Random Thoughts of Crows, Butterflies and Transformation

Crow, Magnolia, and Moon by Julianna Paradisi 2019 pastel on tea-stained paper

Last Fall I watched a murder of crows scavenge through a city park, mingling with a flock of pigeons. One crow ambled closely behind a singular pigeon, comically mimicking its head-jiving gait.

It was molting season for the crows. Their normally sleek, iridescent black chests were marred by bare patches evoking the image of clowns dressed in rags. The indignity of their molting got me thinking about enduring molting as a process of transformation. Birds molt their feathers. Snakes shed their skins. These are transformations of self- renewal.

Some creatures undergo complete metamorphosis, however. Water-bound Tadpoles transform into amphibians, growing legs while their tails wear away to nothing along their journey towards becoming frogs.

Then the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies came to mind, and it occurred to me I had no idea how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly within its shroud of chrysalis.

When I was going through cancer treatment, the image of a butterfly was often suggested to me by others as something to consider. In fact, butterfly imagery is popular among survivors for its message of transformation from lowly caterpillar into a beautiful winged creature with the ability to fly.

While I liked this imagery, the truth is, with my bald head and surgery scars, I identified more with the imagery of an egg: something smooth, round, and hairless holding within it the dramatic creation of a transformed life.

After watching the crows for some time, I went home and looked up on the Internet the process of how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. It was startling to learn it isn’t like some quick-change artist act on America’s Got Talent.

It’s a pretty gruesome process. Caterpillars don’t spin a cocoon around themselves like silkworms do. They molt their outer skins and the chrysalis bursts forth containing their innards. Until recently, scientists believed the caterpillar was then digested by enzymes within the chrysalis into a soup-like yolk, with cells programmed to become the legs, eyes, wings, etc developing into their assigned organs.

Chrysalis (sketch book) by Julianna Paradisi 2018 Ink on paper

It was difficult for scientists to accurately study the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies because they had to cut open a chrysalis or x-ray it to see what was happening inside, thereby killing the embryonic butterfly and preempting further development.

The advent of micro-CT enables scientists to see inside a chrysalis without killing the caterpillar/butterfly, and study the metamorphosis without destroying it. It turns out the caterpillar does not actually self-digest into a soupy yolk, but its parts shift in size and form within the chrysalis, molding into a butterfly. At maturation, the butterfly takes breaths into its thorax, until its wings swell with air and the chrysalis bursts open, releasing it.

Last Fall, I began drawing and painting crows, attracted to the idea of transformation and how it applies to my life. I’ve completed a twenty-year cycle, a mini-lifetime within my lifetime since cancer treatment. It’s time to begin something new. I’m not quite sure what. I sense a shedding of old ideas and roles like the molted feathers of a raven, and an internal metamorphosis like the shape-shifting of a butterfly. I’m developing a stronger sense of self, a lighter heart, and healthier boundaries.

There is evidence butterflies retain the same aversions to noxious stimuli they were exposed to as caterpillars right before the metamorphosis, implying sentient awareness. I wonder if caterpillars have awareness of the end of life they as they knew it while molting their final skin, and the chrysalis envelops them like a grave?  Do caterpillars understand what’s happening to them, or do they “die” like we humans do, without concrete evidence of what happens when we no longer inhabit our bodies?

Does a caterpillar in its chrysalis dream of an afterlife with wings?

2019: Days of Miracle and Wonder

These are the days of miracle and wonder 

-Paul Simon

 

 New Year’s Eve 2018 marked the twentieth anniversary of discovering a lump in my breast that proved to be cancer. So began the days of miracle and wonder that shaped the next year and a half of my life, transforming it in ways I could not have imagined at the time.

The Star collage by Julianna Paradisi 2018

2019 marks the ten year anniversary of publishing my first short stories in an anthology, followed by creating and writing this blog, JParadisiRN.

2019 follows a year of internal transformation. Thankfully, none are as dramatic or terrifying as a cancer diagnosis, surgery, and losing my hair, but they are significant enough to have opened my senses to new perceptions and possibilities as I completed the last year of a twenty-year cycle of personal and professional growth.

A former pediatric intensive nurse who’s transitioned into adult oncology nursing, I’m humbled by my survival. I know all too well some people are born to live only a few hours, days or a handful of years, and that cancer kills without remorse or discrimination the young, the bright, the kind. Others go on to live with chronic illness or metastatic disease. To survive an average lifetime is a miracle and wonder. It comes with a burden, or more rightly, responsibility.

