Math, English, and Cancer

During the summer of COVID-19, I commented on a riddle posted by a friend on Facebook. I answered correctly and reposted it as part of the deal. Things got crazy after that with the many answers I received. Psychology papers could be written on behaviors from analyzing the way people responded. I found these reactions more fascinating than the answers people gave.

Here’s the what I posted:

Why did I participate? I rarely partake in social media challenges and group activities that involve my committing to share with others. I try to stick with content that involves me directly or issues that are important to me. So, why this one? It was fun. I read the problem carefully and figured out the tricky parts and was pretty sure my answer was right. I like being right as much as the next person. It was also something to do that I hadn’t done before. I have found myself bored at times during the pandemic. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am not here to fault those who were incorrect. Notice I’m not sharing the answer as it’s not important. I am not going to respond to guesses left as replies. You can check Facebook if you need to know the answer. My focus is on human nature. I am not a psychologist. My only qualifications in offering my opinions are as someone who has observed a lot of people informally as we all have.

These opinions are mine:

Q: Why did some comment once, accept they were incorrect, and move on?

A: They thought about it and then forgot about it. They just weren’t into it. They had other interests.

Q: Why did some answer multiple times?

A: They were into it and couldn’t let it go until they knew the answer or died trying. Both resilience and insanity cover these folks. Naturally, anyone who both reads my blog and answered several times has categorized their behavior as determined and resilient.

Q: Why did some comment privately and not post their answer to be seen by others?

A: Privacy is a treasured commodity these days. Some people are more private and don’t like posting publicly.

Q: Why did some who were correct write their answer in the form of a question whereas so many who were wrong committed to their answer decisively?

A: Perhaps these folks were humble and modest. Perhaps they saw the long list of incorrect answers and felt a wave of insecurity. What struck me as curious was not one of the wrong answers had a question mark after it. It was only a few of the correct ones that answered using a question mark.

Q: Why did some bring in other people who critiqued the language of the question when their initial answer was incorrect?

A: Tone is hard to detect sometimes in writing, especially in texts or quickly written comments. I couldn’t tell for sure if one person was insulted or not that her response and reasoning were deemed incorrect. Her fellow supporter backed her up and I thought they were planning to take it to whatever higher court they could find. I discovered she was even having conversations about it on her own timeline. I hope this means that she is passionate about puzzles. She would have made a good lawyer. Maybe a detective.

My opinion is some people made the question far too hard and introduced variables that didn’t exist. There were no lions hunting that day. Everything happened in linear time and in the same general setting. But hey, it is 2020, and I suppose a parallel universe exists for riddles. One friend I taught with asked me when I was going to share the right answer. I wasn’t planning on it per how I interpreted the directions. Only those who got the right answer would know so they could have the honor of posting. I decided to go ahead and post it simply because I felt bad repeatedly telling a couple people they were wrong. A bolt of lightning wasn’t going to strike me for going against the rules. It wasn’t a big deal. One childhood friend commented afterward that there had been family debates and involvement from neighbors. I guess that means I’m not the only one who has experienced some periods of boredom with life as we know it these days.

Again, I find it all fascinating. Rarely have I posted anything with as much interest and interaction. Posts about cancer haven’t received the same attention and level of response. Honestly, that frustrates me because this riddle doesn’t matter one bit. Cancer sure matters but too many keep scrolling past those posts because they aren’t “fun” posts.

Math is concrete. Even if there are equations with imaginary numbers and unknowns, answers are still derived. I love math. I no longer have the quadratic formula memorized, but it was used regularly in younger days. As a teacher, I loved teaching that there were multiple ways to arrive at the same answer. We learn to do a long math problem methodically and break it down into parts. We go back and find our mistake if something doesn’t add up.

English and words can be up for more interpretation. There can be ambiguity. Some words have subtle differences. As readers, some of us are more apt to read something quickly and miss needed information. The thing is we often don’t know we missed something and we don’t go back and reread. I miss information. I missed information in a novel my book club read that was provided in the first chapter. Hence, I was sure this big event was going to happen in every chapter that the author let readers know was going to happen toward the end of the book. I didn’t catch it.

So, I wonder . . .  is cancer more like math or English?

There are some absolutes like with math. Math is used in formulating treatment drugs and prescribing the needed amount. Tumors are measured in terms of millimeters and centimeters. Statistics are applied to the probability of very early stage cancers not returning after treatment. Drugs for metastatic cancers come with an average number of months without disease progression. Studies and trials contain graphs upon graphs of data. There is math involved with my oncologists, nurses, and the pharmacists that I know nothing about. There are a lot of numbers in cancer. Mathematical oncology applies computational models to help understand cancer development, growth, and reaction to treatment. I do not pretend to understand but seriously question if it may be used to prevent a patient from trying a treatment because the math doesn’t support it. It would be the worse case scenario of someone being reduced to a number and not a person with other important factors influencing a treatment decision.

Cancer can also be like the English language (or any language). Anyone who has had cancer or lives with cancer has a unique story to tell. My story is different from yours. There may be similarities, but we’re each our own storyteller using our own lexicons to share our stories. Our myriad stories convey hope, sadness, love, fear, joy, and anger. We speak and write of the factual details of cancer. Whether spoken or written, our words express anxieties that come with scans and office visits. Stories are emotional. Life is quite a story.

