Lucky Leprechauns and Health

Many years ago, a middle-aged Irish woman started off a bus tour of Killarney and the surrounding area with these words, “When God made time, He made plenty of it.”

If you don’t hear her accent, you’re reading it wrong. Go back and reread it with a lilt that would make a leprechaun jealous. Her words still echo true twenty plus years later.

Too many of us rush around trying to get more and more done, believing that quantity is better than quality. If we could SLOW DOWN a little, we would find there is more than enough time for what truly matters – things like love, joy, learning, and truly working to make the world a better place. At the end of the day, these are the important things. If you feel like you never have enough time, you are trying to do too much. Taking care of yourself and your health may take a back seat. Important things are likely being neglected or pushed off until later. Later never comes. No one can keep doing everything all the time. We need sleep, peace, and joy.

There is plenty of time.

Make changes.

We all have the same number of minutes in a day. If working out is a priority, time opens up for it. If more time is needed to read to or play with your children, you will find it. If you sit watching hours of television or mindlessly checking various social media accounts, well, there goes your time. We all have the same amount. We all use it differently.

I could make more time to clean my home, but I don’t and I don’t care. Not a priority.

I hope I never become allergic to dust.

Slow down.

I believe it’s healthy to slow down. Slowing down lowers stress and increases happiness. How do you do that if you want to slow down a little or a lot? I’ve asked myself these questions:

What is it that I really want to make time for?
Where do I feel like I waste time every day?
How can I make my life easier?
What happens if “x” just doesn’t get done for a day or two?

My answers revealed my priorities. Too much time is wasted on various screens throughout the day. Making a list keeps me more focused. I used to find lists too controlling, but that leads me to the answer to my last question. If something doesn’t get crossed off the list or completed, I really don’t care.

Leprechauns have always struck me as happy, healthy, and lucky. I don’t know how they spend their time, other than mischief-making and making tiny boots. They know a secret the rest of us are trying to learn. The Irish woman giving the Killarney bus tour knew the secret.

Why are leprechauns so happy?

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I think it’s a combination of the whiskey, jigging, and being around so much healing green. I love all three of these, however, these days I’m limited to jigging and loving green things. No worries, I can still channel my “inner whiskey” when I need it. Don’t ask me what I mean by that because I’m not sure. I just do it. Leprechauns also are so small that joy and happiness (and maybe a little mischief) just oozes out because it has no other choice. We all need to have that leprechaun spark ignited within us.

How can we be just as lucky as leprechauns?

Some people are just thought to be luckier than others. I am really lucky at getting awesome parking spaces. But there are things to do to improve your chances. Believing you are lucky increases your chances of getting what you want. It changes your perspective. You become more receptive to opportunities around you. That has the potential to change health opportunities and outcomes. I think the same is true with time. When a person thinks there is no time – there isn’t. When a person thinks there is enough time to do something – somehow time opens up so such and such magically gets done.

I have heard that lucky people are clear on their goals and voice them. A leprechaun is very clear on his goal to hold on to his gold. No fancy or flowery language. I figure a leprechaun has two main goals:

Keep its gold.

Be a leprechaun.

How can I find my gold?

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What is my gold? My health. I need to feed it good food, fuel it with fun exercise, and surround myself with people who love me. I need to make time for what keeps me happy and healthy.

Lucky people also are proactive. They put themselves in settings where what they seek is present. They go to fundraisers to meet doctors and researchers. They go to writing conferences and send query letters to agents and publishers. They audition for plays, sing on “The Voice,” and run for public office. Lucky people talk about their interests and visions. Asking questions is a sign of being proactive because you get answers and make progress. Here I am a little stumped as to how a leprechaun making little shoes and boots all day relates to their goal of protecting their gold. Share a theory if you have one.

My grandma’s ancestors came from Ireland. She always had a twinkle in her eye and personified some of the mischief leprechauns are said to have. Grandma lived until she was 98 years old. I think she knew whatever the Irish woman from the bus tour knew.

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My grandma had more than a twinkle in her eye. She sparkled all over.

The truth of the matter is a leprechaun doesn’t need a pot of gold. He’s never using it. It seems a sign of greed for those who want to steal it. If I ever meet one, I wouldn’t ask for it because I’d be tricked out of it anyway. I wouldn’t even ask for shoes. Instead I’d ask for a bit of healing magic. They are said to be magical and covered from head to toe in green. Green is healing. Healing is golden to me.

So, what have I learned about leprechauning?

  • Green is a wonderful color.
  • Doing a jig is non-stop fun.
  • A leprechaun has plenty of time.
  • We all have plenty of time.
  • A leprechaun is lucky because it believes it’s lucky.
  • It knows what it wants and it is clear on its goals.
  • A leprechaun is proactive.
  • It doesn’t even need its pot of gold.
  • Its gold is found within and that really is what we all are after.
  • We all can be leprechauns.

