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?

Why I Like Men in Kilts

You know why.

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It’s the varied plaids.

Over twenty years ago, I spent a year teaching in Scotland thanks to a Fulbright Teaching Award. I loved the lilt of the Scottish accents. There were many moments I knew Scotland’s history better than my own. I was a bit of a talking guidebook when I went places with my friends. Living in a land of castles was a dream come true. I drank whiskey. Its burn was warm and its taste long-lasting. I loved the music, the sheep, the people I met, and the experiences I had. I taught third graders. It was why I was there, but it did interfere somewhat with all my other plans. A few students still flit through my mind from time to time. All my memories remind me of this special year in my life.

Oddly enough, last week I reconnected with a kindred spirit who lived in Edinburgh the same time I did and who just happened to stumble across my blog. I already had drafted most of this post. The way life continues to weave people, events, and experiences together amazes me. Forces beyond our ken weave these things together like personalized patterns in plaids for each of us. Some threads naturally go together and overlap more than once. All the threads are important.

I really do like the plaids. The colors do more than just complement one another in a pretty design. Historically, the British government forbade the wearing of the family tartan in the Highlands after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. It was an attempt to suppress the culture and to take away an important part of Scottish identity.

You probably see where this going. Cancer works hard to take away important parts of someone’s identity. There’s hair loss. Surgery. Lots of other subtle and not so subtle changes happen with activities, a person’s social life, and perhaps employment. You look in the mirror and see someone you don’t know anymore. Photographs from a time when you felt you looked like you haunt you because you don’t know if that person is coming back or even exists anymore. Perceptions change (perceived by others or yourself) of what you are capable of accomplishing. Some people even have the nerve to tell you how you feel or what you think. Uncertainty looms.

Not so fast, cancer. Kilts have powers. Envisioning a man in a kilt transports me back to a place where I can hear the bagpipe music running through my veins and feel the heartbeat of a strong Celtic drum. I don’t have any Scottish ancestry, but I believe what I’m trying to describe transcends a person’s roots. It is still identity based, but an identity that is more at your core that can’t be stripped away by cancer no matter how hard it tries. The tartans worn by the Highlanders couldn’t be wiped out. Identities were strengthened rather than weakened. My identity will prevail strengthened rather than weakened, too. It already has. I know who I am.

There are a couple other reasons, perhaps more obvious ones, to love a man in a kilt. Take a dramatic pause here and let your imagination wander for a moment.

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A man in a kilt embodies confidence and freedom. It can’t be denied that a man who dons a kilt in the traditional way it is to be worn is a confident man. He is proud and knows himself well enough to be completely free. He is bold in his freedom. Cancer works to wipe out confidence and freedom, just as it does identity. It fails here, too, because we are people with hearts, grit, and souls. Cancer has none of these. Therefore, those of us who live with cancer have the freedom to defy it every chance we have. Our souls won’t have it any other way. We can be just as confident, free, and bold. Kilt or no kilt. Hair or no hair. Breasts or flat chested. Defy.

I have learned so much from traveling and time spent in other places. Opportunities to be immersed someplace else for an extended period of time aren’t available to everyone. My year in Scotland taught me many things about myself. I realized I was extremely independent and quite a capable being. What I didn’t realize was that so many years later, men in kilts would still be teaching me new lessons.

I have much to embrace. I returned home from Scotland with two kilts of my own, a plaid throw, and at least three plaid scarves. A couple plaid flannels hang in my closet. Don’t get me started on plaid pajamas. I even have a chair with plaid upholstery. Whenever I have the chance to rise up and stage a rebellion against cancer, I take it, and I think very plaid thoughts. Plaid has become a secret weapon. It represents a lasting identity, confidence, freedom, and more.

Aye, whenever I might get a bit beaten down, I will think very plaid thoughts, and those thoughts will be good. My soul can’t have it any other way.

You know why.

 

Fires, Tigers, and Trees

One way I have thought about my life has been to picture myself walking along a well-worn path that I know well. I know where various landmarks are, benches, scenic overlooks, my favorite trees, and where the path leads. While walking, I discover a blazing fire in front of me that blocks my way. I can see through the fire to where I want to be, but I can’t get there. There also is a saber tooth tiger off to the side, growling and gnashing its teeth. Looks fierce as saber tooth tigers do. I can’t get past the fire or the tiger.

I have come to see the fire as medical obstacles I encounter that I seem to regularly be up against (tests, side effects, policies that are in place for no patient centered good reason, etc.). Seemingly forever changing government restrictions placed on me surrounding disability are the saber tooth tiger. Let’s throw a downed tree across the path for good measure because sometimes (always) other events develop if only to keep me on my toes.

After countless times running right up against these and being burned, scratched, and blocked, I am tired of using my essential energy in attempts to break through to the other side of these obstacles to live what I saw as the life I was supposed to have. My life is different from that vision. After repeated attempts, I’ve noticed a path far, far off to the side that I didn’t notice at first. Where did it come from? Had it always been there?

Although I don’t know where it exactly leads, it may very well be

a . . . .

perfectly . . .

good . . .

path.

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Hmmmm. No fire. No tigers. No downed trees. I may walk happily and go the distance on this path. Perhaps it is even a better path. Now that’s a surprising thought. The best decision for me is to walk over to it and make it my own. And so I have.

Where my attention goes is where my energy flows. I want to focus on more affirming thoughts and words about my health, my relationships, and my future. My energy goes to walking on this path.

Creating a personal mission statement helps form a vision of where I see myself heading in the next five years.

A personal vision or mission statement combines purpose with your own set of abilities, strengths, and talents. My new mission needs to incorporate good health, some kind of teaching component, and my values. It’s a challenge to narrow it down to one sentence, but keeping it simple strips it down to what’s most important. Here’s my sentence: I must be healthy so I can teach through example and live my values joyfully, sharing my gifts with people to make a positive difference.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

To create your own personal mission statement, you need to explore your core values. Answer the following questions to provide a framework for developing a mission statement of your own:

  • What are my top three core values?
  • Whose work or profession do I admire?
  • If I could afford to work without pay, what would I do?
  • What are my natural talents?
  • What did I love to do as a child?

Sometimes what comes to mind first isn’t always the right answer. As a child, I loved to climb the big locust tree in the front yard. There was adventure and a little risk. If I climbed high enough and stood on precariously thin branches, I could see Lake Mendota in the distance. Yet, I never considered becoming a professional tree climber. Thank goodness! Being in nature is something I still enjoy. I would happily spend time hiking wooded trails and wouldn’t need to be paid so much as a dime to do so. I also loved going to school and then playing school when I got home. Teaching fit. It included core values and encompassed natural talents. I became a teacher.

My path is different from what I thought it would be. What each of us can do is to walk whatever our path is with courage, dignity, and grace. I believe there is a lot of choice in terms of how we walk. Look for a beautiful path where there aren’t too many obstacles in your way. If there are, it may be time to find another path.