A cancer story isn’t understood by everyone. I understand not everyone understands what the word metastatic means. Reporters should if they are covering a story concerning it. They need to know it can’t be cured. Nurses need to know. There are different interpretations on what chronic means when referring to cancer. Just to be clear, Stage IV cancer isn’t chronic. Chronic means you have a manageable disease where you can still reach a normal life expectancy. We aren’t there yet. I want it to be chronic as much as anyone. Is it correct to refer to someone who is metastatic as a survivor, thriver, lifer, or another term? It gets complicated because individuals prefer what they prefer. Words can push buttons. Words that push mine are journey, cancerversary, and words describing cancer as a battle. For example, people don’t lose their battle. Saying that implies they are losers because they died. Utterly wrong. They died and it’s awful.

Then there’s the human nature element. Some of us may be more vocal whereas others want to comment privately. Some got it figured out on the first try and some kept trying over and over and over again. There are those who will advocate assertively until the right person shares their interpretation of data. Some of us will keep trying. If one solution doesn’t work, we will keep hammering away at it. We all have different ways of approaching a cancer experience just as there were different ways to approach a number story. We are all different. We are alike in wanting an answer.

Unfortunately, cancer is still a riddle. One that needs a definite answer.

What I Did Last Summer

Spring was lost.

Summer was lost.

Uneventful days passed.

Life inched by like a snail going nowhere.

COVID has consumed six months now.

Six months gone.

Mostly alone.

Gone forever.

And yet I look at the good.

I can’t help it.

Good is always around.

Also forever.

One place I found it was in flowers.

Repetitive days of solitude

And safeness

Drew me to nature.

My camera my paintbrush.

Flowers my canvas.

So many patterns and colors

From 6 inches away.

Wonder

Beauty

Life

Joy

Summer was not lost after all.

A world covered in flowers is not only beautiful but a reassuring constant.

These thoughts formed as I thought about what I did over summer. There were a couple momentous events that I celebrated because birthdays and related plans still happen in pandemics. Most days were quiet. There was a lot of sameness and not much to shout about. I viewed medical appointments as chances to socialize a bit. My trips to the grocery store twice a month held high excitement.

My photos visually reflect what I did last summer whether I puttered about my back yard, paused to take a photo while walking in the neighborhood, or found myself in a favorite nature setting.

Patterns and colors in flowers captivated me this summer.
Everything about this makes me feel happy. The bright vibrant color. The layered petals. The petals slowly unfurling and still emerging from the center. It is a world in itself.
Floating flower art feels very zen.
Blues and purples are a soothing combination.
These colors remind me of a sunset. I marveled at several of these and found all were slightly different, just like every sunset.
This succulent reminded me of glazed pottery. I’m pretty sure it follows a Fibonacci sequence.
Bee balm attracts so much life. Watching its visitors has brought many happy moments to my summer.
Every flower has a story. I am one flower sharing mine.

Morning Yoga

I want to stay as healthy as possible so I can do the things I want. It’s been harder lately as I’ve experienced some side effects in my feet and hands that make moving not fun. I believe they will improve. I believe I have some control. Who knows if I do or not, but I like to believe I do.

Belief is powerful.

We become what we believe. Beliefs become our words and actions. Keep in mind I don’t believe I brought on a cancer diagnosis by my thoughts or actions. No blaming myself. Belief is part of my personal treatment wheelhouse. I believe I can maintain my health. Staying active is the action to match that belief.

My oncologist told me not to alter what I was doing as a means of preventing some of these uncomfortable and at time painful side effects. I’m not sure she fully understands how intense I am. I don’t look super athletic. I’m not. Yet, I push. I sweat. I make decisions I question once I’m well past the point of no return. I woke up the morning after my first cycle of Doxil and felt so good I walked four miles in the heat. I wake up extra early on the days of my treatments so I can get a good workout done before I go and spend the bulk of my day at the hospital. I exercise even on my down days. I choose easier work, but I still choose something. She repeated her advice not to limit my activities the day I went in for my second cycle.

With her guidance in mind, I’m still keeping up my activities, but I’ve taken it a little easier for several days after treatment and integrated more yoga into my routine. The chemo care sheet says not to create extra friction on hands and feet for up to a week after each treatment. I see yoga as a way to work on core strength and flexibility while also quieting my mind. Yoga can grow my inner strength in addition to my outer strength.

Usually, I don’t stick with it very long. I feel tired after thirty minutes and not incredibly successful. I would improve if I practiced poses more as part of my practice.

I never did yoga outdoors until one glorious morning. I didn’t think I’d like it. I felt too self-conscious. Heat and bugs would bother me. But I went for it and loved it.

No heat and no bugs made my yoga time feel more refreshing.

I love that I still have new things at this point in my life.

I’ve been rising early on Sunday mornings, even earlier than on weekdays. On this particular day, the forecast was to reach the upper 80s. Hot weather is not my cup of tea. I wanted to get my workout done before it got too hot and definitely while my patio space was still in the shade.