It seems fitting to end with a traditional Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

May the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And, until we meet again,

May God hold you in

The palm of His hand.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but if you didn’t say the Irish blessing with an Irish accent, you’re still doing it wrong. Go back and do it properly.

And may you make your own luck.

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Individualized Survivorship

I was half listening to a show on TV many, many months back, and whatever I was watching touched on the importance of survivorship plans for cancer patients. I shifted my focus more intently to find out how these differed from what I thought of as a treatment plan. The specific TV segment ended before it began, and it never went into enough depth to even explain what a survivorship plan was other than a detailed medical plan for continued care and survival. To me, this translated that a survivorship plan was merely an extended treatment plan.

I took to the internet and survivorship plans did seem to have a very medical tilt to them. These plans looked great in that they contained all your pertinent information about your past treatments and planning for future care in one spot. They were very similar to my health journal that I take for medical office visits. For me, a drawback is they are narrow in scope where only the medical aspects of continued health are part of the plan. They are forms.

Survivorship can’t be condensed into a form.

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At the beginning of treatment, I was given a piece of paper with blanks for me to fill in with all the particulars about diagnosis, surgeries, treatments, beginning and end dates, etc. It was a fine centralized place for information at a time when life suddenly was more overwhelming than ever, but rather limited for the long haul. It remained a good reference tool.

Some survivorship plans out there are better than others. One of the better ones I’ve found comes from the Minnesota Cancer Alliance, created by Karen Karls, a survivor from Grand Rapids, Minnesota. In addition to giving space for a historical documentation of dates and treatments, it provides great questions and things to think about for follow-up care. It looks like an awesome resource. The actual survivorship plan can be found here. Pick and choose what may work for your needs since it is lengthy.

I would add to this resource additional space or pages for any continued treatments needed if you are metastatic and have need for an ongoing list that can still be somewhat at a glance to provide an overall picture. It would have medicines, beginning/ending dates, side effects, results, and an area for why you switched or for additional notes. I use a spreadsheet to accomplish this for my needs.

I want a healing plan. In my mind, a healing plan combines the medical aspects of a survivorship plan (treatment plan) and the complementary pieces added to ongoing medical plans for complete care. A healing plan encompasses all of it. As a survivor, you are the executive in charge of connecting all the dots between your oncologist, primary care provider, naturopaths, acupuncturist, massage therapist, mental health provider, and any other therapies or services you seek for better health. This sounds like the job of a patient navigator, but the role of the patient navigator stays within an integrative health care network. He or she can put you in touch with approved services within a network. As soon as you want to seek something complementary outside of the system, you are on your own. Incidentally, they also haven’t been too keen on hearing how I think a patient navigator differs from a survivor navigator, probably because it opens up too many potential liability issues. It makes me mad the kinds of wrenches that get thrown in the way of someone’s best health.

A survivor navigator is hereby decreed a new position.

It is one of great worth for which you will receive no monetary pay. You are self-employed and get all the benefits from your new position. Maybe someday health care will see the wisdom of multiple services (even if they are outside the system) working in tandem with efficient communication and patient information sharing. Research should be doing A LOT more sharing of their discoveries and resources to find a cure. It only seems logical. What is crucial to remember as your own survivor navigator is that you must communicate important details of your healing plan to relevant parties. For example, your oncologist should know if you’re adding any new supplements to your health regiment because they may interact with treatments or other prescriptions.

They also may not. I have heard “we don’t have evidence for how these herbal supplements interact with drug x” a couple of times.

I try not to roll my eyes too loudly.

Translated, it means “there isn’t any evidence because big pharma will never sponsor such a study since it may be discovered something cheaper and more available works even better than drug x.”

I doubt there will ever be any such studies. I do not have medical training and am not making medical claims. The above are my own opinions which I openly share with my medical team. You need to do your research, have relevant conversations, and make the decision that you feel is best for you. I am not a doctor.

I do know some of the supplements I take, many of which have been suggested by my oncologist, have helped my body feel better and move more effectively.

Maybe it’s too pie in the sky to think that each patient can have a personal assistant to schedule every need the patient has and keep it all straight. Call me a dreamer. I’d love to have a person like that assigned to me, but it looks like I am that person and I’m already here doing the job. Right now it’s a seed idea that has the potential to grow into something real for others. Somehow this person has to have reach outside of a provider network to connect patients to complementary resources without taking on potential risks in so doing.

Health care is better when people work together.