I’ve written before I don’t believe in living a balanced life if balance is defined as To keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall. I still believe this. However, perceptions gained in 2018 have led me to expand my definition of balance to something more like a glass of world-class Pinot Noir: a thoughtfully crafted, satisfying blend of many parts chosen to complement the whole, and not elements distributed equally as though they are the wedges of a pie.

I don’t have a complete grasp of the concept yet, but I’m working on it.

At the end of cancer treatment, my transformation included selling or giving away much of what I owned, including my car. I sold my house and moved to Portland. I changed jobs. I took art school classes.

A couple of years later, I married my husband David.

I am very happy and comfortable in the life I’ve built during the past twenty years since finding the lump. Cancer turned into a catalyst for extraordinary personal growth. In 2018 it became clear to me that it is time to build on the foundation of that growth, moving beyond my comfort zone into whatever is next in my quest for growth and individuation. This time, the transformation is more of an internal thing, although there’s already been a couple of external changes reflecting the internal ones.

This blog post reflects an internal change too. I’ve written before that I write “To the So-What?” meaning in the past I began a post with a clear idea of how I would end it, and why I wrote it in the first place. Now I’m not sure I still believe the So-What is So Important. I am becoming enamored of process without attachment to outcome.

Let me repeat that last sentence: I am becoming enamored of process without attachment to outcome.

If you are a nurse reading this, you have an inkling of the size the internal changes. After all, what are nurses or health care providers without focus on outcomes?

Artists.

Down The Rabbit Hole Part II

Down the Rabbit Hole, collage, 2017 by Julianna Paradisi

Just over a year ago I had the opportunity to show some of my paintings and speak to a live audience about the challenges of being an artist, healer, and breast cancer survivor. Artists, Healers, and Breast Cancer Survivors: A Window into Their World was also the name of the show.

My talk took listeners through the primary events of my diagnosis, treatment, and  transitioning from cancer survivor to artist and writer. When I completed treatment I was told there was a 32% chance I wouldn’t survive the next ten years. I considered then, if these were the last ten years of my life What was it I wanted to do?

I came up with three things:

  • I wanted to love deeply, and be deeply loved by the same person
  • I wanted to be an artist
  • I wanted people to say nice things about me when I die (this one is the hardest 😀)

And then a funny thing happened on my way home from the medical oncologist’s office: I lived.

In March 2019 I celebrate twenty years since my diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

As I heard myself speak to the roomful of other cancer survivors and colleagues, I experienced the sudden realization I have reached my goals. Although all three need continual care and practice, the time has come for me to think about what comes next. What new goals should I set?  How do I become a better version of myself?

After all I’ve been through in my life I should have been better prepared. When you decide to ask the questions, you need to be ready for the answers. Asking life challenging questions with intention is Going Down the Rabbit Hole, Part II. 2018 has been a year of renewed discovery, self-reflection, and a little bit of rocking the boat. It’s been a year of fabulous highs and a few painful lows. Just like surviving cancer, I am stronger for it.

As 2018 comes to an end, I face 2019 with renewed intention and focus.

I’ll be writing more about the process.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole, collage, 2017 by Julianna Paradisi

Why is it 2018 feels more like “2017, The Sequel, and not an actual New Year?

While I have one or two friends who’ve had an immediate change of luck, many more of us are experiencing 2018 as a poorly constructed, run-on sentence (or rambling blog post) with little progress or clear goals for the future.

Progress requires a release of perceived limitations, and expectations. The process of releasing creates tension similar to a snake shedding its skin, or a butterfly breaking forth from its chrysalis. Things become too tight and uncomfortable before breakthrough occurs.

Nearing the end of January, the growing and stretching feels more intense than in previous years, and I find myself sympathizing with Alice for choosing to follow a rather strange rabbit down a hole, without thought of where it would lead, or how she would return. “Don’t over think it, just do it.”

Choosing to go down the rabbit hole is not a characteristic of most nurses. Nurses like clear goals, something to steer towards, whether it’s gaining a patient’s trust by managing her pain, meeting discharge goals, or simply relieving a fever.

Measurable goals work in nursing. They’re admirable, and create safety.

* * *

Safety. What is safe?

