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?

The Choices We Make

“It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  ~ J.K. Rowling

It’s been years since I’ve read a Harry Potter novel. Oh, how I loved them! J.K. Rowling created a fantasy world so real. The lasting relationships she developed through her characters based on trust and truth still set examples today for relationships I seek. The themes she wrote about through fiction resonate as powerful truths.

J.K. Rowling has fallen off the Forbes Billionaire list due to charitable giving. It’s a clear choice that reflects her beliefs and core values.

I’ve thought a lot about the choices I’ve made and how those choices have shown me what/who I truly am. I make many choices. Some surely have been mistakes. My culinary fiasco of brownies with spinach puree did not work. What was I thinking? Fortunately, I’ve made health related choices that have gone better for me.

I choose to exercise daily.

I choose to be positive.

I choose to surround myself with people who focus on joy.

I choose to focus on self-care.

I choose to see myself as healthy.

I choose to live with a Stage V mindset focused on unrelenting wellness.

Read more about Stage V in an earlier post if you missed it or need a refresher.

These choices have shown me that I am responsible for my reactions and decisions. We all always have a choice in terms of how we react whether those choices are based on health, comments or the behaviors of others, or whatever unexpected twists and turns life takes. We all have our stuff. We get to choose how we walk with that stuff. We each need to be intentional with the choices we make.

My choices have taught me how to live more fully and to focus on what I feel is important. The person I truly am is a person who is still a learner, discovering new truths about myself, and doing my best each day to be healthy and live with joy. I also have perfected making dark chocolate brownies straight from Betty Crocker. If brownies somehow define what I am, I cannot argue.

So be it.

Please comment: What choices have you made that really make a difference in your life?