Susan WonderStone's Blog


Bloedel Reserve

I recently made my first visit to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. The grounds are beautiful! It’s 150 acres with different garden areas and trails throughout the property. There are many types of birds and other critters who choose to live there.

Mama duck and a pile of baby ducks

There was a baby grand piano in the house that a visitor was playing. It was fun to hear!

I was happy to see the poster in the hallway of the house. I have many more pictures, but you’d be better off going to see for yourself. It’s easy to hike the grounds and different seasons bring different views!

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan



Wonder Woman at Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival

 

Once again…Wonder Woman showed up for the Mukilteo Lighthouse festival. For those of you I met for the first time and a recap for the rest of y’all who follow my adventures…

For those of you who took pictures of me, please send them to me here, susanwonderstone@yahoo.com or on my Facebook page https://Facebook.com/susan.story.71

My son Cameron and I have been participating in the parade since he was in 2nd grade. He turns 20 this week.  Since the festival is always near his birthday, we invited his friends to celebrate with us. Sometimes we had a party after the parade,  complete with singing and birthday cake. At some point along the way, he decided to make a “FREE HUGS” sign. He would run from side to side along the parade route, with his arms out offering hugs to anyone who wanted one.

In the beginning, when I first made my outfit, I realized that when people saw me they often smiled, laughed  and asked to take pictures with me. We all tend to smile when someone smiles at us. It’s just as contagious as a yawn! People who were together, but not saying anything, would smile and communicate with each other. Regardless of whether they are having problems with relationships or work, recently lost a fur kid or other family member, have health challenges, are “drugged” from the crap food they just ate…or, whatever other things are going on in their heads, comnecting and communicating with another human always makes life easier to deal with. I’ve continued doing it, not to make it easier to deal with my own stuff, but to bless others with my will, in hopes that they’ll find their own.

Friday at my retail job, I dealt with the biggest jerk I’ve ever dealt with in the store. It spun me for a bit, because I really thought I could change the constipated look on his face into a smile before he left. I wondered what could be so bad in his life to make him nasty to not only me, but several of my coworkers he also interacted with. After about 30 minutes of wanting to chase him down in the parking lot, and tell him that I’d pray for him because his terminal cancer and putting his dog down this week must be challenging to his entire existence, I realized that jerks only show up in my life to check my own attitude. I really paid attention to myself for the rest of the day, still having the goal to make everyone I came in contact with, a little better than before they talked to me. I try to always make it a goal for me, even when I’m in so much pain I should be at home in bed. Like after the parade, when I slowly wandered around the Festival.  I did my best to smile. I talked to everyone who made eye contact with me. I met a beautiful woman named Demetria, who after a health challenge of her own, started a business providing  shoes to low income and foster children.

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People are amazing when you give them a chance to tell you who they are!

What’s my story?

As many of you know, my first melanoma diagnosis was in March 2000. I had two more surgeries in 2002.  In 2004, aside from skin lesions on my face and just about every body part, I had an open 2inch hole on my right butt cheek and the cancer was in my liver and lymphatic system. In August that year,  my doctor told me I probably wouldn’t make it through the summer. I knew, based on the conversation I had with my dermatologist in 2002, that there were no treatments that would give me hope. I cried  daily for months, wondering what I could do to save my life.  I researched and implemented everything that made sense. Over the years, I’ve stopped things that no longer seem to be helping and added things newly discovered.  A few days ago, my friend Armi, who I met in Tijuana, suggested I put raw honey in the hole in my leg. Why had I forgotten how many times raw honey had helped the skin lesions?   I filled the hole with raw honey, aside from the other things I’m still doing, and after two days it looks so much better!

In 2007,  I broke my back in a skydiving accident. It was my third jump. I had an L1 burst fracture. The staff in the emergency room told me I would probably never walk again. I must have said 100 times “Thank you God, I can move my toes!”  I believed that if I could move my toes I would walk again!  I kept telling them that they did not have my permission to touch any cancer they found in my body. I believed  what I was doing was working, and didn’t want biopsies or other medical treatments to interfere with my healing. My neurosurgeon  asked where the cancer was. Even though I still had lumps in areas of lymph nodes, he showed me the CT scan if my liver. There were no spots on my liver. I KNEW  if I could eliminate melanoma from my liver, I could recover from a broken back. He put me back together with screws in L2 and T12, with flexible plastic rods in between to give me full range of motion. They made me walk soon after I came out of anesthesia, three days after the accident.  I have walked every day since! It took me awhile to get my courage (or stupidity- however you look at it) to skydive again. I have 40 jumps now. Someday I’ll travel and jump in every city, state and country I can!

I’m not going to list all of the challenges I’ve faced, because it seems when I signed up for this life, that I agreed to face most obstacles others do, so I could empathize with the masses.

