There are plenty of labels and titles used to assign and confuse our sense of identity. Male, female, husband, wife, widow, single, married, father, mother, childless, son, daughter, brother, sister, only child, and friend. Adjectives also serve this purpose. Beautiful, plain, ugly, happy, sad, funny, depressed, selfish, and giving. Jobs and careers do the same. Perceptions of illness and wellness are also part of the picture. I live with words like patient, survivor, thriver, lifer, metavivor, warrior, and numerous others.
Interests and beliefs both differentiate the narrow scope of labels and titles. Here true identity may lie if you are lucky enough to truly “Know Thyself.” Learning and teaching are two of my core beliefs and huge interest areas. I love reading, writing, and thinking. My interests branch out to other areas. I feel good when I exercise. Listening to Bon Jovi makes me feel just as good as John Denver folk songs. I am interested in nature photography and hiking outdoors. I love time with my friends and family. A good chocolate dessert or caramel is savored.
Identity must be a combination of all these things combined, each like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. A puzzle really takes on many aspects of the self. Neither is complete without all the pieces. Woe to the puzzle doer to near the end of a puzzle and realize a piece is missing. You know what that piece is and how it will complete the picture, but it still isn’t the same. It’s almost complete, or as complete as it can be, but it just isn’t the same as irrefutably complete, done, and finished. It is very troubling when a person’s identity is missing a piece or two from the puzzle. It may seem obvious what piece is needed to go into the empty space, but everyone still wants to find it to finish the puzzle and make it whole before moving on to the next puzzle.
Maybe we even have a tough time seeing our true selves. It all gets very muddled. Someone else cannot tell you who you are. Identity, strength, and happiness are all inside jobs. It’s very challenging because so many outside factors influence who we are. Those labels, socioeconomic status, who we know, where we live, and even ancestry all are puzzle pieces.
It’s with friends that none of these other definers really matter. People do not say so and so is my friend because they were really good at self-care, took remarkable pictures, or could fix a flat tire. My friends are my friends because of a shared past and the similar interests and values we still share today and hopefully will share well into our futures. We laugh, we help one another, and we are just there to support one another. These are the qualities that transcend all the names, titles, adjectives, actions, and changes over time. Your true inner qualities always remain.
I can’t fix a flat. I hope that admission hasn’t cost me any friendships.
Back to the question, Who AM I? The AM changes over time. Just as the land changes over time, so do we. The Grand Canyon in its infancy was not a canyon at all but instead the great Colorado River flowing southward through Arizona. It is really an awesome feat in physiology how humans change from infants, to children, then young adults, and then through so many different stages of adulthood. And that’s only on the outside.
Thoughts, words, actions, core beliefs, and values all converge together in the I AM. I AM giving. I AM a reader, writer, and thinker. I AM a storyteller. I AM someone who enjoys the outdoors. I AM someone who enjoys the indoors, too. I AM someone who likes to laugh.
I AM loved.
I AM me.
I wrote an I AM poem back in 2012 and posted it back in May, Ideas definitely revolve around identity. You can read it here.
Living as someone with metastatic breast cancer is only one way I continue to define myself, but I don’t want that to be the first thing that people notice about me. An illness shouldn’t define anyone. Others can’t define you in terms of an illness. Unfortunately, illness seems to be the domino poised to cause others to fall.
Figuring out who I am as I navigate identity amidst medical treatments and side effects seems like a never-ending onion where a new layer is continually being peeled back and makes me cry. What doesn’t change is that I am always whole. What if instead of an onion being peeled, I was a tree that kept adding ring after ring with each passing year that told my story? I see a strong mighty oak firmly rooted in the earth that is solid and has witnessed much. Older but wiser. Unflappable. Still there. Bigger. Changes are inevitable, but I choose to see myself as whole and complete with whatever changes that life brings my identity.
There is a Quaker wisdom to “Let your life speak.” It means to let your highest truths and values guide your choices. Who I am lies in my truths and choices that begin as thoughts and materialize as actions. Love, joy, kindness, and making a difference is who I am, and who I will always be. My life will continue to speak.
