get up from sitting, or lying down, it's a sharp pain.  I have to empty the drain 4 x a day and log the drainage.

I am hopeful that this will be the last surgery for the year.  For now, I'm just going to think positive, work on healing, and taking care of myself: mind, soul and body.

If you are dealing with breast cancer, reconstruction, etc, and need to ask questions, talk about it, etc.  I'm here to help:  write me at ahnoosh@ca.rr.com

31 October 2011

On Being Honest

My blog is evolving as am I.  When I started out, the idea of Inside the Pomegranate was to promote my jewelry business, Pomegranate & Eye.  So I wrote about jewelry, and occasionally about our homeless outreach to the streets of Skid Row.  And then cancer happened, so I started writing about my feelings and dealings with colon cancer, and then breast cancer, mastectomy, reconstruction.  And then there was  the garden, and the illustrations.

Tonight is the eve of my 2nd reconstruction surgery.  Tomorrow, my surgeon will finish what he started back in May.  Surgery is on a good number line up day:  11/1/11 at 1:00 p.m.  : )   It's outpatient.  And then I'll be off work for the rest of the week.  I am not afraid....I'm beyond that now.  After undergoing so many surgeries this year, I'm okay with this one.  But there is one thing that I'm dreading, and that's the "drain" that he said I "may" have to have after surgery.  I'm going to try to think positive ....but that is really a big drag.

So back to the blog.  I was thinking about all that I've written about, and all that has yet to be written.  The cancer is almost over...and so are the illustrations.  The garden is lying dormant til the Spring.  But there is an issue that I've had to deal with my entire life and that is.....:::::drumroll:::: my weight.  And just like I thought it would be good for me to "go public" with my cancer, I think there's a need for going public with the issues that keep the weight on.  So here we are.

Over the course of the past two years, I have lost a lot of weight.  Slowly, but it has come off.  I've worked really hard at it...and now I'm at a point where I'm about 15 pounds from my goal, and I just can't seem to get that motivation.  So I joined Weight Watchers online thinking that  I would follow the program and be held "accountable" for my actions/food choices.  So I started the plan and found that during the day, I was doing great.  Logging everything that I ate, drank, etc.  But the evenings were a different story all together.  That's when the snack monster wakes up.  But here's the deal.

It would be okay with me if I snacked and accounted for it.  But what happened over the course of this first week is that I found myself "cheating" on my accountability.  There would be nothing wrong with eating something if I wanted to eat it.  But what's got me is that I gave in on a number of times, and didn't want to log it...or didn't want to be "honest" with how many points or what I ate.  So what's that about?  Why this need to be perfect to myself?  I mean, no one else sees my food journal.  No one in my household cares whether I have a cookie or not.  Isn't the whole idea of writing down our intake so that WE have a look at what we're doing?

Anyways, you get the idea.  It is really bothering me and so I thought I would work on it here, on the blog, and be honest with it.  Do any of you struggle with this?  If so, I'd love to hear from you.  I am going to focus this week, on being honest with myself.  It's going to be a tough one as I'll be home recuperating from surgery this week, so the temptation will be there.  But so will you.

27 October 2011

Taking Steps toward Fitness, Wellness and Fighting Cancer

I wanted to share this article with you from guest blogger, David Haas.  It's about the benefits of fitness & eating healthy during and after a diagnosis of any kind of cancer.  We all know that each type of cancer has its limtations, but if we can keep a healthy body, we have a better chance of overcoming this awful disease. 

I was encouraged to post this, tonight especially, because I just returned from our Kick Off Meeting for Team In Her Shoes.  Those in attendance saw the benefits of "getting up and getting our move on!" in order to help against the fight for cancer and enthusiastically signed up for the walk.  

Although there are only a couple survivors on our team (me being one), we all discussed how cancer has touched ALL our lives. So we've committed to walking in next year's 39 mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  And we've committed to getting healthy along the way.  It's a great combination: A great cause, a commitment to eat right, and MOVE!  A win/win!  There are, at this time, 15 of us signed up for Team In Her Shoes! I am blessed to be in the company of such caring and compassionate women and men. 
Here is David Haas' article!  Feel free to leave your comments!