Thoughts of the back yard I created wandered through my mind as I practiced. I admired my red bee balm knowing I was responsible for planting it. A hummingbird visited while I was out. I see them often enough due to the flowers in my garden. I always take it as a good sign when I see them. Cardinals, mourning doves, chickadees, and robins filled the air with their singing. Dew glistened in multicolored glints off the green grass. The outdoor air felt good on my skin. My senses took in my environment.

Other than myself, there were no people and no people sounds. I was alone in this piece of paradise for a few moments. I felt total oneness with my surroundings. I noticed close to a dozen different shades of green.

There was an insane level of power and peace at the same time.

I held poses much longer than I usually do in my wellness area in my basement. My commitment was to do what felt good and not commit to a set time. I did everything I wanted and practiced a little over an hour.

It was a time I could consciously focus on my breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Cloud watching was included as some breath work. Lying flat on my back and staring upward was a good rest from some hip extension work. I love watching the sky. Cirrus clouds brushed the sky. I looked for animals as shapes drifted by slowly. Somewhere in my childhood was likely the last time I took the time to see the sky from this perspective. I’m looking forward to doing it again.

When I finished, I walked in the grass barefoot. It was more needed sensory work. I am someone who has always liked something on my feet. I’ve never been a barefoot kind of gal. The dew kissed grass was too much for my toes to resist. I walked slowly and each step became part of a reflective meditation.

Maybe I used my hands and feet more than I should have. Shoulding is a horrible business. I was told I could operate business as usual. So far, my feet seem to be faring better than my hands. My palms look shiny and waxy. They are a bit red in between my fingers and have peeled very minimally. I did them in a couple weeks ago wringing out water from towels when my air conditioner broke and my furnace leaked. I cleaned it up because that’s what needed to happen. In addition to the cost of a new air conditioner, it cost me my hands. Every crease where there are joints on my fingers are red, stiff, inflamed, and painful. I’ve been using a ton of lotion on my soles and palms. Days of not adding extra stress to them have helped more than anything. It took about ten days for my hands to heal so they don’t hurt. The joints still feel leathery, look different, and flare up after treatment or when I overdo it. I will continue to practice good self-care.

Until next time – Namaste.

Ice Cream Memories

Good memories are sweet like ice cream.

My ice cream specific memories from past vacations are vivid enough to eat.

Dippy’s is a small ice cream shop in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, offering about 20 flavors daily. It’s a simple whitewashed building for to go service. There is a small porch outside with patio seating for relaxing and looking at the flowers and passersby. An old-fashioned red popcorn machine is positioned just outside the door for those preferring kettle corn reminiscent of movie theater popcorn drenched in butter flavoring with lots of yellow food coloring.

Dippy’s was a place to take a break from all the other relaxing being done on vacation. It was a good mid-afternoon or early evening treat. The fact that it was a few mere steps from the corner hotel where I stayed didn’t hurt.

There is something about an ice cream store that makes me feel like a kid again. I thought this was as true for my mom as it was for me. She would sit in front of the store in one of the wrought iron chairs wearing her shorts that came to her knees with a smile from ear to ear. She possessed something childlike even though she was into her seventies.

She always apologized that she couldn’t share her butter pecan or turtle ice cream because of my tree nut allergy. It didn’t bother me for the same reason I never offered to share my ice cream with her. All free sampling was done inside at the counter.

Rules are rules.

My grandma enjoyed ice cream into her nineties. Grandma would have a bowl of ice cream often during the evening on the farm. One thing I’m completely convinced about is the existence of an ice cream gene and that I got it.

Both my maternal grandmother and mother died from metastatic cancer. My grandma was diagnosed with liver cancer. She didn’t go through gads of scans to see if it spread and chose not to do treatment. She was 96 years old and only lasted a few months after the news, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe she had metastatic disease. Anyway, genetic testing has revealed zilch in terms of the metastatic breast cancer in my body being inherited. I wonder if research hasn’t yet discovered the link.

Back to happy memories of ice cream because those memories make me feel happy. They take me back to a simpler time that was relaxed and unrushed. A bit of that feeling is captured whenever I enjoy a scoop or two. Sometimes those memories take me back to as recent as last week and other times much further.

Some memories take me back to summer nights in early childhood. People sat outside after supper just to relax. My sister and I would sit on the front step of the house in the humidity enjoying a bowl of ice cream before our bedtime stories.

In my childhood, I was a chocolate or vanilla person. Discovering mint chocolate chip made me feel pretty sophisticated. I still love mint chocolate chip, but favorite flavors also include cookie dough, coffee, and chocolate peanut butter.

Chocolate peanut butter was recently enjoyed on a lovely summer day.

I love moments of simplicity. I’ll take every single one I can get living with metastatic breast cancer. Memories that make me smile are delicious. That’s true whether I’m sitting on the front stoop as a child, outside at Dippy’s, or sitting along the waterfront outside Wilson’s Restaurant  in Door County slowly working on a double scoop while watching the sun dip below the water. It holds true if I’m home enjoying a dish.

Even Snoop Dogg knows ice cream is a good thing. Only Snoop knows his plans for the future, but maybe he was serious when he said, “When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.”

He would get no complaints from me.

