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Archive for the ‘Personal growth’ Category


Some time has passed. I’ve had writer’s paralysis. Depression? Check. Pain? Check. Lack of motivation? Check. “Write about it,” people said. “It’s therapeutic.” The words just didn’t come.

September of 2015 brought yet an additional surgery that began another cycle of despair. Six months of living in a Connecticut hospital, waiting for the fistula that was left behind by the surgery to “fix” things, to heal – to no avail. Whatever pleasures I might have had to keep me going were taken. The caring surgeon, clearly frustrated that he couldn’t do more, struggled along with me to know what to do next. Tick tock went the clock. The weeks became months before a frank discussion moved toward finding a more experienced doctor who took on difficult cases. My doctor found a world class doctor in NY who could do it; he would fix this problem and life would finally go on.

But it didn’t. Even he professed he did all he could and suggested yet a higher level of care. Another month, another hospital, another doctor, also “world class.” “Yes, I’ll take the case,” he said. Another surgery; more pain; more time slithering away. A temporary fix; an interim step, perhaps to a more complicated end solution I am not ready to entertain. But this one, we hope, enough to get me home for a stretch, to live half a life. Half is better than none, right?

So I prepare to go home after 8 months of confinement with limited pleasures restored for a time, to take care of the unfinished business of living. It is a mixed bag. Just as the convict about to be released after a long confinement, who lived miserably but knew what to expect. So too, it is with me. The fear of the unknown. Being more than a nurse call button away from help. Being in a different state than my medical teams. And feeling like such a burden to my husband, who has never uttered a word of being burdened, rather expressing nothing but utter happiness that I will be coming home.

This journey is a long one but it is my hope there will be something at the end worth waiting for. Just normal, boring, everyday life is all I’m asking.

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“Gratitude” is becoming a cliche. Everybody’s talking about it. “It will heal you,” they say. “Letting go of the negativity prevents cancer,” shouts the Internet. Even doctors are saying taking time to count your blessings is good for your health. Is this just a passing fad, or is there something to it?

I did a Google search on “Gratitude’s healing power.” There are about 998,000 hits. Wow, there must be something to it, even if the Internet is not the source of scientific material. But wait, there are hits from respectable sites like Harvard University, the Georgia Psychological Association, The NY Times, A PhD professor from University of California, Davis, WEB MD, the National Institute of Health. What do they know that some people don’t?

I’m no scientist but I have a degree worthy of being able to analyze whether a study is reliable. I know how to judge whether the population studied is large enough, diverse enough (or not, depending on the study), the variables were controlled, the methods used in the study, and I understand basic statistics. But I also trust my gut – A LOT!

I know that when I feel grateful, I feel good. It’s THAT simple. We encounter so many negative, energy-sucking people in every walk of life, and it seems to cut across every socio-economic group. I’ve met wealthy people who have everything, including great support networks, etc., who just feel they are always lacking. And some of the very seriously-down-on-their-luck people, that I had the privilege of serving lunch to at the soup kitchen, were joyous and grateful for the simple meal and my company.

Many neuroscientists studied brain activity under conditions of gratitude and observed positive brain activity. Biological markers like immune system function, sleep patterns, blood pressure, etc., were positively affected in grateful people.

So without further ado, I give you the short list of things I am grateful for, even though I was just diagnosed with a genetic defect that will throw my next few months into turmoil.

1. A supportive and loving husband and life partner, who loyalty never wavers.
2. My two sons, who are beautiful human beings and bring me joy beyond explanation.
3. Friends and family members who offer meals, rides, errands, and check in on me to make sure I’m OK.
4. Co-workers who didn’t bat an eye even though my absence will mean they have to work later or harder.
5. Access to the finest surgeons, who were able to respond to my needs very quickly.
6. An upcoming 60th birthday trip to France, in between operations, to rest and recharge.
7. A lovely and comfortable home.
8. The ability to buy the food I want and need to nourish me and protect my health.
9. Two dogs to cuddle with and love.
10. Any art supplies and tools I need to express my creativity.

LIFE IS GOOD!

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Warning: Some people may be offended by what seems like a flippant attitude about grave matters but I can assure you I have a healthy, realistic grip on reality.

