Top Character Strengths

“Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of our strength of character.” ~ Les Brown

Life is challenging. Some folks seem to have more challenges than others, but we all have challenges. A lot has been thrown at me thus far that I’d rather not have dealt with at all. I’d like to think I have continued to grow for the better through challenging times. Chalk it up to an inherent teacher trait that I always need to learn something from situations, regardless of whether the situations are good or bad. I’ve become more hopeful, determined, and resilient over the past several years. I am grateful for these gifts and the opportunities I have had to use these strengths. These are amazing traits, but I am not sure I would have chosen them as main character strengths before my cancer diagnosis.

I would have put kindness, positivity, and a good sense of humor at the top of my list.

Being kind is what I try to show the world and what I expect from others. Our world needs more kindness. I can find a positive perspective in just about anything. Even if something sucks for me, I recognize it as truth and allow myself to be there for a while. My sense of humor has brought a smile to my face when I’ve needed it.

Not everyone gets my jokes.

How we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we truly are may all be the same or different. It’s natural to see ourselves how we want to be seen. Circumstances factor into how we are seen by others. I believe we are a mix of so many traits that are fluid and dependent on what is needed. My virtuous side may shine in the public eye, but I may need to channel my stealth if I were to plan the next great diamond heist. Luckily, I have more of an attraction to pearls. My theme here today is on character strengths rather than weaknesses, so I’m determined to stay on topic and not focus on unflattering qualities. I have those like we all do.

I stumbled across research on character strengths while doing some reading about happiness. A company that researches character strengths referred people to their website for anyone interested in identifying their top character strengths. The idea is to know your strengths so you can use them effectively. It takes about fifteen minutes to rate yourself on how much you fit various descriptions. Directions include responding to how you feel you are and not how you want to be, although I’m sure there is personal bias involved. How could there not be?

According to their research, they assert that people who use their strengths are 18 times more likely to be flourishing and happier than those who don’t know or use their strengths. Flourishing! I wanted to find out what they deemed my strengths and see if I agreed since I want to flourish as much as possible.

According to results, my top three character strengths are perspective, spirituality, and humor.

Perspective

The ability to see the bigger picture and what is best for a situation was my top strength. I can see the big picture but am also detailed oriented. Some describe this as seeing the forest and the trees. I think being able to think mindfully about situations has helped me consider the advantages and disadvantages of a situation. Having made my share of mistakes and learning from them also has developed a sense of knowing that comes with looking at different viewpoints. Having different ways of looking at the world helps make sense of it.

Seeing alternate points of view is important. I can apply this to my own life in a way where I listen carefully and weigh all possible sides. It’s harder to do when there are heavy health decisions to be made. The best options moving forward may involve hard parts but still be in my best interests. How will treatment options and side effects affect my quality of life? What are the chances of success? Am I a good match for a proposed treatment? Why is it being suggested for me? I make a lot of pro and con lists. I weigh some factors more than others. I look at the facts I have. I consider my feelings. I ask the people I trust for input and their valued perspective.

Careful listening is needed to understand and value perspectives different from yours. Doing research so I can make informed decisions is important to me. Asking questions fits here too. I won’t discount intuition because even after all the research has been gathered and all the questions have been asked, there is a feeling about what the right choice is for me.

Spirituality

Spirituality was my second highest strength. It reflects a sense of meaning and purpose in the universe. It’s a search for the sacred whether that’s secular or nonsecular.

I was surprised this strength ranked so highly. I used to identify very strongly with spiritual ideology and concepts around faith. It’s been shaken. I don’t believe having cancer has shaken it as much as the rigidity of the religion that I’m a member. I question more and I believe questioning is good. I am not going to narrow the sphere of spirituality to religion. Spirit to me has become a much larger force and a person’s chosen religion or choice not to be religious doesn’t determine a person’s faith, spirit, or worth. There is no one way for everyone to be spiritual. We each find our own way.

How can I use spirituality as a strength living with cancer? I know I am more than this body where I currently reside. My views on the afterlife have evolved. I have pondered a great deal about the meaning of life that influence my choices and give me peace. There is some sort of transcendence at work that allows me to connect to something greater. I have a peace journal. I meditate. I pray. I engage in discussions about faith with close friends. I feel a connection to the universe when I’m in nature.

