Sunshine is synonymous with warmth. It feels good when it’s carried on a summer breeze. It’s reassuring when it makes a frigid day in winter a few degrees warmer.
And sunshine is pure Vitamin D for the soul when it takes the form of the Sunshine Blogger Award.
It is an honor to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by fellow blogger Abigail Johnston of No Half Measures. We both live with metastatic breast cancer. A nomination coming from her means a lot because I have admired her work, her strength, and her honesty as I’ve gotten to know her through the bits and pieces of her life she shares.
What is the Sunshine Blogger Award?
The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award of recognition given to bloggers from fellow bloggers. It recognizes those who are creative, positive, and inspiring. It celebrates people who spread sunshine to the blogging community.
What are the Rules?
These are the rules of the Sunshine Blogger Award:
- Thank the person who nominated you, and provide a link back to their blogging sites.
- Answer their questions.
- Nominate up to 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
- Notify the nominees about their nomination via their blog or social media.
- List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post.
My Answers to Abigail’s Questions
What led you to start blogging?
I love many forms of writing. I’ve written poetry, kept personal journals, and worked on picture book manuscripts. I have drafted a book about living with cancer. I brought it to completion and then I took it through more revisions than I could count. The hard part wasn’t writing it. As I began to explore how to publish it and whether to aim for a publisher or go the assisted or self-publishing route, it became clear that I needed to be more visible with whatever choice I chose. Blogging was a good fit for me to do this. It also showed I was serious about my goals and that I saw myself as a writer. What I discovered was it provided me with a way to use my voice very effectively and I enjoyed it. Blogging has made me more confident in other areas not even connected to writing. Blogging has honed my writing skills and I have become a much stronger writer. I have written a wealth of content I didn’t even know was waiting for me. I find the process and result intensely meaningful. I have connected with some amazing people.
Who is/are your childhood hero(s)?
A hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. I’m not sure my childhood heroes displayed a lot of courage, noble qualities, or even had outstanding achievements. They were famous because of some quality of being super cool.
Wonder Woman comes to mind because she was independent, strong, fought for good, and was glamorous. She also had the lasso of truth and the invisible jet!
Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz is an unassuming hero. She discovered truth and strength in herself and in friendships. She faced many obstacles and got through all of them.
Wonder Woman and Dorothy are not real. In real life, my grandma was my hero. Every fiber of that woman was good.
Who are the people in your life with the most influence?
Hmmmm . . . this is tough as there are many. I feel my parents still influence me even though they both are deceased. Teachers I have worked with and children I have taught have influenced me in innumerable ways. My dear friends with whom I can confide in and share anything with influence me with their wisdom and support. My fitness coach has changed how I exercise and think about moving and being strong. Undoubtedly, it will sound like I have a very healthy ego, but I would also say I am the person with the most influence in my life. With both of my parents being gone, I’ve grown to understand I am on my own, I am responsible for me, and I have the most invested in my choices and outcomes. No one else should have more power or influence over an individual than the individual.
If you could go back in time to meet one person, who would it be? Why?
My first thought was I’d go back and meet a younger me so I could warn myself that my future held breast cancer and then I could stop it. How? I didn’t do anything to cause it. Science doesn’t have it all figured out. There is no action I could possibly have taken. My second thought was that I’d like to go back in time and meet an ancestor I never knew but who had an impact on influencing the trajectory of my destiny. I believe we are influenced by ancestors we’ve never met because of the effect they had on our parents and grandparents who in turn influenced us.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m happy where I am. When I’ve entertained thoughts of moving, I think about places in or near a medium-sized city where I can get away easily. I love mountain and forest settings. Perhaps I would wind up near Yellowstone National Park surrounded by blue lakes, wildflower meadows, mountains, and wildlife.
What is your favorite book and why?
My most recent favorite is hands down Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It combines a mystery, emotion, an original story, and absolutely beautiful writing. It’s one I want to reread and relish the stellar storytelling again.
What is the most memorable thing about you?
I have no idea. I’ve never had to remember me before. I get a lot of comments about my kind heart. I’ll go with that as my memorable thing.
Look at the most recent picture on your phone and tell us what it is and why you took the picture.