In education, students with special education needs have what is known as an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP for short. Every learner has different needs. The goal is for targeted instruction to each individual student. In theory, all students have an IEP, most being informal and not legally binding like an official IEP. A student receives his/her best education when teachers work together as a team for a specific learning outcome. A healing plan is much like an IEP in that it’s individualized to the individual.

People are working together for a specific health outcome.

Think of it as a personal Individualized Health Plan, or IHP to stick with the acronym pattern.

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I have a lot of people and strategies in my corner supporting my best health. So much is crammed into that corner that it’s spreading out and filling other spaces and other corners. For me, this is a good thing because of the many options it provides at my disposal. I have developed a strength as an advocate for my own health that continues to evolve. If I relied solely on the medical realm, I would have limited myself to a very narrow scope of what is available. Components like a naturopath, acupuncture, and energy work receive a very luke warm reception so I steer clear of those when having specific medical discussions. Fitness, nutrition, meditation, and science-backed inquiries get more attention. People accept and believe different things are effective. Your healing plan will be individualized and fluid, just like you. Mine sure has changed over time. Use your best judgment and you will develop one that feels right for you.

A brief note: My last few posts have focused more on the medical side of my life as a cancer patient. I’ve chosen my words deliberately and have tried to convey that I support my doctors, nurses, and everyone on my team that cares for me. I fully support them. I have not expressed myself well enough if I have fallen short in conveying that message. I have also chosen my words carefully to make my voice heard as a patient. Being an involved patient doesn’t mean I am against the medical profession. Sure, there are things I would like to see change. It’s a huge motivator as I write specific posts. The idea that doctors and patients work together is key to all of it. I strive to work with them and find the best way for that to happen. An individualized health plan is part of what can help everyone work together. Health care is better when everyone involved works together.

 

Consider responding:

  • What do you feel are the most important parts of your individualized health plan?
  • In what ways have you advocated for yourself in terms of health or something else?

Patient Rights and Raising the Bar

An oncologist, radiologist, and surgeon all walk into a bar. Each was feeling frustrated because each felt he was more responsible than the other in successfully eradicating a patient’s cancer. In the midst of their heated discussion, a nearby bar stool swiveled to reveal the very patient they were debating (it was a juice bar). “You all have been a vital part in my healing, but I AM the most important factor in healing my cancer.” Each doctor was struck speechless, whereupon the patient treated each to a nutrient and antioxidant rich green smoothie.

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I’m feeling fired up today about many, many things related to health care.

Do you realize how empowered you are? YOU are the common factor that ties your specialists together. Good communication is key. Sure, they discuss your care without you, but you get to integrate that information together. It needs to make sense to you. It affects you the most. YOU are the one who has sought out complementary treatments and again the person fitting all these pieces of your health puzzle together. YOU have done the research and made informed decisions. They all work for you and your interests. YOU are the CEO of your team. That’s powerful.

A lot is being done TO you. You may feel out of control. You have rights. Knowing your rights is empowering.

  • Having complete and accurate information from your doctor about your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis tops the list.
  • As a patient, you are entitled to privacy regarding your medical care and records.
  • You have the right to quality care and treatment consistent with available resources and standards of treatment.
  • You have a right to refuse treatment and be informed about the consequences of that decision.
  • You have the right to care and treatment in a safe environment.
  • Another big right is that you have the right to considerate and respectful care.

I want to add two additional patient rights.

One: The right to demand more research and more effective treatments for advance stage cancer.

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It seems to be an idea I keep repeating over and over. Tell your oncologist, radiologist, and surgeon. Make phone calls and write letters to administrators of treatment centers and hospitals. Find a researcher who would love to give you a tour of their lab and share what is being worked on.

I think this is a great way to create a direct line to the front line.

It also provides a face to the work the researchers do, even though I think many researchers went into their chosen profession because of loved ones who’ve been lost to illness. Every new face can continue to motivate researchers.

Touring a research lab certainly will better my understanding of work being done. It’s on my list of things to do. Spread the word to non-medical people (family, friends, coworkers, followers, etc.) so they can spread the word on the urgent need for more research for advance cancer. When more people speak up and demand more, and keep demanding more, there is a better chance that people will get more. I ask for more all the time.

Two: The right to have more equality and power with pharmaceutical and drug companies.

I feel this is an uphill battle but one worth having because those needing drugs are humans with feelings and deserve whatever can help them feel better. This one relates a lot to the aforementioned right to CONSIDERATE and RESPECTFUL CARE. It is neither when you are treated like you don’t matter or are insignificant. THEY are there for ME, not the other way around. Too often the latter is the norm. I could easily throw insurance companies to the mix.