I can still talk to my parents and feel their presence. I talk to God daily. I let myself be quiet and I listen to the stillness.

Humor

I’ve always found situations amusing. Sometimes not at the time, but I could laugh at them later. It seems I can make other people laugh even if it’s not my intention. I will choose a comedy over a drama. Children and their natural shenanigans are gold mines for humor. Stephen Colbert and his writers craft a masterpiece nightly with his monologue that has made the past couple of years more bearable. I have become a fan of good political satire. I love being around people who can make me laugh. It’s a quality I look for in strong relationships.

How can I further use my sense of humor as I live with cancer? It’s very useful in dealing with stressful situations. Cancer is stressful. Seeing the lighter side in a situation reduces stress. A person living with metastatic breast cancer faces a lot of adversity ranging from medical obstacles, social relationships, and navigating through it all off road because it is a wilderness. A good sense of humor has the potential for transforming something negative into something positive because of a shift in perspective. My former oncologist and I had such a good chuckle over a theory a radiologist gave about why I had severe muscle cramping to the point of hospitalization. His theory was I wasn’t moving around enough in the MRI tube. It is just absurd! There isn’t ROOM to move around in there and you need to stay motionless for the imaging to be accurate. The radiologist knows a person can’t move around in there. I shared the story with my oncologist and he said, “What are you supposed to do – jog around in there?” The stupidity behind this utterly false theory is astounding, but the image of jogging in an MRI tube cracks me up every time. Being in good humor doesn’t necessarily mean you are laughing all the time. It’s more of an outlook you carry with you.

How a person handles life’s challenges certainly is an indicator of their character. I will strive to handle mine with a perspective that affords me meaning, a sense of humor, kindness, positivity, and a dash of grace if I can get it.

 

Consider responding:

What do you feel are your top character strengths?

How do you apply your strengths so you flourish and make the most of them?

Click here (viacharacter.org) if you have an interest in completing the survey for yourself to learn about your top character strengths. It’s free to take and get results. I am not affiliated with them in any manner.

Santa Claus

The Santa of my childhood was magical and momentary. He was as real as his red suit. He never failed to deliver the presents on my list. Life was simpler. So much simpler.

Life is more complicated as a grown-up. It’s filled with more responsibilities, problems to solve, and expected etiquette. I sort through which responsibilities are mine to own and which are not. I do the same with problems. I still get stuck with problems that aren’t mine. Much etiquette seems outdated and that helps me ignore what I choose. I am in favor of doing what I want whether Miss Manners approves or not. Sorry, Miss Manners, that wasn’t very polite of me.

This includes seeing Santa Claus even though I am thought to be too old. I never set out with the intention to see him. In my defense, I didn’t even know he was going to be where I was shopping that day. When I found him, he was still the same as from my childhood. No, not the same. The older I become, the better he gets.

I found myself out on a cold, wet, windy day to a garden center and home decor gift store mainly because I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of all the different themed Christmas trees they decorate. Meandering aimlessly around the store relaxes me. I pick out a favorite each year. This year it was one of the nature themed trees as it usually is with me. They all have appeal. The red and gold themed trees were festive. Red velvety ribbon wound its way around trees as garland. Assorted traditional bauble ornaments decorated others. Candy canes and gingerbread styled ornaments hung on branches of another. Wintry poinsettias interspersed with silver and gold ornaments bedazzled another with a sparkling star that glimmered on top. Even a silver tinsel tree looked beautiful adorned with shiny ornaments in blues and purples.

In the back of the store sat Santa and Mrs. Claus side by side on an iron patio bench, surrounded by a variety of smaller pre-lit trees that were undecorated. Both looked simply so happy, warm, and kind. Their eyes sparkled with happiness, warmth, and kindness. They looked like they stepped out of the pages of a children’s book.

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They looked how I feel when I take freshly baked cookies out of the oven. Or when all is well and I’m lost in thought gazing into the fire in my fireplace on a cold night. Or when I’m looking at the ornaments on my tree at home and remembering happy memories that each one evokes of family, friends, vacations, and favorite things that make me feel happy inside.

I passed them by on my first walk through the store. I am an adult. I don’t see Santa.

Except for last year when a similar opportunity presented itself when I was out of town in Milwaukee on a holiday outing.