Is all this just about ice cream? Yes and no. Sometimes ice cream is just ice cream. Ice cream is surely one of the better things in this world. You’re never too young or too old for it. There is a flavor for everyone. It’s a simple pleasure.

It also can be a metaphor for life.

Ice cream melts quickly.

Enjoy it before it’s gone.

Giant’s Ladder

Trust must fill the place vacated by the absence of fear.

Since I’m not traveling over the summer due to COVID-19, I am reminiscing about former vacations. My memories take me again back to Miraval.

Giant’s Ladder was another challenge activity in my Arizona getaway. It was described as integrating trust, balance, and cooperation as you climbed a giant ladder that was forty feet high. Participants were also told it was the most physically demanding of the challenge activities offered. It sure was. The eight rungs of the ladder were spaced anywhere from four to six feet apart. In my opinion, most of them were more on the six feet apart end of things. Only the first level was truly manageable. At least for me.

I partnered up with a woman who also traveled alone who had a background in education. Mallory was in the music department at Northwestern University. You could do the activity alone, and apparently there had been people who got to the top on their own, but I don’t see how that could happen. My perspective was lacking in this area. I definitely needed a partner in order to make the smallest of progress on the ladder.

The two of us did an outstanding job of communicating, working as a team, and problem solving. I wasn’t worried about not trusting her, or falling, or balance either. The harness was so secure. The team who belayed the climbers from solid ground below always were poised and ready the entire time to release rope and pick up slack.

I was safer than gold in Fort Knox.

Feeling safe is a huge component of trust.

Without safety, there is fear. I think back to a few moments in my life where I have felt physically unsafe. Fortunately, there have been few of these, but accompanying each has been a terrorizing fear. When I feel safe, I also feel confident whether I am in control of events or not. When I feel safe, there is a prevailing calmness within. When I feel safe, I trust. Safety, confidence, and calmness all attribute to trusting people, situations, and life. In the Giant’s Ladder, I felt safe, confident, and calm. I trusted my partner and the people below who belayed.

The hard part of the challenge was the pure physicality of it. My upper arms got bruised badly, multiple times. The backs of my knees took a beating. I looked very battered the next day. I only made it up about two rungs in the hour that was allotted. Getting to the top would have brought about more lessons in confidence and conquering obstacles. It was the goal, but learning still happened with my limited progress.

People are always there to support me.

People are ready to catch me when I fall.

We all need support. We all fall.

Part of trust is also letting go. You can reread last week’s post on letting go here. Letting go is the bridge between fear and trust. I see this bridge as one of those bridges high above a chasm that sways perilously as I trod carefully across it. Wooden boards are missing underfoot. Rope supports don’t provide much security to my white knuckled hands. The distance to the other side, from fear to trust, is a great divide. But step by step, I scarcely breathe as one foot steps in front of the other. I have to let go to get to the other side.

Metastatic cancer definitely makes me feel unsafe. There have been times where I’ve felt utterly out of control. It takes a lot of reminders that these feelings are just feelings, they are not who I am, and that they will pass. Somewhere there is meaning in all I’ve experienced.

I still have much work to do.

Let It Go

Let fear go.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately.

Fear prevents people from living.

It prevents people from making changes. It prevents people from accepting the changes that happen more gracefully.

Years back in 2008, I vacationed at Miraval Resort in Tucson, Arizona. Miraval is about an hour outside of Tucson, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. The philosophy at Miraval is one of life in balance. One of my experiences there illustrates facing and engaging fear effectively.

I chose Miraval in order to relax somewhere warm over my spring break. In addition to the spa amenities, challenge activities were offered every day. Part of the Miraval experience was about going out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. I signed up for something called Swing and a Prayer.

In Swing and a Prayer, a person is attached to two cables, hoisted up around 35 feet or higher, and then released from one cable and left to swing as if on a giant pendulum. This definitely took me outside my comfort zone. At this point in my life, I considered myself a fairly confident person who felt like I could achieve goals I set out to do. Yet, numerous insecurities had popped up in life as they do. Swing and A Prayer was to help me learn to approach life more fearlessly. Then I could transfer what I learned to other parts of my life.

Nine participants including the instructor set out for the challenge one morning before it got too hot. Everyone wore a harness. There were two cables. One was the pendulum cable. The other one you released so you could swing. The instructor secured someone to the cables. We worked as a team with the ropes to slowly hoist the person upward tug of war style, hand over hand, until the swinger was at maximum height. Think of being at the top of a telephone pole. At that point, the instructor held onto the rope until the swinger from above let go of their end to commence the swinging. A lot of synchronization and teamwork was involved.

Yes, you read that last part right. The swinger had to actively let go, release their tightly held grip, in order to swing. It wasn’t some automatic release like on a thrill ride.

It was a conscious, deliberate action.

The mental and spiritual parts of the challenge were about facing the unknown and letting go. Both are such strong metaphors for life. We fear too many things and usually the fear itself is far worse than the experience. People spend too much time in their comfort zones. Every day of life is unknown. Face the unknown. Be good with it and go with the flow.

Letting go is perhaps the strongest lesson from Swing and a Prayer. The higher I was raised, the harder it was for me to physically hold on to my part of the rope. I could feel and see my hand slipping bit by bit. Chalk it up to no upper body strength and sweaty hands. It was more work to hold on to the rope than to let it go. So it is with many of the tensions, difficulties, and stresses in our lives that we hold when we really need to let go. Don’t think. Just let go.

