In August of 2017 my family took a vacation to Montana. When we left for our trip I was unsure about a lot of things. I was anxious and nervous all the time. I was unsure of my treatment plan or what would come next. I was also trying to figure out the right mix of meds to help with my fogginess. I had been put on a low dose of a medication to help prevent my migraines. My family quickly noticed a change in me and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t realize how bad I was until I went to see my oncologist and he said he felt like he was talking to me through a screen. I immediately was taken off the medication.
I spent most of that summer at the barn or shows with Joe. I just didn’t feel like myself. I knew it was bad when I didn’t even want to go out and ride. Luckily my family helped me and got me out of the house or would encourage me to go ride. I slowly fell back into a routine that included getting up and getting my ass to the barn to ride. This was a core part of my life that helped give me a reason to get up and get moving.
As I packed my bags and got on the plane to Montana with family, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited, scared, nervous, anxious, pretty much every emotion you can think of. Whenever I travel my biggest fear is what would happen if I got sick. I would be outside of the comfort zone of my hospital system and the doctors who knew me and my story.
When we arrived at the resort I felt something I hadn’t in a long time. I felt like I was coming home. It was like seeing an old friend after a long time and they welcome you with open arms. We checked into the lodge we were staying in and I immediately unpacked. I loved the design of the house and the huge front porch that overlooked the landscape of the ranch. It was quiet and no one knew who I was or the baggage I was carrying around.
To say I enjoyed Montana would be an understatement. We spent the week doing various activities that ranged from fly-fishing on the Blackfoot River to trail riding. I thoroughly enjoyed anything that involved a horse. I went on a trail ride one day with my brother-in-law and we also did a cattle drive on another day. I had a blast with my horse, Midnight. You could tell that he loved his job. There’s nothing like cantering through an open field, walking along a stream, and marveling at the scenery in front of us to center your soul. We even did a twilight trail ride with my mom and sister. We went on a high ropes course, an ATV tour, went to the spa, and even took a tour of the entire resort one afternoon. You bet your ass I asked for a tour of their equine facility. The list could go on and on of all the stuff we did.
We spent our various nights at dinner at the main lodge that overlooked the vast landscape. There was a BBQ on the lawn one night that included live music, various activities on the lawn, and a s’more-making contest. While at the resort you quickly recognize other families from the various activities or when you go to the main dining area for meals. We got to know some of the families that were there for the week on vacation like us. We met one family whose child made it into the top 3 of the s’more-making contest. Yes, I was that person who was cheering for him like crazy when they announced he was in the top 3. Typically at horse shows people stare at me appalled when I shout like I do. Clearly it hasn’t fazed me. I always picture myself like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she yells, “well done”, at the polo match followed up with a, “whoop whoop.” We also went to a chuck wagon dinner one night too. The resort was filled with the kindest people I have ever met. They treated you like you were part of their extended family. I could go on and on about this amazing place for pages upon pages.
What I loved most about Montana was that it helped to shift my perspective. I was able to see the whole picture again. It allowed me to marvel at what was in front of me. It took me going to Montana to realize that the marvel is wherever you are if you allow it to be. I mean it was one hell of a landscape that helped me click back into place. I woke up eager every morning to throw on my layers and just sit on the porch. I sat in silence and just looked out over the scenery. That quiet that I had been longing for had always been within me. I was letting all the outside distractions and noise take my attention rather than marveling in the moment.
We all have times in our lives when we are too focused on looking at what happened or what will happen to us. We don’t just focus on the now and what’s happening right in front of us. It’s like riding a horse backwards or being afraid to jump again because of the fear of falling off. If you are constantly comparing your past to your present, you will never be in the moment. You’ll waste your energy on always trying to be perfect and compare yourself to others. Don’t be like those people who make it their mission to always be right. They are the people who always one up you or make it all about themselves. Yea, get those assholes out of your life. While I was at a weekend at Kripalu with my sister, Elizabeth Gilbert said, “There is always one asshole in the group. If you can’t figure it out then its probably you.”
For me, Montana was where I found my groove again. I loved being able to wake up in the morning, throw on a pair of jeans with my flannel and t-shirt and finish off the look with a good pair of boots. Not to mention a hat. Even though I had hair when we were there, I still had to protect my skin from the sun. The trip slowed my life down and it made me reevaluate what was truly important to me. If anyone knows me, my family will always come first and our friends that have become like family. We all have had our shares of ups and downs. The only difference is that when something happens to us we dust ourselves and get back up. At the end of the day what matters most is how you feel about yourself and whom you choose to surround yourself with. Pick people that support you and love you for who you are. People may come and go in your life but the good ones will tough it out with you. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”
In July I had a horseback riding accident while riding Joe. It started like any other ordinary day at the barn. I tacked Joe up and got ready to be part of a lesson with two of my friends. We did our usual routine in the lesson by warming up before we started jumping. We went over the jump the first time and on the landing Joe tripped a little but, luckily, I caught myself. We proceeded to do a mini course in which I went over one jump and then went over the second. All I can remember is my leg going too far back, me leaning forward, Joe landing, and then him going left and me flying to the right. I hit the ground hard.