I was a 32 year old widow. I had just lost my husband to cancer. He was 36 years old. That’s pretty tragic. It’s nothing to laugh at, for sure. So why were my best friend and I laughing hysterically? We got together for one of our breakfast meetings as we planned and plotted to perhaps open a business or something like that. We got to talking about men (don’t female gatherings always lead to that?). We were talking about whether we had left most of the men we had relationships with, or had they left us. I said I instinctively knew if they were about to leave, so I would leave first. So no, no men had left me. “Unless you count Ray (my deceased husband), but does that count?”

We erupted into such shrieks of laughter, everyone in the restaurant turned around to see what was so funny. All they saw was two crazy women with tears running down their cheeks. We would finally gain control, look at each other and erupt again into wails of hysteria.

Granted, you can’t say these kinds of things to just anyone. Some would have you committed for such an “inappropriate” reaction to such a sad thing. But, is it inappropriate?

Humor is a very powerful coping mechanism. I often say if I didn’t have a sense of humor (however macabre at times) I wouldn’t even be alive today. I’ve had more challenges in one life than a whole tribe usually has combined (see last post). So, when a little crack opens up in the dark cloud of any situation, I crack funny, “inappropriate jokes” or laugh at those of others. But never at the expense of someone else.

Most recently, my husband and I were waiting in the surgeon’s exam room, waiting to discuss plans for removing my reproductive parts. We started talking about what comes after that, which is going to be a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction. My husband, in typical fashion, started his 20 question routine. “How do they do….? Are they going to do ……?” Of course, I didn’t know anything yet, since THAT appointment is next Monday. He asked me how they remove breast tissue. I told him that all I know is that there are several techniques. The one used for me will depend on my unique situation, the surgeon, and maybe some of my preferences, if I am lucky to have more than one option. He asked (stop here if you are squeamish or don’t like crude humor), “If they have to remove the nipples, do you just not have them anymore?” I explained that from what I have read, they use tattoos to recreate a natural appearance. I said, “So instead of ‘tit for tat,’ it will be ‘tats for tits!” We erupted into laughter, coming in waves, settling down, then roaring all over again when we looked at each other. In such a quiet environment, I’m thinking that the folks outside in the waiting room were wondering what the hell was going on in there.

We composed ourselves by the time the doctor and entourage came in. They were polite enough not to inquire about our outburst. So we conducted business, made arrangements and went home.

Later, while reading a book about reconstruction, I pondered out loud whether I wanted to look the same or take this opportunity to get the perky breasts I never had. My husband asked if he had any say and was there a store or a catalog from which to make a selection. Another round of laughter ensued.

Laughter takes the edge off, opens up lines of communication that may be difficult, brings people together and defuses tension. Can you think of any other free, non-toxic substance that can do all that?

So go ahead and make those “sick” jokes, or at least make some kind of jokes to help you see a potential bright side when all seems dark. If people think ill of you for it, fuck ’em. They aren’t walking in your shoes, and if ever they have to, they won’t have the same support and outcomes as you will.

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I thought this saying up after the mini meltdown passed. Maybe no one recognized the meltdown, least of all, me. It came in the form of 6 awakenings each night, worrying about everything BUT the actual situation I am facing. Apparently this resonated with a lot of people when I posted it, even though the majority of them had no idea I was referring to a specific, new challenge.

No matter how many challenges life throws my way, I never think, “Why me?” for two reasons.
(1) If not me, it has to be someone else and I wouldn’t wish my challenges on another.
(2) It makes me a victim and takes away my power.

So now, I concentrate on number 2.

I am not a victim! Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. We all are victims of uncontrollable events in our lives to some degree, but how we deal with them mitigates them. So I call upon my superpower, victim- fighting arsenal called family and friends, as well as my foundation of having survived 20-ish surgeries, two near-death experiences, one divorce, one spousal death, 11 moves, countless jobs, 6-7 careers and laying beside a live cheetah. Whew!

I have the BRCA1 gene. It means either lying in wait for the likely possibility of getting ovarian (40%) and/or breast cancer (85%), or I can have prophylactic surgery to remove these body parts. I’m not a patient waiter and I like taking the better odds. I can get through another few surgeries.

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As I sort through the incredible volume of possessions accumulated over 40 years of my life, I am ready to let go of more than I ever have before. Maybe it’s the practice I got emptying my mother-in-law’s home, which had more years of accumulation than I have. Maybe it’s the “clean start” one wants when moving to a new home. Maybe it’s the realization that I will never learn guitar, I will never need 2 shredders, I’ve long since replaced the china closet with another, my kids have taken or stored everything they want to take from my collections, and the overwhelming feeling of organizing and packing what I want to keep.

