The Camper

I have wanted to write the past couple of days but refrained. I wanted to write because my anxiety has been growing. I also didn’t want to write because I was so anxious and felt vulnerable, superstitious and to be very honest paralysed. In my mind’s eye my anxiety felt like a blob slowly growing until it overflowed out of it’s container, onto the counter, and creeped along the counter top, making a crazy mess. 

I had my three month check up today. My worry about my check up has been a slow burn for a couple of weeks. It has been kept at bay by a few fun developments in our life though. The most significant distraction being the acquisition of a 1964 Arrow Little Chief trailer camper on my 45th birthday, July 9th, 2020. 

The camper was purchased and rebuilt in 2019 by a woman named Ruth. She was the mother of a childhood friend of Jenns. Jenn had reconnected with this friend on social media a couple of years ago. I had heard about Ruth for the first time when Jenn’s friend and her husband came over for dinner about two years ago, while I was going through cancer treatment for my colon cancer. Ruth was battling colon cancer. 

I know Ruth was a mother, a grandmother and Ruth taught Sunday school to my wife when she was a kid. I know she loved creating and making pottery. I also know she had a dream of traveling around in a 1964 Arrow Little Chief camper. 

She bought it and had it rebuilt in 2019. She took it on one trip last summer with her grandchildren. I hear she had a wonderful time. I would love to know what her thoughts were when she first bought it. What dreams did she have for it? Where were places she wanted to go? Unfortunately on June 25th, 2020 she passed. 

After seeing the camper posted on social media, my wife contacted her friend. My wife loves getting ideas. Last summer we were looking for cabins. We have since decided we don’t want a cabin right now. In early COVID, we were talking about converting a van into a living space. Then the 1964 camper came into our view. 

We hemmed and hawed for a couple of days, which is very UN-like us. We have been more spontaneous in the past, I think we may be growing up a bit. There was a draw in my belly that I was trying to navigate. On the one hand I really wanted it. It had the mobility we were seeking with the “cabin” feel with its all wood interior and being vintage. On the other hand my anxiety side was saying: “Am I seeking static to avoid life?”” Is it practical? “”Do we really need this?”.  We talked to friends and got their input on whether to get the camper or not. Opinions were all over the map. We were actually leaning towards not getting it when I just said “Let’s get it.” And so we got it. 

I have spent almost everyday since July 9th in the camper for some period of time, long or brief. We took it to Higgins Lake this past weekend and fared well through the big thunderstorm that rolled through. I was up in the middle of the night absolutely giddy. That is, after we ran outside to gather all the things so they wouldn’t get soaked.

My grandma Dee, with an inheritance I received after her passing this past January, and Ruth made this next path in our lives possible. Thank you sweet women. I hope you join us on our travels. 

I am sitting in the camper now as I write. My green tea in my travel mug. Along with gluten-free crackers from Trader Joes, a side of garlic dip, also from TJ’s, a chopped up pear and my Dr. Lu chicken soup. I am happy eating. My anxiety has lifted. 

Two nights ago I lay in bed watching Blue Lagoon (I have never seen it) with my lovely wife. As I lay there I started to tap my sternum. A trick for soothing anxiety. She noticed and asked if I was ok. “I am worried about my check-up” is all I said and she hugged me and we went on with the movie. 

Yesterday I was more on edge and worried. My mind had started to play it’s unkind tricks. My body is trying to figure out how to protect itself from being sucker punched again with another diagnosis. That is when I started to really realize my trigger points. Also realizing how thick my PTSD might be. 

In retrospect how I would describe it is itchy, like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I wanted to have a time machine to speed through the build up to after my appointment. I also felt viscerally like I had a collar around my neck like a dog and I was just waiting for someone to jerk it very hard and drag me in another direction. So I was a mangy dog waiting for a Dillorian. (Back to the Future reference here) It was terrible. I wanted to escape myself but I was trapped. 

Jenn was amazing with me. Last night she let me choose whatever I needed to be good. We stayed home, putzed around, ate dinner, cut each other’s hair, and watched a show. I actually fell asleep during the show because I didn’t sleep the night before. She was lovely and I felt very supported. 

I mindfully scheduled a walk with a friend at 7am this morning. We plan to do it more often which I am very excited about. I ran into my wonderful neighbor Betty on the way home and we caught up on life. She is a ray of sunshine everytime I see her. She gave me a cool necklace with handmade fimo beads that an old neighbor made. She thought I would like it. 

Once home, I ate breakfast of cold leftovers. I didn’t even have it in me to heat them up or cook and egg. The time for my appointment was getting closer and I was now alone. Jenn would have been there if she could but no support people are allowed right now. That sucks. 

I arrived early like they asked only to realize I just washed all my masks and they were hanging to dry in the laundry room. I walked up and asked for a mask. They kindly supplied one. I checked in at 10:45am and the waiting began. I took a book and my calendar and my phone – not quite sure which distraction I would want. I ended up on social media, of course, chatting about the new camper on a thread.  

At 11:45am my doctor came in, my appointment was at 11am. I don’t think I was able to breathe very well the entire time I was in that room. Being in the room flares me up. I waited for an hour. It was only about three seconds but it felt like an eternity before she said “Your blood work is good.” I made an audible sound somewhere between the noise that is made after a person holds their breath for a long time and the ‘I am going to throw up’ sound. Then proceeded to cry. My oncologist immediately went into empathy mode (well done) and got me tissues. She asked if I saw my results on the portal yesterday. I told her that I did but was scared to look. She replied that she will call me next time as soon as she gets the results because this PTSD is real. Bravo on trauma informed care!

When the appointment was over, I left the office. As I walked down the hall I started to feel a tidal wave in my chest, like a dam was breaking. I don’t mind crying but I am not a big fan of crying in public. The tears sat behind my eyeballs wanting to break through. At this moment I was thankful for the mask obscuring the ugly cry face, my lips contorted, chin scrunched and nostrils flared. As soon as my foot hit the parking lot, the tears started coming for real. I was hoping no one would stop me to see if I was ok. I just needed to get to the car. 

Once in the car I started balling. I did not stop crying but immediately called Jenn to tell her I was ok. She was with her co-worker and they sat with me as I cried. I was like a shook up bottle of champagne or an Instant Pot release valve. 

I did calm down enough to drive home. A peaceful joy washing over me. Today I am ok. When I arrived home I walked into the kitchen where my daughter was and gave her a big hug. You know that awkward hug that parents give kids. 

Parent: “I love you so much” 

Kid: “O-kaay” awkward open arm pat on parents shoulder while thinking “she is so weird”

I feel like me again. I went and cleaned the toilet. I brought in the garbage bins. I got snacks and sat down to write. All done with ease and a levity. Yesterday I felt paralyzed with fear and worry. Any task felt hard. I was unsettled and disoriented. I couldn’t shake the idea that I could get news that would change everything …… again. 

I will be on this path for the next five years. Every three months going in, giving blood, getting news. I hear it gets better as time goes on. That helps to hear that as far as visioning for my future is concerned but in the here and now it still hurts. I am being mindful to track the days before my next check-up to take notes for self-care and an awareness that this too shall pass. 

I am honoring my body’s wisdom and its need to process what has happened to it. Intellectually I am capable of creating a safe space for my body when it needs me to. It is something I have had to work hard at – the mindfulness to care for the body like it was a loved one. I am thankful for my time on this earth. I am thankful for the adventurous women who came before me. I am thankful for today.

 

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