Next thing I knew I felt the pain of my fall and I started screaming. They were not just random words; I screamed the f-word a ton of times. I knew something was drastically wrong with my arm/shoulder but didn’t know the extent. When I landed I must’ve landed square on my upper arm/shoulder area. My trainer came running over and assessed the situation. Luckily Joe is the type to just stand over me. While I was screaming in pain he just hovered over me looking at me thinking, “I wonder how she got there?” My trainer propped me up and tried to calm me down. I had hit my head pretty hard and I felt woozy. I knew to keep my eyes closed but to keep talking. I remember hearing one of the kids say “should we call 9-1-1?” and of course I responded with, “don’t even think about it.” Next he called my mom.
When my mom answered the phone she thought it was a joke. She quickly heard me yelling in the background, “this isn’t a joke so get your f-ing ass out here immediately.” Then my trainer called his wife, my other trainer, and we waited in the ring. One of the other riders grabbed Joe and took him down to his stall to remove his tack. Within minutes I heard my trainer’s truck come down the driveway and she was next to me. Mind you her husband, who had witnessed the accident, was still propping me up. It was the only way to keep me comfortable. She took off my helmet and boots and put my shoes on. By that time my mom got to the barn and they were helping me get up. Because of my knee surgery I have trouble getting up and usually use my right arm to prop up. After much help they finally got me on my feet and I took a couple steps. That’s when I felt another pain in my hip area and noticed I had trouble putting weight on my right leg. After taking a couple steps I got woozy and said I couldn’t walk any further.
They quickly decided that the best option to get me to the car was in a wheelbarrow. Yes, the same wheelbarrow that was just used to muck shit out of the barn. Thankfully they emptied it before placing me inside. They wheeled me up to my mom’s car and we headed to the hospital. That was the longest car ride of my life.
I basically threw myself in a wheelchair from the car and told my mom to get me in there now. Now imagine me going into the ER. I was covered from head to toe in dirt, soaked in sweat, and not a happy camper. I thought I had just dislocated my shoulder. Next thing I knew they had me in the trauma bay and I was retelling the story of what just happened. The ER doc was really nice and so were the nurses. I got on the trauma bed and then the trauma team came.
There must be some big button they press when a trauma patient comes in because next thing I knew I was surrounded by a trauma team. They were dressed from head to toe in gowns, masks, and gloves. When they filed into the trauma area it reminded me of when football teams run out onto the field. They were ready and prepared for anything. Next thing I knew I felt someone cutting my shirt off and then my sports bra. Not even two minutes went by before they were cutting my clothes off. I didn’t realize it was spring break to them when it came to cutting my top off. Next they wanted to cut off my breeches. That’s when holy hell broke lose. I started screaming at them, “ DO NOT CUT MY PANTS OFF.” I was ready to use my legs to kick the shit out of them if they tried to cut those pants off. Anyone who wears breeches knows that when you find a goof pair that fits you correctly and you look good, you hold onto them no matter what. Thankfully the ER doc was a horse person and understood my craziness. They shimmied them off.
I was rolled on my left side and they pushed down from my neck to my entire spine. Once again the scissors came to visit but this time it was to cut off my underwear. I looked over at my mom and said, “well that escalated quickly”. Meanwhile they were trying to put an IV in my arm and take an x-ray. At this point I had my right arm held in a death lock with my left arm. It was holding the bone in place. The x-ray techs tried to move my arm and I started screaming, “mother f-er what are you doing?” It hurt so much. If I had a swear jar for how many times I used the f-word that day it definitely would exceed $1,000. I also had CT scans done to see if I did any other damage. The best was when my mom said the chaplain walked by while I was yelling the F-word like crazy.
Finally we saw the x-ray of my arm and in typical fashion I said to my mom, “well no wonder my arm hurts the bone isn’t in the arm area anymore.” I was told that I had broken the head of my humerus off my shoulder. I would need surgery to repair it. I also had sustained a concussion, some broken ribs, and a small fracture in my pelvis. By the time this was all processed they said I would have to wait until Monday morning to have the surgery. They said I could go home but I’m pretty sure my mom was giving the trauma surgeon and his PA signals like there is no way I’m taking her home like this. I spent the weekend in the hospital falling in and out sleep, thanks to my drugs. My cousins and a couple of family friends came and visited me, which was really nice.
On the morning of my surgery they wheeled me down to the pre- surgery area. I answered all the questions and changed into the ever-glamorous surgery gown. My orthopedic trauma surgeon stopped by to check on everything before they took me back. When he asked if I had any questions I said yes and followed it by saying, “now don’t fuck this up.” My mom looked at me and her jaw dropped. Luckily my surgeon cracked a smile and laughed.
