Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Getting through nearly half a century with no surgery was kind of a lucky break, I thought, but I finally took my first trip under the knife on Friday, October 15, thanks to a not-so-lucky break in my abdominal wall that first appeared in 2006 after a yoga class! At the time my thinking was to treat the hernia in a manly way... I would exercise the muscle to build up the scar tissue and it would go away. I did forget about it as the pain receded, and then I got cancer, and a bone marrow transplant, recovery, and life went on... until....

A recent yoga class reminded me that it was time for a patch-up. I was envisioning my old Teddy bear, who had stitches and patches everywhere. An eye is missing, an ear is sewn on, his mouth is after-market, his arms and legs are all stitched on... many of these seams are in different colors and gauges of thread and stitch length. He's threadbare and in the words of the Velveteen Rabbit... definitely REAL. Surgery on my belly button would only make me more real, right? The hernia was not going to heal itself, that was for certain.

I consulted a doctor I know, who happens to be a plastic surgeon. He explained to me that he would not repair my hernia the same as a general surgeon. General surgeons make a small incision at the site of the hernia and adhere a mesh patch to the abdominal wall to secure the area, but my doctor would be doing a bit more for me.

When I met with him on Surgery Day, the doc explained that he'd be making an incision across my bikini line, and then he would (somehow) (I don't want to know how) proceed to pull my skin away from the abdominal muscle tissue, look inside the tunnel, and sew the abdominal muscle from the midline of the sternum, all the way down! Well it, WAS Surgery Day! Who was I to argue?

Everyone at the hospital seemed to be making merry, all the way from the phlebotomist to the anesthesiology assistant.

What, me worry?

Mr. Shiny Happy Anesthesiology first gave me a shot that he called my "glass of wine," just something to "relax" me before the big guns. Remember Propofol? Michael Jackson's best friend until the day he died? Yeah, I got Propofol. Haven't slept that well since.. 1969...

I woke up and it was Monday. Just kidding. It was about 4:30 Friday afternoon (Happy Hour), and I was still at Sparrow and not in Neverland or in Heaven.

I was also in PAIN.

Oh yes... I was a trouper for a bone marrow transplant but I'm not sure if I ever mentioned there wasn't much, if any, pain involved in that transplant. It's not like they scrape the marrow out and put new in, or something like that. So this pain thing was new, and... painful. It was also itchy. I'm allergic or sensitive to opiates and they make me itch all over... like I have an outbreak of fleas or something. I'm trying to scratch but it's hard to move... you don't realize how much you use your abdominal muscles until you have this type of surgery.

I also had (and still have) a drain tube sticking out of my groin area with a bulb on the end of it that looks like a hand grenade, to collect fluid from the incision wound. This drain tube appears to be attached to the inside of me through a hole, with a stitch. Where is the other end of this thing? It freaks me out, so I'm not asking.... just trying to ignore it. I guess the alternative would be super-oozy so wow, I've got a drain tube!

My first night I fell asleep in my chair watching episodes of "Breaking Bad" while on Vicodin. My sister was there with me and we shared some pizza from DeLuca's prior to this passing out. I give her props for putting up with me in my post surgical pain haze, ceaseless itching and crappy mood.

She left on Saturday afternoon as we had agreed but the worst was yet to come.

On Sunday the pain meds had taken their toll. I became sick to my stomach, and vomiting was the worst pain yet. All those stitches both vertical and horizontal felt like they were breaking loose. I couldn't take another pain pill after that. This led to a crying jag and angry spell. I flipped through my papers, and according to the "What to Expect After Surgery" handout I received from my doctor, I was a day ahead of schedule. Love that!

Now I'm settling into post-surgical recovery, otherwise known as Staycation. I'm filling up on old episodes of "Men" -- "Manly," not "Mad," because I gave up cable months back. I'm reading the books that have been beckoning at my bedside for months, and drooling over the back issues of Bon Appetit my sister left behind. The pain is tolerable with doses of Motrin as needed. I've got my feet up more than usual and have to ignore Dante's urges to get me out to the yard to play. I'm awestruck that I survived a transplant in order to have abdominal surgery, and I'm amazed at my body's ability to heal.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sarah's in the Kitchen!

