Category Archives: Cancer

Doctors of the world please unite

Maybe this is not exactly the best comeback post, but I just felt a need to say something to the world I’m still living in. I know that I haven’t been very active here for a long time and that not many people will see this post so that it can make some difference, but still here it is.

I was on a cremation ceremony today, one of my father’s friends and my neighbor died, killed by prostate cancer. He was one really interesting man, respected, esteemed and loved for his vast knowledge and numerous activities, he could have still done so much and pass on so many things to his grandchildren, but there was no salvation. There is no help or cure if available “treatments” don’t work, nothing to do apart from stuffing people with morphine and making them hallucinate up until their bodies fall completely apart.

I do understand that cancer is hard and complex disease, extremely difficult puzzle to solve and that it takes so many active hours of research to get better treatment solutions, but I want to try to believe that there are also so many intelligent people living on this planet who could make a difference if only they would join their brilliant minds together. It sometimes seems to me that so many lives are lost because numerous great brains on Earth aren’t given a proper chance to express themselves, or because they simply spend time doing tons of essentially insignificant things to secure mere survival. As I walk down this alley of life, crumbling the second half of the life journey I was set on at birth, I realize every day that more and more people are battling with cancer or losing their battle for life. Those people need something more than treatment for pain, they need hope.
People who take care of them need hope, too. They are destroyed and completely drained in those horrific battles for their loved ones, but they would still tire themselves out to complete exhaustion if only that would mean the cure for the patients with metastatic cancer. As I was following this man’s decline, I saw my father’s decline – death by cancer isn’t that much different one from another even though there are hundreds and hundreds of different types and sub-types of this disease. I wanted to be able to give his wife some solution, something different, something new, something that didn’t exist in 2014 when my father was dying. I prayed for remission every night even though I recognized the same dad’s patterns in this man’s decline. I refused to tell her when the end was getting nearer and nearer that from what she says there was about a week left to him on this Planet – how could I when doctors didn’t want to tell her anything and exposed him to the radiation therapy in the last week of his life, taking their money and giving the family false hope by destroying the last bits of energy still stored in his body?!! And exactly on the seventh day, early in the morning, he passed away and the last traces of frail hope died with him.

The worst thing is that the time is still passing and every day more and more people succumb to this terrible disease. I wish I knew more to help, I wish I could change something, but I can’t. I can only send one small cry for help to the big world out there – oncologists and all other doctors of the world please unite your knowledge and minds to help the mankind. Rich people please fund the research for cure for cancer. It truly doesn’t matter if we’ll go to the space or drive the most expensive cars on Earth if we don’t have health. The death penalty was abolished in so many places on the Planet, but many people don’t realize that there isn’t worse death penalty than the one given by the doctor who estimates that you have a certain number of months to live and that you should put your affairs in order. He or she pronounces your death penalty while you don’t understand what you did so terrible to be punished in one of the worst possible ways, sentenced to wait for death in terrible increasing pains.

Those of you who can do something, please don’t waste time.
Those of you who can help doctors work in better conditions, please fund the research. It is SO important.

Don’t act as if cancer is something that happens to somebody else. It is true, it happens to somebody else up until it happens to you. Up until it is too late.

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Diabetes

Blood glucose meter
Our blood glucose meter – photo by tamellu 2015

It was World Diabetes Day yesterday, the day of awareness that high blood sugar is absolutely not something we should neglect or take lightly. I’m living in Serbia, a country of somewhat more that 7 million people where 710,000 souls are diagnosed with diabetes, with estimated additional 245,000 others who have diabetes but don’t know it and don’t treat it. Those figures are indeed horrifying, and if we as humanity continue with current nutritional habits future surely won’t look optimistic.

Diabetes is a silent illness and can go for a long time undetected. At the time of diagnose if the patient didn’t check his or her blood work in years, high blood sugar had already made some damage in the patient’s body and shortened the expected length of life. People run away from this diagnose because we all very much fear illnesses that are still considered incurable, but in case of diabetes there is no need for that. There surely isn’t some medication that can fix things and allow you to go on eating whatever you want without a worry in the world, it’s a chronic lifelong illness, but there are treatments that can allow you to live a normal and happy life for many years. My dad was a diabetic for 22 years and as a medical doctor he strictly obeyed the nutritional plan he had to stick to. He couldn’t eat cakes or sweetened things, but he had a perfectly normal life, and what’s much more important his diabetes didn’t progress to provoke some of serious complications such as diabetic polineuropathy, gangrene, loss of eyesight, stroke… to name just a few. Yes, he eventually died of cancer and today we can only debate on the link between the diabetes and his pancreatic cancer, but he died at the age of 78. He was my dad and even he died at 98 it would be painful and I would ask myself if he could go on for maybe a little while longer, but I must admit that he still managed to live a reasonably long life without any serious problem up until virtually one month before he passed away. In the whole 2014 up until the end of July the only symptoms that could indicate cancer were certain weight loss and some changes in bowel habits which were attributed to his new combination of medication for diabetes. At the beginning of August the first dramatic symptom was a rapid, violent onset of blood sugar spinning totally out of control even though he still took his therapy and ate as usual. I was later told that we would never be able to tell if the diabetes had caused cancer or it had been the other way round, the only definite certainty was that it took too long for doctors to establish the type and dosage of insulin shots to stabilize him enough so that he could at least try any true oncology treatment. All in all, dad had 22 wonderful years in spite of diabetes and as he followed all the advice and rules of his treatment, he didn’t even depend on insulin till the last 3 weeks of his life.

