"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lucy, Dixie, and Gertie

Today I am grateful for the stars visible in this morning's clear sky. I am also grateful for the comforting glow of lights from our holiday decorations, and for a phone conversation with my brother and his wife.

So who are Lucy, Dixie, and Gertie? I don't personally know Lucy and Dixie. They were just random dogs with their owners on the trail as I went for my run yesterday morning. Their owners, women I also didn't know, out getting exercise on a sunny and chilly morning, used their dogs' names as I ran by them.

Random dogs and people, all of us sharing the trail and the return of sunshine after plenty of cloudy and dreary days this week. Random connections like this can bring concrete reminders of our small part in the larger whole, of the simple kindness in a smile and a pleasant greeting as we pass one another. No big deal, but also no harm done. The world could do with more simple kindnesses, less harm done.

I do personally know Gertie. She's my mom. I called her when I got back from my run. We had our usual conversation topics-weather, health, upcoming events. She used this line she has become fond of lately-"I have a good memory, it just doesn't last long"-at least twice in our brief conversation.

She has been in the nursing home since May of this year. I think she would agree with me and the rest of my siblings that she is where she needs to be. How she feels about that, and how the rest of us each feel about it and her decline, is a wide range of emotions, many left unsaid. When I pray for my mom now I pray for her peace and comfort.

Peace and comfort. For all of us. It starts with sitting here in the present moment and accepting it.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Substitute, Not a Replacement

Today I am grateful for brown sugar and oatmeal, and for my comfy slippers.

Yesterday's flat is today's perky. Another reason I chose to not have breast reconstruction following bilateral mastectomy is that nothing was going to replace what nature gave me and cancer took away.

Our real breasts are full of real nerves, fatty tissue, lobes, blood vessels, lymph nodes, ligaments and more. They are attached to our chest wall and the pectoral muscle. Even the best surgeons and cutting edge reconstruction techniques can't match the look and feel of the real deal, nor mend all the damage done with removal. Granted, I didn't think I had a perfect pair to begin with, and at age 43 they were already starting to show their age.

As I finalized my decision to not have reconstruction, I also looked into prosthetics. I wanted to have the semblance of breasts available to me, and they have fit the bill. I do appreciate that I can wear them and that they have allowed me to keep my usual wardrobe. If you don't know I wear prosthetics, you probably wouldn't guess it by looking at me.

I like the flexibility and portability of them, and the freedom to not wear them (which is my usual choice when at home and whenever I exercise). They may not look and feel like the real deal, but they are perkier than my real ones would have been at this point. They are not a replacement, but they are a worthy substitute.

I would have preferred to keep the ones I was born to have, and also do without the cancer that showed up, but the silver lining of a perky pair takes the sting out just a little.

I am in no way making light of the harsh reality of breast cancer. I am telling the only story I have the right to tell--my own. By telling my own story, with my words and my emotions, I believe I am honoring all women who have faced the difficult decisions and incisions that BC can bring.

And I honor those who have paid the ultimate price. There are far worse things to lose than breasts.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Flat, But Not Flatlined

Today I am grateful for my health and that in cancer terms I currently can be described as NED (no evidence of disease). I am also grateful for self-acceptance of this scarred body of mine.

I get a publication titled Cure. It is focused on cancer and is free to cancer patients. I have been receiving it for years and appreciate how informative and readable it is. It doesn't focus on one kind of cancer or one aspect of the disease. I can read about cutting edge research as well as personal stories from patients and caregivers. Check it out at cure today.com.

A recent special issue on breast cancer carried the cover headline of "Flat, But Not Flattened." Needless to say, it caught my eye. I always am interested to read about women like me who have opted to not have reconstruction following mastectomy.

I have several ways to refer to my new chest terrain following bilateral mastectomy. "The area formerly known as my breasts." and "strange vacancy" are two of them. Flat and free. Flat, but not flat affect. And as I read this most recent cover story, I thought about "flat, but not flatlined." I am alive. I have not flatlined. I am not remaining static, nor is my level of gratefulness and energy toward life.

I have lived life just as fully without breasts as I did with them. Arguably more fully in ways. There's something to be said for going through the fear and upheaval of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, toiling long and hard over decisions about what to do about body parts, and coming out the other side minus two breasts, but more deeply in tune to what it means to be alive and to be a woman.

A key reason I opted to not have reconstruction is because I wanted the best chance to keep running comfortably and I wanted to avoid further surgeries and possible complications or chronic pain. I miss my breasts, but I would miss running so much more.

I have felt self-conscious, known real grief, processed a range of emotions, and much more concerning the loss of my breasts. But it is a choice I have not regretted, and a choice I am grateful I felt free to make. It was my decision alone, but my husband Darcy and others supported it then and still do now. There is so much more to me, to all of us, than body parts.

Hereand here, are two other posts I have written along these lines.

I will take my flat chest and grateful heart and head into today with hope and energy. It's an opportunity some no longer have. Life is precious, life is fragile.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who? Me?

Today I am grateful for the hope that comes when people share their pain and their joy with one another. I am also grateful for lamplight.

As I exercised this morning, I considered this quote from Carl Jung:

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." 

It reminds me of this saying too:

"When we have one finger pointing at someone else, we have three fingers pointing back at us.

I am the only person I can change, and that can be a tough job. Other people help though, sometimes by being a confidant and hearing me out as I process my own thoughts and feelings and reach some clarity. (Thank you to all my confidants.) 

And at other times, people help me in the way that Carl Jung speaks of here. They may be strangers or people I know quite well. They help me reflect on things like being judgmental, self-righteous anger, self-pity, perfectionism, selfishness,  and more. They reflect back to me those things that I continually need to work on. 