After I made my rounds at the festival, I went home to do the cancer treatments I didn’t have time for in the morning. I was so tired, but didn’t have time for a nap before I was supposed to be back for dinner with my Northwest Photo family.

I love my spray tan, sponsored by Oasis Airbrush Tanning!

 

The evening was just as amazing as the day!

While looking for the kids, I spun a wheel and won a month of free karate classes. I later found them giving hugs to the people who were within ear shot of the dude yelling at everyone, telling them they’re going to burn in hell for eternity. I’ve never understood how anyone thinks anger, hatred and fear will help convert another to their ways. Meanwhile, the Sikh group was dancing, hugging and appeared happy. But…that’s another story.

Dinner was great! Sunset was great! Connecting was great! Fireworks were great! I fell asleep with my feet soaking in Epsom salt, apple cider vinegar and frankincense.

 

Life is good!

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan

 



Buddy
September 7, 2016, 12:16 am
Filed under: Death, Gratitude, Hope, Love | Tags: , , , , , ,

Last night when I got home, my son Cameron and his girlfriend Rayla, were about to leave to take Buddy into the woods for his last hike.

I still remember Buddy’s picture on the PAWS website, six years ago.  Immediately when I saw him, I said “That’s my dog!” Cameron and I went to see him that day when I got off work. It was just before closing, so they told us to come back the next day. Buddy was scared. He cowered in the back of the kennel. His neuter surgery had gone bad and they had to open things back up to clean out the infection. The staff made it seem like that’s why he was scared. I was concerned he could be a fear biter, until we got our Rottweiler Keta, out of the car to meet him. He followed her around the play area and seemed so excited! He was leery of us, but loved Keta. We went back the next day and brought him home. We only had Keta for 6 more weeks until her kidneys shut down from bone cancer. She had broken Buddy in. He was afraid inside the house, but excited and loved going for walks in the woods. Over the years, Buddy continued to be afraid of certain people, mostly men wearing baseball caps, but always men who were smoking. We could rough-house with him outside, but if anyone touched him inside the house without warning, he’d pee. It took several years for that to stop.

I’ve always wondered what happened to him before we met. I had a goal to prove to him that some people are good.

Five years ago, Buddy appeared to catch a squirrel. I thought he broke its back. Buddy was gentle, but dropped it when I screamed. It crawled away, dragging its back end. It died as it reached the other side of the driveway.  Buddy cried. He seemed disappointed it didn’t play with him. When we saw the third squirrel dragging its back end, my partner took it to PAWS. They have a wildlife center. They told him that local squirrels had been getting a raccoon parasite that attacks their spinal cord, paralyzingly their back ends.

About 2 years ago, Buddy’s back legs started getting weak. His right leg was worse than the left, but both atrophied. We were told he had degenerative myelopathy. It’s like ms in people. Recently, I researched ms and parasites and found several articles stating that the ms patients they tested had an unusual amoeba in their blood. I’m pretty sure we aren’t supposed to have amoebas.

They say there’s no way to cure degenerative myelopathy,  but regular exercise can slow the progression. I wondered how long I could help Buddy and keep him alive. We continued our daily walks in the woods. As time went on, Buddy’s legs shrunk more and his walking was increasingly worse. It was so bad in March when I had my surgery, I thought he might die during the time I wasn’t able to drive. He looked happy though. He ate every day. He drank water. He pee’d and pooped, although it didn’t appear he had any control over when he went. Most days, he’d drag himself out the back door and down the two steps to go potty in the back yard.

Aside from my doctors in Mexico and my neurosurgeon who put me back together after I broke my back, I believe all the medical doctors I’ve seen over the last twelve years, wrote me off shortly after meeting me. Last year, a doctor at a walk-in clinic, knowingly prescribed a narcotic I was allergic to. The pharmacist told me he didn’t want me to take it, but the doctor did. He said that if I took it, to sit in a chair with my phone and if I had breathing difficulty, to call 911 immediately. Seeing the open tumors on my neck and bottom of my left foot, was he trying to help me with pain or help me die from an allergic reaction? Even though I wasn’t ready to die, I felt like he could come in handy when the time comes that I am. I was angry that if I didn’t know what I do, that doctor could’ve been my end. Why should anyone have the right to decide when someone else will die?

Why should I be the one to decide when Buddy would die?  I know it’s considered humane to put a dog to “sleep” when they’re in pain. How do you know of a dog is in pain?

About a month and a half ago, Buddy started drooling a lot. I asked my neighbor, who is a vet. She said if we had put Buddy down a year ago, it wouldn’t have been too soon. The drooling in a non drooling dog is a sign of pain. Someone else told me that in the wild, an animal wouldn’t let the others know it was in pain, because they’d leave it behind. How could I know if Buddy was too miserable to keep going? I’ve been so sick at times over the years that the people around me gave up on me. I guess I just wanted Buddy to make the decision and die on his own. Cameron wasn’t ready. When his friends were killed on July 30th, I really didn’t want to make that decision.