Today I made an amazingly delicious Creole Sauce! It was suggested to me that I post it so others can enjoy this authentic dish. It's a very time-consuming recipe to make, but for two gallons of sauce, it's pretty much worth it. There's plenty to spare, and plenty to share.

1 large (softball size) sweet onion, small dice
1 large red onion, small dice
1 green bell pepper, small dice
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 yellow bell pepper, small dice
2 poblano peppers, small dice
6 ribs celery, small dice
6 cloves garlic, minced


2 quarts chicken stock
6 cups crushed tomatoes
18 oz tomato paste
1 quart ketchup
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's seasoning
3 tablespoons Tiger Sauce
6 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup freash squeezed lemon juice


Sweat the onion, celery, bell peppers, poblano peppers and garlic in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter... in a large (8 qt.) covered pot until tender, about 15 minutes.

Add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

If you want to make this all at once, add 3 pounds of medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, and simmer about 15 minutes. You could add chicken instead of shrimp.

To serve, heap about one cup of rice in the center of a bowl or plate and ladle sauce around it.

I usually separate the batch into portions for freezing or giving away.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sharing Sharon

The beautiful lady in this photo is my mother, Sharon Louise Thornton. Today would have been her 75th birthday! I honor her -- one of the best people I've ever known -- in today's post.

My mom loved peanut butter. Peanut butter never failed to give her the hiccups but she ate it frequently, in indiscrimate and odd combinations that made me shudder. Peanut-butter-and-potato-salad-sandwiches were a real summertime favorite with her. A slice of onion or tomato along with that wouldn't be unheard of, either!

Mom loved to grow vegetables in her garden and bake bread. She was a lover of simple things, living her last 18 years in a farm house where the heat was generated only by a wood-burning stove. To me, a hater of all forms of chilliness, this fact alone puts her on a pedestal.

As a little girl, my mother would sometimes sing me to sleep. The song I remember best is "Turn Around." Maybe it was by Harry Belafonte, one of her favorite singers. The lyrics went: "Turn around and you're small, turn around and you're grown, turn around and you're a young wife with babes of your own." Now that my OWN children are grown, the words remind me of the preciousness, and speed, of life. At night, she taught me to pray "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." I remember her soft, melodic voice and her cool, gentle hands stroking unruly bangs off my feverish forehead. When I didn't feel well -- or perhaps, when I didn't look well, Mom would say I looked "peaked" (This is a two-syllable word that means pale -- I don't hear anyone use it these days.).

Before I knew her, Mom had platinum blonde hair she wore in a French twist, a cat named Cleopatra, and a brand new 1957 Rambler. She had silk dresses and pointy toed shoes with tall, slender heels.

My mother was kind and generous, and carried a quiet elegance rarely seen these days. She practiced etiquette and taught me that it's never, EVER, too late thank a person and it's never wrong to speak or write a kind word to someone. She was intelligent and articulate, and her laugh was music that lifted your spirit to hear it. Her sense of humor was dry, often leaning to the macabre, and oh, how we did laugh! When she knew she would be passing soon, she suggested I put some of her ashes into a pendant I could wear shopping -- so she could continue one of her favorite activities, post-life. I told her I would not be able to afford shopping with her but without her wallet.

It was a gift to be in her presence.

Another thing Mom loved was gold shoes. I bought my first pair of gold sandals for my wedding two years ago, and said, not for the first time or for the last time, "I'm turning into my mother." Dear God, please let it be so!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Winter has put her glittering icy garments into storage and Spring has gathered gleaming buds and blossoms galore for her elegant new frock.

All things are made new... over and over again. I arrived at Sierra Rose Farms for my final equine therapy session, and when I opened the car door, I was greeted with fresh, spring air! I honestly can not remember a more amazing spring than this. Is it just me, or....?

