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The New Normal

“The Circle” Frank Swanson

If there is life, there is change. Often, it creeps up on us: kids get taller, our bodies sag, the “new” car is 3 years old, and last year’s “in” color or dress is passé.


And then there are those life transitions such as graduation, marriage, parenting, divorce, job changes, the empty nest, and retirement which will require us to embrace a New Normal. While they may gobsmack us, none of them are (or should be) a surprise, yet all of them require a new outlook such as letting the kids stay home alone, repainting the kitchen, cleaning out the closet (for real this time),  learning new software, or downsizing our home. While we may find any “New Normal” to be emotionally, intellectually, or financially challenging, they are rarely a surprise. 


Cancer is not like that. Cancer does not creep up. One day we think we are a healthy person (though perhaps with a bit of a bug or a thing) and the next we day we find out it’s Cancer.  Cancer is not a rite of passage. Cancer is not something one aspires to. And, unfortunately, Cancer is never passé.

When we say “My Cancer”, it is not the same as saying, “My circumnavigation”, “My new sofa”, “My wedding”, or even “My divorce.” Cancer is not on anyone’s bucket list.

All too often, Cancer happens, and you and yours are suddenly thrust into a “New Normal”—one that is ever-changing and may continue for the rest of your (and your loved one’s) life. And like so many of these life events, it’s one that most of us can’t truly understand until it’s happened to us, or to our partner, child, sibling, parent, or other similarly loved individual.

Our Surprising New Normal

Aboard La Luna, we have an unanticipated “New Normal”. On November 15, 2018, EW (my partner for 34 years and spouse for 32) was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer. There is no “good” cancer, but this is one of the “not good” varieties. Trust me. Don’t Google it and look up even respected websites because you won’t like what you see. I didn’t.

Moving On

It took a couple of weeks to learn just how far EW’s cancer had progressed (spoiler alert: Not That Far!), another two to get a plan in place, and about two more to start treatment. That’s really quick. We are very, very fortunate. Let me count the ways:

  1. The PET/CT Scan showed NO cancer far away from the 2-3 centimeter area of the esophagus. When EW’s oncologist saw the report he looked up and said, “This is curable!” Curable is my new favorite word. (Curable has no guarantees, but it does bring great hope.)
  2. We have very dear friends here who work in the medical community in Jacksonville and who know many of the best oncologists, surgeons, and treatment options. They have guided us from Day One and we are delighted with the people and treatment available at the UF Proton Therapy Center. (As well as with that at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.)
  3. We have many other dear friends here on boats and onshore and they have rallied to provide much-needed advice and to start a group that will make meals and do a few chores for us and who will be on call when we need help. That group is “Team Stew”.
  4. We have gotten appointments with some of the best physicians in their fields and (here’s a bonus) in addition to being very smart and extremely experienced, each has a sense of humor. (We won’t meet the surgeon until later in January, and will accept him even if he is dour as he is super smart and unbelievably experienced.)
  5. One of those dear shore-side friends actually loaned us a car for the duration. I have no words.
  6. In the midst of their very busy season following six months of expensive and time-consuming hurricane repair, the marina allowed us to move to a slip for as long as we need to be here.
EW and the sculpture at Baptist M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville.

“The Circle”

The artist says about this sculpture:

The forms that make up my schulptual circle are cut from the same block of stone. They symbolize people embracing, helping and supporting one another as a caring community.

The Immediate Future

As you can imagine, we already have a bunch of stories and teaching moments to share. Stories that are funny, infuriating, and hopeful—including one from one of our Heels and Tevas Members, who is currently getting used to a New Normal after cancer treatment and surgery. (All is good.)

Don’t worry. Heels and Tevas may have been going thru some growing pains and shifts lately, but we will not become an “All Cancer/All the Time” blog. (If I take it that far, I’ll do a new blog.) But, dang it, whether we want to admit it or not, life certainly includes twists we didn’t foresee and requires all of us to embrace a New Normal at any given moment.

The operative word in that last sentence is “requires”. Cancer absolutely requires you to make innumerable changes in your daily life, plans, finances, eating habits, and more. Nothing will remain the same. EW and I have decided it does not require us to despair, give up, or withdraw. We laugh every day, enjoy music, love living on the boat, and embrace family and friends with harder hugs and a stronger love. That’s all part of the New Normal.

The Circle. Parts that Make us Whole

Gardeners Rock

I am humbled. To all the gardeners out there, you rock. I’m not talking about the casual, “plant a daisy or two weekend gardeners”, although I’m sure you rock in other ways. I’m talking about those of you who take on the fight of reclaiming land from the wild, the eternal battle of beating back the poisonous, the invasive, and the just plain ugly. Damn. It’s tough. Or, as Agent K would say (Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black), It’s “double-tough”.