Last week, we had a family meeting and decided it was time. The first available appointment at our vet, was this morning at 10. Back to my first paragraph…

I asked the kids if I could go with them. Our plan was to get Buddy in Rayla’s car, drive to the woods and then, I don’t know what. Cameron enticed Buddy to drag himself to the front porch. He picked him up to take him down the steps and driveway to the car. Buddy started peeing as soon as Cameron picked him up. He held him still until he stopped peeing. I went back inside to get towels to dry Buddy off. Before I got back, Buddy ran down the driveway, dragging his back legs behind him. I washed the porch and sidewalk off with the hose, while the kids dried the pee off of Buddy. We all cried on the way to the woods. It’s only 3 blocks. Buddy wanted to walk, but Cameron picked him up. We barely got past the trailhead when he put Buddy down by a favorite peepee tree. Pretty sure most dogs pee there. Buddy dragged himself around it, sniffing what his friends had left.

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Cameron wanted Buddy to have one last walk in his favorite places. We’ve walked in Japanese Gulch several times a week and often daily, since we moved here 17 years ago. Cameron taught me to hike in the dark without headlamps, being careful to feel what’s under my feet. It has helped greatly with my other hikes. In the gulch, I could also see the dogs, which helped as long as they stayed on the trail. In the dark, we mainly took the same trail. There’s a spot we call “the lookout”. On full moon nights, we’d go to the lookout and howl at the moon. Buddy would howl with us, while Lucy the bulmastiff,  just looked at us like we were crazy.

Last night, we walked as far as Cameron could go, then stopped to rest, lay on the ground with Buddy and talk. We heard our friends Debra and Cooper. Buddy sat up and started whining, wanting to see his friends. Cooper is a rambunctious puppy and Debra always has treats. I yelled “Cooper” once, but with all of us crying, didn’t yell out again.

It was getting dark by the time we got to the lookout. Buddy wasn’t interested in howling. We really weren’t either. We decided to take a shortcut because the chance of falling is higher in the dark and even higher while carrying a large dog. I cried nearly the whole way, watching the love Cameron and Buddy shared.  It was only a mile. It was a mile I’ll always remember!

We all got up this morning, knowing what the day would bring. We all tried to hold back the tears, but didn’t. Rayla drove. The vet and staff were great! I wouldn’t want their jobs. I won’t go into the details, but Buddy died with all of us holding him. We showed him that regardless of what happened before we met, some people are good. He knew we loved him.

It’s only been 13 hours. Every time I’ve walked thru the kitchen, I expect to have to step over him, but he’s not there. I’m tired and crying again. It seems this year’s theme has been loss. I hope this is the last one for awhile!

We LOVE you, Buddy! Thank you for teaching us so much and loving us back.

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan



Missed Opportunities or Distant Friendship

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Another beautiful story about friendship and connections. Written by Darian Clogston, another of my son Cameron’s best friends. And a little Harry Potter spoiler…

 

I went to Jake Long‘s memorial service this weekend, and it was the most difficult funeral I have ever been to.

Not that I have been to a whole lot of funerals, but for a twenty-year-old, the few I have been to already feel like far too many. Jake’s was different for me though, because he and I were not friends…not until after he died. Prior to a week ago, when I had been asked if I knew Jake Long – and I had been asked before, on at least a couple occasions – my answer was, “The name is familiar; I would probably recognize him if you showed me a picture…” His profile picture on Facebook would jumpstart my memory, prompting me to add on, “Oh, he sat with the group of guys behind Blake and I in Mr. Schillinger’s calculus class my senior year”. Not really a significant connection to bring up, considering that I essentially never talked to, or even really acknowledged, that group of guys sitting behind us. I’ve thought about that class every day since Jake died though. There were 180 school days where I could’ve tried to talk to them. 180 missed opportunities where I never said, “Hey”, or, “Good morning”, or anything. I’d just walk in every day, glancing a little skeptically at Will Kramer rocking on the back legs of his chair – that drove the stage manager side of me nuts – and then I’d take my seat next to Blake. And Blake is just such a friendly and positive human to sit next to at 7:20 in morning; It made sense to mostly just talk to him and to ignore everyone else as much as possible.

I know I can’t fill my mind with the what-if’s though. That’s not fair to myself, or to Jake, or to anyone. That class was years ago, and I can’t change the fact that I never talked to Jake when I had such a prime opportunity to. The connection between Jake and I started to grow even years before that though. The problem was just that neither of us knew it.

Jake had taken part in the Summit program, through which he grew a group of guy friends that became a very solid, tightknit bunch. Cameron – one of my two very best friends now – was a part of Jake’s group then. I’ve heard a remarkable amount of stories and anecdotes in the past week about what Jake was like back then and about the shenanigans that this group of guys was able to get into together, and everything I hear makes me love Jake a little more.