I went back for surgery and fell into a nice sleep. While I was being operated on my cousin and his fiancé sat with my mom and sister and brought them lunch. After surgery I was put in another room and spent the night in the hospital. I was told I would be using a cane to help me walk and that my arm would be in a sling for a couple weeks. I also was told I would not be able to ride for 12 weeks while everything was healing.
I spent the rest of my summer recovering at home. PT/OT came to my house for the first couple weeks. I had to rely on my left arm to do everything. My mom drove me everywhere. I went out to the barn to visit Joe. I went to watch Joe show at a horse show in NY a couple times. By the end of August I was cleared to do outpatient OT and drive again. I went to outpatient OT two to three times a week for three month. My arm has come a long way since the beginning.
Apparently when I have a horseback riding accident it couldn’t have been just a simple fall where I got up after I fell. Joe definitely knew I was out of commission when I would come to the barn with a cane and my arm in a sling. When I finally was able to start doing stuff with him, I started with just grooming. Brushing him and picking out his feet was a workout for me. My whole body took a major hit and needed a while to recover. I’m still trying to build up my endurance when I ride. Plus the cooler temps don’t help my lungs. I think brushing him was a great exercise for strengthening my right arm again and helping to improve my range of motion.
Even though I had a bad fall off of Joe, I am not getting rid of him. He is stuck with me forever. I recently had someone ask me if I was going to sell him since it was his fault that I fell off and got injured. I politely said no and corrected the person by telling her that it was my fault I fell off. I had leaned at the jump and my leg was too far back. Joe was like, “hell no girl I’m not saving your ass for that”. I wanted to ask them if they would sell a family member if he/she broke a dish or colored on the walls. For once I kept my mouth shut. In the words of Maury Ballstein, "what do we do when we fall off the horse? We get back on." I did what any sane person would do after a traumatic fall off a horse; I bought another one who is even bigger.
When is your next blog post? You haven’t posted to the blog in awhile. Why did you stop writing? How are you feeling? Do you still have cancer because you look good? How’s Joe?
These are usually the first questions I am bombarded with when I’m asked about my blog. Insider tip: I have never stopped writing. I am always writing. Sometimes it isn’t with a paper and pen its all in my brain. I know you’re probably shocked I have a brain and actually use it.
The last year has been one hell of a ride. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write I was. I had ideas in my head and jotted them down in a notebook or on my computer. I just didn’t take the time to actually write them out or share them with the world. I wasn’t purposely not writing to leave you on a cliffhanger. I leave that to the movies and books.
A lot has happened in my life. Last year I was doing hard-core chemo as my treatment. I was spending a couple days in the hospital being pumped with chemo in hopes it would shrink the tumors in my lungs. I was run down, I was tired, and I wanted a break. My break came when I went to Florida for 5 weeks with my horse Joe. Nothing like a baldhead to make you appreciate hats especially in the Florida sunshine. In late spring I started a clinical trial in Boston and continued that for part of the summer. Spoiler alert it didn’t work. During all this I was showing Joe when I could and riding like always. We unfortunately experienced a huge loss in my family that took a toll on everyone. It was a shock to say the least. Then I had an accident on Joe where I fell off and broke the head of my hummers off my shoulder. Man at the rate I’m going I could probably write a county song.
But in all the sadness and turmoil there was a tiny light trying to shine through all the darkness. It came through me finding my second horse Cor. My majestic unicorn as I like to refer to him as. Yes he’s a grey and yes I know I swore I would never buy a grey horse but when I saw him I knew he was the one. It came through two new babies in our family. It came when I started back to my chemo pills and finding out they are shrinking my tumor. Per usual cautiously optimistic people. So don’t go planning a cancer free picnic anytime soon. That ship sailed a long time ago. In the words of my oncologist, “although your scans are still scary they’re better.” It came when I was driving and I heard the new song “Guiding Light” by Mumford and Sons. It was the perfect soundtrack for my life and the place I am in right now.
Thanks for sticking with me and reading the blog. I have decided it was time to breathe new life into it and bring it back. The crazy stories along with the people are still around. They haven’t gone anywhere. I swear we are magnets at a hospital or cancer center for bizarre stuff to happen. At least we laugh about it or use it to our advantage for a good joke. Finding the humor in everything has been my goal since the beginning. For example, when people call my Grandfathers with those robo calls or for a survey I take distinct pleasure in telling them he’s on a long vacation with family and will not be returning anytime soon. I’m waiting for the day someone asks for his address and I plan to give him the address at the cemetery with the plot number.
I hope you enjoy the blog and the plans I have for it in the upcoming months. I have to give a huge thank you everyone who has been there with me since the beginning. A huge shout out to a good friend for helping me launch the new website and helping me figure out this technology. Enjoy the blog and I look forward to posting my stories as well as having a section where friends I have met along the way can share theirs. In the words of the Grateful Dead, “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been.”