No, this wasn’t going to become a thing. I walked slowly, marveling at how jolly and permanently smiley they both were. They were the epitome of what the Clauses should be because that’s who they were. A handful of store employees crowded around them and exclaimed an obligatory “Merry Christmas” in unison to have a group photo taken. I kept walking.

I walked more around the store, admired more trees, holiday decorative pillows, birdhouses, and strolled through the plant area with long tables of large poinsettias in addition to their usual plants and bulbs.

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I was in no hurry to head out into the wintry day of ick that couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to stick with rain or try to snow.

Perhaps somewhat intentionally, I ambled back in front of Santa.

No kids were waiting.

Okay, so this apparently has become a thing. Clearly.

I could have worse things than being compelled to see Santa.

Santa wanted me to sit on his knee. Of course he did. He’s Santa. Last year, I said I was too heavy. He insisted. And feeling like I was about five years old, I hunched my shoulders, bowed my head, and mumbled, “Okay, Santa.” A person does whatever Santa says and does not argue with him.

This year I was not argumentative but respectfully declined. Several photos were taken. I should be good for another year.

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Why do I need to do this? I’ve come up with two reasons.

One simple reason is I crave a return to an easier time in my life. Being a child again would give me a world where my parents were alive and well, a world where I could have a great time at school and come home and play, and a world where Santa always came through and brought me exactly what I asked for. It would give me a world where I didn’t know anyone who had died and I had never heard the word cancer. My sheltered world was pretty wonderful.

I have a desperate need to recapture this bliss from my childhood even if it’s only for a minute. It feels incredibly warm and filling. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

What’s my second reason?

Santa represents hope, belief, and goodness.

Hope, belief, and goodness are a few of the best things around. Each of us wants to possess those qualities and give them freely. We all want to hope for the best, believe in miracles, and share the good. We want these in abundance. Santa has them and we want to be like Santa.

Is this harder for me to do as someone living with cancer? Some days are harder than others, but we all have hard days. Some days I don’t think much has changed and other days I don’t recognize my life. I don’t see the hospital where I go several times a month for treatment as a hopeful environment. It’s sterile and problematic. I feel like I’m in a strange version of the movie Groundhog Day each time I’m there. I wonder what loser is going to ding my car with their door in the parking ramp and what repetitive hurdle I’m going to encounter again in a conversation about which insurance needs to be billed first, what I like to be called, or an important detail about my health that I feel isn’t being addressed. My 40s have not been how I envisioned them. How is this my life? Why did this happen? Like I said, some days are hard.

Other days it doesn’t seem hard at all. I wake up and feel energetic and excited about my day. I focus on doing what I can to be kind. Our world needs helpers and I can still be a helper without many of the restraints that dictated past actions. Thoughts wondering what others think or what lines I need to remain within in the professional world are gone. I can color outside the lines! And it’s good! Many things are easier to accomplish without rules getting in the way. Some days I just have fun planned and I relish in my fun because I deserve every ounce I can get.

Back to Santa representing hope, belief, and goodness and how it applies to my life. I have a lot of hope in research for new metastatic breast cancer treatments. I have hopes for many arboretum walks, meeting new physical goals, special trips, and fun times with friends. I believe I make a difference. I believe in education. I believe in democracy. I believe in God and science. There is a lot of goodness in the world. Santa spreads some of that goodness.

I believe in Santa.

Blogging Anniversary

Happy Anniversary!

Finding A Way – Living with Cancer while Living Well – officially is one year old. I am amazed at how much I’ve written and have grown as a writer. It is a good time to review the year and make goals for moving forward.

In the beginning, I wrote about what I searched for in order to be my best. I sought to find ways to increase my strength and stamina. I wanted to stay motivated and never give up my belief that I am healthy. I planned to lead and live by example. I’ve always searched for purpose and meaning in my life.

I am interested in finding joy, positivity, strength, and hope. Finding A Way involves living with cancer while living well. I wanted to achieve this for myself but also hoped that by writing some of my thoughts and story that I would be able to help others find their way. My intention has always been that anyone reading could come away with something to apply to his or her life whether that person had cancer or not.

Strength and hope are two themes I’ve spent a lot of time on. I suspect they will continue to be common themes for posts. Other themes I plan to explore more deeply are identity, fear, trust, perspectives, and change. I enjoy exploring topics through story, metaphors, and when using narrative lends itself to showing these concepts in action. Using these elements provide a visual hook for me and tends to solidify meaning. I remember things better when I have a story attached or have made a personal connection.