I would just like to encourage everybody out there to check their sugar values regularly especially if you’re over 50 because this is a borderline age for a possible onset of type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have genetic predisposition or if you indulged in too much sugary and processed food before in life. Don’t let thing spin out of control and lead you into a situation where you could start drinking massive amounts of water and going very often to the bathroom, which if left untreated can lead to diabetic coma that can have even a fatal outcome. There is absolutely no need for this to happen with an illness that in many cases just requires caution, therapy and discipline. On the other hand, if diabetic with a good therapy that keeps diabetes under control, bear in mind that any sudden and dramatic elevation of blood sugar values especially if associated with stomach pains must be immediately reported to a doctor who has to perform an abdominal ultrasound.

Take care of your health and never let an illness that can be prevented or successfully kept under control influence your life and your happiness. Diabetes takes some kind of tool on human body even when treated and I am aware of that, but I think that you would agree with me that 22 years of normal life is not that short at all. In those 22 years dad was never in the hospital, at the beginning still worked as a doctor, never suffered a heart attack or stroke, he had incredible stamina and strength and in all that time he was in bed 3-4 times for several days with merely a seasonal flu. He traveled, worked strenuously in the garden, enjoyed a full and happy life. I would have nothing against such scenario if I got diagnosed with diabetes.

With lots of love for all of you out there, take care!

World pancreatic cancer day

world pancreatic cancer day
WORLD PANCREATIC CANCER DAY – November 13th

Today is November 13th, World Pancreatic Cancer Day. This year, it’s also Friday the 13th and many people across this planet believe that Friday 13th brings bad luck. For those newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, any day on which that happens is like Friday 13th, because this is one of the worst and deadliest forms of this evil disease. Only 1-3% of those who receive this bad news from their doctors will survive the diagnose, and the survival rate hasn’t improved in more than 40 years. It’s still considered to be too hard to be understood and underfunded type of cancer. It’s hard. It’s more or less rare. It happens to somebody else. Until it happens to you or someone very close to you. Then the statistics won’t matter and it won’t seem that rare at all any more. You’ll want the cure, any cure, any support or good word of hope to cling to. But if the situation in the world still stays the same and if research for pancreatic cancer doesn’t broaden, nothing will change, there will be no cure. And with this diagnose, it is much more likely that you’ll end up among those 97-99% who won’t survive. The course of the disease is horrible and it doesn’t impact just the patient but also his or her immediate surroundings. Those days eventually end, but the horrid scenario behind them plays and plays over and over again in the heads of those who stay to live after the patient passes away. You survive, but you’ll carry the scar in your soul for as long as you live.

It’s a silent cancer and very often gives symptoms only when it’s too late for everything and everybody. That’s why the information about it has to be spread and shared so that it can be caught when there is still chance to do something. If there is enough awareness, maybe we can save some more lives. Maybe we can improve that hideous statistics and increase the survival rate. Maybe we can help some child to still have a mother or father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, relatives… If we do something maybe there can still be some hope, even though I can’t be certain about it. But on the other hand what I can be certain of is that if we don’t do anything, nothing will change and there won’t be any hope.

I’ll dedicate the rest of November to talking about this disease to try to help in the memory of my father. If you read this today, wear purple. Talk about how important pancreas is and how vital it is not to overload it with sugar, processed food, bad fats, alcohol and tobacco. Go for regular yearly abdominal ultrasound checkups and encourage someone you know to do the same, it can save a life. Abdominal ultrasounds are not just about pancreas but all the rest of your digestive system, and if for some malignant reason cancer strikes somewhere inside and you leave it undetected, it’s the perfect spot for it to spread very easily. Don’t be scared of checkups, once you complete them and they give you clean bill of health walk out of that office and put your worries aside for another year. Take care of your body and life, it is your life I know, but there are people out there who love you with all their hearts, your life is theirs too as your misery in case something happens to you will most certainly be their misery too. Don’t let yourself and them suffer if it proves that something can be done. And if you or someone you know survive thanks to the awareness you provided, there is nothing in the world that can be compared to that. We’re all on this planet for a short time and if we save at least one person, that’s what truly fulfills the purpose of our life.

In the loving memory of my father who passed away 14 months ago of pancreatic cancer:

My father
With lots of love for my dad 1936 – 2014

My city #BELGRADE is turning purple to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer! #WPCD bit.ly/wpcdsite

About American Express and “cross it out” demons

As November 15th was getting closer and closer, I had to get myself ready for paying the share of bills my dad used to cover. If I get the money for the job I occasionally do, this is my obligation. If not, then me and my mom have to come up with some incredible idea how to make the ends meet as her retirement money can’t cover all our bills and at the same time also sustain our food for 30 days. I got some money this month, but in addition to regular bills I also had to cover the last quarter of the annual tax for the apartment we live in, which is over the limit of the budget I receive. As I was making calculations and borrowing the additional necessary sum of money from the limit the bank allows on the only credit card I hold, I suddenly found myself in the middle of some kind of commercial for the American Express credit card the bank clerk was giving her best to make me take. As I was laughing out of misery over her shiny counter while trying to explain to that fancy woman that she was knocking too hard on the wrong door, she went on to elaborate on the wonders of what the travel health insurance that comes with the American Express can do. It virtually provides you with the health insurance that covers the trips all over the world, as opposed to MasterCard’s insurance which is valid for Europe and Turkey only. She continued with praises as to how this is wonderful if I travel a lot, especially if I have a family of my own. Another involuntary stab into my back from her part because obviously she thinks that if she works in a bank for a great salary, has good health and a husband and two kids, that everybody else is like her. Maybe “normal” people are, maybe that’s how things usually work or should work. And as they don’t work that way in my case, maybe that simply means that I’m not “normal”. Whatever.