I am tired of feeling exhausted with efforts to make a positive difference, but I will keep working to do so for myself and for others. I am so sick of arguing and jumping through hoops for what I deserve in order to be well. I have mentioned this point in earlier posts: I’m well enough to argue for myself and hoop jump, but what about the patients who are physically too tired or weak to do so? Those who are sick are vulnerable just like any other powerless or marginalized segment of society. Take your pick – there are plenty of “others” in society. They are discounted. Laws and policies do not work in their favor.

Here’s more depressing news – the cancer the specialists argued about eradicating in the beginning of the post may not have been eradicated. It should be part of the complete and accurate information you get from a doctor about a cancer diagnosis and prognosis. 30% of cases recur or may metastasize. Unfortunately, it could still be lurking, biding its time. A new cancer can also grow. You, being extremely empowered, need to know this is a possibility. You, being extremely empowered, need to stay vigilant in understanding your risks and the red flags that may suggest secondary cancer. I apologize in advance if the following freaks people out. It freaks me out, too, but I feel it needs to be shared. Jo Taylor is the founder of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and a patient advocate living with secondary breast cancer. She can be found on Twitter @abcdiagnosis and her website is abcdiagnosis.co.uk.  The graphic below (used with permission) illustrates warning signs that should be on everyone’s radar.

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Years ago, I felt a little tired but just chalked it up to the demands of my job. A lot was going on personally for me as well. These things could very well have been why I felt tired. Many people are fatigued who do not have cancer. Cancer was the farthest thought from my mind. I have no idea of knowing for sure.

Although the above symptoms pointing to a reality (or possible reality) for some is depressing or upsetting, knowledge is power.

Let’s talk about the term healing. Semantics can be tricky. Healed cancer, treatable cancer, cured cancer. Can you be healed without being cured? I think the answer is yes. Healed is more of an element of mind and spirit. Healed and cured are probably the most synonymous. You can be healed and still have treatable cancer. You can be healed and have curable cancer. You can be cured, but not healed. And you can not be healed while having treatable cancer. I still hold fast to the idea that you are the most important factor in your healing as you have to decide what you are going to allow and how it works for you.

It’s time to get back to the doctors who walk into the bar. They may continue to argue. They may nod politely at your declaration. Perhaps they believe you. When you assert that you are the most important factor in your healing, you raise the bar of expectation in doctor-patient relationships. You change how you are perceived. You may even change the treatments offered to you. Maybe you find something that is a possibility for you that your doctor hadn’t considered. You are important. You matter. Your voice matters. The bar is important.

A patient, researcher, and leader all walk into a bar. Here’s the punch line: They are all the same person . . . you. Being an active member on your cancer care team ensures that no aspect of your care is taken for granted. Your team is accountable to you, as it should be. And here’s even more good news: The oncologist, radiologist, and surgeon have been waiting for you. They wave and welcome you to your seat at the table.

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Image credit: pixabay.com

Consider responding:

  • How do you feel you are a part of your team for your health?
  • Are there any other rights you’d like to add to your personal list of patient rights?

 

Trauma, Cancer, and Hope

Trauma

A good friend spent part of her weekend doing some reading on trauma for work and discovered the acronym H.O.P.E. standing for the phrase Hold On Pain Ends. She knows I have tremendous faith in the transformative power of hope. Holding on and believing that all will be well again is a wonderful feeling and vision for healing.

Many people think of trauma as it relates to military personnel who return from active duty with PTSD. People who have been in accidents, suffered abuse, had violence directed at them, witnessed atrocities, been through disasters, lost loved ones, and have been through (or continue to go through) an illness also can be diagnosed with PTSD. Any negative event can cause trauma.

Cancer and Trauma

PTSD is a mental health condition that develops after exposure to a traumatic event. Cancer survivors have experienced their fair share of traumatic events. Painful and emotionally stressful tests, treatments, receiving bad news, hard emotions to process, and living with chronic or painful physical issues are possible sources of trauma. Looking in the mirror at a changed body, living with lymphedema, and having the pain of neuropathy are daily reminders for some people. Fear of recurrence may always be on a person’s mind. Some anxiety is normal and quite frankly unavoidable for cancer patients and survivors. When these feelings persist or worsen, it could be a sign of ongoing trauma. Symptoms may include things like nightmares, trouble concentrating, feeling fearful, guilty, angry, avoiding things that trigger bad memories, and loss of interest in people or activities you used to enjoy. Other possibilities may also cause these.

I believe seeking professional help is the best approach to address working through trauma. Sharing what is painful can help identify the root cause whether the pain is physical or emotional. Effective solutions can be tailored to a person’s specific needs. Speaking to family, friends, or support groups are other possible choices. Even writing it out can be helpful in sorting out what you think and how you feel as a pathway to ending pain.