I approached the now familiar pens and barn, and remembered the experiences I've had there. Memories flashed in my mind like mid-term of a reality series. I thought about how frigid it was my first day there, how unprepared my wardrobe had been for the beginning of this adventure. I remembered getting Stormy's tooth, which is now part of my home altar. I looked at the gorgeous blue sky, now aflutter with chirping robins. What an experience this has been. I could only smile in gratitude for the ability to have this experience.

"Today we will culminate everything you have done here," LeeAnn told me. Stormy, Savannah, Bruzer and Littlefoot galloped around the barn. All the props from my former lessons were laid out on the sand floor of the arena: plastic pails, styrofoam pool noodles, shims with words written across them, a blue tarp, beach balls. My inner child loved seeing this playground. In one corner, two wood rafters had been laid into an L shape to make the corner into a small square. Lee Ann told me my first task was to label anything I wanted to in the entire barn, for anything symbolic of my time at SRF. I ran with the tape roll and pen to the corner rafters, eagerly writing BOUNDARIES! There's a little step stool we sometimes used for a seat. ONE STEP AT A TIME!! Tape on the wall of the barn: SCHOOL! LeeAnn reminded, "You can label the horses if you want to." Stormy happened to be in the vicinity and again recalling his tooth, I taped GOOD LUCK on his tangled mane. Finding my figurative head and heart from last time, they were labeled OPEN MIND and STRONG HEART.

After labeling, the task was to take the things I wished into the cordoned-off corner of the barn. This corner was to be my new "house,"-- my new life, my new experience.

First I dragged one of the blue barrels which LeeAnn, Christine and I had sat upon to confer each week, labeled, GOOD FRIENDS. Better have some good folks in my new house to talk to! As I carried each labeled item or stick into my "house," LeeAnn urged me to talk about each one, and why I was choosing it.

GOOD LUCK -- Stormy -- wandered in and out of the "house" and LeeAnn noted, "Good luck comes and goes." True enough, but I wholeheartedly believe that sometimes the things we think of as bad luck turn around after time and become good luck. For instance, having cancer was bad luck. But it reunited me with my sister and she saved my life when she gave me her bone marrow, so it turned out to be good luck.

I grabbed sticks with ACCEPTANCE, TOLERANCE, HOPE and TEAMWORK and added them to my house. The tape from the barn door, SCHOOL, was brought in as a representation of one of my favorite themes -- life as school. Every day has a learning experience!

It was easy to leave out things like fear, judgment, seeking permission, anger. I could put them in storage if I need to use them again, but do I need them in my everyday existence? If I am to build a new life then what shall my new spring wardrobe include?

A crazy and colorful hat, Kentucky Derby-worthy, to remind me to keep an open mind AND a sense of humor. Maybe some rose-colored glasses not for denial but to help me see things in their best possible light. A heart-shaped pendant to remind me to keep my heart open and treat every situation with tender loving care. A cloak made of the strong, silken threads of hope. These threads are created and woven together by the relationships in my life. The nature of the cloak is also to allow any negative influences to fly off of me instead of clinging and becoming burdens. I keep my comfortable jeans, t-shirt and shoes to keep doing the things I love to do best: working, walking, writing.

Nature cycles and re-cycles. Winter always turns to Spring. As human beings, we also cycle and re-cycle. We can let go of old beliefs or patterns of behavior that don't fit us or don't look good on us anymore. We can outfit ourselves in new garments appropriate for new circumstances, or maybe just because it's time to have something NEW. There are lots of places to "shop" for the new and better things. I happened to find Sierra Rose Farms a most delightful place to look, and to find, a fresh wardrobe.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Heard a Fly Buzz...

This early, wonderful spring brought a house fly in yesterday. It landed on the inside of my front door pane. I didn't want the fly in my house, so I opened the door and the fly flew out. Can life be this easy? Imagine what it would be like to keep your body and your self safe and separate from anything you don't want!

A recent experience at Sierra Rose Farms.....