Who? Me? Yeah, me. I am a work in progress. We are all works in progress. I will never be free of my defects, but I can try to have fewer flare ups, fewer forays into the ugliness of things like trying to prove I am right or stinging judgment of a circumstance because I somehow would have done it better.

To read more about Carl Jung and this idea, here is a post from earlier this year.

As I conclude, I return to my reason for writing--to help me live gratefully each day and to share in that gratitude. While there remain things about me that I hope to change, gratefulness helps me more fully embrace the things about me that don't need changing. And when I do that for myself, I am more likely to accept those around me as well.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Remedy When Feeling Uninspired

Today I am grateful for the effectiveness of healthy habits. They work under all conditions. I am also grateful for a mild morning.

That mild morning, by November standards, has allowed me to sit outside on our front patio for a few minutes. The writer within was feeling uninspired, even with several post drafts started and more ideas too. Some days it is like this. Not sure where to go with my writing thoughts. Not sure what is pulling me the strongest.

When feeling uninspired, nature is always an effective remedy for me. I stepped out to walk Oliver and appreciated that though damp, it isn't icy. A forty degree morning in mid-November invites more time outside. I listened for the early morning sounds and mostly heard traffic, but I also heard the quiet. Listen to the quiet. Listen to the silence and what it says.

The sky view is limited on this cloudy and drizzly morning, but even just looking up and feeling the vastness of the space above me is helpful. It brings me some humility and a sense of perspective.

It was the remedy I needed this morning. The sky reminding me that I am a small part of a much larger whole. My part matters, and so does yours. We all matter, and we are all connected. It helped me return to a sense of not feeling alone, not bearing the weight of the world myself, but rather considering how I might contribute today. And that we can all support each other in minor and major ways.

It started with a small kindness offered to my husband. Simply bringing him a cup of coffee. Simply considering the sky, feeling the damp air on my skin, smelling the late autumn leaves. The remedy of nature coming through for me again.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Date in Common

Today I am grateful for an enjoyable bike ride yesterday afternoon, and for the fellow recovering people I can reach out to when I need some clarity and redirection. Literally, they are at my fingertips via text messages.

Today my sister Leonice will have her 25th and last round of radiation. That will wrap up the active treatment of her endometrial cancer. It started in May with the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. I knew that my last round of chemo had happened around this time in 2008, and upon further investigation, my hunch was confirmed. We share an end date to our cancer treatment--
November 13.

We share conversations and we share some common ground only those who have lived in Cancerland can share. We may have some similar feelings about it all, and know some similar fears for sure.

But we have each had to take our own single, solitary cancer journey as well. Just like our sisters Zita and Mary Jo. Just like I was the one sitting in that chemo chair nine years ago getting that IV started in my arm, Leonice will be the one going into that room today getting radiation beamed at her body.

I remember so many mixed emotions and wide-ranging thoughts throughout my active cancer treatment. I was relieved when chemo was done, but also hesitant to see it finish. I felt like we-my medical team and I-were going after my BC full force when chemo was going on. I carried fear-filled questions in my head. Questions like "Did we do enough?" "Will my cancer recur or spread?"

I still live with these questions, and Leonice will have to as well. I sympathize with her and the freshness of her fears and the immediacy of her questions. There is no way around them once a cancer diagnosis lands in someone's life.

Yet, there is also no other way to get true perspective on certain things in life, like our real priorities, than to be faced with a diagnosis that forever shatters the sense of security about our physical health we may have had pre-diagnosis.

And one of the things I have known with more certainty, felt with more depth since my own diagnosis, is that each day is a gift. None of us know how many days we get. To wake up in this one and live it fully is all we can do.

Like we lived fully the days we spent together in late July, taking in the splendor of the Oregon Coast. Leonice had several chemo treatments behind her at this point.

End dates like today's are to be acknowledged, and the emotions that accompany them are to be acknowledged as well. I am guessing you will have a full range of them today dear sister. Sending my love, prayers, and a hug to you Leonice.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Drinking History

Today I am grateful for a good run and a clean garage topping my "done list" yesterday. I am also grateful for those who have served in our military, past and present, to protect and preserve our freedoms.

Today, and every day, I am grateful for the opportunity to be sober and live a life of recovery.

There are a couple of sayings among recovering people that are good for me to remember:

"Never forget your last drunk."

"The further you get away from your last drunk, the closer you get to your next one."

Cautions worth heeding. Alcoholism is a subtle and patient disease, and I have a healthy fear of complacency. It is also a daily disease. Recovery needs daily effort. There is nothing worth drinking over. 

I feel well-grounded in my recovery and have healthy habits that are ingrained in my life. I am very grateful for this, because I also still have an alcoholic mind that lies in wait if I let up on recovery. I call it "my dearest alcoholic mind."

So when the conversation my friend Sheila and I had the other day included some of her memories of my drunken nights, it was helpful for me. Hard to hear, but helpful. Self-hatred was what I felt in my sober hours, and it is why I drank. To escape. To dull the pain.

But others, especially Sheila and a few others, witnessed my self-hatred in real time, when I was in blackouts. When I was literally and figuratively beating myself up.

Because I was a blackout drinker, many of my worst drunks never stuck in my memory. There is some blessing in that. The emotional pain and the mental anguish were always there though. A little dose of reality, through another's eyes, momentarily brings back the feelings I felt in the pit of despair I would fall into, making it more likely I will heed the above cautions.

And that brings with it renewed motivation to keep doing the work of recovery, day by day, hour by hour.  Living gratefully is a key to me finding some peace in recovery, and not getting thirsty for an unhealthy and deadly escape.

Thank you Sheila. Thank you daily recovery. Thank you Great Spirit/Higher Power.