When she asked if I travel, I replied – No, very rarely at the moment. What I should have said was – No, I don’t travel at all.
A) I have no money.
B) I’m an agoraphobic, I can barely stand an hour drive from home to the cottage house. You don’t need the American Express health insurance for the village at the outskirts of Belgrade.
C) I might as well die without bothering the health services – it’s just my mom who would notice the difference, the world couldn’t care less.

When she asked if I’m married, I said – no, I’m not. She replied – oh that’s not a problem, when you get married, all the members of your family will be insured as well. She said this as if getting married were some sort of undebatable truth, almost an axiom: you’ll get married, period.
What I should have said was – No, I’m not married and I’ll probably never marry.
A) I’m 39 and living in Serbia, people are already married at that age here if they marry at all.
B) I’m 39 and female, it’s getting highly unlikely that I’ll have kids if I ever marry. Serbian men usually run away from women like me.
C) I have panic disorder complicated with episodes of extremely severe agoraphobia. It’s not a flu and it won’t go away. Men in Serbia have many much younger women without mental health issues at their disposal.
D) My father died of cancer and I resemble him so drastically that I can almost bet that what I witnessed will be exactly how the end of my days will look like. Panic disorder runs in families and is inherited in 86% of cases. The type of cancer my dad had is also very often inherited, and I can’t go and have my pancreas and the rest of endocrine glands taken out as a preventive measure to secure myself a long and healthy life. I still need to somehow digest the food that I eat. The ethical question is whether or not should I create another human being and leave it on this planet with extremely high probability of being condemned to this terrible fate… life is hard even on its own.

So, where were we – basically yep, no thank you, I don’t need an American Express card. The commercial was great and the offer tempting, but you picked up a wrong target. Thank you again, but NO thank you. I think that the bank clerk would be amazed what kind of life baggage could be hidden under a credit card commercial carpet.

While I just wanted to get rid of my November bills, I actually managed to get my self-esteem deflated to zero and below by the time I was pushing that expensive double door to run away to the street and get some bank-free air. I left aside barely enough money to buy a dental floss. It’s my life savior, as without it my dental pockets would require the hideous emergency pocket cleaning and eventually degenerate into paradentosis. More money. More pain. I used to visit my dentist regularly, now I can’t any more. I entered a DM store, heaven for every Belgrade woman in love with makeup and style. High quality German brand in combination with every other world’s best cosmetic brand you can think of, and on the top of everything tasty organic products. Almost perfect, if it didn’t require a lot of money. I grabbed the floss and as I was walking towards the cashier, I spotted a winter scarf. Lovely colors, stripes in all shades of violet from the darkest to the lightest. That’s me, my color, the one I like the best. I didn’t like the price though. Seven dollars. In America, that can probably be defined as cheap by many people. In Africa, that’s a whole world for a poor person whose village is miles away from food and water. In Serbia, it’s somewhere in between if you belong to what used to be defined as middle class. I don’t any more. So I paid for my floss and went out making sure that I arrive home as soon as possible. Not so much because of agoraphobia, more because of the fact that from the terrace of my apartment you can’t see any banks or shiny department store windows. There are just trees, little wood that can never remind me so harshly that I am a failure. Nothing to buy, nothing to sell, no credit cards, insurances or scarves. Just nature. Thank God for that. I just need a constant reminder that I should stay here as much as possible because going out there among all that “normal” people strongly aggravates my depression. Also, I have to remember not to make shopping lists. Instead of writing things down I need some sort of mental pencil to cross out every single item that comes into my mind. I can do without things, as long as I’m not hungry and capable of covering the basic needs. That’s for now. What will happen tomorrow? I simply can’t think about it. I don’t make plans, I have no means for that. It has nothing to do with panic, laziness or depression, I sent out dozens of job applications willing to push over all my limits, but with no success. Qualifications are not a problem, but age is. 39 seems to be way too old for any Serbian employer, plus the country is in quite severe recession. Life in Serbia is very hard, even without my issues.

I’ll leave this post as a reminder that I absolutely must block all shopping desires that come into my head because it still won’t come naturally, I’m doing my best to adjust to this new life I have to live. It’s livable, it surely still is life. And all that stuff we tend to consider important or even essential at any given point of time can be done without. People matter, not things.

Bad vs. good news

I was always inclined to first perceive the bad picture when I summarized the event of the day, month or year. Quite sadly for a long time that was actually the only picture I perceived, unable to confront it with its opposite counterpart which always exists, no matter how dark is the darkness we sometimes found ourselves in. Flaw of the character or simply the consequence of my mental health issues which colored my days with the gray filter of depression even long before the tragic loss of my father, that was who I was and still am to a certain point. It just took a completely new shape in this last year or so because even when things are funny or I begin to smile, it is never again that relaxed bubbly laughter I used to enjoy in the past. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how independent you are at the time when you lose your parents, it’s only then that you truly become that mature grown up adult, one of all those other adults at that given moment world has now to rely on. Those who shaped that world before slowly leave the scene and you find yourself more and more alone in front of the big audience to show all you can and cannot do. Till then you always had somebody who could in case of necessity watch your back, give you advice, replace you for a moment or two. Perhaps you didn’t use that backup option at all, but still you knew it was there, like a comforting emergency button you could push at any given instant, a person or persons who would never betray you and always be there at least to give you warm two cents of their own. When you lose that, again no matter at what age, you lose the unconditional ground under your feet and your time comes to shape some tiny piece of this planet in your own way. It was easy to criticize or watch from a safe distance the previous generation at every possible work you could imagine and say that you would do it better if only they let you – when your time comes you see how hard that task is. How easy it is to make mistakes. How many insecurities and unknown things lie even in some seemingly simple everyday tasks you weren’t involved in. You realize that it’s not easy at all to shape the world. That this is new time frame but that people are still people, that your generation isn’t much better or worse than all the previous generations. That you missed so many important lessons, but that you have to do something, without creative and not so creative blocks inside that just serve as an excuse for – oh that’s too difficult, strenuous or tiresome, I’ll leave it for tomorrow. You can’t leave it, because there are not so many tomorrows out there any more. It’s scary and requires responsibility. But that’s how it is. This realization leaves you with some sort of mature scar on your soul, a scar that makes adults adults and alienates them from the carefree strength of a happy childhood.