Per instruction, I picked four horses from the pasture at random -- the four I could most easily get! I picked one that looked like -- and turned out to be -- a donkey, a very small brown horse, a regular size brown horse and a fourth horse. I had to put halters and leads on each one and take them into the arena. Be sure, this was not easy for me! (After five sessions in Equine Assisted Learning I still do not qualify as a horse woman) Once in the barn, I let the horses go and Christine showed me, there on the floor, my "body." Thank goodness it wasn't a chalk outline! It was created from toys... a hula hoop for my head and styrofoam pool noodles for my torso and limbs. LeeAnn handed me five plastic buckets and told me to put them on "my" most vulnerable areas. Being an Aries, the first one went on my head!! After I'd placed the buckets, I named each horse after something that is a problem in my life right now. I named the little brown one "Physical Pain" and the big brown one got the privilege of being "Emotional Pain." The task, then, was to keep the "problems" away from my "vulnerable areas," which was fairly easily done by shooing the horses away. Then LeeAnn added hay to the buckets! "This is called external influences," she said. More of a challenge to keep those problems out of the realm, but do-able.

As the horses caroused around the arena, we could not help but notice how Physical Pain followed Emotional Pain everywhere. These are the types of coincidences that happen at Sierra Rose Farms all the time. I'm a huge believer in the somato-emotional (body-mind) connection and find in my healing practice and my own life that sadness, anger, resentment, etc. are often harbingers for aches from head to toe!

It also happened that Physical Pain was a juvenile horse and Emotional Pain was, in the arena setting, its surrogate mother. Another coincidence? Doubtful. Just so happens that even though I've got several surrogate mothers I never get over missing my own mom, who passed in 2001. Little Physical Pain was missing his own mom who was back in the pasture and needed to stay near his surrogate in the arena. Just because I'm a certain age doesn't mean I don't need the love and comfort of mom-influences, and I take this moment to bow down to those who have provided this so generously -- Ann, Kathleen, Jewel and Dolores, beautiful women all.

The exercise was empowering and also thought-provoking on many levels.

Think about your most vulnerable areas and what you perceive as problems in your life right now. What if you could just shoo your problems away from not only your vulnerable areas, but your body, your self, and your life? Let an irritating fly out the door....

What could you then allow yourself to be open to?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Day with Bruzer

Welcome early Spring! I have returned for the fourth time to Sierra Rose Farms (http://srfhealingheartswithhorses.org/) where it is, in a word, MUDDY. The miniature horses are practically up to their knees in mud.

I had a task this week that at first seemed childish. But as I have thought more about it the last several days, I discovered sometimes the things we learned as children are the very things we need as adults. Little fairy tales you haven't thought about for years come back to life to show you old lessons, learned for new times.

My teacher, LeeAnn, handed me a pile of wood sticks and a marker, and asked me to write a word on each -- something that is important in my life. While I wrote things like "joy" and "warmth" and "laughter," Bruzer the horse was brought into the barn. That's his picture -- all 141 pounds of him! I'm the one with pants.

LeeAnn took my sticks along with a pile of other sticks-with-words and she dropped them around the barn in various spots. She presented me with a broom handle and looped a flimsy plastic bucket on each end. "This is your life." Well, okay..... and then she placed Bruzer's lead in my other hand. "Your task is to pick up all the sticks, put them in the buckets and keep your life in balance!" said LeeAnn. This twinkly-eyed redhead is a reincarnated leprechaun, I swear.