Exercise and Fitness for Cancer Patients

If you are suffering from cancer or undergoing cancer treatment, it is crucial that you keep working your muscles as much as possible. Usually cancer patients require a lot of bed rest and this can weaken muscles, stiffen joints, cause breathing problems, and result in mental changes.

That National Cancer Institute recommends moderate exercise, such as walking every day for 30 minutes, as it helps reduce fatigue, pain, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety and depression associated with the treatment and disease. Exercise also helps to enhance mood, reduce the chances of recurrence, and helps to increase survivability. However, before you embark on an exercise routine, consult your oncologist.

The oncologist takes into account the patient's fitness level before the diagnosis, the current energy levels, the type of cancer the patient is suffering from and the treatment he/she is undergoing before developing an exercise regimen. To start with, the exercise can be just simple stretching exercises that help to exercise joints. These can be performed in bed by the patient without help from someone, or by the caregiver. Gradually, as the patient feels stronger, the exercise may get more vigorous, such as walking, swimming or cycling. Exercise also helps cancer patients combat the side effects of cancer therapies and increases the feeling of well-being. However, the patients should not overexert themselves or they risk other complications.

Whether a patient is suffering from breast cancer or an uncommon disease like mesothelioma, exercise will benefit that person in different forms.

It is best to start exercising as soon as possible after cancer diagnosis and treatment. Studies show that cancer patients tend to slow down after diagnosis. Fatigue, depression, anxiety and feeling nauseated from the disease or treatment make patients less active. And, most patients end up leading a sedentary life. However, to combat these side effects of the disease and treatment, exercise is a must; and it also helps in the recovery process.

Since every patient is different, a different set of exercises is recommended. Cancer survivors benefit from weight training and aerobics, while cancer patients should try doing flexibility exercises initially before moving to more vigorous exercises. It is best to opt for activities that you enjoy and it may also help to exercise with another person, who has the same fitness level as you. Working with an exercise buddy will help keep you motivated.

However, if fatigue overtakes you, it is advisable to rest for some time rebuilt your energy levels. Then attempt to do the exercise again, but slowly.

While the benefits of exercise for cancer patients are immense, it can also result in strains, soreness and sprains. So, be careful while doing the exercises. At the same time, no patient goes through cancer treatment to spend time lying on the bed. Talk to your oncologist today and set an exercise regimen that you can do every day, or at least 5 days a week.

18 October 2011

Be Mindful of What You Pray For

If you're on Facebook, you know that for the past several weeks, I've been diligently working on completing a series of illustrations for a children's book -- a commission from the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church in New York. 

I am welcomed by my church family

I've always wanted to be an illustrator for children's books.  My degree is in illustration.  Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to be an illustrator, my ability to "self-promote" and market myself  was terrible.  And so the years went by and I, like all to many, have ended up doing all sorts of jobs to pay the bills.  My current job has me working in the field of excess and surplus lines insurance.  Prior to that, I was a teacher; a medical transcriber, a court reporter's transcriber, an interpreter, a bookkeeper, a retail store manager.....and then always on the side I've done my art, jewelry and crafts.

This is the frustrating thing.  Art is my passion.  Helping people is my passion.  But there are bills to be paid as well as a mortgage.  As grateful as I am for my job, I always feel like I don't belong.  My work environment is very nice, and I work for and with very nice people.  But it's not me.  So one day last year, during a particularly stressful lunch hour, I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes and said a prayer that went something like this:

I light a candle

"God, I'm thankful for the ability to work...and for my job.  But I'm feeling so down.  You know that I love to be creative.  Please help me to find a way...a creative outlet ...where I can do my art and bring Glory to You through it."

That was pretty much it.  I went back work, and few weeks went by.  And then one day I received an email.  It was from the head of the Department of Religous Education at the Eastern Diocese.  They were wondering if I was the same person they had met 15 or so years earlier who did illustrations.  I flashed back years prior when I had gone to a Sunday School conference.  At the time I was teaching Sunday School, and our guest speakers were going to be two women from the Eastern Diocese who were going to talk about the new curriculum that our diocese was also using.  I remember taking my portfolio with me back then in the hopes that they might have work for me.  I met with Elise and Nancy, and showed them my illustrations.  They loved them, but "Unfortunately, we just redid all our books."  But they kept my samples.