I used to be extremely sad in this past year, now life is somewhat more frozen in several shades of gray the mature realization that I’m alone to fight now consists of. Life is hard. Literally. Things around you weigh a whole ton when you try to lift them and there is nobody else to do it for you any more. I have 57-58 kilos now and I probably shouldn’t lift anything heavier that 10-15 kilos but I have to. Nobody asks if I can. And anyhow I was never used to transferring the weight from my shoulders to other people’s backs. This heaviness of life serves as a burning fuel for depression which in turn continues to force me to see mainly just the negativity in the world around me. I’m aware of that. I see that others are aware of that too – people don’t like simple reality, they strive for inspirational heroes even if they are just a myth because people in general are much less brave than they pretend to be in front of others. What counts is what you think and how you feel when you stay alone with yourself in front of your bathroom mirror and honestly face your true reality, and there are not many of those who would sincerely share such moments with others. Nevertheless, if you’re honest, people flee. They run away from you, they don’t call you, they leave you on your own to “pull yourself together”. They can’t listen to negativism, they search for inspiration. People are just – people.

When I used to actively fight against panic disorder I read all sorts of psychological texts from the field of self-help and I tried out all sorts of techniques to simply survive a day. One of them which was dedicated more to the fight against depression than with panic was to write down your negative thoughts, at least several a day and then find as many good things in that day to confront the negativism with. At first that is extremely challenging because you simply can’t see anything good in horrible days. They you do somehow squeeze out good moments onto that paper, but they seem totally insignificant. With time and practice it gets easier, actually they say that if you practice this long enough it can become your second nature to first see the good and only later the bad in your days. I was never patient enough to give it a decent try so I don’t know if it works on the long run to improve the thinking patterns, but I know that it was a helpful tool on some pretty rainy days.

Today my soul is pretty heavy, as if somebody were sitting on my chest. Let’s try to chase some fog away by a short bad vs. good list:

1. Remember kitten Maconi from the photo post? Well, it’s not at the cottage house any more nor it will ever be. There are two people who live there in the immediate surroundings all the time, but they both refused to take care of it during the winter by saying that they don’t have the food for a cat??! My uncle wants to spend a carefree wonderful winter abroad so he won’t be here for at least 3 months. For that reason the kitten was sent away to some distant yard, it’s quite unclear if it will be taken care of or abandoned to search for food by itself during winter.

2. The first neighbor at the cottage house who was ill this last year and a half died today. My father would be very sad if he were here to hear the news, I remember their adventures when they walked for miles in good and bad weather when the buses would break down and there was no other means for them to reach their cottage houses in the past when the village wasn’t well connected with the town.

3. I have strong back and muscle pains due to heavy duty work at the cottage house yesterday – the place doesn’t look small at all when you have to collect leaves and heavy rotten apples to carry them away, there were 100 kilos of rotten apples to be collected in order to prevent trees to catch illnesses. Then I went up and down the ladder for like 50 times, quinces are finally ripe – the wind was blowing like crazy, branches were hitting me in the face and I was losing balance and almost falling down from some crazy heights.

4. I was following this year the life of one very special Serbian female writer, Isidora Bjelica. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 3 years ago and went into two remissions, but the disease stroke back again in April-May this year for the third time. She tried vast number of expensive therapies, there were big humanitarian concerts as people gathered to collect money so that she could be treated in Switzerland, she promised to fight the best she could with lots of love for her fans and every single person who gave her a friendly word of support on her Facebook page. She posted that the imaging tests done today showed that her cancer spread very much and very aggressively. I felt the blow of heavy sorrow and those same mixed emotions I wrote about that haunt me for a very long time now.

The list could go on for quite a while, but I want to stop here with the negativism. Let’s search for the positive face of things:

1.In spite of pains I managed to bake a bread. And it turned out really excellent and tasty, I hope that I finally nailed the recipe that I should stick to.

2. Quinces are hard to collect and they have very unique taste, but they are also such a pretty site to look at, plus their smell is amazing. There are beautiful songs about quinces on cupboards during winter in our tradition.

3. It is hard for me to go to the cottage house, but I’m giving my best to convince myself that it is nothing and that I can do that. I’m fighting agoraphobia the best I can.

4. It is hard, but I’m somehow managing to post 2-3 times a week. I always say to myself – it won’t take long, I’ll write a shorter post this time… then I end up writing a “novel” as always. Maybe I should put a word limit and see what I manage to come up with that way. 🙂

Have a nice weekend!

Someone out there knows us

Thinking of you

Cancer stroke once again in my close proximity. Today I learnt that my dad’s best friend’s brother died on Saturday, he had bile cancer – one of the rarest and most lethal forms of this evil disease. He lost his battle in 10 months marked by 6 extremely difficult operations after the diagnose. My dad’s best friend watched my father’s rapid decline and was shocked by the speed at which his life ended, yet he hoped beyond the end of all hopes that some miraculous cure could save his brother and that even the last terrible operation on Thursday family insisted on would make some difference. I perfectly understand that surreal human need to cling to the last shreds of vanishing hope and no matter how much more I know today about cancer, I’m sure that I myself as well would start all over again that battle against all odds if I encountered this evil firsthand one more time. It’s that bargaining part of dealing with loss process, when you try even the most absurd things under the sun to prevent the bad outcome. Even though you know it’s highly unlikely to succeed and that almost everybody else failed, you still push. You still fight. Others failed because they made all sorts of mistakes you imagine to justify your fight. They failed, but you won’t. It’s so profoundly human. Then if miracles don’t happen and things don’t go well, you get into schock. And the dealing with loss starts all over again right from the beginning, from the very start of the denial part.

