Shifting Gears


After graduating highschool, my folks purchased a used car for me. A stick shift Mercury Topaz.

That manual transmission was a steep learning curve. Steep.

Sitting at stop signs in our neighborhood, mom or dad next to me trying to coach me as I stalled again and again....

Driving I-90 from Spokane to Cheney in too low a gear, because my boyfriend had convinced me in the highest gear I was likely to accidentally shift into reverse and drop my transmission. I had visions of the transmission literally falling right out of the bottom of the car in the middle of the highway....

Waiting through a green light because I couldn't find first gear....

Parenting three young children during ongoing cancer treatment and its side effects feels a lot like those first clumsy weeks behind the wheel of that Mercury.

My self esteem has taken a huge hit from lymphedema, and lately I've been struggling with a bit of depression. Not because my arm is so swollen I've had to 86 many of my old tops.

It's that I am struggling to find happiness when I'm operating at a limited capacity. I want to Do the Things.

Right now the Pink Door House is torn apart. Not like Geez, unpack from that vacation already torn apart. More like sub floor ripped out and exposed insulation torn apart. A valve (that was supposed to isolate the exterior spigot and protect us from interior water damage) failed, and a significant amount of water leaked between the Pergo floors and the subfloor in our front den.

Yes, these same Pergo floors Jason installed just a year ago... :(

As we scrambled to mitigate water damage, furniture was quickly pushed to the dry side of the room, the hallway, the dining room...wherever there was space. And there it sat. Because demo work. Treatment. Jason's job. And vacation. And a toddler with stomach flu.

Yesterday morning Jason got creative and placed the sofas from both rooms in an "L" in our back living room, giving us a chance to once again eat meals in the dining room. Rather than at the coffee table like savages, squatting on bathroom step stools.

Recovering our dining room flipped a switch for me. After Jason left for work, I couldn't sit idle anymore. Weeks of mediocre housekeeping, and forgoing projects for self massage, and I'm still left with the same on again off again swelling.

Only now I have swelling and a grumpy attitude.

I couldn't spend another hot minute taking it easy. The kids went outside to play. I opened the sliding glass door and the windows facing the backyard, suited up with both compression sleeves and gloves, and got busy. Dragging donations to the garage. Rearranging small pieces of displaced furniture. Vacuuming. (And if you think this isn't noteworthy, for the record, my kids call it Daddy's vacuum.)

And it felt good.

My swelling wasn't any worse than the day before. The painful scar tissue under my right arm even loosened a tad. Winning.

Despite a *ahem* few unfinished projects, I paused to make homemade tortillas and taco meat, bringing the Littles in to potty, wash, and giggle our way though an earlier-than-usual dinner so that we still had plenty of time for baths.

I mean, I was on a roll.

But when I peeled off my sleeves for their bath, I noticed a patch of flushed, mottled skin on my arm that felt warm and tight.

Cellulitis?

There I was, sitting through that green light eighteen years ago. In a tunnel of panic, horns honking behind me.

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin, deep into all the layers. It can be treated with antibiotics. But it needs to be taken seriously, because it can spread fast and become quite dangerous. Often requiring IV antibiotics. Having lymphedema puts me at a higher risk of cellulitis, which is why lymphedema patients are instructed to practice careful skin care and avoid wounds, cuts, and bug bites.

I fumbled my way through baths. Washed the kids' hair. Posted a photo of my arm to my support group. Read replies and toweled off children. Somewhere between putting on their pajamas and story time, I drew around the inflamed area with pen, and spoke to the doctor on call at the cancer treatment center.

She was less alarmed than me.

Slowly, carefully, I tried to downshift.

How do you focus on reading Cowboy Bunnies when you've spent the last hour on high alert? These health crises just don't seem to stop. Frankly, it's exhausting.

The kids didn't want to hear many stories last night. Likely they sensed my mood. They each offered to sing a one-of-a-kind lullaby. So precious.

Tuck in was about 30 minutes late. London might have sang the world's longest lullaby. I might have been a little stunned and distracted.

At one point there were howls and tears coming from all three rooms.

Eli's fingers were sticky. (From digging in his ears.) Quinn's legs were "afraid of the dark" making them so tired they hurt. (Growing pains?) And sweet London was crying sympathetically.

I cleaned Eli's fingers...and ears. London fell asleep. And after giving Quinn a leg massage, I rocked her. Until we both relaxed.

I sat in the low light of the kitchen (the glider is still awaiting a new home), smelling her freshly washed hair. I thought about the dvd's I finally unpacked from our move two and a half years ago. I thought about the end of the hallway, where I replaced the overflowing donation pile with a carefully curated vignette. I thought about my kids' books, that I sort by color when I need to sooth my nerves. I thought about the projects I had yet to finish. The piles I would need to move in order to find my bed.

Today I'll talk with my own doctor about cellulitis. I think it was a false alarm. While still pink and a bit tender, the patch on my arm is no longer warm or mottled. Thankfully.

Cancer is like that. Interruptions.

Diagnosis highjacks your life. After that it's phone calls during breakfast to schedule doctor visits, test results relayed during bath time. Chemo on your birthday. Switching gears from physical therapy to the playground. Tuning out a letter from the insurance company to enjoy a picnic.

Will these transitions ever get smoother? Am I even equipped to teach my kids not to fear the dark, while I am haunted by shadows of my own? In this case, a clumsy amoeba-shaped pen outline on my arm....

By the end of that summer in college, I was managing stick shift fairly well. I was working as a barista and would often grab a Frappuccino after my shift. There were no cup holders in that car. Twenty-two ounces of frosty caffeinated deliciousness, gingerly held between my thighs as I worked the clutch.

There were a few casualties.

I suppose that's life. Some days will be a bounty of productivity and all the good feelings. Others, I'll stall at the light.

Even on the best days, shifting gears will probably be messy.


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