Let it go.

Face the unknown.

Be in the moment.

When I let go of the rope, I experienced total stillness. There was a second between letting go and starting to swing that felt stretched out and absolutely quiet. I felt suspended in air. There was such stillness. I felt so calm. This is what it is to be in the moment.

Next came the swing. It was smooth and flowing. The first swing outward and then back to my starting point were the most exhilarating. I felt like I was flying and is probably the closest I’ll ever come. The sound of air rushing by filled my ears with a whirring sound. And yes, I screamed. It wasn’t a fearful scream, but more of a beautifully long “Whooooo – whooooo.”

I want to remember that feeling of release and stillness. How good it would be to release worries, fears, stress, sadness, anger, and anything else that I shouldn’t hold anymore. All of this happened before my diagnosis. Life is different now than in 2008, a lot different, but releasing energies that no longer serve me is still as important now as it was yesterday and will be in the future. They are hard to release. They are hard to hold.

I want to remember it was more work hanging on than in letting go.

Something written by Reverend Safire Rose beautifully captures these feelings. A good friend sent it to me several years ago and it is the perfect way to finish today’s post.

She Let Go

By Reverend Safire Rose


She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all the memories that held her back. She let go of all the anxiety that kept her form moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

Fundraiser Reflections

My Nifty 50 fundraising efforts have come to an end. I realize I have blogged often about this over the past ten months. This is it . . . very definitely maybe. Yet, it’s been a very successful part of my life. Success is important in the life of someone living with metastatic breast cancer. Success needs to be celebrated. I know I’m tooting my own horn a bit with this post. It is strange territory as I consider myself quite modest. I often look back on completed tasks to reflect on what I’ve learned and reasons why I think something worked. The “reasons why I think something worked part” may be of particular interest to anyone reading who has an interest in fundraising.

My goal was $50,000. The current total is $60,050.

Not too shabby for a fundraising rookie.

Here are a few of my reflections on the process and reasons why I think it worked.

Connections

I was fortunate to connect with the right people who could help support my vision. I worked regularly with two contacts at the UW Foundation who supported my goal. I know these connections wanted me to succeed. My success raised needed funds. Using a MyCarbone personalized fundraising page gave me a platform where I could reach many.

I also spoke often with Rob and Mary Gooze who founded the More for Stage IV Fund through UW Carbone. I learned a lot from their experiences. Their support was phenomenal. They have been in the fundraising world for over six years. Everything they do is polished and professional. Both always pointed me in the right direction whenever I needed to run something by them.

Connecting with the right people and using a platform that many have access to are huge supports when trying to raise money and reach people. News stories on TV helped a lot with outreach, too. Successful fundraising must reach past family and friends. Bigger and bigger circles mean more and more people are hearing about the need for more funding and research for metastatic breast cancer.

Bigger Than Myself

What I accomplished was bigger than myself. And I did it from scratch. There are those in the world who operate from a lens of only how events affect them as individuals. I wasn’t asking to fund a vacation or go on a shopping spree. It wasn’t about me. I worked for the greater good. One reason why I think so many embraced my goal was that it affected so many people. Research affects all of us. 42,690 women and men will die from MBC this year – that’s almost 117 a day. I am fully aware it takes years for an effective drug to go from research trial to FDA approval. My hope is research funded in part from Nifty 50 will benefit many men and women down the road. I’m hoping to benefit from all scientific developments available to me that the near future has to offer. Treatments that are available thanks to someone else’s fundraising for more research.

Coming Together

This project gave people an opportunity to join something where they could be part of something that grew. It feels good right now to be part of something where you can support it and feel like you made a difference. I know I made an impact. Events that were held brought people in the community together. I hope I changed perceptions on breast cancer research and people understand that MBC gets a pretty small sliver of funds designated for breast cancer. I know I got people talking in my neighborhood. I heard from old childhood friends, classmates and friends from my graduating class in high school, lots of friends and colleagues from more recent teaching days. I heard from former neighbors who had moved out of state. I also heard from many people I don’t know and probably never will meet. I read story upon story in comments from those grieving and honoring loved ones who felt compelled to share a part of their story. Nurses from both the cancer clinic and cancer center chipped in and offered me encouragement and their thanks. I am in awe of all of these humans who are amazing on their own and part of a wondrous whole.

Support

The support I felt personally from those messages written on my page lifted me more than I can say. I cried a lot reading those. Some encouragement was loud, some support was quiet, and some was anonymous, but all of it kept me going forward. The outpouring of support made me feel like my actions mattered. I felt people heard me. It made me feel a bit like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life when the whole town showers him with support. I’m no George Bailey, but I felt how I imagine he did at the end of the movie.