As an oncology nurse navigator, and a cancer survivor, my patients and I grapple with this question daily: How to balance cancer prevention (safety) with an enjoyable and fulfilling life?

If you believe the answer is easily found in NCCN guidelines, and AJCC recommendations, you are most likely not a cancer survivor. Being a cancer survivor is “going down the rabbit hole.”

* * *

Being an artist and writer demands a willingness to go down the rabbit hole; a comfort level with uncertainty.

The challenge of life is learning to live somewhere on the continuum between safety, and recklessness.

Hank Stamper, the burly central character in Ken Kesey’s epic novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, about Oregon’s logging industry, argues towards recklessness:

“Hank would have been hard put to supply a reason himself, though he knew it to be true that Lee’s presence at the Snag tonight was important to him…maybe because the kid needed to see first-hand what kind of world was going on around his head all the time without him ever seeing it, the real world with real hassles, not his fairy book world of his that him and his kind’d made up to scare theirselfs with.”

* * *

Progress begins by asking questions.

What is safe? What is reckless? Should a predictable outcome dictate the beginning of a new enterprise?

An explorer would answer, “No.”

Alice returned from Wonderland, having viewed strange, new perspectives, and with a bunch of great puns. I assume she counted it a good experience, because she went back for a second trip Through the Looking Glass.

Here’s to going down the rabbit hole, and leaving 2017 behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer Survivorship: Breaking The Myth of “Nurses are Bad Patients”

The Queen of Cups I collage by Julianna Paradisi 2017

Are nurses are the worse patients?

Upon completion of treatment for breast cancer, my surgeon remarked, “You got through treatment really well. In the beginning, I didn’t think you would.”

The comment struck me as odd, but I was curious. “Is this because I cried when you diagnosed me?”

“Yes.”

Thoughtfully, I replied, “I cried because I understood the diagnosis. I understood it would change my life.”

In return I received a patient smile.

The first plastic surgeon I chose was forthright in his opinion of me as a patient, however, “You nurses are the worse patients.”

I asked, “Are we your worse patients, or your most educated ones?”

He promptly discharged me from his care.

* * *

I received excellent treatment for breast cancer. My survival and good health are proof. But there were gaps in the emotional support I received.

It’s been nearly two decades since I had breast cancer, and all those years I accepted the label of being “a bad patient;” the one that asked questions, the one needing proof the  medical recommendations were best practice.

Then I became an oncology nurse navigator, with patients who are nurses. They have taught me I was not a bad patient, just a nurse-patient, set apart from non-nurse patients. And there are subsets of nurse-patients I help: those bringing an oncology background to their diagnosis, and those who don’t.

Nurses assume accountability for their care

Nurse-patients with oncology backgrounds manage their cancer diagnosis differently than their colleagues without. I suspect this is because they bring their own toolbox: They work with oncology surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They personally know and handpick their treatment team. They’re still scared, but the support they seek is more pragmatic: how-to’s for managing treatment, work, home, and family life.

Nurses without an oncology background wonder if we are referred to top-notch practitioners, and receiving state-of-the art options, contributing more stress to our cancer diagnosis. We tend to get second, and sometimes third opinions about treatment recommendations. We are more likely to travel to nearby cities (and sometimes other states) with larger, nationally recognized cancer programs for consultations. We may delay starting treatment to fit in the extra consults. Our family and friends may not understand why we won’t simply “do what the doctor says.”

Here’s my unproven hypothesis explaining why this happens:

The Hot Seat: Nurses are compelled to advocate for themselves

Nurses, in our role of patient advocate, are educated to question doctors. We are accountable for catching, and preventing mistakes.

In my nursing education, this training happened early in the morning before our clinical days, in a potentially brutal ritual dubbed, “The Hot Seat.”

In “The Hot Seat” one by one, nursing students gave report on the patient (s) they were assigned that day: diagnosis, age, treatment plan, and goals for outcome. Our instructor cross-examined each student about everything: medication indications, dosage, side effects, and lab values to monitor. She inquired about imaging, and anticipated needs the patient may have at discharge. The more questions a student answered correctly, the more difficult the questions became. The fewer answers a student mustered, the hotter the seat became.

Nurses know unasked questions lead to harm

In The Hot Seat we learned critical thinking means always ask the next question. It’s the question you forgot to ask that leads to harm.

Nurses know the importance of asking questions. When we seek treatment outside of our specialty areas from doctors we do not know, we manage the stress by asking, “Why?”

