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Archive for the ‘Support’ Category


In March of 2012 I wrote about connecting with people. How by some mysterious force, we are drawn to someone and find a connection. I’ve had a couple of new experiences in this past year, in spite of my limited movements within the outside world.

An old business associate of nearly 40 years, turned friend, emailed me about an alumnus of her college. Did I want to meet her? She had recently moved to my town, shared my religion and knew no one here. She wanted to get involved in her new community and my friend thought we would hit it off. I trust this friend; she knows me well. So of course I said yes. Explaining to this stranger my limited outings, unpredictable medical limitations and inability to eat like a normal person, I suggested lunch at my house. Conversation came easily and we discovered some additional mutual friends and interests. We share political views so there was much fodder for conversation and potential action. The relationship quickly turned into a familiar, comfortable friendship, one I am so grateful for.

On another occasion, the search for someone to do alterations led me to a woman from a neighboring town. She is the mother of a lady in my town, who I know only through the Facebook page our town’s ladies belong to. She was kind enough to come to my house so I could try on the clothes. There was something special about her and she felt the same. She too joined me for lunch soon after and I have been to her home to drop off or pick up more things she has sewed for me. We are on a “hug and kiss greeting” basis and express an affinity for one another like we’ve been friends for so long.

My therapist tells me I am blessed with the ability to make friends easily. I would have to agree. But I attribute it to my father and his mother who also had many friends due to their ability to talk to anyone about something they could find in common.

My life is so enriched by this gift. Some people’s involvement in my life have endured decades and many challenges; some have come and gone in short order. I’ve relished each friendship for its uniqueness and rich dimension they have brought to my life.

I’m a lucky woman.

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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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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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I suppose you will be remembered in history books if you founded a country, but what about the founders of smaller things? Perhaps significant on a local level, or important to a cause. When that cause gets a life of its own, the founder is often dismissed as far as having any role in its being.
To be fair, some entities pay some sort of homage to the founder(s) in their history, but most do not.
This line of thought was precipitated by a wonderful conversation with one of my patients. At age 83, he has a sharp mind. We connected on some geographic and ethnic commonalities. The conversation led to Israel and he told me a story about his relative named Ra’Anan (not sure of the spelling), who had gone from NYC with a band of others early in the 20th century, to a town now known as Ra’Anana. He had become their Mayor, hence the name of the city honoring him.
I was fascinated by this as I know two families who live there. So, back at home, I tried to research the history of this town, to no avail. There was some reference to a group from NYC going there, but no one by a name similar to the town’s name appeared in any of the articles. I believed this man’s story. Thus, the founder had been forgotten.
I experienced a similar situation. When I lost a job I hated anyway, I turned to my passion – art – and decided to make a go of it. Practicing the craft was only a part of my goal. I wanted to create a community of artists of all kinds; visual and performing, to feed each other’s creativity, and bring us a sense of belonging. I rallied some people I thought would be interested in helping me. I requested the library’s community room, placed a tiny article in the paper. And they came! The need was evident!
From this group, a board was formed and we set out to deliver a community of artists in my own town. Life was good. When we were offered a chance to hire, at a very heavily subsidized rate, a consultant to help us set a course, make a plan and work out some kinks, the group began to splinter. Just a tiny bit at first, but then a huge, gaping hole opened up. Suddenly, my allies were my foes. They didn’t share my vision, which until then was working. When I started to enlarge the dream, the rebels came out.
Now power was being usurped and when I called them on it, they denied it. To shorten a long, painful story, I left the group behind. My only pleasure is that the organization continues. Sadly for me, the work I wanted so much to do is now happening – but I am not part of the community I brought to fruition.
So, that brings me back to the forgotten founder. I have moved on and do my “art thing” with other, more welcoming people. Some of the original cast of characters and I remain friends. The splintered faction is still splintered. I’m OK with it all. Except for one thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be acknowledged as the person who brought together this community of artists? Yes, it would be.

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I work in a hospital as a Registered Dietetic Technician. I screen patients for nutritional risk, provide education for  theraputic diets and food/drug interactions. But that isn’t the greatest part of the job. The most rewarding times are those when a deep connection is made with a patient or family member. I’ve tried to analyze how or why it happens when it does, and concluded that it isn’t so simple.

Human connection is obviously found in lifelong friendships. But it is those fleeting, temporary connections that intrigue me.

A patient with Parkinson’s disease struggled to communicate with me. His tremors were so bad, speech was excruciatingly difficult. Time slowed as I stayed with him, watching him painfully, frustratingly, trying to say something. Word by word, I was able to discern that he was very intelligent, educated, lucid. And that he wanted to die.

When I asked if he wanted to speak with a member of the clergy or a counselor, he struggled to say, “I’d like to speak with you.”  There is a fine line professionally, between doing the job I am employed to do, and providing patient care, in the full sense. And I am drawn to those who need to talk about their feelings about their wish to die when they are suffering, and their families can’t hear them.

So I pulled up a chair, took his hand in mine and listened as he shared his wish to end his suffering with a terrible disease that has trapped his agile mind in a crippled body. I returned to visit him a number of times, even though he was not on my daily list of patients. I listened to his younger wife, who seemed still to believe he should be fighting for his life.

I heard his suffering. I could do nothing to ease it, but listen.

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