New House; New Yard

Before the house

After the house

I’ve been in my new house a year now. The house is a modest 2400 sf, give or take a foot. The lot, however, is ginormous by normal neighborhood standards. There’s about 2.5 acres. Clearly, I’m not trying to reclaim all 2.5 acres, at least not right away. I am, however, hell-bent on having a civilized looking yard around the house and at the street. That’s not much to tackle, is it?

Uhm. Yes. It IS a lot to tackle. Turning even a tiny patch of wild Texas land into something civilized is a lot of work. I learned my lesson; lessons to be exact.

Lessons Learned by Gardening, About Gardening

“What did you learn?” you ask. Well:

  1. Hiring someone to put in your lawn is worth it if you need more than 3 pallets of sod. We installed 1 pallet ourselves. Then we hired someone to put in the other 11.
  2. Yes, in central Texas any lawn will need to be watered. It doesn’t rain nearly enough to keep any lawn grass alive. No matter if they tell you it’s “miracle grass”.
  3. Putting in a sprinkler system is mandatory (see #1). Putting in a sprinkler system in BEFORE you lay the sod is preferable. Otherwise you end up with a Frankenyard.
  4. When you build a house, make sure you monitor how and where the builder disposes of excess materials, ie: rock/brick, framing lumber, concrete, stucco, etc.
    • Digging a hole and burying the lumber creates a sink hole a year later, after the lumber rots away. One can break one’s ankle if one isn’t careful. (fortunately, it was just a sprang).
    • Pouring it on the ground and putting soil over it makes gardening a pain in the ass – if not impossible. Hacking through 4 inches of concrete in order to plant a red yucca was a feat of herculean effort. (Who did that? This girl!)
    • Stones that don’t fit, aren’t the right color, or are otherwise unusable shouldn’t be thrown in the yard and covered with soil. I am FOREVER digging up stones (some the size of a meatloaf!). Trying to use a shovel can be harrowing.
  5. Starting with a completely untamed land, you will NEVER get rid of weeds completely unless you use total grass-killer, a la Roundup. I don’t want to use it widely. Therefore, I have to be ok with “OK”.
  6. Poison ivy and poison oak suck. I can recognize poison ivy, I think. I don’t think I can recognize poison oak, but I’m not sure. Both of these situations make for a dangerous gardening experience when you have a shit-ton of grapevines to get rid of – which, btw, look a little like poison ivy… or is that poison oak. Oh, and, you’ll never, EVER get rid of the grapevines.

    Cool SPF 50+ shirt

  7. Don’t buy more plants than you can get in the ground in one day. For me I’ve decided that number is 4. First, it takes longer than you think to get a plant in the ground properly. First, you might have to be hacking through cement (see 4.a. above) or digging up hunks of Paloma Chop sandstone. You WILL have native vegetation – poisonous and non – to clear out. You’ll also have to add some real soil to the sand they call soil here. All of this takes time. If you buy more than 4 plants, you’ll have to keep the rest of the plants alive (in 100+ degree weather).
  8. Weeding is therapeutic. I actually enjoy weeding, up until the point when my hands cramp and feel as if they’re going to fall off. I can even open jars and bottles by myself after a couple of hours and a couple of Advil.
  9. The miracle of the SPF 50+ cool shirt! Love, LOVE them!! Beats having to slather on the sunscreen only to be caked with all the dirt that it collects. Sunscreen on the face and neck is still mandatory but combined with a cute hat you’ll keep your “I can’t believe you’re over 60!” skin looking good a bit longer.

Bottom Line

I could go on, but I’ll save it for another post – and I’m sure you get the drift. I learn something every time I work in the yard. Please share your tips with me. I’d like to learn my lessons the smart way from now on – by listening to others who have gone before.

Bottom line; Gardening ain’t for no sissies.



Who are you if you retire?

Last year I opted to quit work rather than continue jumping though wagon wheel hoops. I’m fortunate to be in the position that I don’t have to earn a ton of money to live. A year later, I’m realizing it’s a blessing – and a curse.  Who are you if you retire?


Great-Aunt Writes Blog About Use of Grandmother Headlines

I started reading this article about Amelia Earhart and the first club for female pilots and stopped at the first paragraph when it was mentioned that men who flew were simply pilots, and women were “girl pilots”.

“IN 1929, TWO YEARS AFTER pilot licensing began in the United States, there were 9,098 men licensed to fly, and just 117 women. Women who flew were often characterized as “girl pilots,” while newspaper reports focused on the color of their hair, or how they balanced aviation with housekeeping.”

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