My understanding of this means that nurses are some of my favorite patients. I remember what I needed to know to ease my stress during cancer treatment, and I offer it to my nurse-patients. Once they understand how oncology treatment works, they often become so independent in caring for themselves I rarely hear from them.

And I’ve certainly never discharged one from care.

 

 

 

Plateaus, New Goals, & My First Failure of 2018

2017 was a challenging year for me in many ways, some good, some not so much, but it ended positively.

In October, I had opportunity to show ten new paintings where I work, part of an exhibition titled Healers, Artists, and Breast Cancer Survivors. A local TV news station covered it. Around the same time, I was interviewed for a local magazine, also about being an artist, oncology nurse navigator, and breast cancer survivor. I admit, I felt very good about both, because 2017 was a difficult time for pursuing my goals as an artist.

Part of the hospital exhibit was an artist talk. I spoke about how my arts career was launched when I completed cancer treatment, and was told I had a 32% chance of dying in 10 years from disease recurrence. Blah, blah, blah, I decided if I were to die in 10 years there were three things I wanted to do:

  • Become an artist
  • Fall deeply in love with, and be deeply loved by the same person
  • Give people reasons to say nice things about me when I die.

As I spoke these words to the audience, I realized I have achieved the first two of the three, and it’s too soon to know the outcome of the third. I need new life goals.

I spent the past weekend reflecting on what these new life goals should be. I did some deep soul work, and came up with new intentions. They include questions I’m hoping to have the answers to this time next year. I’m not going to write them here. They’re personal.

I started 2018 with a bang. I spent time with some of my closest family, which  was a goal for 2018 (there’s a difference between yearly goals and life intentions). Afterwards, I went to my barre class, and the instructor talked about breaking plateaus. That resonated for me. I’ve reached a plateau in my life goals. 2018 will be the year to break through.

I came home from that class ready to write a post for this blog about how to know if you’re stuck in your life goals, and methods to get unstuck. I was on fire.

The too long knitted sleeve photo by Jparadisirn 2018

I forgot to mention, I began knitting a sweater last week. I’m a pretty good knitter, but the pattern I chose, though it builds on skills I’ve gained by making smaller projects, is the most complex pattern I’ve worked. It’s knit from the bottom up, beginning with the sleeves, which are joined to the body of the sweater before making the yoke. I’ve been working on the first sleeve for several days. It’s over a foot long.

That’s when I noticed it’s too long to accommodate the rest of the rows needed to make the remaining necessary stitch increases. I re-read the pattern. I had misunderstood the increase rows sequence. Now I have to rip out all of the knitting I’ve done, and start over. Arrgh!

I felt defeated, the wind let out of my sails. It’s the first day of 2018, and already I’ve made a mistake!

Then it came to me: That’s how plateaus are broken. You try something new, and you’re not good at it yet, so you make a mistake, maybe more than one. You have to start over, and keep trying until you get it right. That’s how you get unstuck. That’s how progress is made.

I haven’t ripped out the stitches yet. I decided to write this post first. I feel better because I did. I feel motivated to rip out all those hours of knitting, and start over.

2018 is going to be a transformative year.

 

Art and Nursing: Exhibiting Art Within a Power Point Presentation About Oncology Nurse Navigators

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The above paintings are original works by Julianna Paradisi, and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

This year, I’ve had a few opportunities to try on the art of public speaking, a newish skill for me. The topics revolved around breast cancer, and oncology nurse navigation.

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of inpatient oncology nurses about the role of nurse navigators for breast cancer patients, and the application to the hospital setting. Integrating the patient experience throughout the continuum of cancer treatment is a prominent part of what nurse navigators do, and inpatient nurses wanting to learn more (and earned CE) about oncology nurse navigation is exciting.  It demonstrates ONNs have an impact on patient care.

For the occasion, I decided to learn a new skill: creating a Power Point presentation. I know, I know, some of you were making Power Point presentations since your first elementary school book report, but you probably can’t write in cursive as well as an older nurse, or use a real typewriter.

Here’s the stipulation: because I am also an artist, I have a thing against using clip art or stock images from the Internet to illustrate my words. If you are familiar with my blog posts for Off the Charts you already know this.

