• Don Rearden

A few words from Annette: Salmonfest, Beaches, and Badges of Honor.

Greetings from Seattle,


Don suggested I write the next blog since he is back in Montana for a few days visiting our kids and celebrating his Dad’s birthday. Originally I scoffed at the idea stating “I can’t write as well as you.” But after 24 hours realized, wait while he is writing about our shared experience, the central focus is obviously me. So I guess I can shine.

I am writing from an Air BnB in Seattle while listening to Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay. The live music is literally music to my ears during this COIVD madness. Thanks to the artist for sharing their talents and to the land warriors fighting to protect thousands of years of culture and critical habitat.

Our cozy place is within walking distance to the proton center and the ocean. The kind owners have made us feel at home in the their warm space complete with a beautiful yard and an evening drop off of snacks and beer. Their cat that has yet to bite me despite warnings. I think we are on our way to a friendship.

I mention the proton center since I have completed 7 out of 20 treatments. I walk through those sliding doors Monday through Friday at 1500. The staff is kind, efficient, and compassionate. I wear a badge with my photo and name, scan in when I enter, and poof, they are ready for me. Since working in health care from the age of 18, I have worn a variety of badges for employment, nursing school, and now as nursing faculty. This is one badge I never thought I would wear, a totally different kind of work and by far my most challenging job ever.

The experience as a whole is both weird and surreal. I am in and out within 20 minutes with most of the time spent changing, using the restroom, and getting set up for a safe treatment. I change into a gown, a hand me down from my best friend who too went through radiation and has worn a similar badge of honor. The techs always compliment me how cute and stylish the green fabric with red pattern looks; one even went so far to say she totally would buy the gown and wear it as a shirt. I politely told her my dear friend and I planned to “burn it when I was done with this shit.” Thankfully she caught my drift and nodded in an understanding way.

The young rad techs jam out to a variety of music, loud. I am thankful for the distraction. I also find it sort of funny how different songs match up to my emotions at the time. From “Jolene” by Dolly Parton to Katy Perry’s “Hear Me Roar” or Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” sometimes it is as if the music reads my mind through the space age panel that is only an inch or so from my upper torso and face. The actually treatment time is a few minutes, or so I guess; I do not hear or feel anything other than the bell that signals go time when the techs leave the room. Honestly it is a time warp when I am on the table. In fact the last few sessions seemed to take longer than before, something I only could keep track of because 4 or 5 songs passed instead of 2 or 3. Out of curiosity I asked the techs why the variation in time. Turns out they have three rooms equipped for proton radiation, each with a particular focus depending on the time of day. One room, for example, is used to treat the head in the morning. The second may be used to treat the lower torso, like the prostate in the afternoon. The third, my “room” is reserved for the chest, again in the afternoon. Only one machine can deliver protons at a time, hence the reason why sometimes I am done in 2 or 3 songs or 4 or 5 depending on my neighbors. In total the center is open from 0600 to 2200 to accommodate not only the approximate 60-70 patients per day with a variety of diagnoses but also provide a variety of times. According to the tech some people come before work or after, children overall do better in the morning.

The statement about children gave me great pause. In fact, my first visit to the center I was the oldest in the waiting room, surrounded by several beautiful children ranging in age from 15 months to teenagers. This was in great contrast to chemotherapy, where I was the youngest in the treatment area. I sat in the corner that day observing my brave, fellow warriors with awe and inspiration. Little did they know how badly I wanted to just give them and their accompanying adults a high five or a hug for showing up, for doing the work, for being so strong. That moment left a great impression on me, one of gratitude, of compassion, and motivation; thanks little heroes for letting me know I too can do this.

One week into treatment I have sore throat that feels like something is stuck when I swallow and a sore, aching chest. So far my skin is doing well; lots of cream and avoidance of the sun. All these side effects the MD and nurse warned me about so I am as prepared as I can be. Popsicles, ice cold drinks, and eating slow with small bitesprovide relief. So does my cousin, my mentor and Hodgkin’s survivor, who reminds me that all the symptoms mean “the treatment is working!” In other words embrace and overcome.




I also mention the ocean, Puget Sound to be specific, since she has been providing much needed healing and focus for me during this segment of the journey. Don and I walk several times a week to sit in her presence, meditate, recharge. The trails and parks have provided a much needed solace from the city and the stress of being away from my kids, my dogs, my life at home. We have been walking 6-10 miles a day, all over town, admiring the flowers and tall trees, borrowing books from tiny libraries, and appreciating the community that is Seattle. I feel like the city has welcomed us with fist bumps and masked faces. I am grateful for their acts of kindness and sense of community during what are some seriously challenging times.

We also had the good fortune of hiking in Rainer National Park with Don’s cousin. The mountain greeted us with all her glory, white majesty framed against a blue bird sky. Lush wildflowers, massive trees, trails for miles. Again I felt at ease walking off miles of worry, replacing overwhelming thoughts with conversation and Mother Nature as my healer.

As for our kids, well, they are often too busy to FaceTime. Reports from Montana include learning to saddle and horse back ride, target practice, swimming, kayaking and fishing in the Missouri, fossil hunting and painting ancient bones, 4 wheeling. To say I am grateful for this time with their grandparents is an understatement. What a gift, admist a pandemic and a world spinning diagnosis, to be free as a child should be, to learn from our elders and to run wild in the country. I sleep very well at night knowing they are loved, hugged and fed a steady diet of oreos. Eighteen more days until I get to feel one giant, big and messy hug from the two of them. And speaking of hugs, I‘ll also get to see my mom and brother Greg when we get to Montana, too — and so Don jokes we might need one of those plastic pandemic hug curtains. Whatever, I cannot wait.

While I may not write as well as Don, I can simply say thank you from the bottom of my heart for every single thought, prayer, text, letter, food item, gift, positive vibe, shout out, cheer shared with my family near and far. I feel each of you, I am lifted by you, I am grateful for each and everyone of you, and I will endure because of you. I read and reread the messages, letters, comments, listen to the voice mails over and over. All an effort to keep my head up, my heart strong, and to endure. I have many, many, many more miles to walk and oceans to discover with my family and all of you. Thanks for giving me the courage to fight on.

Stay safe, be kind to yourselves and one another, and together we will overcome.

Forza!

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