And let me tell you, he’s amazing. I’m not going to re-cap all of the stories I’ve been able to hear about him, or share all of the photos I’ve seen of him in the past week, because other people have shared those with me, and I feel like their memories are better left in their own hands to keep sharing. But either way, there is no denying that Jake is one awesome guy. From what I can tell, he and I would get along so well if we had ever had the chance to hang out together.

One of the biggest differences between us is the fact that Jake loves baseball and I love theatre. But within our own realms, each of us thrives. We’re both driven and passionate when we get involved with something. Baseball and theatre are our outlets. They allow us space to practice, and to persevere, and to overcome obstacles, and to build community, and to engage, and to inspire. These activities keep us going. They give us something to look forward to.

Attending Jake’s memorial service was surreal in a way. It is one thing to know and love someone, have them pass away, and to then grieve for them by reflecting on their life, celebrating their achievements, and sharing the stories you have about them. But to begin to know and love someone after they’re gone – that is a whole other beast to tackle. Responding to the question, “How do you know Jake?”, was harder than it ever had been before. I hadn’t even known that Cameron and Jake had been so close until after Jake died. And Cameron has been the biggest contributing factor to me learning about Jake, but I have also witnessed an outpouring of love and stories coming from the other friends that Jake and I share, as well as from his family at the service. So simply saying that we have a mutual best friend doesn’t seem to sum it up. It feels more like Jake has become one of my best friends himself.

Late on the night of the funeral, when I finally went home, I was welcomed by new groceries that my mom had picked up that day. It was late, and I was sleepy and I wanted to go to bed, but I also didn’t quite feel like I could sleep yet. So, being the huge nerd that I am, I sat down in our living room and started thinking about Harry Potter. Often, I find myself using the morals found in Harry Potter to get me through rough patches of life. It’s as if J.K. Rowling has a direct line to my heart through her writing. This past week, I have been drawing inspiration specifically from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Spoilers from this and other books will occur if you continue reading). The end of the fourth installment to the series is where Hogwarts loses one of it’s students, Cedric Diggory, to the hands of Voldemort, and where Dumbledore tells his school that they must band together for the light to rise out of the dark. I have found this part of the series very relatable this week because Jake, Anna, and Jordan are all a little bit like Kamiak’s Cedric Diggory. The sense of community and love felt at the end of the fourth book was exactly what I was reflecting on when I looked up and saw two copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sitting on the mantle. Now, I love Harry Potter. I love the books, I love the movies, I feel kind of iffy about all the spin-off books and movies, but they are all an extension of the Wizarding World that I consider myself to be a part of, so I love them too. BUT all of that being said, when I picked up my copy of this new book, I didn’t know anything about it. I had heard it was coming out soon…but I had no idea what was inside. I opened the front cover to read the inside flap; it informed me that this was actually not a book at all. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play, and so I was holding in my hands not a book, but a script. Continuing to read the inside cover flap, I also learned that the play is already in production in London’s West End. The world premiere was July 30, 2016. The date that Jake, Anna, and Jordan died.

I took all of this as a sign. I needed to start reading. The timing was too perfect, and a play about Harry Potter – yes there are already other Harry Potter-related plays, but one that J.K. Rowling wrote and brought to life – it felt like it was meant for me to start reading immediately. I made a snack, took my new script up to my room, and jumped in. I made it three scenes before falling asleep. So the next day when I woke up, all I did was read. I read until I finished the play, only stopping for a bathroom break or two. And it AMAZED me how much of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child depended on Cedric’s death. The entire play is about the idea that while you can’t change the past, you can allow the past to inspire you to live.

My favorite part of the script, the part that resonates with me the most, is this exchange between Harry and a portrait of Dumbledore:

DUMBLEDORE attempts to reach out of the portrait – but he can’t. He begins to cry but tries to hide it.

DUMBLEDORE: But I had to meet you in the end…eleven years old, and you were so brave. So good. You walked uncomplainingly along the path that had been laid at your feet. Of course I loved you…and I knew that it would happen all over again…that where I loved, I would cause irreparable damage. I am no fit person to love…I have never loved without causing harm.

A beat.

HARRY: You would have hurt me less if you had told me this then.

DUMBLEDORE (openly weeping now): I was blind. That is what love does. I couldn’t see that you needed to hear this closed-up, tricky, dangerous old man…loved you.

A pause. The two men are overcome with emotion.

HARRY: It isn’t true that I never complained.

DUMBLEDORE: Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.

HARRY: You have said that to me once before.

DUMBLEDORE: It is all I have to offer you tonight.

He begins to walk away.

HARRY: Don’t go!

DUMBLEDORE: Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things that death cannot touch. Paint…and memory…and love.

HARRY: I loved you too, Dumbledore.

DUMBLEDORE: I know.

Jake, as well as Anna and Jordan, were taken from us too soon. And we can’t ever change that. But through the memories and love that they instilled while they were alive, they gave so much light to everyone around them. And so we have to live for them, spreading their love and memory and light along with our own, Always.