Hope

My thoughts keep coming back to that acronym about holding on because pain ends. Hope is hope. How else can a person take an active role in feeling physically and mentally healthier? No official trauma labels need to be involved. Everyone has times where something painful is experienced. I am not a mental health professional, but nonetheless have a few thoughts to share for dealing with pain. I think of it as a way to Help Other People Excel. I can’t say that’s original. I also can’t find a source to credit.

Pain can be a teacher.

Sometimes I need to experience pain and sit with it so I know what not to do. When I’m sore, my body is often bringing something to my attention. I may need to rest. Maybe I’m doing a movement incorrectly. Possibly I’m using new muscles and my body is thanking me for using them but reminding me to do so gradually. I’m also being taught something if I experience emotional pain. Every experience teaches me something, even the ones I find emotionally difficult. You can’t ignore physical or emotional pain. Both get worse if you do. Listen to your body.

Grief is allowed.

You can’t just “get over” things. Just as with the grief when someone passes, many events can still be a passing of something and involve grieving. Again, just as with the grief when someone passes, it comes in waves. One day you are just fine with not working and having a flexible schedule, and the next day this very same thing has you in tears all day. Some insensitive comments leave you unfazed, and then there are others that you believe are beyond cruel that echo over and over again. Some grieve body parts. There are many things you “used to” do that now no longer exist. Those who have had cancer have lost a lot. There can be unexpected spurts of grief that come at the worst times. It’s normal. Allowing yourself time to feel feelings will eventually lead to more good days than bad.

Find a new focus.

Starting something new gives an opportunity to move forward with something different. Fresh starts have their merits. It could be a new hobby or interest. I have mentioned before that working out has turned into a positive focus for me. I also have more time to write. Maybe it’s something bigger like a new job, relationship, home, or city. Change may be exactly what is needed. If nothing else, change serves as a good distraction. Everyone needs a break from whatever makes life harder.

Exercise.

Here is my repetitive plug for exercise. Physical activity can help you see you are stronger than you know. This helps physically and emotionally. I have a long ways to go to make myself even stronger, but I’m stronger than I used to be. Exercise helps me feel more confident and in control. It makes me feel good. I feel less stressed. Exercise provides an opportunity for me to work on my inner strength while I work on improving my body. Finding and reclaiming power by moving is extremely therapeutic. Work with a punching bag is a very effective way to reclaim power.

Get outside.

The effects of being outdoors for me are similar to exercising. It makes me feel good and less stressed just like exercise does. Fresh air and nature calms me. Problems often sort themselves out as I spend time in the woods. My head always feels clearer. Maybe it’s because nature is grounding. If you do not have access to a handy outdoor source like a park, farm, or green spaces, something as small as a garden plot can give you the opportunity to dig, to let dirt fall through your fingers, to weed, to plant, and to watch something new grow. Container gardening has become very popular in areas where green space is limited. This is also a great option if you have some physical limitations. Sitting in the shade with a refreshing lemonade and reading a good book still counts as getting outside.

Forgiveness.

Forgive yourself for past actions. I have heard a lot of people say how important it is to forgive others, show universal love and kindness, speak positively, and have at least one good friend you can count on. All important. Even more important is to forgive yourself, love yourself, have positive self-talk, and be your own friend. I have been pretty hard on myself and now I am much kinder. I believe pain can end when we treat ourselves like we treat others. Each day is a new opportunity to treat yourself well with kindness and forgiveness. Reset every morning.

Believe.

Believe in hope. Expect the best. Hope begets hope. For me, things always come back to my unwavering belief in hope. One of my favorite hope quotes reads:

“When the world says,

‘Give up,’

Hope whispers,

‘Try it one more time.’ “   – Unknown

I love that the source is unknown. It somehow makes it even more appealing to me. It’s as if there is an anonymous and universal whisper that could be from anyone anywhere in the world. The whisper may be a gentle hush. I like thinking of it that way. I see it in the flame of a candle. I hear it when a bird sings. I feel it with good friends. I find it in some of my favorite places. You know where some of those places are if you know me well.

Here is one of my favorite places where I hear the hush. Can you hear it, too?

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Author Anne Lamott describes a hush as something sacred. Hope whispers softly and pushes us to keep trying. Hope as a hush is sacred indeed. Pain ends. Hope remains. It can replace pain and grow exponentially. I continue to listen to the whispers of hope.

Laughter As Medicine

“The earth laughs in flowers.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We need friends and laughter like we need sunshine, rain, and flowers. Today’s post combines all of these.

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My friends are beautiful flowers who fill the world with laughter. Sometimes we laugh together and other times we laugh at one another.