That’s how my dad’s friend feel now. Fast backward to ten months ago when he first told us about his brother’s issues, he was full of confidence that his brother would be cured. Relatives from everywhere gathered to send all sorts of known and unknown alternative care products and for each new one they included in his therapy dad’s friend would say that if my dad tried it, he would be still alive. It’s so weird when you find youself in the dark tunnel of dealing with an illness without some universally known and definite cure – you want some product to work but you’re still very sceptical, you feel horrible because your family member couldn’t try such product, and in my case you eat yourself alive because you know that your M.D. father would deny trying anything outside allopathic protocol even if you had means to provide it. You go through a turmoil of mixed feelings asking yourself what if this man succeeds while we didn’t manage, does that make me a bad person because I didn’t save my dad? And there comes jealousy, too. That’s such a shameful feeling, to be jealous because someone else out there is alive and you fight every second against it, but it resurfaces again when you least expect it. You know that we’ll all exit this life at one point or another in this or that way, yet you still “fear” that someone else will outsmart the laws of life and stay here forever while you were not smart enough to find the eternal life formula. Totally crazy and quite foolish when you think about it, yet once again extremely human.

I went though all these and many more phases in these past months as I frequently heard news of the state of health of the brother of my dad’s friend. I never met this man, I never even visited the town in Bosnia where he lived, I didn’t even see a single photo so that could at least imagine how he looked like. Nevertheless, over and over again during hundreds of days behind us I asked how he was. I knew where he was, what he did, what was his diet, what were the things he liked, how strong he was and how big hopes he had. I knew so much, although very probably he didn’t even know that I existed and that I followed his battle with so many mixed emotions, praying so much for his life but also for his peace when he was exposed to the last painful procedures. This realization suddenly dawned on me, how probably for each one of us there is at least somebody out there who by chance or through someone else knows about our lives and feelings and how that knowledge often enfolds and stays behind the scene, leaving us completely oblivious of its existence. Just because we don’t know it, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who hope and pray with us, cheer for us and share our rollercoaster drive in unpredictable circumstances. Depending on circumstances and people involved, this can be a hidden burden or a hidden blessing as some sort of human energy obviously always travels our way. Whatever it is, it’s anyhow one of surprises the miracle of life consists of. I wish you all that only good people have you in their minds and hearts as your and their paths cross for a short time of this planet, may only good energy fly your way. And may the brother of my dad’s friend find his much needed peace till we meet some day. Rest in peace dear man, you were so strong and brave in you battle for life. I know that you were much loved and that you’ll be so much missed. Someone some day will find the cure, I’ll pray for this till the end of my days.

The miracle of walnuts

walnuts
Walnuts from Serbia – photo by tamellu 2015
I can’t say I had any particular relationship with walnuts till a year ago. I knew of course that they grew on trees and that my dad had some on his little piece of land, I knew that I couldn’t eat them raw as I would immediately feel a burning sensation all the way down my stomach due to some sort of allergic reaction so they weren’t exactly on the list of my favorite food items. On the other hand, my mom would often put them in all sorts of cakes (in particular my favorite chocolate cake Reform) and occasionally mix them in raw form with cooked wheat which is very important in our culture, but other than that I didn’t contemplate much on this strange type of fruit as we perceive it in my country.

Famous poet from Montenegro, Njegoš, in his classic work “Gorski vijenac” mentioned an epic truth which goes more or less like this: “Hard walnut is a strange fruit, it won’t crush but it’ll break your teeth.” I think that he’s the most responsible for establishing the expression “hard walnut” we often use in our everyday speech, referring to a person who can’t be easily convinced and who won’t back off and change the attitude under pressure, someone tough enough to refuse to be “broken”.

I would also hear my mom complain every autumn about a giant walnut tree growing outside our apartment building, saying that it makes annoying noises at night when ripe fruits hit the hard asphalt, and that it leaves behind mountains of dirty leaves on the ground by the beginning of November.

That used to be pretty much everything when it came to me and walnuts. What I failed to recognize though was that I missed the essentials – I never learnt to distinguish walnuts from other trees by the shape of their leaves, I never collected a single fruit with my own hands from the ground and I never watched it develop in its hard green shell that in the end turns to black-brown in the process of ripening and cracks open to drop down its light brown stone-like product. Just like many other things, I considered walnuts merely something that I could buy or take and consume as desired, oblivious of how that consumption philosophy pushes us further and further away from nature that created and shaped all our lives.