Health and exercise have been and will continue to be repetitive threads in my posts.

Frustrations (and perhaps positive experiences) of my interactions with the medical world as I navigate it from my position as a patient may become more common.

I plan to continue posting positive quotes on Wednesdays to add a bright spot into people’s weeks.

My most viewed post was Stage V and Kardashian Power. I have never watched the reality show or follow them in the news. My intention to live and lead by example and change perceptions, definitions, and conversations around metastatic cancer is still a main goal of mine. I know what the statistics say regarding metastatic breast cancer but I still choose to live with a mindset that has moved past the confining medical constraints and live in expectation with my own. I continue to be surprised at what appeals to people. I find it absolutely hysterical that my most liked post was Exercise and Nutrition. At last count, it had 31 likes. I’m so not an expert.

I don’t feel like I’m an expert in anything. I just write about my feelings and how I’m trying to live well with cancer.

I’ve looked over my posts and have identified some of my favorites. I have many! These are listed below and you may click on any of them if you’d like to look back and reminisce. If you are a new reader, I hope they provide insight into what I write about, how I think, and that you enjoy them. I may repost some of these that I want to highlight again. They are still relevant. There is no need to reinvent the wheel if the wheel I’ve created still rolls well.

Fires, Tigers, and Trees

Why I like Men in Kilts

Tennis and Life: A Resilient Match

Hope, Belief, and A Monthly Planner

Alabama Alligators and Being Normal

Empathy and Cancer

Hiking and Invisible Crutches

When Your Oncologist Leaves

Pelican Lessons

Taking Risks and Ospreys

I plan to continue to write about my life. I invite you to follow along as a subscriber on WordPress by clicking on the gray or blue “Follow” button, or become an email subscriber and receive an email notification whenever I post something new. Please also remember to like a post if you enjoyed it. Comments are always welcomed. I encourage you to leave one. The prompts I provide at the end of some posts are only a guide.

I appreciate you all as readers and taking the time to read my words. Your emotional support means a lot to me. I wish each of you the very best on your search to find a way, as I keep searching for mine.

Find a way.

Always.

Consider responding:

  • What have been favorite posts you’ve enjoyed as a reader?
  • What topics or themes would you like to read about in the future?

Van Gogh and Hope

Did the Impressionist Movement only give us artistic masterpieces and inspire other artists for years to come? Please note I use the word “only” loosely. My answer would be an emphatic NO. These artists also gave and continue to give us hope.

Vincent van Gogh may not initially stand out as a hopeful figure. He struggled with both his mental and physical health. His most famous paintings will always be his main contribution to the world. Starry Night is one of my favorites.

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Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 during his stay in an asylum near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Today’s post combines my love for inspiring quotes with blogging. Lately, I’ve come across several quotes from Van Gogh that have blown me away. I do not know in what context he said them or really if they were significant to him at all. I tend to believe they were significant to him based upon their content and some of his paintings. These are some of his words that have inspired me.

“Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.”  ~ Vincent van Gogh

Life is enchanted. It’s easy to get wrapped up in its day-to-day minutia. There’s a repeating cycle of laundry, groceries, cleaning, yard work, and for me, medical appointments. The time I spend trying to live well with cancer feels so far away from noticing moments of infinity on high. There is always something health related even if it’s a little something. Daily medications are a good example. I see my port bumping out from my chest every day. My wig. These all are routine things but constant reminders of how my life is different. Making time to recognize and take in infinity is a must because it provides balance and perspective to life in my medical world.

It also sometimes feels like everyone is so focused on their own lives that moments where we interact with one another in meaningful ways are fleeting. Stores are understaffed. Customer service has all but disappeared in some businesses. Friends are in a rush. I treasure time with them. Social media, texts, and emojis replace conversations. Living life through social media is not very enchanting. I live in this world, too. Emojis are quick, effective, and sometimes highly amusing.