Planned Like a Teacher

I approached my fundraiser like a teacher. Teachers make something out of nothing all the time. We call it a school year. And we do it repeatedly. I mapped out ideas and strived for an event or focal point each month. Plans often were revised much in the same way as lesson plans got modified. Nifty 50 gave me a very strong sense of power and purpose, much like teaching did. Nifty 50 made me tired and at times a little stressed, much like teaching did. Kindness was a cornerstone of my classroom. Gratitude still matters in everything. I’ve sent thank you letters to all donors (except for the anonymous ones) featuring photos and highlights of events throughout the year. I wrote personalized notes at the bottom of each. There was a beginning and end date to Nifty 50 just like a school year. Summer provided rejuvenation in between school years. I was always excited to go back in fall and do it all over again from beginning to end. Herein is a problem and some unsettled feelings for me. There is no next fundraiser. I am just done and don’t quite know what to do with myself. Where is my purpose now? I don’t know. I need a bit of a rest and need to focus on me for a bit.

Monumental Achievement

I did it. Me. I don’t typically bite off this much.

And I did it while living with metastatic breast cancer.

AND I completed my efforts during COVID-19.

Sometimes I am the person I’m trying to convince that I can still accomplish quite a bit. Having purpose and goals gives me focus and a place to direct my energy. I hope people remember well after my fundraiser has faded away that ideas that might seem out of reach are possible. It was called ambitious at the beginning by some. Lofty was another word I heard it described as recently. Hmmm . . . I still have to talk to one of my friends about calling it lofty. Ambitious and lofty aren’t necessarily negative terms, but in my mind those words have always been connected more to unobtainable goals rather than determination. I’ve always aimed high. I wanted this to happen. I had quite a bit of control in getting it to happen. I planned events. There was publicity. I stayed persistent and kept hammering away at what I wanted from different angles. A lot of my time and efforts were devoted to this work. I surrounded myself with effective people who knew more about fundraising than I did. I asked a lot of questions to find out what I didn’t know and what I needed to do to get something to happen. I heard NO perhaps more often than I heard YES. Every YES was vital. I even turned a NO here and there into a YES with some reframing.

I have done many things in life. This undoubtedly was something I didn’t expect I would do. I’m proud of what I accomplished. I hope people see that one person can create a spark that creates a fire. We are better when we work together.

I end by referencing the movie Field of Dreams. Ray (played by Kevin Costner) heard a whisper in his cornfield. He heard the now famous phrase, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray believed. He built it. Then Shoeless Joe Jackson came along with many others. My word for 2020 is BELIEVE. I believed I could achieve my goal. I built it. People came. I think it’s the belief in something that is sometimes the biggest reason why something works.

Keep believing.

Homestretch

In two weeks, I will celebrate my 50th birthday.

I was 41 years old, close to 42, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I grieved many losses. I still grieve because loss is ongoing. The odds weren’t in my favor I’d see my 50th birthday. I am going to see it.

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I’m looking older but hopefully wiser.

After I celebrated my 49th birthday, I turned my attention to a seed of an idea I took from a fellow survivor. Alicia Neubauer raised over $40,000 for metastatic breast cancer research for UW Carbone to celebrate her 40th birthday. What an impressive accomplishment! Could I do the same and raise $50,000 for my 50th birthday? I sure could try.

I met Alicia two years ago at a banquet for UW Carbone donors. She had driven up from Rockford, Illinois. At the time, she was finished with active treatment and wasn’t diagnosed with MBC.

That changed.

Alicia died in early April.

I didn’t know her well. She was kind and giving. We spoke on the phone where she shared some fundraising tips about what worked well from her experience and some ways to publicize what I wanted to do. We stayed connected and exchanged messages on Instagram.

Even though I didn’t know her well, it makes me feel profoundly sad that she is gone. It happens too often when I hear news of another grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, or friend that has been lost in the cancer community. Someone else I was just getting to know died from MBC last September. A daughter-in-law of a family friend died last week from lung cancer that had spread quickly. Men aren’t to be excluded either. Cancer isn’t picky and doesn’t discriminate. It is very cruel and unfair.

I’ve lost close family members due to cancer. So have my friends. Grief is a powerful bond but watching friends mourn reminds me that grief is a deep well of sadness. There is always room for more.

The need for research is needed more than ever. Funding research is also like a well that never fills. More is always needed.

Raising money has been a driving force in my life over the past year. There have been news stories. Fundraisers have been held around jack-o-lanterns, yoga, kettlebells, Ukrainian eggs, photography, and Pampered Chef products. Local businesses have been involved in the community. Events have been promoted via community bulletin boards. I’ve learned how to use social media. I’ve put aside introverted qualities to advocate for something much bigger than myself. Letters have been written soliciting end of year donations. I’ve sent hundreds of thank you letters that I’ve shed tears while writing because I’m so moved by the support I’ve been given.

I’ve even trained for a ridiculous 5K that has been canceled because of COVID-19. I’ll do it in my neighborhood on my own terms because that’s how I roll.

All events give more exposure to the need for more research. All treatments available today started as research. Research equals hope. Research works.

People have been incredibly generous and supportive. It means a lot to me to have support in my effort to raise money for metastatic breast cancer research at UW Carbone. Each donation makes an impact.

I’m delighted to share I’ve broken the $40,000 mark and am in the homestretch.

And so, I’ll ask.

There are many reputable charities that do much needed work. Everyone has a cause that is near and dear to their heart. Now is a time when incomes may be significantly lower. People may not be able to support charitable giving. I understand.