Who knows for how long this could go on for me if my dad’s life hadn’t come to its end. Walnuts usually start ripening by the middle of September if the weather is favorable, which was the case last year. As my dad sat and lay on his deathbed in his bedroom after being discharged from the hospital as an “untreatable case” (there is no facility or trained staff for palliative care in oncology in Serbia, believe it or not) and sent home to our bare, medically uneducated hands to do whatever we thought we should to alleviate the pains and misery in his last days, walnuts kept popping out from their greenish-brown shells and hitting the asphalt under the bedroom window. Last days of death from cancer are among other things marked by huge changes in body’s physiology, which heavily impacts the brain of the dying person. People dying from cancer usually turn to themselves reliving distant childhood memories, fall in and out of consciousness and occasionally lose touch with reality and persons around them, until pains close in on them one more time with harder and harder blows. Changes in physiology and strong painkilling medication induce periods of delirium, infallible proof that the end is getting nearer and nearer. There were long periods when I could sit on the bed by my dad’s side, without him being conscious of my presence. Most of the time I couldn’t even just touch him as this provoked unbearable pains, so whenever I felt that he could at least communicate with me I would start whatever small talk that came into my mind. Times for big talks were over, it’s nothing like you see in movies with those important lines for special goodbyes – in death in real life it all gets pointless. Dad’s body had a strange tendency to rhythmically move with the sound of walnuts hitting the ground, so knowing how much he loved this fruit, several times I tried to ask him: “Dad, do you hear the walnuts falling down?” Absorbed in his thoughts he usually failed to respond, staring into emptiness. Once however, growing intensely delirious he replied: ” Yes, goats are falling down, too.” I remember staring at my dad in scary disbelief watching his distorted expression, horrified that he went totally nuts as (wal)nuts outside continued falling down and creating some highly ominous atmosphere. I hadn’t dealt with death from cancer before so I feared this stage very much, observing with intense fear how dad would swing from delirium to a perfectly normal state and back again in terms of hours. There was nobody to guide me or even just explain to me how this end of life enfolds, and from my experience it’s much better to be prepared for what you’re about to witness than to live in ignorance of foolish protection from the reality we all have to face in some form or another. Thank God there was at least internet by my side to help me recognize all the relevant signs in spite of my total refusal to admit that one life was about to be over beyond any repair. Life eventually ended with the sound of nuts cracking as they landed on the hard ground. The burial was prepared and awaited during horrible sleepless nights interrupted only by that familiar, ominous sound. Those hardest days that come after the burial were still marked by this more and more annoying tapping which threatened not to end ever again.

Then somehow as the tree exhausted all its fruits and autumn progressed into winter, somewhere along that path tapping stopped, but I failed to spot the exact moment when this happened. There was snow and silence, so cold and hard that I almost preferred to hear the familiar ground hitting sounds again. Winter turned into spring, strong summer heats chased away spring blossoms again, and finally the end of another August got nearer and nearer. I felt it in my stomach that was turning into stinging and painful knots again as I relived dates and events from the previous year. Memories were like needles piercing my skin, thousands of pains and moments of disbelief, real as if it all had happened the previous day, as if time had stopped and the year never elapsed, the year in which among other things I gave my best to learn all I could about walnut leaves, shells, fruit ripening. I would look at the tree outside the window and as I remembered the goats falling from the sky, my body would fill with intense fear. I dreaded hearing the sound of falling walnuts again and it seemed that I wouldn’t survive it without dad around. I almost begged the Heaven above not to hear that sound ever again, especially not at the time of anniversary. Strangely enough, it seemed that my prayers were heard. The unfavorable weather slowed down the ripening of walnuts and by September 12th still not even a single one hit the ground. After the anniversary, me and my mom went several times to dad’s cottage house and she “put me in charge” of collecting fallen walnuts and hitting down the ripe ones that were still on the tree. It felt awkward and I was reluctant to start, but once I did I never felt sorry for my decision. It’s not easy to spot fallen walnuts nor to track them when they bounce down from the tree. Each one you find gives you a small boost of happiness because you had a successful “nut hunt” as I decided to call it. As you analyze the ground around the tree you bend over and get up thousands of times, which gives you all the exercise your body craves for in today’s sedentary lifestyle. And on the top of everything, something strange started happening. Whenever I gave a close look along the paths I had frequently covered all my life in my neighborhood or elsewhere around the town, I would spot a walnut tree I walked by thousands of time not knowing what it was. This year was extremely prolific in terms of walnuts, so during this last month or so there wasn’t a single day in which I wouldn’t come home without at least 10-15 walnuts in my hands. Time worsened in last 15 days with the arrival of strong winds and rain, but it proved to be actually beneficial for a nut hunter like me – I would find myself in the middle of rain and walnut storm as winds and humid weather would shake the trees and make them shed the fruits. They would fall in dozens, hitting my head, hand, feet, rolling down the ground in my direction, literally following me wherever I went. One day three walnuts landed down from different directions and joined together to stop in front of my feet, as if something or somebody sent them to convey a message and help me make the final peace with these trees. Also, last year we didn’t find any walnuts at the cottage house as nobody went there due to my dad’s condition for more than 2 months, which means that probably somebody took them away. My mom had to buy them all year long for all memorial days for my dad, because they are traditionally mixed with cooked wheat prepared together with wine for the religious service. She repeated many times that my dad wouldn’t believe that she had to buy walnuts when we had two fairly big trees of our own.

This year it was all somehow evened out, because not only the harvest is really extremely abundant, but also it turned out that there was no reason for me to fear the sound of falling walnuts. Nut hunt turned out to be a happy task, a true way for me to preserve the memory of my dad. I could be wrong or not, but as my dad loved them so much I have a feeling that this was his gift and the way to say that everything is ok and that there is nothing to fear any more, that on the contrary we should be strong and brave hard walnuts fighting for our place in the world.