Some of my friends are comical without trying. Fran is one such friend. I spent a lovely day with her and another dear friend Gayle at a garden last summer. Both make the earth laugh in flowers. Being together at a garden was a perfect choice. It was a beautiful summer day, punctuated with an isolated downpour that was brief but heavy. The three of us had been sitting in a little secluded resting spot, taking a break as we visited. We’d discovered an alcove up a short stone path of a few stairs with three Adirondack chairs positioned just for us. A canopy of green leaves kept us shaded and let just enough light to be filtered through to turn the leaves into shining emeralds. Behind us water gurgled its way in a peaceful stream. Life was but a dream. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic. Fran regaled us with a humorous story about her mother.

It started to sprinkle and we all figured it would pass over quickly. The trees kept us from getting wet. However, when it didn’t stop in a couple of minutes and was getting worse with every drop, Gayle and I decided we wanted to take cover and headed to a covered shelter we had passed about a minute away at the bottom of the trail. Gayle got there first. I was a bit slower. The stone walkway was getting slick. The raindrops were getting much bigger and frequent, but I couldn’t risk running and slipping. I only had about ten more yards to go. I just made it as the sky let loose with a pounding rain that was worthy of flash flooding. Gayle and I were safe and mostly dry.

Where was Fran? Gayle and I stood and waited. We thought Fran was directly behind us. The shelter filled quickly with others, but no Fran. She couldn’t possibly be waiting it out. Another minute passed and finally there came Fran, slowly making her way down the stone staircase, step by step, toward the shelter. I was glad to see her even though she was already pretty wet. However, at the last moment, Fran darted to her left on a path off to the side. A row of trees blocked her movements. There was nothing in that direction, nowhere to go! What was she doing? I wasn’t going looking for her. Gayle wasn’t either. We were dry.

It’s as close to a Yeti sighting as I’ll ever get. One minute something incredible and unexpected was spotted, and the next minute it was gone with no proof of it ever existing. It’s both a moment frozen and lost forever in time.

I shouted out, “Fran, are you okay?”

Several seconds passed slowly.

“Yes,” came her eventual reply.

She sounded close, but wherever she was, she stayed put. Why?

A couple of minutes later Fran emerged on the path again. It seemed wherever she thought was a refuge, was not a safe haven at all. Sheets of rain showed no sign of relenting. At last she made it to the shelter. Time stood still while she made her way for the final ten or twenty yards. All eyes were on her. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for her. While that was true, it also was impossible not to find it funny. The heavy rain still pelted everything in its way. Gusts of wind blew the rain sideways, and as it happened directly at Fran.

Fran was completely drenched. She could not have been wetter had she been plucked from the ocean after falling overboard. It was so sad, but beyond funny. All I could do was shake my head from side to side as I repeated the word “No” over and over as I laughed unapologetically. It was hard to breathe. Fran stood there wringing out her clothes. Her wardrobe had surprising sponge-like qualities. She dripped. A lot. Fran tried to brush the whole thing off. All the dripping and puddles around her told a different story. Gayle whipped out her phone to capture the moment as a truly good friend naturally would, but didn’t get the shot after all. Such a pity.

Fran never really explained why she wasn’t following us or included a detour in her plans. I’ve never asked for an explanation. Somehow I think it would ruin the story if she explained her perspective. The sun came out, we regrouped at my car where I had some towels, and we moved on with our day.

That Fran.

Laughter really is the best medicine. Antibiotics can also be the best medicine. Laughter isn’t going to combat a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will do the trick there. I believe laughter is going to help in any cancer treatment plan because it will help lift spirits during dark days. But laughter does more than simply boost spirits. Laughing can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s been called a natural anti-depressant. Endorphins are released so you feel good. They even are said to relieve pain. Immune system functioning is heightened. Laughing has been linked to a healthier heart and increased levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). It can even tone your abs and that’s no laughing matter. I can handle less stress and anxiety. Feeling good inside with better immune system functioning while getting the benefits of a free ab workout works for me. All of these are incredibly healthy benefits from laughing.

Flowers do more than add color, fragrance, and beauty to the world. I believe they also have health benefits. “People flowers” make us laugh. They help us heal. I am lucky to have wonderful such flowers in my life. I’m not just keeping them around for my abs. I’m keeping them around because I love them and they are good medicine.

What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh?

Unringing A Bell

You can’t unring a bell.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is very much the same. You can’t go back to the way things were even after surgeries, radiation, and treatment are finished, even if you are assured the cancer is gone. The fact remains that you had it. Everything you went through has inherently changed you in some way.