It’s projected that 116 people per day would die from metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. in 2019. I don’t know what the projected number is for 2020. Due to COVID-19 and an effort to limit exposure, diagnostic tests such a mammograms and some scans to access growth have been canceled or delayed. I have heard of some treatments being paused, or trials not accepting new applicants. Those of us with MBC are quietly hunkering down and trying to stay safe until the pandemic is over. It’s harder for us. I’ve been quiet . . . but I have to start speaking loudly again. I will not accept negative effects to my health as some kind of collateral damage from this virus. I want to live. We all want to see the other side of this and come out of it alive and not damaged from any treatment breaks caused by COVID-19.

Cancer doesn’t wait for curves to flatten or quarantines to end.

100% of donations from my fundraising page go to metastatic breast cancer research at UW Carbone. Research will help many. Click here to donate and read more about what I’ve worked on over the last year. Click here if interested in a video about work done at the Carbone Cancer Center.

I remember when my fundraising page went up last August. I made an initial donation that showed up as a small red dot on the fundraising thermometer. The rest was all white and I wondered if it would ever become redder. Slowly, bit by bit, it grew. It was very satisfying to watch it grow as person after person pitched in to support more research. Every little bit truly helps. It adds up. Now is the time to make that thermometer turn all red. I am grateful for all donations. I appreciate your consideration and support.

My birthday will be a lot different than I had planned this year. Pandemics alter plans. My 50th birthday arguably will be smaller, possibly a party of one. There will be cake. It will still be special as I remember everyone who has supported more research and my goal. I’ve celebrated with every donation made to my page. Every event has been part of my year-long party. I’m only going to turn 50 once, so I will make the most of all the goodness I have.

I will find a way to celebrate.

Always.

Baby Robin Rescue

“There was a baby bird in your tree we took down,” explained the tree man, pointing to the ground at the side of my house. “It’s there in its nest.”

Tucked under the downspout and against the bricks was a nest that held a rather large, fluffy, baby bird.  Its home had vanished into the tree chipper, its mother wouldn’t know where to find it, and night was falling. Thunder grumbled softly and the sky flashed Morse code that a storm was near. Humidity hung in the air, thick and uncomfortably sticky.

“What should I do with it?” I felt I should know but I didn’t.

It was clear the baby was a robin. It’s grayish-brown feathers filled the nest entirely, but it still looked too young to fly. Its little beak opened and closed expecting food.

“You can just leave it there for the night,” said the man. I sensed the attitude was to leave it in nature as close to its original home as possible.

I knew instantly I was not leaving this motherless, little baby robin alone on the ground where it was completely helpless and unprotected. It wouldn’t survive the night. Should I take it inside with me? Was there someplace else I could leave it outside? Even though I hadn’t held the chainsaw, I still had destroyed its home. Mama robin wouldn’t find it.

Ilene is my neighbor who also very conveniently is a vet. She was outside trying to get her lawn mowed before it stormed. Lightning flickered more regularly in the sky. I couldn’t wait much longer. It was getting dark and the baby bird still had nowhere to spend the night.

“Ilene! Do you have a second?” I shouted above the motor and motioned in my direction. She stopped the mower. “I have a baby bird here.”

We talked over the options. No, she could not take it. They didn’t work with rescue animals at her clinic. There was a vet clinic off the beltline on Rimrock Road that was open twenty-four hours and took wild animals. That was a possibility. Finally, we decided it was best to put the bird and its nest cradled on top of an abandoned nest in a bush to the side of my house.  It had a better chance there than on the ground. With flashlight in hand, we safely nestled it in.

My next job was to dig up a couple of worms for it and try to feed it. Sweat rolled down my face and back. I couldn’t see where I was digging.  Multiple holes were appearing in my garden and there was not a worm to be seen. Why was it so hard to find a dang worm? This was crazy. I was crazy.

After about ten minutes I abandoned the worm quest. Plan D was now in motion. I would take the bird to the vet clinic.

Flashlight in hand, I retrieved the baby robin, put it in a box, and placed it on the floor on the passenger side of the car. Tired and sweaty, off I went, hoping the thunderstorm wouldn’t hit until I returned home. My mother’s voice spoke quietly in my head, “Don’t go. Stay in for the night. You’ll get wet.” But my mother wasn’t around anymore. It was just shy of a month since she died, but she was still there chattering away at me.

I didn’t mind.

Keep in mind, I also didn’t listen.

I knew my actions were some type of response to feeling alone and a deep need to fix the unfixable.

Baby bird made some sounds. “Tweet, tweet.” What was it saying? I didn’t speak bird but decided to tweet back anyway. “Tweet, tweet, tweet,” I said.

The sky let loose torrents of water which made it tough to see the road. It was one of those downpours where you feel like you’re continuously under a waterfall and the windshield wipers can’t keep up. All this felt so insane on several levels. Tweeting back to the little bird was somehow comforting.  We tweeted back and forth for the rest of the trip until I found the clinic.

I covered my little bird with my coat and ran the box into the clinic. I suspiciously eyed an orange cat that was sitting on a bench just inside the door licking its paw. A woman at the front desk smiled and took the bird to the back room. That was it, I was done. I headed back out into the stormy night.