*Upon reading this, Jansen – another member of Jake and Cameron’s Summit friend group and another friend of mine – wrote me this: “I remember him saying that you were in Calc together. He said that he didn’t know you too well but he thought you were cool and he wished he got to know you better in Calc[…]Jake knew how much you meant to Cameron and what a great person you are. He heard it from me, as well as from Cameron. Even though you never became good friends, you now feel close to him in his death, hearing all about him from Cameron. And he knew how important you are to Cameron. It wasn’t 180 missed opportunities, instead it was 180 days of distant friendship, both incredibly important to each other and to Cameron.”

I love our distant friendship and how it has evolved. I love you, Jake

by Darian Clogston

Jake will be missed by so many! We can’t bring him back, but we can live our lives even bigger than anything we’ve ever planned before.

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan

 

 



Mukilteo Mourns at Kamiak High School

imageI’ve often said that there are few “bad” things I haven’t experienced and overcome, that allow me to help others get to the other side of the trials they face. From car accidents, moving when I didn’t have a choice, watching my dog get run over by a train, breakups including 2 divorces, 7 miscarriages, being accused of being a violent drug abuser with my son temporarily being taken away from me, getting fired from a job I loved, having to file bankruptcy, breaking my back and being told I’d never walk again, losing friends in other skydiving and airplane accidents, my dad dying from cancer, 2 dogs and too many close friends and acquaintances also taken too soon…to my own terminal cancer diagnosis and the daily struggles that came with it…including having to go outside of the country to get the treatments that have kept me alive, having countless doctors refuse to help me because I won’t allow more biopsies and recently finding out that the toxicity of my breast implants could have been the reason my immune system wasn’t healing my body – even though I was doing all the right things.

As I write this, so many other things fill my head. The roof leak that caused over $11,000 damage and the insurance company threatening to drop my coverage unless I replaced the $16,000 roof in the middle of a chapter 13 bankruptcy. One of my dogs dying 4 days after a cat bite. A police officer telling my son I was overreacting from someone attempting to break into our house, only later to have “the suspect” admit he had broken in at least 15 times and had stolen from us. Answering the 911 call from a neighbor describing my house being on fire (it was my neighbor’s house, but it took another 30 seconds to find that out. They weren’t home, but the cat and bird died in the fire), then a year later when my supervisor advised me my son had called in and our kitchen was on fire (my firefighter neighbor took care of it before the fire department arrived)…then I think of the stressful 911 calls I took for over 6 years with people hurt, dying or dead, amongst all the non emergency stuff…

The traumas other family members have faced. My oh my! How thankful I feel right now! None of that was on my mind to write about.

None of those things could have prepared me or anyone else for getting the news that three people were killed and one in serious condition at a party in my community. Like I said yesterday, I got messages way before my alarm was set to go off. I knew that when the news reports said college age and teenagers in the same sentence that I would know the people involved. I’ve lived in Mukilteo since 1992. Many people in this community have lived here for a long time too. Several hours after getting the initial news, I opened Facebook and saw that one of my son’s good friends had been killed. I was at work and managed to stay through the end of my shift,  but not without crying…a lot.

Shortly after I got home, several kids sat in our living room crying and telling stories.  There was a vigil Saturday night, at Kamiak high school. I was going to go, but after talking to my mom and my brother the kids were already home.  We all cried more. Rayla  was so upset, she was throwing up. She went to bed early, while Cameron and I stayed up talking.

Most of the day Sunday, was filled with tears. There was a community vigil being held Sunday night that I was going to.  Cameron decided at the last minute to go with me. I couldn’t count, but there must’ve been 500 people there. There were people from different  churches and faiths,  who spoke along with the mayor and the governor.  Many of the kids who graduated in 2015 were at the vigil. Many of their parents were there with them. People from the community who were unrelated, were also there to show their support.

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There were families I’ve known since Cameron was in kindergarten. Several of the kids at the party, were in the summit program. Summit is Mukilteo’s  gifted program. The kids who are in it, come from different schools in the district. They form close relationships.  The parents seem to be more active with school functions then many of the non-summit kids’ parents.  Even though the summit kids took different paths in high school, they remained connected.

Some summit, some not, were at the party, hanging out before they went back to college for their sophomore year.

Based on the news stories, the shooter was jealous over other guys after breaking up with his “dream girl” Anna. He shot and killed her. He fired 20 rounds total, killing Jake and Jordan and critically injuring one more.

One choice. 3 dead. So many lives changed forever!

We worry about our kids drinking and driving or being in an accident with a drunk driver. Being killed at the hands of one of their classmates isn’t something most of us have ever thought about.

How can we tell them  everything’s going to be okay? How can we trust that they’ll be safe wherever they go? So many questions! Very little of it makes sense to me!