I kneel

Flash forward and there I was reading the email.  Elise said she had tried to find me, but didn't know how.  (I had remarried with a name change, changed my address, phone, etc.)  But just by chance, there was a Californian who was working in her office, and she recognized my past-married name on the sample and said, "I think I'm friends with her son on Facebook."  She emailed my son and got my email address...and the rest is history.  The illustration job is for a toddler's book -- one that will be kept in the pews of the various churches for children to read during church.  They show panels of a child's view of Armenian Orthodox church. 

Could my prayer have been answered in any better way?

I pray

I started the illustrations last year.  And then, over the course of the year with all my health issues (gallbloadder surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer..etc.) I had to take a break.  Just a month ago, we revisited the project and decided that the "end of October" would be a good deadline for Christmas publication.  And so the clock is ticking.  It's actually good timing as I'll be having the second part of my reconstruction surgery on November 1. 

I often think of this course of events....my prayer, the way I was found, the fact that my illustration samples were even kept all those years.  I don't believe in coincidence.  I believe in prayer.  I believe in sincere requests.  And I believe that all things will happen not in our time but in God's.

Here is a look at my illustrations so far.  There are 12 year...I have 3 to go:

I sing

I smell the incense

I recieve the Kiss of Peace

I receive a blessing

I give my gift

I receive Holy Communion

I kiss the Gospel

I make the sign of the cross

07 October 2011

A Health Update

Hi Everyone,

Just wanted to loop you all in since I've been public about my breast cancer so far.  The second part of my reconstruction is scheduled for 11/1/11 (great number line up, no?)...would be pretty cool if surgery was at 11:11, but not so...but maybe 1:00 p.m?

So the appointments are going to start up again, for blood work up, EKG, history and physical, surgical consult.  Ooooofffffff!!! Too many appointments.

This surgery will be outpatient at the office of my plastic surgeon, Dr. Saul Berger.  I'll go in on a Tuesday, and be off the rest of the week.  I am hopeful that this will be my last surgery for the year!

One of my favorite passages from the bible, Psalm 23, says, "Yea, though I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me....."

It doesn't say, "though I walk around it...." or "though I skip it altogether..."  but we walk through it.  Together. 

From one apex to the other is always a valley. 
Sometimes you have to go through things and not around them. 
Something to think about.

05 October 2011

A Song, a Dance, and a Blessing

This past Monday evening was our monthly homeless outreach to the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.  I think we're in our fourth year of the project now: feeding and clothing our friends that are down on their luck.  Over the course of the past year, we've noticed more and more people living on the streets.

Each of us that attends has our own stories to tell of our experiences.  Since we are spread out between the three cars that we take, we each hear the stories of those that wish to tell it; that is, if we wish to listen. 

On a dark street, we were passing out soup.  We had a lot of clothing this time thankfully, so we were able to provide warmth right before the cold weather.  It's raining today, and I'm thinking of our friends out on the street.  I hope they are staying dry.  As I was handing out water and snacks, this very nice looking older gentleman came up to me.  I asked him if he could use some snacks, maybe some soup, dry, for the next day.  He was appreciative, taking the soup and snacks in a bag for later.  He gave me a sweet smile and said, "I am an artist.  You should check out my YouTube video.  Singing.  That's the talent that God has given me."  I was interested and asked his name.  "My name is Octive Fellow Soul."  He spelled Octive for me.  : )   He told me he was homeless and trying to get discovered.  He told me to check it out again.  "My name is Octive, I'm a fellow, and I have soul!"  And he turned a corner and was gone.  So I came home and checked it out, and to my surprise, there were several videos of this Octive.  All taken by people who he had come across in the street, from L.A. to New York.  All taken by people whose lives he had touched to the point that, like me, they wanted to put it up on the web and share it with others.  Watching this video brings me joy.  Here is a man who is given a talent and despite the bad breaks in life, despite the fact that he has no home, he is staying positive doing what he loves best.  Singing, entertaining.  So here is my friend Octive (as seen on YouTube) singing Goody Goody. 