The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time. Dorothy believes the world that is somewhere over the rainbow is such a happy place where all is perfect and well. There are no worries or fears. Troubles melt like lemon drops. The song says so. Everyone’s dreams come true and undoubtedly you are who you see yourself as being. Back on solid ground, life is not the same. Birds fly over the rainbow and we long for the ability to fly. The song says that, too. Dorothy discovers that over the rainbow isn’t all she thought it would be, but she learns a lot while she is there.
Oz certainly isn’t Kansas anymore. All isn’t perfect there any more than it is in our realities. Once someone hears the word cancer, Kansas and anywhere else has changed forever. The twister destroys and maims like cancer. It doesn’t care who you are and doesn’t explain why one home is left unscathed and another is completely gone. Oddly enough though, it’s the twister that is the impetus for change and transformation. It took her to the beginning of the yellow brick road. It made it possible for Dorothy to discover her truth and strength.
The tornado is a defining moment where everything changes.
Cancer is a defining moment.
While Dorothy is in Oz, she learns that she was whole and loved in Kansas. I can identify with Dorothy. I think we all can.
Feeling whole is harder when life presents so many lessons in loss.
The grass is always greener. What I have now that I think sucks will look good next to something that sucks even more later.
Traits of loyalty and determination have been attributed to Dorothy. These are two very fine qualities. She was loyal to her friends and they were to her. She was determined to find her way home in a strange land.
Dorothy returns home as we all do.
The movie is filled with aspects of identity spread across all the characters. Dorothy’s friends in Oz believe they lack qualities that all along they have. The Scarecrow has a brain and has both intelligence and common sense. The Tin Man is caring and compassionate. The Cowardly Lion has courage and might. We are smart and resourceful. We love living and those around us. It is okay to be scared, but each of us does not know the depths of our own inner strength. We have all these positive traits.
It would be far too easy to label The Wicked Witch of the West as fear, or evil, or cancer. She sure is scary and selfish. She is green, the color of envy. As a child, I would cower and hide behind a large upholstered chair as I watched her each year when the movie was aired on TV.
The witch terrified me to my bones. Those. Monkeys. Freaked. Me. Out.
Switch to Elphaba in Wicked and I absolutely love her. She rises and conquers. She is just as green, but now it is beautiful and healing. Her greenness defines her. She has serious challenges. In the end things work out for her (just as they do for Dorothy in the 1939 movie). How I think about the witch depends on the version of the story. It’s a perspective thing.
The business of cancer really screws with identity.
I knew exactly who I was before 2012. I was a successful and established teacher working in a district I loved at a school I loved. I was a devoted daughter and good friend who found joy in helping. I was in the process of becoming an adoptive parent. Joy, joy, joy to me.
Cancer turned all that upside down. I retired. My parents are deceased. No one calls me daughter now. Plans to adopt came to a halt. My life has changed dramatically. I can’t get back the way it used to be. The list of those who help me is longer than those I can help.
Cancer steals identity.
It steals hair and creates an unrecognizable stranger in the mirror. I used to be unrecognizable to others, too. I could stand right next to someone I knew who hadn’t seen me in a while, and they wouldn’t know me. I was a stranger with straight brown short hair that framed my face. It suited me. Looked natural. Worked out well if I didn’t want to see someone, but I usually did. Usually. When I took off my wig, I became another version of myself that was unrecognizable. Little hair remained, mostly grayish, not enough to be accepted as a cute style that I’d have on purpose. The little I had eventually disappeared. The lack of eyelashes and eyebrows compounded the look. Cancer stole outside and inner identities.
Cancer is a master thief.
I felt the real me disappeared into the past. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. I missed her. She has reemerged and I look more like the me I know and love.
But how long will she stay?
Identity isn’t solely based on the way I look. Cancer has messed with my inner self, too. Cancer may be a master thief, but I am the master of my I AM. That’s where I’ll pick up next time. Until then.
“Over The Rainbow”
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high.
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue.
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops,
That’s where you’ll find me.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow;
Why, then, oh why can’t I?