Others may not see it. Physical appearance doesn’t change drastically for many. Family and friends may tell you that you look the same to them. You are still the same you. It’s intended to be reassuring. There is some truth there. (I find it annoying.) To say you look the same on the outside and imply that you are the same on the inside is what some people mean. That is not fair, nor their call. I know of one marriage that ended because a friend’s husband didn’t understand his wife was still dealing with a lot of difficult emotions. She told him, but she looked “just fine” and everything was “done” and needed to get back to “normal” so he couldn’t understand why everything else wasn’t therefore fine by default. Certainly, there could have been other factors to this marriage ending. I know of another marriage that ended because the husband understood there were changes on the inside as well as on the outside, and he wasn’t attracted to the outside any more. What a guy! There could have been other reasons behind this marriage ending, too, but it seems like cancer became the impetus.

Then again others may see it all too well. Somehow a person who has suffered and is somehow different in a good way may be too much for others to accept. They would be very happy to go back to how things used to be in order to feed what they need. This is where disapproval, insults, and being told that YOU have done something wrong come into play as attempts to keep you in a place that works for them. These relationships should end. There is no room for toxic people in a life that has seen its share of toxicity. I personally deal with toxic drugs almost every week in my efforts to stay well. I can’t deal with toxic people or negativity. Whether finished with treatment, currently in treatment, or in ongoing treatment, do not choose to tolerate toxic negativity from any person. Enough. January is a good time to start fresh.

Maybe you feel not much has changed on the outside or the inside. My position is inside changes took place because you grew from what you experienced. Change accompanies growth. Those who don’t like change don’t have as much opportunity for growth. I used to be one of these people and it’s still hard for me. Change is uncertain and often I don’t understand why some things need to change. I’m trying to understand that changes are there to teach me something and I am working to be open to changes. Changes can be new beginnings. January is a good time for these, too. New beginnings after diagnosis and treatment may be a new job, home, or relationship. Maybe you look at life differently, and have reexamined your belief systems or time commitments.

One constant remains: You can never not have had cancer once you’ve had it. That bell was rung.

I’m tired of its clanging and repetition.

I believe you can ring other bells louder so the sounds drown out other bells.

Ring the bell of resiliency.

We are all capable of more than we know. Resilience is another one of those intangible factors that makes people rise up time and time again after tough times. Yes, problems are inevitable. How a person deals with them is what matters. Being resilient means you find a way to continue to thrive even when there are problems. Taking care of yourself is part of being resilient. Physical and emotional self-care are non-negotiable. Exercise, eat well, meditate, find joy. When your outer and inner self are strong, it means another layer of resolve has been added to resiliency that problems cannot break through, whether the problems present themselves as people, situations, or things.

Ring the bell of joy.

Do more of what you love. Have that cookie. Take a day off and do something fun, frivolous, and completely fantastic. No need to justify, or explain, or defend it. For me, I choose to walk trails and be among trees. I sit on my sun porch and listen to birds. I laugh at movies I’ve seen too many times. I call friends or get together with them. I enjoy exercising (usually) and enjoy it even more when I’m done and reaping the benefits.

Have another cookie.

Yes, I know I mentioned that one twice.

Ring the bell of gratitude.

I believe there is a richness and depth in appreciation that gives life both more purpose and meaning. That thing where you think of five things to be grateful for at the end of each day works. Feeling gratitude is easier when you feel healthy. What about when you aren’t feeling well at all? Knowing myself as I do, I know my emotional and physical health does impact what I’m capable of feeling in the gratitude realm. The other night I had one of these moments. It was about twenty-four hours post treatment and I was flushed and hot from the neck up while the rest of me had the chills. I was low energy and felt a little sick. But I knew if I could get to bed and fall asleep that it would pass and tomorrow would be better. That was about all the gratitude I could muster. My point is it was enough. We are human and do the best we can on any given day. That is the space we all share where health status doesn’t matter.

Ring the bell of knowing yourself.

Take whatever time you need. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself and know what you think. It isn’t selfish to do what is best for you. Live your beliefs. Others don’t have to like them or agree with them. You do. I thought I knew myself pretty darn well before the cancer diagnosis, but it sure caused me to be more deliberate with how I live. I am more sure of myself now than ever, even though I continue to be a magnificent work in progress.

Ring the bell of standing strong.

You may have to keep ringing a lot of bells longer than you had planned until the unwanted bells stop ringing. Keep at it. You’re stronger than naysayers. Statistics do not know you. You’re more than a number. I get tired of bell ringing, but remember that the sounds create important tones and vibrations. These bells make beautiful music.

Nope, you can’t unring a bell. You can’t let anyone else ring it for you either. Ring all the bells you need to ring until you hear a song fit for a carillon tower. Your song.

 

For reflection:

What bells would you like to stop ringing in the new year?

What bells would you like to hear ring more?

Tennis and Life: A Resilient Match

I remember the crisp pop the racket made as it connected with the tennis ball in just the right way in the center of the racket.