The evening wore on.  People were truly grateful for us being there.  At one stop, Suzie helped a woman who was challenged trying to keep herself clean while living on the street.  She was self-conscious and concerned about her hygiene.  I imagined the difficulty of that -  going from having a bathroom and a shower in my home, to living on the street where the only place you could go to bathe would be the local shelter. 

Our final site was the most crowded.  Imagine pulling up to a street where people are living on the sidewalk, some in tents, others in boxes, still others on just the concrete itself.  There are people that know the ropes, and there are those that are learning.  As soon as we pull up, the people come up to the cars.  We yell out, "HOT SOUP!  WATER!", the tailgate opens, the thermoses come out, and people line up.  I end up handing out snacks and water to those that are waiting, while the others serve the soup, or fit people with clothing and shoes, blankets, etc.

I noticed this one man sitting on the sidewalk.  He was wearing some shorts and a tshirt.  He had no shoes.  He was barefoot, but was airing out his socks.  He sat there staring into space.  When I approached him with some hot soup and water, he seemed confused.  He didn't speak English and tried to tell me something in what sounded like Korean.  I didn't understand but motioned to the clothing car where he could get clothing.  He brightened up as if he remembered something he could say to me in English..."Ayana kissue"   He was smiling!  I want to kiss you?  Is this what he was saying?   He was smiling and started following me to the car.  Okay Awkward...I jokingly turned to him and said,   "Uh, no thanks!"   He sat back down to his soup.  A few minutes went by and I went to get him a pair of socks.   I put it down next to him.  The light went on.  He nodded.

Over the next 15 -20 minutes, we tended to many many people.  The clothing car was super busy as people were in need of warmer clothing now.   By the time were were about to leave that site, I looked at my friend on the sidewalk.  Was it the same man?  There he was....Dancing!  He was so happy!  He had received a pair of jeans, socks, a pair of nice black shoes, and a new shirt.  Not able to contain his happiness, he was dancing in place, showing us his new outfit. 

There are many stories like this.  So many lives that are in need.  And so many that just need a connection.  Someone to talk to.  Someone to share their talents with.  Someone who will listen.  We've been doing this for years now and it never gets old.   The need is so great, and not only for the homeless but for us who need to be there because it helps us to walk in their shoes.  We don't approach our homeless brothers and sisters out of pity, but as a sense of family and of community.  We are all related in this family called humankind. 

27 September 2011

In the Presence of Love

I have been thinking a lot about being present lately.  This is what I think about throughout the day...while driving especially:  If we believe that God is omnipotent (which I do), and omniscient - possessiving unlimited and infinite knowledge, then we can conclude that God is present right now.  Like, right this moment.  And it's not just a one-way street.  If God is present right now...then WE are also in God's presence.  All the time.  So am I doing my best to be present in front of God?  I think about my days:  home, work, errands, home, dinner, dishes, running here and there.  How present can I be when I'm so harried and rushed.  I need to take time to deliberately s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n....and be present.

And then, if we believe that God is Love (which I do).  Then Love is omnipotent and omniscient.  Love conquers all.  This explains "Good will always prevail over evil".  Because if God is Love; Love is omnipotent and infinite.  Therefore, good will always prevail because evil is finite.  Am I doing my best to convey God's love to others - always?  Am I present in Love? 

This is something that I'll continue to work on.  Conveying love through action.

"Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words." St. Francis of Assisi

24 September 2011

When Has it Ever Not Been Crazy?

With the Avon Walk behind me, I thought, "Now I can settle down and finish up the illustrations!"  I have this illustration job that started late last year, and then with the gallbladder surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer issues of the past 8 months, everything with that has been put on hold.  Until this week.  After talking to Elise, the head of the Department of Religious Education for the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, we decided that if the book (a childrens book about what goes on in Armenian Orthodox church from a child's perspective) is going to be ready in time for Christmas, then I need to have the illustrations done by the end of October.  EEeeeeppps!!!  That's only a month and some change away! 

So here it is, Saturday morning.  I got the house in some semblance of order ...sort of.  And now I'm getting ready to figure out what I'm doing.  The illustrations, organizing team In Her Shoes, Pomegranate & Eye (the jewelry business), day job, family, and the upcoming second part of my reconstruction surgery - which will take place on 11/1/11 (nice number line up, for sure!)