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?
I sincerely hope you were humming if not singing. 🎶
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.
And yet I look at the good.
I can’t help it.
Good is always around.
One place I found it was in flowers.
Repetitive days of solitude
Drew me to nature.
My camera my paintbrush.
Flowers my canvas.
So many patterns and colors
From 6 inches away.
Summer was not lost after all.
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.
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.
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.
My second year blogging is in the books. I’ve explored expressing myself a bit more through personal narratives and even poetry. I’ve covered a variety of topics. I hope I have made connections with readers as I’ve shared what goes through my mind and in my life as someone living with metastatic breast cancer.
There’s no need to have cancer in your life to read it and get something out of it. Not everything I write about is specific to the cancer experience. Themes of fear, trust, and identity apply to all of us. Memories of joy or moments that teach an important life lesson reside within all of us. However, it’s often when I appear to veer off the cancer path with my writing that I come back to say something about the cancer experience. Maybe I’m only speaking to me. Joy is important for anyone with metastatic cancer. Memories can be bittersweet, hopefully mostly sweet. Life lessons help us embrace the now. Some of these lessons are difficult to embrace. Maybe they help us understand our now one lesson at a time.
I am always interested in growing my audience. Please share my blog with anyone with whom you think may benefit from it. I also want to take a moment today to thank you for reading and sharing your comments. I love reading them and you are always welcome to leave a comment at the bottom of these posts. Today, I’m interested in if you’ve had a favorite post over the last year. I have many favorites, but know I am biased.
Recently, I received a few compliments on my blog’s title, Finding A Way. It conjures up many thoughts in my mind. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Look at a challenge from multiple perspectives. Approach something in a new way. Venture outside of your comfort zone. Find a way to get it done.
Find a way.
There have been some remarkable things I have attempted while living with metastatic breast cancer. I figured out how to keep teaching for four years after my diagnosis. I’ve discovered new ways to enjoy exercise. I’ve developed hacks for when things are hard. I’ve found a way. Maybe it isn’t always the best way or the easiest way, but it is a way.
The phrase “finding a way” is defined as having an opportunity, or an intention, to arrive at a specific outcome. That definition fits the vision I continue to have as a mantra in my life. My blog’s title got me thinking about other expressions that are essentially synonyms for it. It turns out there are dozens of substitutions. Some fit better than others. Some were noted as more common in the UK. Some are positive. Quite a few have negative connotations and that surprised me. Apparently, finding a way can be by hook or crook. Wordhippo.com is my source. See what you think.
Synonyms are listed in no particular order but tend to follow the order from Wordhippo. I understand if you skim them since there are many.
Getting, contriving, arranging, engineering a way, managing, succeeding in, organizing, working it, fixing it, compassing, coordinating, designing, maneuvering, swinging, swinging it, setting, orchestrating, making arrangements for, fixing, fixing up, setting up, pulling strings, pulling wires, sorting out, seeing to, finagling, framing, negotiating, machinating, manipulating, finessing, masterminding, elaborating, developing, executing, shifting, angling, cogitating, achieving, projecting, jockeying, hitting upon, carrying out, playing games, effecting, wrangling, passing, plotting, scheming, devising, conspiring, intriguing, conniving, colluding, planning, hatching, cooking up, operating, being in cahoots, collaborating, hatching a plot, concocting, faking, fabricating, rigging, forming a conspiracy, laying plans, shamming, abetting, exploiting, manufacturing, promoting, getting in bed with, coming up with, controlling, falsifying, simulating, feigning, conducting, handling, bringing about, pulling off, conceiving, constructing, staging, scamming, doctoring, tricking, wheeling and dealing, and conning.
The list goes on, but I think I’ve listed plenty.
One word that didn’t appear that struck me as strange:
Finding A Way is about believing. Pure and simple. Unwavering. Unconditionally.
Shall I change the name of my blog to embody ideas of conniving, plotting, or scheming? Nah, it’s better to stick with ideals like succeeding, achieving, and developing. I will keep the title as is. It works. Onward to a third year of finding a way. You know what’s coming . . .