Happy nut hunt to all walnut hunters from my hemisphere!

walnuts
Walnut branch – photo by tamellu 2015
walnuts
Two walnuts – photo by tamellu 2015
walnuts
Walnut half – photo by tamellu 2015
Walnuts
Whole walnut – photo by tamellu 2015

Decisions

It’s been quite a while since I last reached out to the great big world out there. It was more a conscious decision than a spontaneous act, I felt frozen in my grief and short for words that somehow couldn’t find their way to come out. I gave up, everything seemed pointless, as if my dad had taken all the colors out of my life and carried them away as he left the Earth behind. I suddenly found myself on a no man’s land, beaten up by dad’s vicious and extremely complicated disease that eventually reduced me to almost nobody and nothing. No happiness, no smiles… no self-esteem, no friends in the hard days of grief… no family of my own, no job, no creativity… Then I suddenly realized that the mortal blow of cancer didn’t have just one victim. I became its true collateral damage, as I continued to live a negation of life. Yes, you can be just technically alive even when not on life support. Cancer in some way killed me as well, even though I wasn’t the one diagnosed with the illness. I somehow stopped living and shut myself up and out of everything, blogging included.

Did this help? No, not at all. I foolishly opted for “peace of mind”, trying to believe that this will help me heal, that something else will happen on its own and take my life on a different, better course. Nothing happened. Nothing good. As if the Heaven decided that it’s high time for me to learn the hardest way all those lessons I missed as I grew up. As if time came to pay the dearest price for every mistake I made as I walked down the path of my life.

My dad has been “missing” or a whole year and a bit more now, but I’m somehow still waiting for him to come back. It didn’t seem real, it seemed that he fell asleep the way he had done thousands and thousands of times before that horrible day, and it still seems that he just has to wake up somewhere out there and come back. I have a feeling that it will stay forever that way for as long as I’ll live, no matter how long that can be. There were many occasions on which I desired to join him, as staying alive feels painful and pointless. Then I realized again that letting go would mean another victory of cancer as well, which in turn if my life is pointless is totally pointless on its own. I was given this life… why, how and where I don’t know, but I know that it should fulfill some purpose. I want at least somebody to remember me by good when I pass away. I need an opportunity that can help me give my days some meaning. I don’t want to let my knowledge go completely down the drain as something unnecessary and useless, I put way too much effort into it to let this happen. However, I can’t do this entirely on my own. As every human being, I need people to keep me company, to listen to me, to give me some feedback, push me further when I get stuck, remind me that there is some sense in what I do. If as it seems I can’t earn an opportunity to work out there in my real life using the languages I studied, I can at least make myself blog. It depends entirely on me, nobody can take that away from me for as long as I have electricity, internet connection and some device to type from. In the end, the only thing I overdo every single day is thinking, it just has to be converted to writing.

I decided to try to publish whatever I manage to put together on Tuesdays and Thursdays and perhaps a photo every Sunday. It won’t be easy to stick with this decision, but even just a line or two can make the difference on harder, sad or busier days. I hope that someone out there will be willing to bear with me and give me from time to time a friendly word of support as I struggle to get back on some kind of track.

I am not who I used to be nor what I used to be, I miss that person who existed until a year ago very much. But you know what, this person who writes these lines today might well be just a smaller and worse version of the girl who isn’t here any more, yet she still has something interesting to say and show to the world, I’m sure about that.

Be well people… and I can only hope that with time I’ll manage to earn interest, trust and friendly words of support.

Till tomorrow then!

Flowers are pretty anywhere

Last year when I posted my flower photos, I could never imagine even in my worst dreams that this time this year I would be visiting a cemetery quite often and carrying flowers out there in that vast, open space. It was next to impossible to work with camera again, and I never planned to take any photos myself at the grave of my grandmother and my dad.

Modern technology interfered, I always had my cell phone with me, so my mom would always ask – why don’t you try to make some photo, so that we have memories of different days we went to visit them? I couldn’t refuse, being convinced that nothing special would come out of such trials. I finally transferred those photos to the computer and it was such a strange surprise. The place where the photos were taken is sad, the occasions were very sad, yet flowers make quite a difference. It doesn’t matter where flowers are, they’re always a pretty sight, they embellish even the saddest spot. They made me realize that there can be some beauty in grief as well.

Rest in peace, dear dad.

pink gerbera

crven gerber

crveni gerber

colorful-flowers

primrose

love-in-idleness

chrysanthemums-serbia

sky-over-the-cemetery

Honesty is not (always) the best policy

You-should

I learned quite some time ago that two (or even more) conflicting emotions cannot coexist at the same time; I didn’t just read it somewhere, I felt it on my own skin. This proved to be true once again in my last ordeal with the upper part of my GI tract – I was horrified of what I was feeling, horrified of the exam necessary to detect any possible problems, and eventually horrified of the worst possible outcome. Essentially, it was even worse than that – I was totally petrified. When you experience such an intense degree of fear, you can’t be either sad or happy or angry at the same time, all else vanishes from your focus. Once the fear subsidies, other emotions can resurface again and take that fear’s front row place. That’s a very powerful tactic for dealing with panic disorder – whenever any other emotion overpowers you, fear retreats and panic is kept at much safer distance.

In my present reality, as soon as I got my biopsy results and figured out that there are some tissue changes, but nothing that much alarming, I felt a tremendous relief. It seemed such a positive thing at that moment, it felt wonderful, even though I still can’t get rid of my stomach issues. It wasn’t long before the relief was replaced by the sensations of grief that come and go, alternate constantly like ebb and flow. Suddenly, it’s something I do or something I say, an item that I hold… memories of my dad keep coming back and sorrow and tears overcome me. Then it gets better, I get distracted, but not for long.

As if it weren’t enough, I have lots of financial issues as well in this truly post-traumatic life, as there is no longer any of the dad’s income. I do receive a very small amount of money for some occasional jobs I do from home, but that’s hardly enough to make things better. This month I worked a lot, as a matter of fact I worked for hours even on the day when I received anesthesia, in spite of the recommendations to relax for the rest of that day. Today I merely asked if there would be any payments in my favor because February came and almost completely went without any income for me at all.