For the past month, it seems that I have just had such a lack of energy.  I mean, yes, we trained for the avon walk, miles and miles of training, and then the intensity of the weekend.  But I mean, other than that.  I've always been one to be "busy".  My life is filled with projects, and burning the candle at both ends and in the middle too.  Lately, though, it's been catching up to me, more so.  I've had to come home from work and just "veg" out...laying down on my bed in the afternoon...sometimes even falling asleep.  I've never ever been a napper. 

But it's okay.  I am thankful that I'm able to do what I can do.  I realize that my life has always been crazy.  And that's not a bad thing.  Like the comment I received a couple months ago, it just means I have a very FULL life.  And this is good.  Life is good.

Soooo.....I am hopeful that I'll be able to get this illustration job done (prayers are appreciated).  If I can get it done by the end of October...I won't have it looming over me when I have my surgery.  There is a peace that I feel when I do get to sit and draw...and I get lost in time.  It's just the effort of getting myself to sit and do it.  Once I do, it's bliss.  So today, in fact, right now, I'm going to sit down at my drawing table and work!

23 September 2011

Team In Her Shoes

It hasn't been a week since we walked in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  And although I haven't thought about going for a walk yet, it seems that all I can think about is that feeling we all got by participating in the walk.  The hope.  The energy.  The positivity of a collective of concerned people walking toward a common cause.

As I told you all, the closing ceremonies were very emotional for me.  It was only 4 months ago that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there I was, at the closing ceremony, preparing to walk in with the 256 survivors who had participated that weekend in walking 39 miles!  Some had been long-time survivors.  Others had chemo coursing through their veins!  Some were just starting their protocol...others were waiting for test results.  We were all survivors.  It was so empowering.

I felt it.  And my family and friends felt it too.  And it was right after the ceremony that we decided to walk in next year's Avon Walk - Santa Barbara 2012.  As a team.  Team In Her Shoes.  Seven of us signed up that very day!  But I don't want to stop there.  I know there are a lot of us out there who want to do it, but don't know if they can.  Let me tell you -- You CAN!! 

Last night, I set up a Facebook page.  And we are setting up a registration meeting/team meeting on Friday, October 28.  I have some venue ideas, and I'll announce the location as soon as I have a definite location; but for now, please mark this date and join us.

If you've ever thought about doing the Avon Walk, join us!  Even if you feel like you're out of shape, but would like to "some day" be able to do it, join us!  Maybe you're thinking, you'd like to, but the fundraising is daunting, join us!  The fundraising commitment per person is $1800 plus registration.  BUT, walking with Team In Her Shoes, we'll do it together.  We'll train together (we have a year!), we'll work on fundraising strategies, we'll get in shape, and we'll work toward a common cause....bringing an end to Breast Cancer and walking In the Shoes of those who are battling cancer!  

What if you physically can't walk but you'd like to participate?  We can use CREW members too!  Crew members work the weekend of the walk at the rest stops, directing traffic, food service, security.  We can have CREW In Her Shoes!  Many more men walked this year with us....why not.  Did you know men can get breast cancer too?  Yep!  So think about it!  Men, Women, Daughters, Sons, Sisters, Brothers, Friends, Family.  Let's get a big group together and DO THIS!

Together we will have an amazing time.  Together, we'll raise funds and awareness.  Together every step of the way!!

Please save this date: 
Friday, October 28, 2011
Time:  7:30 p.m.
Location:  To be announced
You'll get more information, watch video, hear about the walk, learn about training....and meet the 2012 team members (and hopefully sign up to join us!!)  The more the merrier!!

If you know of a person/business that would like to sponsor us -- our powerful Team In Her Shoes -- please leave me a comment or email me:  ahnoosh@ca.rr.com 

We're just starting up...and signing up! 
Please "LIKE" us on Facebook:  "Team In Her Shoes"

I look forward to meeting all of you.  Let's walk together to make a difference.  Let's be the change we'd like to see in the world.  None of us is as powerful as ALL OF US!!