When I got back and buckled up in my car, I realized I hadn’t said good-bye to my bird.

Yep, I heard it.

My bird.

Somehow that little animal had become mine in a time span of less than an hour. Maybe it was mine the moment I saw it on the ground . . . I don’t know.  But I did know I had to dash back through the rain into the clinic so I could say good-bye.

I’ve been this way for a long time. I’ve learned to be okay with it.

“I’m back,” I announced as I dripped in front of the receptionist.

Foolishly I added, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to my bird.”

She stared at me for a long moment before disappearing into the back room and returning with the robin.

“Bye, bye,” I said. “Be a good little bird.”

I felt I needed to add a few tweets in there to make sure it understood.  I already felt foolish, so there was no point stopping. “Tweet, tweet . . . tweet, tweet.”

I think it understood.

Somehow, I think my mother did, too.

RAIN and Self-Compassion

Life is crazy these days.

Crazy.

That is the word I keep coming back to over the course of the last month, weeks, and days. It’s even applicable to hours and minutes. It is difficult to escape because our lives have transformed to the confines of our own homes. The top story on local and national news now is the entire broadcast. Attempts to escape real life and watch a show on TV is interrupted with advertisements about how life has changed. I fill my time fairly successfully. The day still can feel long when I’m isolating alone. It’s almost too much.

I am tired of feeling stressed, overwhelmed, worn out, or numb by life these days.

Tara Brach is a well-known psychologist and author. Her work blends together Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices. She is huge in the world of meditation and mindfulness. One of her main tools is rooted in the acronym RAIN and is a way to connect with self-compassion when experiencing emotional difficulty.

These crazy times have their share of emotional difficulty. My plan today is to share more about RAIN and how it works.

R – Recognize what is happening.

A – Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.

I  – Investigate with interest and care.

N – Nurture with self-compassion.

R – Recognize what is happening.

What are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affecting me right now?

Me: I am PISSED OFF about all my plans falling apart. A Triple F would fit nicely here. Travel, birthday, entertainment, and fundraising plans have been canceled. My birthday isn’t canceled but I’m starting from scratch. Whatever alternate plans I make may also get scrapped in the end. Workouts and book clubs are all experienced remotely. It’s depressing.

I feel like I’m not living and there was a successful effort to live each day fully before life shifted to being safer at home. I feel like a blob. I ate quite nutritiously for the first few weeks and now I’m seeing behaviors where I’m eating out of boredom or stress. I’m grabbing sugar over healthy nutrients. I moved around tons for the first few weeks and now that behavior has taken a bad turn as well. I feel sickish a lot of the time due to these behaviors.

A – Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.

Nothing is being fixed or avoided. Emotions and sensations are allowed to just be. Fear shows up here often.

Me: Yep, I’ve had the fear, I’ve had the tears. Mostly anger. A lot of disappointment. There’s worry and anxiety. Allowing is a good term for this part of the process because I can’t fix any of it if I tried. I am in a frozen state of numbness where I’m allowing and waiting.

I – Investigate with interest and care.

This may show up as what you are experiencing in your body or beliefs. Is my stomach in knots? Does my heart feel heavy? Has my breathing changed? What thoughts or beliefs match where my body gives its attention?

Me: I feel exhausted with all the nothing. There are times I let out the heaviest and longest sigh I have. My legs feel heavy. I wonder if I have weights attached to them as I climb the stairs. The mad, sad, bad feeling is over my heart. My stomach feels icky.

N – Nurture with self-compassion.

What do I need? How can I give myself the space to show myself understanding, comfort, and self-compassion?

Me: Based on what I’ve written, it appears that my heart, solar plexus, and root chakras are out of whack. These areas have corresponding body parts that are causing me grief and crying out for help. I can do some targeted yoga to support those areas and myself. I feel much better on days I can get for a walk outside and have some time in nature. Exercise nurtures me a lot. Sometimes physically putting up my hand and verbally saying “stop” is useful when negative self-talks takes hold. To me, nurturing is the most important part because nothing changes if I do nothing with what I’ve recognized, allowed, and investigated.

The first three really identify what’s going on. The last part makes sure I nurture, tend to, and take care of myself. I’ve heard the nurturing step is often not completed because people don’t know what to do. Someone I know suggested that if you don’t know how to do the last step, think about how someone else you know would do it. Choose someone you view as wise and compassionate. Visualize what they would do and then apply it to your situation.

Other ideas that work for me are one or more of the following:

  • Drink some water. Hydration is a good way to reset.
  • Walk around a bit. Keep blood and oxygen moving. Stretch. Kettlebell work usually does the trick, but kettlebells aren’t always handy.
  • Oxygen flow is again the focus. Take full, long, slow inhales and exhales. Breathwork is the simplest fix to support physical and emotional changes. It can improve mood and is thought to boost immunity.

As you know, I’m all about finding a way. Walking myself through the four parts of RAIN is one way to support myself, guide myself, and work with my feelings so I can lessen the crazy and emphasize something more grounded. Crazy is too hard to maintain. Grounding offers something calmer and more stable. I don’t know about you, but I could use calmness and stability during times where there are no solid reference points and prolonged times of uncertainty and unknowns.