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Just over a month ago I received a small and significant package. Fortunately, it arrived before I left the house for the afternoon, else I would have had to wait for several more days before being able to open it up and enjoy the treasure inside.

To my delight, it was the beautiful—no, magnificent—piece of jewelry that Wings made (designed by Aji and using a stone from 4Freedom) which generous Kossacks, acting collectively and anonymously, arranged to have given to me. It is a necklace with a pendant in the shape of a white hawk, a gorgeous silver setting around a lovely trapezoidal gray aventurine.  

"WhiteHawk" on gallery display
The timing was perfect. The day after it arrived was my older daughter’s birthday, and I was tickled to be able to wear it for that special event. The day after that, we had a Motor City Kossacks meet-up, and believe me I was also pleased to be able to wear it for that special occasion too. (Here’s a link to surelyujest’s great diary about our meet-up, in which some of the other photos of me also show my wonderful necklace.)
Back row left to right:  Neon Vincent, ProvokingMeaning, gregsullmich, fusionkaster.  Front row left to right:  surelyujest, My Real Name, peregrine kate.
Since then, there have been other special days during which I’ve been honored to be able to wear this astonishing piece of art: my 55th birthday dinner and my birthday party, to name two. But there have also been several more ordinary days this month during which I’ve put on this necklace—days when I thought I could use some extra strength, or fierceness, or courage.

The aventurine is reputed to be of special healing significance to those needing immune system support, and those who have issues with their lungs (among other conditions). Since both of these apply to me, the necklace is even more fitting. And yes, I do have to make a little bit of a compromise since it is a hawk not a falcon—but I think a little artistic/spiritual license can be tolerated here. ;)

A major reason this object is special to me is its beauty. I can’t deny it; I enjoy beautiful things very much, and I continue to marvel that this one has come into my possession. The photos with this diary, even the professional one by Aji above, can give only a partial sense of how lovely it really is.

But the other principal reason I cherish it is because it came from you, my mysterious Secret Santas, who decided that it was an appropriate gift for me.

Already I feel greatly indebted to my Kossack friends—for my fabulous Community Quilt; for the support (financial and otherwise) that enabled me to attend Netroots Nation 12; for the ongoing dialogues I now have with dozens of people here on the site; for the friendships I’ve formed with some very special Kossacks, locally and across the country, if not around the world. This marvelous ornament is yet another token of all these connections and as such it is even more special. I am very, very grateful to everyone, starting with Wings and Aji, who have made it possible for me to enjoy it. I also want to thank our beloved Nurse Kelley, who originated the Kos Katalogue project back in 2010, and our dear Sara R, who kicked it up a notch by creating the Secret Santa effort in 2012.

Please join me below the curlicue for more of the story—because there is always more….

As it happens, I wrote this diary on another date of significance to me. Two years ago last Friday I was in the hospital, recovering from my hysterectomy, not yet knowing—although my dear husband already did—how much the cancer had spread, and how much that spread affected my chances of survival. It is a blessing to me, I think, that my memory of those few days is sketchy. It was hard enough to get through the days shortly afterwards, when I first had to grapple seriously with the implications of my diagnosis. I was quiet around here for some months afterwards, making only sporadic comments, until I gathered the nerve (mustered over three diaries, I can tell in retrospect) to share my story nearly six months after my surgery.

After that diary, and when I was still going through chemotherapy, Sara R asked if I would like a quilt. I accepted the offer with alacrity. The timing on that gift was exquisite, too: the quilt arrived the day before I learned that my chemotherapy had not worked, and that my cancer had metastasized to my lungs. The quilt lives on my bed, yes, but it has also wrapped me up when I was dozing in the sunshine, with my healer cat keeping me company—and it has covered me when I’ve undergone my subsequent CT scans.

I do not want to seem melodramatic. But hearing the dismaying results of that CT scan in September of 2011 was devastating. My family and I were all terrified, and there were days when I was convinced that all my efforts to survive would be for naught. For the first few weeks after hearing that awful news I believed that I would be dead within a year. (They don’t mention it much, at least not to me, but I’m pretty sure my family felt just as bleak.)

My real-life supports are important, essential, to my recovery; I do not want to minimize them. But in reviewing these past two years in an effort to understand how far I have come, I must mention the importance of my online supports, particularly those at Daily Kos, as well.

Having a place here has meant the world to me on more days than I can count. In the wake of my diagnosis, I had to confront more challenges in a shorter time than I had ever thought possible: losing my job, being disabled, confronting my mortality, and suffering over the fragility of my family and the pain they were enduring because of my life-threatening condition. Whenever I have looked for support here, I have found it—even if sometimes it came in the guise of seeing that I was not alone in my struggles, that others had it as bad or worse than I and still managed to hang on, and sometimes even get better.

Shortly after getting the bad CT news, I decided to reach out to others here on the site who were coping with cancer, either directly or as a caregiver, and founded this series, the Monday Night Cancer Club. I was acting out of enlightened self-interest in doing so, let me tell you, and yet here we have created a place that others have found to be sustaining and uplifting. We’ve also already lost some members of “the club no one wants to join,” and we mourn them even as we continue to fight our own battles and encourage each other. I look forward to every Monday's gathering. (And here's my first anniversary thank-you diary, already nearly six months old.) Hey, who wouldn't be grateful for an extra incentive to chat on a regular basis with ZenTrainer, my co-admin? She is the funniest damn person I've ever heard write about cancer but she also has many more wonderful qualities besides.

Furthermore, the site has also helped me retain a sense of purpose above and beyond being ill and seeking recovery (though having purpose is, I freely admit, probably also a key element of health and recovery. Not that I’m trying to focus everything on cancer, mind you.)

I was not a regular diarist before my diagnosis. I was a lurker for a couple of years before even signing up on the site, and then a lurker for a couple more years before I got the nerve to write a diary. Now, however, it’s not unusual for me to write a couple of diaries a week, depending on the prompt.

At this point, I am honestly relieved to say that not all of my diaries are about cancer, even if the MNCC is my mainstay. I had the great good fortune to be nominated to go to Netroots Nation last year, and in the course of that activity had the occasion to write several diaries in relation to the experience. I became involved in KosAbility activism, following Nurse Kelley’s lead, and have undertaken projects that are still unfolding. Following navajo’s inspiration, I worked on getting together the Motor City Kossacks, who have already met twice and look to be good to meet now on a regular basis. Eclectablog, Brainwrap and others on the site do a superb job already of covering Michigan political news, but I have had the chance now and again to add a little bit.

Somehow I insinuated myself into the GOTV blogathon in the fall, thanks in part to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse; that experience was a blast, and then led to JekyllnHyde’s recent suggestion that I join the Forward on Climate blogathon team just over a week ago. (How is that possible? Seems like months ago at least.) That was similarly fun and even more educational, though truly I contributed only a very small amount to both blogathons’ success.

I say this not to brag but to express my gratitude to the community in all its glorious variety for welcoming me and encouraging me to develop my own voice as a writer and as an activist. Especially in the early months when I was so terribly fatigued and worn down, I could have been stuck at home, feeling miserable and forlorn. Instead, through this quirky blog I found a renewed sense of my vital, involved self.

Is there any wonder, then, that I am as grateful as I am for the newest symbol of my connection to this virtual community?

Close-up view of WhiteHawk on me, peregrine kate, at home
In the weeks and months to come I will be looking for opportunities to pay forward my good fortune of being the recipient of such a precious gift. Thank you in advance for making these possibilities available to me. Thank you, actually, for helping me return to life, for as long as I have it.

Peace and blessings to all, from my heart.

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
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