Ugh! It’s a boring photo of a letter from an insurance company. I needed to take it so I could verify payments I made to submit for reimbursements. I wish it could have been more exciting because nature photography is something I enjoy throughout the year.
Dogs or cats? Why?
Dogs. I had always wanted a cat because of all the kittens I played with when up at my grandma’s farm. My sister pushed for a dog. My family got a dog when I was in fourth grade and that was it for me. My heart swelled with love for a sweet little cockapoo who was affectionate, endearing, and a reliable companion.
What was the most difficult conversation you’ve ever had and why?
Health conversations continue to be at the top of my list. The most difficult was not even about me, but with my mom when she was in her final days. There was pain, sadness, and grief.
What one word sums up 2019 so far for you?
HOPE. So many of my thoughts and actions keep coming back to hope I’ve been given, hope I have, and my path not to give up hope.
My nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award
A lot of bloggers I read already have been nominated for this award. Abigail’s blog is one of my favorites that I look forward to reading. I don’t think there is a rule about only receiving it once, after all, people receive more than one Oscar. I see being nominated more than once as another opportunity to highlight that blogger’s work. However, I also hope to spread the sunshine and warmth to others. Some of my nominations are for bloggers whose work simply makes me happy, some are an important voice for those who have cancer, some teach me new things, some inspire. Drumroll please . . . my nominees for the Sunshine Blogger Award are . . .
My Questions For My Nominees
- What is your favorite dessert and why?
- Who was your favorite teacher (K-12) and why?
- What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
- When was the last time you laughed really hard? What caused it?
- What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
- Where (or when) do you feel happiest?
- Where in life do you find inspiration?
- When did you feel like a grown-up?
- If you could fix one problem in the world, what would it be?
- Who would you invite to a dinner party if you could choose 5 famous people living today? Short reasons for each would be welcomed.
- What is one word you can use to describe yourself? No need to explain unless you feel it’s needed.
Let the sun shine in summer and in winter.
Let it emanate from our inner being outward.
Let it shine through our words and blogs.
Find a way for it to shine. Always.
Those diagnosed with any form of cancer immediately are thrust into a world known as “the new normal.”
It is anything but normal.
“The new abnormal” would be a better name.
Normal will never happen again for me. My reality of attempting some form of normal for the last seven years doesn’t mean life is normal for me. It means I’ve learned how to exist in crazy. Maybe I should refer to present-day life as my old crazy because I’ve existed this way for so long. The new normal phrase has always rubbed me the wrong way because normal was ripped away and replaced with nothing of the sort.
Is calling what I do the new normal supposed to somehow make me feel normal? It doesn’t. Instead, it makes me feel like I can’t even do the new normal normally. Is it meant to make me or others feel better? It doesn’t make me feel better. I’m not sure if it makes others feel better. It potentially minimalizes what I do in the eyes of others. It invalidates my struggles in what really is abnormal because of the language that this is the norm.
The new abnormal is a topsy-turvy world of back and forth. It’s a world of opposites. I have felt wonderful and miserable.
I’ve gained and lost weight even though my level of exercise has remained about the same.
I’ve had my share of down days plagued with fatigue and others with more steroid induced energy than I know what to do with.
I’ve had no appetite and other times where I’ve eaten everything in sight.
Diarrhea. Constipation. One word sentences here are fine.
The medical world is a potpourri of repeating abnormalities. There are more one word or near one word sentences coming.
Labs. Office visits. Treatments. Side effects. Repeat.
Scans. Anxiety. Regrouping. Repeat.
I call insurance companies and billing departments far more often than is necessary. I rarely did when my life was supposedly normal.
I’ve gotten to feel at home with nausea. Ondansetron works well for me when it hits.
I’ve gotten to feel at home with many other drugs and supplements. I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I know my body well. I think I have finally broken through and convinced my team NOT to give me one particular drug used during MRIs that causes a worsening reaction. Every office visit begins with a review of my long list of medications.
How is any of that normal whether it’s the new routine or not?
In between all of this complete abnormalness are all the attempts to squeeze in any normal moments that are possible. ME time. I exercise and plan activities I enjoy that will keep me moving. Time with family and friends fill in normal moments. Football season has started. Go Badgers! Special occasions are sprinkled into my schedule when possible. There still is meaningful work that matters to me. Whereas my schedule had always been fairly rigid, I love the flexibility I now have. Being able to focus on purposeful work has been one part of my new abnormal that feels pretty close to my old normal.