So I'm trying to balance my "life" in my left hand with these teetering, toppling, lightweight plastic sand pails on either end, and I've got a horse in my right hand. I cleverly remembered from last time that I need to show the horse I'M in charge, so I made that clear to Bruzer by holding him close on the lead. We walked to the first pile of sticks and I was challenged, to say the least. I squatted down, lowered my "life stick," and the buckets toppled immediately on contact with the sandy floor. I righted the buckets, grabbed sticks from the pile, tried to place them in buckets AND hold on to Bruzer, who sensed SOMEHOW he was losing my total and complete attention and decided to take off in another direction. At this point I feel like I'm on some sort of "Survivor - Comedy Edition" as I am trying to get Bruzer back, get a hold of my life, get the sticks in the buckets and get the buckets on the stick. (At this point in the writing the author is certain a video would surely be more a more effective tool but the reader's imagination will suffice.) I still only have two hands! Feeling that LeeAnn and Christine are having much more fun watching me than I am having trying to accomplish this task, it doesn't take too many tries before I say, I have to let go of this horse. I like Bruzer a lot, he is a do-gooder in the EAL world and a sweetheart to boot, but he's impeding my progress.

Once I let go of the horse, the task becomes much easier (AHA! moment) -- I pick up the sticks from the various spots in the barn, place them evenly in the buckets and voila! Balance! LeeAnn gathers a pile of sticks I had overlooked from a far corner of the building, and brings them to me. "Which of these do you want to keep? And which to throw away?" Many of the sticks had words describing feelings on them: Hope. Acceptance. Anger. Approval. I chose the sticks I wanted and then my task was to walk with my buckets balanced on my life stick around four beach balls placed in various locations in the barn. I walked to the first ball and completely circled it, like a planet in orbit, with Bruzer following me voluntarily. (Darn that horse? Who is in control here??)We repeated this three times, Bruzer following all the way. As you can see, I literally interpreted "around" -- for LeeAnn commented that I had ellipsed each ball instead of making a huge circle that would include all four balls. No, I don't know what it means except for my usual rule-following pattern (or being in orbit), but the way I understand it is that I need to learn to think outside the balls...er, the box. I need to open my mind to a wider view... a panorama instead of merely a picture window?

As the days followed, I spent a lot of time thinking about the balance in my new life following the transplant. For in many ways, it is a new life, especially if I use this opportunity to make it a new life -- and why not? There was a lot of imbalance in my pre-transplant life. I had a long break from the routine I had created... why not rebuild using ONLY the materials I need to keep me strong and healthy, and let go of any unneccessary or damaged pieces?

And do you need a transplant or another life-altering experience to choose to rebuild/rebalance/remodel your life? I think not -- just makes it more obvious. The panoramic view!

So let's go back to those childhood tales I mentioned early on. Remember those Three Little Pigs? They each had various building materials for their homes but they all had the same Big Bad Wolf who could huff and puff... and, well, you know. The pig with the bricks won the building competition and went on to become a sought-after construction engineer, taught his two brothers WHILE saving their little hams from the BBW AND charged them rent. I think that's how it went, anyway. Maybe he wasn't such an opportunist but there's many years between me and the last telling of such a story. Pearls were thrown. Ears were turned into fine Coach accessories.

And new lives, like the new bird's nests for spring, popped up everywhere!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spare Some Change?

Thanks for joining me again, and tuning in to my brand new blog! I'm excited to get my messages of wellness and hopefulness out in to the world from a new perspective and to a wider audience.

Last week at Sierra Rose Farms, Lee Ann ended my session with a question to ponder for the week. The question was "What do you do when you can't change things?" This was pretty dicey territory for me, because as we all know... there aren't many things we CAN change except for our own actions, reactions, thoughts...just ourselves.

When I arrived at the farm this week, the question was posed again. What do you do when you can't change things? "The right answer," I said, "is what we all know from the Serenity Prayer. ACCEPT the things we can't change." But in reality, I know I spend a lot of time in frustration, beating my figurative head against a figurative wall.... making plans......wishing for the Golden Ticket. I followed Christine to the pasture to collect the horses for today's lesson.

We went to a smaller area in the farm where only two miniature horses were penned. "Hi handsome!" Christine greeted the black and white horse. I noticed that neither he nor his cream-colored pasture-mate was excited about being led into the arena barn. These horses were definitely different from the playful, snorting minis of last week, but I didn't know why. In fact, Black-and-White was even rather obstinate! It took a pull from Christine at the front and a push from LeeAnn in the rear to get him into the barn. Once the barn doors were shut and the leads were off, it was go time. These horses galloped and trotted and pranced in circles through the sand. They'd kick up their rears, throwing grit in the face of whomever happened to be lagging behind at the moment, and just keep on running. The energy! The beauty!