Looking up at the stars reminds me how big the universe is and that all my big problems are really small. People don’t make time to gaze at the stars and wonder anymore. Unless you live in the countryside far away from man-made light, getting to see a true starry night where shooting stars are common and a person can witness infinity on high is hard. City stars are not the same as country stars. I remember a geography course for graduate credit I took in Ecuador around the year 2000. It was in the jungles off of the Napo River where darkness closed in all around me where I saw the best starscape of my life. Utter darkness met me in every direction except upwards. Stars bedazzled the dark above. I only took them in for a few minutes because we were encouraged not to stay outside very long in the blackness for our own protection. Large cats stalked unseen and unheard in the night. Yet, for a few sacred moments, I saw the heavens like never before. It stays with me as a singular moment I’ll remember forever.

“I confess I do not know why, but looking at the stars always makes me dream.” ~ Vincent van Gogh

Dreams give us hope. We wish upon stars. Stars awe us. Songs are sung wondering what they are made of and comparing them to diamonds. My dad sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star nightly to me. Starshine has always mesmerized me. If light from stars can travel trillions of miles to reach us, then can’t we also believe our dreams may come true? Can I wish to live? Can I wish to be completely healthy again? So often when we dream while sleeping, we don’t remember what we dreamt when we wake up. We can control what we dream when looking at stars and dream of what makes us happy.

Did Van Gogh say these statements before or after he painted his masterpiece? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me. It is more than enough that he said them because it makes me look at my favorite painting of his with more wonder and awe. I work hard to wonder and awe about life as much as possible as someone with metastatic breast cancer.

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

 

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My attempt to create a Ukrainian egg in the style of Van Gogh.

Am I a painter? No. I am confident there would be voices other than an inner voice confirming it. Even so, I do believe in doing the thing I think I can’t do. I do plenty of new things (new hikes, bike paths, foods, small risks). I do plenty of hard things (conflict, scans, side effects, funerals). I think Van Gogh was thinking about all the opportunities we don’t pursue because we convince ourselves we can’t for any number of reasons. The negative inner voice is quelled when I take a NO and turn it into a YES. Maybe this quote of his is telling me is I should give painting more of a try. I’m up for finger painting. The swirls of color would feel so Van Gogh.

“Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

And . . .

“I wish they would take me as I am.”    ~ Vincent van Gogh
 

Friends take us as we are. Those who don’t are not friends or worth the trouble. My need to belong has always caused me anxiety. There are still times when I feel left out. Like Vincent, I wish everyone would take me as I am. I wish I could be okay with it when some don’t. The people who don’t aren’t worth my time. I’m reminded I only need to belong to myself.

“I think that I still have it in my heart someday to paint a bookshop with the front yellow and pink in the evening…like a light in the midst of the darkness.”   ~ Vincent van Gogh

Why a bookshop? He could have said a flower shop, a café, a market, a boutique, or any number of storefronts could be yellow and pink in the evening. Van Gogh also spoke of light. Reading is light. It gives joy, knowledge, and self-awareness. Reading can be a source of hope. Light is hope. Once again, I return to ideas of stars being the light in the midst of darkness. Books are like stars. Books shine light in the midst of darkness.

“Many people seem to think it foolish, even superstitious, to believe that the world could still change for the better. And it is true that in winter it is sometimes so bitingly cold that one is tempted to say, ‘What do I care if there is a summer; its warmth is no help to me now.’ Yes, evil often seems to surpass good. But then, in spite of us, and without our permission, there comes, at last, an end to the bitter frosts. One morning the wind turns, and there is a thaw. And so I must still have hope.”    ~ Vincent van Gogh

Call me foolish for I am one of those people who believes that the world can still change for the better. There is more goodness in the world than badness. There will always be more heroes than villains.

Springs and summers follow the coldest winters. Having said that, spring sure took its sweet time this year.

I must have hope. I must maintain hope that treatments are discovered in time to save me, to save everyone with cancer. I believe in targeted therapies that are matched to patients who have a strong likelihood of responding well to those treatments. More research is needed to develop more of these. Research equals hope. Hope is my driving force and motivation in advocating for more research directed to treatments for advanced stage cancers. I do my best to stay strong and healthy which feeds my hope. I do what I can to financially support research for metastatic breast cancer. I still have hope.

Van Gogh has said he wanted his work to express “sincere human feeling.” He succeeded many times over and over again. Hope is a kind of feeling that warms, intensifies, and empowers. How he captured this quality in his art so that it still evokes such an emotional response over a hundred years later is a mystery to me. He had an extraordinary gift as an artist. His art and words continue to give hope.

Immense and everlasting hope.