So, not only did I learn to create, and present a Power Point slide show, I used jpegs from a series of paintings I made of mountains, illustrating the presentation from the perspective of my personal practice. For many, the word navigator connotes images of the ocean or GPS, but as a breast cancer survivor turned ONN, I see myself as a sherpa, someone who has climbed the mountain, familiar with its terrain and potential for treachery. I lead patients  up the mountain, summit, and then come back down. The paintings of mountains also suggest the barriers to care ONNs are tasked with removing for patients. The theme was woven into the closing remarks of the presentation.

Most of the paintings depict Mount Hood, the dominating peak and iconic symbol of Portland, Oregon, my home.

I gave the presentation with a sense of creative satisfaction in finding another way to merge art into my nursing practice.

 

 

 

 

Breast Cancer Issues: Physical Activity During Treatment

The following post is the second of a series resulting from preparations for a forthcoming breast cancer conference panel discussion on survivorship.

by jparadisi 2012

by jparadisi 2012

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was a pediatric intensive care nurse working twelve-hour shifts, a long-distance runner, practiced weight-training, and a gardener. After the diagnosis, these activities came to an abrupt halt. Surgical procedures meant no running for weeks at a time. Weight training was limited by restrictions. Chemotherapy meant avoiding infectious patients, let alone managing critically ill children with my chemo-brain. Gardening was okay, but only so long as I didn’t get cuts or wounds that could become infected due to a lowered WBC.

Surrendering an active lifestyle in exchange for the other side of the bed was not an easy adjustment, and I held out for as long as possible. During treatment I didn’t have the energy to participate in these activities to the same levels as before. I continued running after my first chemotherapy infusion until one day I completed 1 1/2 miles and then completely bonked. I had to walk back home that 1 1/2 miles with bone deep fatigue. Grudgingly, I gave up running while on chemo.

For some, physical activity is a go-to method of stress relief. For many cancer patients, when this tool is needed most, it is unavailable.  It requires developing new tools for managing stress.

It’s important for nurses and health care providers who are not physically active to understand that a lack of physical activity actually creates stress for patients who are. It’s one reason your adolescent and young adult patients often become sullen. Physical activity is part of their mind-body connection.

The median age of breast cancer diagnosis is 61, so It follows that many hospital-based exercise classes for breast cancer survivors are structured with the intent of increasing physical activity and function for older, sedentary survivors. While beneficial, these classes may not meet the needs of the physically active, regardless of their age. Breast cancer patients who beg to continue swimming, running, bicycling, and even skiing are not uncommon. Here’s some exercise tips for physically active breast cancer patients:

  • Review your level of physical activity with your medical oncologist and surgeon before resuming or starting an exercise program. Surgery remains the cornerstone treatment for breast cancer, and physical restrictions apply post-operatively to promote healing. Mastectomy, reconstruction, and lumpectomies require different periods of recuperation. Some chemotherapy regimens used to fight specific types of breast cancer have potential to affect the heart. Those with metastatic disease may have other restrictions. Forgoing your activity of choice is difficult, but it’s important to remember that taking the time to heal is an investment in overall wellness.
  • Consider alternative forms of exercise. Walking is commonly prescribed during treatment. Meditation labyrinths are a great way to get some exercise and practice mindfulness at the same time. Some hospitals, spiritual centers, and churches have them. Ask about stair climbing-I used a Stair Master (once cleared by my surgeon), and did not have the energy to run outdoors. Running machines are another option: If you get tired, you can stop without having to get back home.
  •  If you are medically cleared to use a gym make sure to bring antibacterial wipes to wipe down the machines before use, if they’re not provided: If you are receiving chemotherapy, you are more prone to infections from opportunistic germs. If you take a yoga class, (another commonly recommended activity for breast cancer patients) bring your own mat, and wear plastic flip-flops to avoid fungal infections from the studio floors.
  • Remember, physical fitness is not what you do in the short-term, it’s an accumulation of activity throughout a lifetime. Going through breast cancer treatment tests your body; it’s working hard. Support its healing through good nutrition and adequate rest.

Dreams: Helping The Patient Who Sees Things That Cannot be Studied

Her body stiffened with strong emotion as she shared a vivid dream she’d had after being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

Lung Ta (Windhorse) by jparadisi

Lung Ta (Windhorse) by jparadisi

She me told the dream with tears in her eyes. It brought to mind stories I heard as a child of Saints experiencing visions. Placing my hand on her shoulder was the only supportive gesture I could think of. I didn’t know the dream’s meaning, but I understood its importance.