Lee Ann, from time to time, would ask me a question.... "What do you think that means?" You know, like when one of them poops and then the other one poops right on top. "Territorial," I mused, feeling ever so like I'm going to get caught being dumb any minute. "Where is their comfort zone?" "Where is your comfort zone?" Lots of observing these wild miniature horses until finally.... Lee Ann hands me the lead. "Go get yourself one!"

"HUH????" Little Ol' Me? Clearly I was even more at loose ends than I was last week. It didn't seem like Lee Ann or Christine had control of these two animals -- what was I supposed to do?

I knew chasing them wouldn't work. See last week's entry for how well it works to chase a horse when you want to catch one. I walked around the barn and observed. There were construction workers on one side of the barn, hammering loudly. The horses seemed to stay away from the side of the hammering. I clapped my hands and found little, if any, response from the horses. I made clicking noises with my mouth. There was a barrel nearby and I began to pound on it in cadence with the hammer, and the horses responded by going into a corner for a moment.

Again, with the questions... "Where is your comfort zone?" ("I don't have one!") "Where is their comfort zone?"

I flipped the barrel on to its side and sat on it and then, the idea.... to fall on to my knees in the sand. I did... and the horses stopped, and walked right to me. They did not allow me to put them on a lead, but things had changed. Things had definitely changed.

I had gotten into their comfort zone by leaving my own. Ah ha! As I pondered the miraculous moment later I was reminded of those graph-thingys in Psych 101, where there are two separate circles but when a small bit of each one integrates with the other, there becomes an overlapping oval. I had created the oval!

I stayed there on the ground and got acquainted with Sailor, the black and white horse who was

born at Sierra Rose, and Major, the cream-colored horse. In the photograph, Sailor and Major are taking a much needed drink of water. Did you know -- and I did not -- that horses sweat? They had become quite hot with all the exercise and because it was a cold day, they had to stay in the arena after my session to cool off before going back into the winter air.

Lee Ann asked me if I wanted to know what was special about Sailor and Major and of course, I did! "They're stallions!" she grinned. Ah, stallions. Stallions with all the testosterone and energy and piss and vinegar you expect from young men. Stallions who are responsible for the majority of the pregnant mares I mentioned last week.

I never ended up "getting" a horse on a lead, but in the end, the idea wasn't that at all. It was getting a horse to come to me.. and it was up to me to figure out the terms of the agreement.

I want to find a way to articulate the way learning from horses is different from sitting on the therapy couch. You have to DO instead of SAY what you're going to do. My mind doesn't work the same way around the horses that it does in my world-- I'm trying to see where they are coming from and how I can fit into their world. My thinking seems more visceral, somehow.

Leaving the session I felt energized, hopeful and grateful. A short while ago I never knew this type of thing existed and now I am enrolled in it! My self-confidence is growing so much that I even decided to take a course on Cranial Osteopathy -- more on that at a later time, but trust me, I would never have looked twice at something like Cranial Osteopathy before the horses.

I can not yet say whether my anxiety and sleeplessness are improving. As I write this, I have a scheduled appointment tomorrow at the Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit but according to the weather, there's an unscheduled giant storm en route, so a sleepless night would not be out of norm, checking through the blinds every little while.

Change is slow, but imminent. We can always count on things to change but maybe, with a little help, we can count on ourselves to ease out of our comfort zones, just a bit, to make life work.

A final note: A friend in need is a friend indeed! Many thanks to Sue and Patte who noticed my need of warmer clothes and boots after last week's post and came to lend the same to me... so that venturing out of my comfort zone is a little more...uh...comfortable.

To read my earlier posts, check out carepages.com, then, sarahsbmtadventure.