The only constants are change and the need to live in the moment. Cancer has taught me lessons in change repeatedly. I am more present. It’s why I like #NotTodayCancer so well because I can be pretty definite about certain things as I go through my day.
The new normal is not the right term for how I live. Life is abnormal. Calling my life permanently abnormal is the best fit.
What even is normal?
The role of a teacher is important and valuable. A teacher’s influence is still seen years later. Students return to say hello, to thank you, to hug you, and to say they made it. It’s the best kind of recognition a teacher can receive. I enjoy seeing former students. The oldest students I taught must be around thirty-five or thirty-six years old by now. For the record, I’ve taught around 543 students. Admittedly, those numbers make me feel old, but it’s a good old because I loved teaching. Working with children brought me immense joy and sometimes it drove me crazy. There were good days and hard days as are inevitable when over twenty children were put together on a daily basis.
I remember one student of mine who had very troubling years getting through elementary school. He was violent and destructive. He scared children. He scared adults if I’m being honest. Staff eventually learned some of his trigger words and actions that foreshadowed he was close to losing whatever control he had of himself. One such signal was if he suddenly started clucking like a chicken. He was a teacher to us in that way. We all wondered if he would make it through middle and high school. He did. He returned with other graduating seniors several years ago to visit. We talked and he struck me as happy and excited about his future. He had plans to attend a community college and learn a trade. He told another teacher that he was better now. Elementary school held a positive place in his heart even though it was excruciating for him. He wouldn’t have returned if we hadn’t mattered.
Curriculum is significant, but HOW teachers teach it and the connections we make while doing so are even more important. I always thought my two largest roles as a teacher were to help my students become critical thinkers and to teach them to be kind to one another. Knowing how to think and be kind will positively impact the world more than knowing a lot about numbers, science, or words (all of which are amazingly awesome on their own).
I am finally getting to how all of this connects to storms. Life has storms. We need to know how to think and be kind when one of life’s storms comes our way. Storms are teachers.
Poems also are powerful teachers. Writers create images that stick with people for different reasons. Mark Nepo is a poet and spiritual advisor who has taught poetry and spirituality for over thirty years. He has written fourteen books and has a wide following. He also is a cancer survivor. His poem titled Behind the Thunder weaves together ideas of learning to be strong without losing yourself. I believe its point is that an event can change you but that you don’t give yourself over to it. At its core, the poem is about resilience.
Behind the Thunder
~ Written by Mark Nepo
I keep looking for one more teacher,
only to find that fish learn from water
and birds learn from the sky.
If you want to learn about the sea,
it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion,
it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing,
it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm
without worshipping the storm.
Cancer is one bleeping kind of a storm.
And no, I can’t use the word I’d like to use after a poem written by Mark Nepo.
It wouldn’t be right.
What a storm it is. It has drenched me. I have lived with this storm. Like a fish that has learned from water, and like birds that have learned from the sky, I have learned from the storm. I have suffered, but I feel I have also learned a little about healing. This is what the storm as a teacher has taught me:
- It’s better to exist in the storm from a place of healing rather than a place of suffering.
- The storm has made me stronger than I knew I could be.
- The storm hasn’t broken me. It won’t. It can’t destroy my soul.
- Cancer has been a rather cruel and unrelenting teacher, but effective. Maybe it intended to turn me bitter and negative, but it failed. Through it, I have learned about joy, kindness, peace, and gratitude.
- Just because I live in a storm doesn’t mean I’m a human lightning rod. I will protect myself seeking shelter and sanctuary in whatever way I can.
- The storm has not made me ugly. I am more beautiful than ever. Living in this stupid storm has taught me how to finally embrace and recognize my beauty.
- There are some who will never understand how I think or feel about this storm. It’s okay. I don’t understand myself a lot of the time anyway.
- Others live in similar storms. We can support one another and learn together.
- There will be more storms.
- I am resilient.
Thunder can’t hurt me.
It’s the lightning that’s the problem.
I’m still learning.
What lessons have you learned from living in a storm?