Cameron and I were only going to stay an hour, but ended up being amongst the last to leave. Hugging, crying and holding kids and parents who were upset was more important than going home. The trauma every kid (technically they’re adults) at the party suffered, was more than most of us will ever experience.  I talked to some of the church leaders about dating violence and the importance of teaching the signs of it before it escalates into a tragedy like this. I talked about survivor guilt and they looked like they hadn’t even thought about it. The family and friends of the shooter have suffered loss too. He and Anna dated over a year.  They don’t need to feel isolated at this time either.

Most of us think our first love will be our one and only. When we really love someone, breaking up is never easy, whether it’s the first, third, tenth or whatever number it is. Since everyone is different, how do we help our friends and loved ones deal with a breakup, death or loss of any kind?

I feel like my past experiences have prepped me for a lot and am willing to talk to and share with the families affected by this tragic event, starting with Cameron and his friends who are still alive. So much I’d love to tell you that I learned last night, but being so fresh, will allow time for healing before I do.

On a lighter note, one of the kids last night, said he’ll always remember meeting me. I volunteered in the classrooms a lot. Shortly after he moved here, I had gone to the school to eat lunch with the third graders. He was eating a raisin bagel and a raisin fell out and onto the table. He said that I said “Look, it pooped!” He was grossed out, threw it away and didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the day. He said he still won’t eat a raisin bagel. I don’t remember it, but he might always remember my  3 words!

Love yourself. Love your friends and families. Reach out when you need help and reach out when you see someone who appears to need help. Don’t expect someone else to do it. If we truly are one, let’s find ways to take responsibility, help each other and stop blaming.

Life is good, let’s make it better!

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan

 

 



Black Salve, wool socks or plain old fear?

Go back to yesterday’s post to see some of the pictures I took on my Gothic Basin hike. Now, I’ll tell you about the spaces in between the photos. About a mile away from home, I realized my headlamp was in the backpack I took to Lake 22, two weeks ago. Jack and I decided we would make sure to be back at the car before it got dark. Being 4th of July weekend, we expected a lot of people to be on the trail. When we arrived, there were a lot of cars on the side of the road and in the parking lot across the street. I’ve always seen a lot of cars there and thought it was a crowded trail. As we got our things together and changed into our hiking layers, I realized the top of my hiking boots rubbed the tumor on my leg. I only walked in them for a minute before knowing I couldn’t hike in them. I’m thankful I had worn my low hiking boots in the car.

We only saw a few people on the first mile of gravel road that starts both the Gothic Basin and the Monte Cristo trails. They were all taking the Monte Cristo trail. We discovered later that most of the cars belonged to people on the Monte Cristo trail.  The gravel road ends, because the land slide took it out and dumped it and the hillside into the river. There are knocked down trees, gravel, rocks and boulders in places they weren’t before. (I know, having a preposition at the end of a sentence is grammatically incorrect, but that ‘s how I talk and that’s how I write.) I headed up the alternate route with three other hikers, while Jack climbed down the debris and took the shorter route thru the slide.

July 7th 2007, I broke my back in a skydiving accident. It was an L-1 burst fracture. My neurosurgeon said he had never seen an accident like mine without paralysis. I’m glad he didn’t tell me that until I was already walking again, unlike the nurses in the emergency room. He installed screws in T-12 and L-2 and flexible plastic rods to go around the burst fracture and allow me full range of motion. He had only used them one other time and had no idea how long they’d last or what kind of impact could break them. Anything that looks sketchy, I try to avoid, because I know if I break the rods, I’m not walking away from it. We met up with Jack on the other side of the slide. When we got to the Weeden Creek cut off that goes to Gothic Basin, we wished the other hikers well and started up the trail. About 30 minutes in, 2 women we had seen going to the trail from the parking lot were coming down the trail. They had asked us where the Monte Cristo trail was, but they turned when they should’ve gone straight. Monte Cristo has almost no elevation gain, but Gothic Basin goes up to 5,200 feet. Just a slight difference.

There was a lot of snow this year, so there are many creeks, rivers, waterfalls and snow still on the trail. I was wearing my waterproof Gore-tex surround La Sportiva low hiking boots, so walking thru small streams is easier than trying to jump across them. The roots and rocks on the trail were similar to most of the other trails we’ve hiked. When we got to the first waterfall and water crossing, I was intimidated. There were rocks in the water that looked like they could move. Before going down to the water, I looked for the trail on the other side. I saw it, but from where I was, couldn’t figure out how we’d get to it. I was watching my steps and missed watching Jack cross the rushing water and make his way to the trail on the other side. Sometimes watching someone do what I’m afraid to do is all I need to push myself to do it. I was more cautious than most. I thought about the rods in my back and if I slipped, how they could break. Knowing that an air lift and rescue out of there would be about $100,000 more than I currently have, I always do my best to avoid getting hurt.