I was just wondering you know, I have bills to pay, it’s quite hard, I said. The reply was – Well, if it’s hard, then go and politely ask the boss to find you some other PROPER (for this woman that means office, not home based) job, because you’re not doing much for the company, you know. No payments this month for you. That’s not fair, I said, I did work a lot this month in spite of having health issues. Health issues? Your health issues are nobody’s concern, we all have issues – so what?

WOW.

My thoughts wandered back to that bed in the GI department and to the moment when the anesthetic was injected. I could have died right there, many things could have gone wrong, I signed the consent. Yet I woke up seemingly undamaged and rushed home to do some important things that could have created serious problems in case I hadn’t waken up. Nobody else has the access to that information, nobody else knows the e-mails and passwords. Nobody there speaks English at this level, which is necessary for dealing with their important papers. Oh yes my dear, you would have had tons of serious concerns if I hadn’t waken up. On the other hand, thinking of how easily the movie of my life was interrupted by that anesthetic and how peaceful and calm that darkness I slipped into was, maybe it would have been much better if I hadn’t waken up at all. This way, I got right back to that same sea of fears, panic, uncertainties, sorrow, pain, not eating, not sleeping, not truly living, having no idea how I will go on from here.

PD is an expensive illness among other things, as I once said. That anesthesia cost what is for me lots of money, but without it I would have never completed the exam and the GI team would have had to deal with stopping a panic attack instead of inspecting my intestines. I worked precisely to earn so that I could prevent the attack, so that I could “bribe” my illness to spare me from its ugliest pits. How wrong I was.

I am used to people being rude and I do know there’s a harsh world out there, but in these circumstances I’m more vulnerable than usual. Also, these poisonous words came from a person who knows me for many years and knows all about my loss. I didn’t ask for pity, sympathy or empathy and I never would, I just wanted some retribution for my work that I duly deserved in my opinion.

It was also recommended to me by her to take some “calming” pills as it’s not normal to be sad that long (5 months is so abnormally long?), and she added that I SHOULD pull myself together and not go around visiting doctors whenever I feel an ache or two.

Calming pills for depression? She has obviously never hard that such medication depress your nervous system even more. Secondly, it’s a very bad choice of words to say to someone who has anxiety to pull oneself together – we so desperately want to, but how do you do that? Shake your head to left and right, button up your shirt and go out to the big bright world magically cured? What are those pieces of me that are scattered away and that have to be reassembled again, pulled together? Has anyone invented a glue for sealing back together the pieces of a “broken” mind? But people still love to pass on psychiatric advice, even without any firsthand or circumstantial knowledge about such issues.

What she doesn’t know is that those as she calls them calming pills have been my companions and life saviors for two long decades even at the best of times, let alone when I held with my both arms a person who was terribly choking and fainting and eventually dying right there in front of me in my arms, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. An ache or two? I hardly eat for more than three months, I lost even more weight, I live with constant arrhythmias because my swollen stomach irritates my heart, and I have 4 different gastric diagnoses after the endoscopy. It took me one hell of a courage to go back to the GI department, I postponed it as much as I could, because my dad was counting his last pre-palliative days surrounded precisely by such doctors. I went there 3 times, endoscopy included, so much for constant visits… who on Earth would want to go visit their worst nightmare every other day or so?

Conclusion: I shouldn’t have asked for the payment because it wasn’t coming anyway, the only thing I managed was to ruin my day and end up sadly pondering about the future.

I made one resolution – not to discuss ever again how I feel physically or emotionally with any person in my real life (apart from my mother). They will inevitably ask questions, but “fine, thanks” even in the worst of times will do just fine. I’m well aware that such a decision can isolate me even further from my immediate surroundings, but at least it will spare me from any newly inflicted pains or judgements.

What people in situations like mine dislike the most are surely statements beginning with YOU SHOULD…

You should overcome your loss.
You should get better, it’s high time.
You should take pills to calm yourself down and move on… i.e. pop up a benzo and chill out, somebody died, so what? (it’s important that they’re still alive and kicking, why should they care about others?)
You should do something about your life, you know. (Really? I’d never guess…)
You should earn more money immediately.
You should marry, a husband would take care of you.
You should take your father’s place in all the chores he was involved in… etc. etc.

i.e. :

Tanja, you should do something entirely different from what you’re doing right now. You’re wrong about everything you do. YOU SHOULD CHANGE. COMPLETELY.

My message to all of them – Guys, I “appreciate” your constant reminders of my “faults” and I know those shoulds very well myself – but I have my own pace at which I can or cannot do something. I should probably do many things, but sorry guys, I’m unable to at the moment. RESPECT IT. I can’t change to be someone else. I don’t want to be someone else. Maybe I don’t even want to change everything in my life. Maybe I’m just trying to survive and doing my best, that didn’t cross your minds?

If someone thinks that he or she can live my life better than I do, I’m very willing to exchange places. To put that someone temporarily in position to suffer from panic disorder the way I do (happens only to 2% of world population at most), lose one of two closest persons in life to cancer after taking full personal palliative care of that person at home with no real medical means at all, eat just a bite or two here and there, sleep just a couple of hours at night being constantly awaken by burping and arrhythmias, suffer from hypothyroidism with almost inevitable surgery of the thyroid, have very limited means for basic needs in life, work without sense and have no friends in real life, mainly due to PD.

If someone can live such life better than I do (and I think I fight very much every day), I’d truly congratulate them.

No problem anyhow, I’m very used to being alone in what I do and how I feel, it’s nothing new to an only child like me. If that’s a price to pay to be calm, to avoid being honest about what happens to me and how that feels, then for me in this case honesty is definitely not the best policy.