It was a solid sound.

I remember the feeling of oneness that came from getting your racket back, making contact with the ball, and following through with a forehand as I watched the ball sail through the air and land cross court.

It was a fluid feeling.

It was also twenty-five years ago. Or more. I never played much beyond competitive play in high school. Recreational play after that had its ups and downs, mostly downs. I played too infrequently to maintain any real skills. Friends I had played with moved away. Finding people with whom I was moderately well matched was challenging. There never seemed to be time. Life got busier with work and other interests. I barely knew who the top ranked players were and seldom caught a match on TV. Years went by as they do.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to play again and made an action plan. I researched my tennis options. I would take a lesson. It would be private so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my level of play with another player. I largely wanted to see what it felt like to be on a court again after so many years and get baseline data for my abilities. I wanted to work on the mechanics of net play, my serve, and my forehand and backhand with minimal running. I figured my brain and body still had the neurological maps for how to do those things, but I needed to focus on them in isolation.

Isolating strokes revealed I still had a lot of really good moves. There was a lot of joy in hitting things.

A LOT.

My mental focus is much stronger in my late forties than in my teens. On that particular day, it was like a part of me was watching me play in slow motion and I noticed what I was doing so I was able to adjust where I needed while I did it. I felt in control, which was something that had been more of a foreign feeling in my life lately.

Before I started, I was concerned I wouldn’t last the seventy-five minutes scheduled for a lesson, but my stamina held up well. I was also playing with my chemo body. I felt really good on the court. The feeling was there as soon as I stepped into the court enclosure. Honestly, I hadn’t expected to have a sense of belonging wash over me as it did. Then I realized the feeling was the mix of joy and excitement.

The joy felt electric, which is a very odd way to describe how I felt, but so much was firing together in my body and mind. It wasn’t just the popping sound of a solid hit or my strokes that felt fluid.

I felt solid and fluid.

I was capable and a little more whole than I was when I woke up that morning. My instructor was impressed with what I was able to do taking into consideration my current health needs and how long I had been away from the game. So was I.

You know how people always try to make things look better than perhaps how they really are? Facebook is a platform for this. So are Christmas letters. We can take multiple photos of ourselves and delete the unflattering ones instantly. This narrative I’ve spun about my triumphant return to tennis feeds into this need to always portray everything in our lives as wonderful. It’s natural to try to look and sound your best and put your best foot forward. But none of those are completely accurate versions of reality. Keep reading.

I am no star athlete and I don’t believe I ever will be. I just want to do something again that I used to love and be more active.

And hit things.

But here is my reality that I’ll leave out of the holiday letter . . .

I got hit with a rogue tennis ball in the head.

Of course I did.

I managed to keep all the balls I hit in my court and not hit any over the high net that divided court enclosures. My control was surprisingly impressive. One ball however came flying over from next door.

My instructor hollered, “Look out!”

I just froze. I knew a ball from somewhere was coming but didn’t see it. Hopefully, it would miss me. One more step and it would have.

Bonk.

After decades of not playing, I was in just the right place at the right time. What were the chances? What was the lesson? Life is filled with imperfections and this was simply a good example of one. In anticipation of my lesson, I had worried I wouldn’t move fast enough and get hit in the face with an oncoming ball. Here I was being taught I had nothing to fear.

Nothing.

Everything was still fine.

And sure, there’s always the lesson to laugh at whatever life throws your way, even if it’s a tennis ball.

Or is this the part I edit out when I share with others?

I guess it’s a little too late for that idea.

Which sounds better?

A)  I got hit in the head with a rogue ball from another court because those are the types of things that happen to me.

B)  It felt great to be on the court again. I discovered I still had a lot of good moves and hit many balls confidently.

I personally favor B, but know both together give a more complete picture of what happened.

Few things are ever completely wonderful or awful. Keeping the part in about being hit in the head shows resiliency in action. The ball bounced off my head and it was no big deal. I bounced back from that perfect fluke before that ball even landed on the court.

The lesson that offers the biggest take away for me is the lesson of resiliency. It shows up again and again, just as its name implies it should. Resiliency shows up going on longer walks, hiking a hill that seemed out of reach, and taking a tennis lesson.

Every activity offers opportunities for learning more about my capabilities. They provide me with templates to learn how to adapt where I need to and stay flexible in the moment.

Resilience always leads to growth.

Much like the tennis ball, being resilient allows us to keep bouncing. Whether the ball bounces in court, into the net, just out of bounds, or off your head, it bounces in the realm of possibility for making future challenges probable and more successful.

Resiliency is a good match for all of us, whether we play tennis or not.

How has life shown you that you are resilient?