About 5 years ago, I took a call from a man who was with his fiance on this mountain. He was calm, but his voice was shaking and he was sniffing. It sounded like he was crying. Cell service is usually non existent there, but he kept trying and got the call to go thru. They were snowshoeing and several feet of snow completely gave away and took her off the side of the cliff with it. He knew she was dead. I wondered if she felt like where she was at was a bad idea before she went over the edge.

The water was too deep to walk thru it without getting water over the top of my boots. Hiking in wet socks and boots sucks. I made it safely across the water, then realized the trail was about 6 feet higher than I was. There was no trail to get there from where I stood. Had I been by myself, this is where I would have turned around. I was scared. Climbing was the only way up. Jack reminded me how strong I am and helped me figure out where to put my hands and feet to get up. I was excited I did it! I had no idea this was the first of about a dozen similar crossings.

The trail seemed steeper than the trail report says it is. Probably  because I was scared, the tumor on my leg started throbbing. Occasionally, when I’d step on a rock a certain way, the tumor I thought was done and came out of the bottom of my foot 2 weeks ago, would send shooting pain up my leg, body and into my shoulder. Every time it happened, I wondered if continuing was a good idea. The trail report also says there are several rock scrambles. I’ve been on rock scrambles, but usually they’re a short portions of a hike. This was a lot more! Going up is a lot easier for me than going down, because of my creaky knees. Going up though, put my feet in positions they don’t normally go. Since my left foot and leg were letting me know they were unhappy with a significant amount of pain, I was putting my right foot into more undesirable positions and most of the impacts.

By the time we got to the widest water crossing, both feet were hurting a lot! My heavier boots probably would have been worse because they don’t bend enough for the scrambles. The crossing was about 20 feet wide. On the right, was a raging waterfall coming toward us. On the left, was probably a 1000 foot drop off about 5 feet from where I stood. There were 2 large boulders mostly out of the water and smaller rocks that were barely under the water. I was concerned the smaller rocks would move. Quick visions of falling in the water, twisting my ankle, smashing my face and falling over the waterfall flashed thru my head. I heard the crying man from the phone call. I wondered if his fiance felt the way I was feeling before she fell. I stood there, trying to figure out the safest way across. Nothing felt right. I made it across to the first boulder. Jack was on the other side, trying to convince me that I could do it. He came across to me and went back and forth a few times, showing me how easy it was. It was about 4 feet to the next boulder. I was trying to figure out if pushing off with my right foot and landing on my left foot, or the opposite was going to give me positive results without hurting my feet more than they already were. A man was coming down the trail. When I said hi to him, Jack went back across to get out of the way. The man crossed, then his 2 large dogs and next, his girlfriend. When she got to the boulder I was frozen on, I asked “Why am I so fucking scared to go across the water?! I jump out of airplanes and I’m too fucking scared to move!” I was almost in tears. She jumped back to the other boulder, reached out her hand and said “Grab my hand and I’ll help you.” I grabbed her hand and jumped as she pulled me over. With tears streaming down my face, I thanked her. She skipped across the rock and down the path they went. The next section was shallow and I knew if the rock path slipped, my feet would stay dry anyway.  I think the mental and emotional stress added to the physical pain in my feet and legs. On the good side, the throbbing in my left armpit that always escalated on hikes, has been completely gone since mid April, about a month after my explant surgery. At my appointment 2 weeks ago, I didn’t specifically ask my plastic surgeon what activities were okay for me. I’m not sure what she said, but I think she said “Don’t overdo it.” What does that mean anyway? In 1997, at my 6 week post op appointment for the removal of an abdominal ectopic pregnancy that was killing me (I was bleeding out from the blood vessels that had formed among all my abdominal organs up to my diaphragm.) my doctor said the same thing. I had a c-section incision that was still healing.  I asked her for clarification regarding weight lifting. She said if I could do 20 repetitions, I should be fine. My next workout, both my husband and my training partner saw me at the same time and both yelled across the gym “What are you doing?” I was on the leg press with 4 plates on each side. They both thought 360 pounds was too much too soon, but I was easily getting 20 reps, so I decided it was okay. That might have something to do with today’s creaky knees.

The trail was really tough for me. Jack said I looked like I was walking in slow motion. He called me a sloth. I laughed, but I was giving it everything I had. I felt like the energizer bunny just before the batteries die. I had looked at the time and based on when we got there, we needed to turn around by 6 pm in order to get back to the car before dark. Around 5:30, I told Jack to go on without me. I would either make it in time or turn around at 6 and he could catch up. He was carrying my water bottle, my ASEA and my Sunflower Milk, so he was kinda like the carrot with me being the donkey. Not an ass, a donkey. At the next water crossing, I thought about my first static line skydive. I froze in the door and couldn’t or wouldn’t grab the strut. My instructor pulled me back in the airplane and told me I had one more chance. I had missed my spot and wouldn’t have been able to get to the field I was supposed to land in. He said when it was time, I would have 3 seconds to make the decision and get out. If I didn’t, I would land with the pilot in the airplane and he would get out without me. After the pilot circled around, I got out when he said to. Now, I was staring at the rushing water and thought “You’re going to miss your spot” and carefully jumped to the boulder in the water. From then on, I would tell myself, every second counts, and quickly take action.