I had vivid dreams during cancer treatment, a few even while awake during meditation. I recorded them in a journal, paying attention to how they made me feel: peaceful or apprehensive. I was fortunate to have a friend who believes in dreams. She listened to mine, helping me discover their personal messages.

Nursing is based on science. However, I’ve been a nurse long enough to know that science hasn’t found the answer to everything. Some patients, and nurses, see things that can not be studied objectively.

Dreams and visions are narrated with conviction by the alert and oriented, distinguishing them from feverish ramblings, opioid-induced illusions, or the hallucinations of hepatic failure. This personal mysticism commands respect. It does not usually find its way into the patient’s chart.

My patient needed someone to listen to, and validate, her dream. She did not know its meaning. Dream interpretation was not part of my nursing school curriculum (perhaps it should have been), but helping a patient in spiritual distress was.

As I listened, I felt that chilly pull on my gut, alerting me to truth. Maybe not my truth, but certainly my patient’s, who I did not know very well. How could I help her? I resorted to tools I learned from my friend, who helped me interpret my cancer dreams.

First, I asked, “How does the dream make you feel? Does it cause peace or fear?” Although her dream contained dark imagery, overall, it left her feeling hopeful. In dreams, death and dark images do not necessarily symbolize real death, but often represent a significant life change, such as a life-changing diagnoses.

Next, I emphasized that dreams are powerful, personal messages. Only my patient would understand the unique significance of the images she saw.

I asked, “What do the images mean to you?” She was able to describe her personal language of symbolism to me, and in doing so, explained her dream to both of us. I saw relaxation loosen the muscles of her face and body, as she felt the power of the dream take effect.

If you’re interested in learning more about dream interpretation, I suggest reading The Secret Language of Signs, by Denise Linn.

Do you find dreams to be an important part of your patients’ journeys? What do you do when patients present their dreams to you?

Alopecia and the Pirate

Note:  In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I have republished this post. 

As I write this post, some scientists are searching for ways to prevent male baldness through genetic manipulation. Others are conducting similar research to cure cancer. Is hair really as significant a part of our identity as we are sold to believe?

My hair began falling out the 14th day after the first chemotherapy infusion. In preparation, I bought a wig, styled and colored the same as my real hair. Like a feral animal, it perched on its stand, awaiting an opportunity.

When I saw the first ungodly huge handful of fallen hair I was too stunned to cry. Instead, I mumbled, “F***,” repeatedly, like a demented chicken.

It didn’t fall out all at once. Each morning for a week, I’d step out of the shower holding gobs of hair in my hands to prevent clogging the drain. After blow-drying what was left on my head, I’d take a pair of manicure scissors, like a naughty three-year-old, and try to even it out and disguise the bald patches. When I no longer could, a coworker’s husband shaved my head while she collected the locks, tying them into small bundles with blue satin ribbons.

After a time, I stopped wearing the wig. I preferred to cover my baldness with a red bandana, pirate style. Image

It was summertime, and I was at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Square, when a young man wearing a pirate’s black hat, white blouse with buckskin laces, black britches, and boots approached me. He clutched an authentic-looking sword. This was years before Johnny Depp made pirates sexy. Despite fatigue and chemo brain, I understood:

“Oh, no, this guy sees my bandana. Pirate guy thinks he’s found pirate girl.”

There was no place to run.

He spoke to me. “Ahoy! Me beauty, how art thee this fine afternoon?”

“I art fine, thanks,” I replied. “Why are you dressed like a pirate? Is that sword real?”

“Aye.”

He belonged to a club, of sorts, of people in Portland who dress like pirates and act out sword fights. I puzzled over what he wanted until he reached into his blouse and pulled up a goddess pendant dangling from a leather thong around his neck. He brought the goddess to his lips, kissed it, and then pointed to the carved turquoise goddess I had worn on a silver chain since my diagnosis.

“My fair Muse hails from Hungary, where she symbolized the female spirit of war and led her people to victory. I see you wear the Goddess yourself.”

Doffing his hat, he bowed before swaggering back into the crowd.

He had approached because of the necklace, not the bandana. He hadn’t noticed that I was bald — or had he? Did I just have an encounter with an eccentric or a very kind man dressed as a pirate offering encouragement?

He left me smiling. There is more to each of us than what we look like.

This post was originally published by TheONC.