As I put my guitar into the hands of its new owner, she admitted she might never have the time to learn, what with a job and a small child and all. I smiled and nodded in recognition of my 35 year old self. The kids didn’t want the furniture, so it was time to move it out. And all those duplicates? Time to reduce to one of anything, sell some things online, some through local tag sale sites and prepare for one helluva tag sale.

The difficult thing is that some things are attached to dreams. The guitar for instance. I always wanted to play it. Now I forfeit that opportunity because I no longer have the instrument to play. There are others. It doesn’t really matter what they are; I let go the dream of doing, with the disposal of the object.

The great thing is that every time I shed a piece, I feel lighter. I am freeing myself of something that needs care, cleaning or attention. I am replacing money in the coffers for the incidentals that will be needed in my new home. It’s all good. Lightening my load, lightens my head and heart.

Except for art supplies. I am parting with but a tiny percent of an entire room full of things that could create art by combining them, when creativity strikes. Yeah, that stuff is going to take a whole truck by itself. I’ve already identified the beneficiary of all of it when I die, so all it will require is one phone call by the family.

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BRAVADO: Real or pretend?

It hit me today, like a ton of bricks. What was it going to take to get me to feel fear? Real fear.

I left the doctor’s office today, aware of the long wait ahead. News about the test he had performed and the ultimate decision it would require. On top of the news I am waiting for about a genetic test that could also change my life, as well as that of my children.

Sure, I tell everyone, “I don’t worry until I know there is a good reason to worry.” And I largely convince myself of it, until today. I am driving home when something akin to panic sets in. I cannot cry, so it is more like a grip on my gut.

I realize I have fooled and pleased the doctor with my bravado performance, and I get complimented for it. It hits me – my pattern. In order not to deal with pain, worry, anxiety, I pretend to be strong. I am strong, for sure, but is it right to always be strong when unsure of your future? I have always sought to please people. A habit I intellectually disdain and think I have overcome, but I suddenly realize it is in the very fabric of my being, and is still very much my modus operandi.

I question why I need to be so independent and strong all the time. It’s not even natural. I know that we are all driven to be liked, and who likes a needy person anyway? But my emotions are on a roller coaster today.

I struggle to even share my feelings with my husband, who has given me no reason to doubt his loyalty. I go to the doctor alone, when all three people I interact with ask me if someone has accompanied me. I find this to be a strange question. I always go to the doctor alone. Oh, I realize now. This is a cancer center. Most people come anticipating potentially bad news, instructions, things they need another set of ears to hear. Me? I’ve been through so much already, I can handle it. I can ask the questions, take notes and put things in my phone calendar by myself. Besides, I think the exam is over precautionary – my doctor is so conservative. But this new doctor says he never has an inappropriate referral from my doctor.

So each piece comes together to paint a picture that tells me maybe I should worry – at least a little. Perhaps this is another false alarm – this is what I have been telling myself. And I will be truly grateful if that is the case. But for now, I think I should allow the feelings that sometimes overwhelm me, rendering me incapable of thinking straight, their proper place.

That would make me more normal, wouldn’t it?

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Why do we get more sentimental as we age? Is it the feeling (and reality) that our time is growing limited? Is it a yearning for days gone by? Or is it a combination of these factors?
I am joyful beyond measure for the time we get to spend with our family. It is so rare now to have them all together at the same time, and usually not all to ourselves. With friends in their lives, we are sharing our boys with other people. I am happy about the kinds of people they choose to be in their lives, and enjoy the young adults sitting around the dinner table having mature conversations. I love the amazing meals my son and his friend turn out for us to enjoy. I love the physical closeness phone calls can’t provide.
Then why am I also sad?
It’s because I know this time is limited.
It’s because they will be wretched from us once again – each parting as difficult as the first.
It’s because I do not know when we will next see each other.
It’s because we will be moving away from where they grew up, and when they go “home” maybe it won’t be where we are moving to.
It’s because all parents carry guilt about what they didn’t do even though the outcome was good and there is no logical reason to feel that way.
It’s just because sometimes.
So, now I will put it aside and go back to enjoying the time I DO have with my sons and their friends. They need help in the kitchen!

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