At 5:45, a couple was coming down the path. They told me they saw Jack. They saw how defeated I felt. They encouraged me to keep going. They said I only had to cross the 3 snow fields we could see and I’d be at the basin. I kept going. The first snow field had boot tracks in 2 different places. I took the higher route, hoping if I fell, I’d at least be able to stop myself from sliding down the hill in the boot steps of the lower track. There’s water flowing under the snow field, so the edges are more melty than the rest. I made it across two of the snow fields without incident. The third one went up, not across. On my second step, I slipped. I didn’t slide far, but clawed at the snow with my hands. I stayed there for several seconds, deciding on my next move. I gently, but quickly moved back to the side. Since I had been scrambling over rocks for the previous two hours, scrambling up the side seemed a lot more safe than attempting to climb up the snow. I made it! The jagged rocks lined the bowl named Gothic Basin. It was beautiful! I was so happy I made it to the top!

I found Jack and since it was 6:15, we started back down the trail. The wind blowing off of the snow was too cold for me.  I think it was purposely pushing, telling us it was time to head back. When I calculated our turnaround time, I didn’t take into account how difficult it would be for me to scramble down. Once we got away from the wind, I quickly changed into dry clothes and stuffed the sweaty ones in my pack. I drank most of my Sunflower Milk for energy on the way down. Very few pictures were taken. We knew we’d be hiking part of the trail in the dark. The crossings were easier with my quicker decisions and for whatever reason, I wasn’t afraid like I was on the way up. Could have been that magic cookie I ate that I found in my pack from last season.

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On the way down, I was brave enough to climb up for the picture

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Jack always seems to sneak in a butt picture I find once I get home.

Jack had a headlamp, but since I didn’t, he didn’t use his. It was quite dark for the last hour. I also forgot to calculate that we were walking under 100 foot trees and it would be darker than the same time at home. We made it to the gravel road at about 10:20pm. I was exhausted.

There were times on the way up that I was hard on myself, calling myself a wimp, a pussy and when the tears showed up, a fucking crybaby. I was frustrated that I thought everything would be perfect after my explant surgery. I thought my health would be perfect immediately after. It wasn’t. My lungs were having a hard time, my joints hurt, my back never went into spasm, but was more painful than it’s been in a long time and of course the tumor pain in my leg and foot and the pain in the right foot from the added work. With my eyes on the amazing sights, I realized the only way to get there was on foot. I wasn’t any of the names I had called myself. I was 3 1/2 months after a surgery with two – 7 inch scars. I was told 9 years ago I would never walk again after I broke my back. I was told I probably wouldn’t make it thru the summer when the melanoma spread to my liver and lymphatic system in 2004. I had an open active tumor on my leg and several that have come out of my skin and are healing since my surgery. There are so many people who will never attempt a hike like Gothic Basin. I definitely overdid it, but everything turned out okay. I’m taking care of myself, still doing my treatments and praising my accomplishments.

I don’t regret being hard on myself. It makes it easier to see the contrast.

 

 

The aftermath of Gothic Basin

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More “stuff” came out of the hole during the hike. The gauze was saturated with sweat and ooze, leaving a cleaner hole than Jan 1 picture. There still appears to be more in there.

 

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July 4. Swelling from the rash was worse. Hike day, I had gauze and tegaderm covering the owie. The line about an inch above the current bandage is where the bandage stopped and the rash began on the top. Around the owie itself, which was under the bandage, is more rash. There was no rash on my right leg, so it doesn’t make sense that it was the wool socks like someone suggested.

 

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4th of July evening after work, while the masses watched and set off explosions, I sat on the couch. I was blaring music in an attempt to calm 2 big dogs and 2 cuddly cats (who are never all in the same room together), while cooking my left leg and right foot under the far infrared heat lamp.

Where are you? Where do you want to be? What are you willing to sacrifice to get there? What are you waiting for? Take your first step today. You’ll be glad you did!

Love, gratitude and blessings

~Susan

 

 



Gothic Basin – 2 weeks and 2 days after black salve. I wouldn’t recommend it!

After I posted “Black Salve Results at 2 weeks” on July 1, a friend commented on the Facebook photo “That looks Brutal!” It was!

I responded “It’s making me sweaty and nauseous. When things get brutal, I show them what brutal is. Gothic Basin, here I come!” I’m not sure what I was thinking. I’ve been home 48 hours and I’m too tired to write. For now, enjoy the scenery. I’ll tell you all about it soon.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns as the pictures might show.