Finding A Way and the Blog Hop

Once again it is time for Nancy’s 2021 Summer Blogging Challenge . This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about one another, discover new blogs, and share more about my own writing process. My approach to Nancy’s questions is much lighter than last year. You’ll see what I mean.

Who are you?

Somedays I don’t know. I see a familiar stranger in the mirror. Who I feel I am seems to change often. My appearance doesn’t seem stable. We are so much more than our appearance. Who I am isn’t based on what I do (or did). It was easy to tie my identity to my career as a teacher, but what remains now that I’ve been retired for five years?

Am I a writer? Amateur photographer? Professional patient? International mystery spy? Oops . . . it’s in your best interest to forget that last one.

Quite simply, I’m me.  

 

This is how I remember myself in better days.

I love pajamas. I make really good brownies. I hate cleaning. I am not fond of chipmunks or ground squirrels (a lot like a chipmunk but bigger with different markings).

Lately, I’ve thought of myself as a depressed optimist.

I spent my career teaching and am lucky I got to do what I loved for so long. Second graders will always hold a special place in my heart.

I’ve always been a reader and a writer. I love relaxing with a good book. I bounce between a couple of writing ideas at a time. I write a blog on living with cancer while living well that you are reading now! Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012, I’ve blogged weekly about my thoughts and experiences for the last three years.

A lot of my time is spent focused on my health. 2021 has been harder for me than 2020. Every month I’ve had something that’s presented a problem for me. Hair falling out. A hospital stay. Repeated surgeries. Failed treatments. I am someone who tries hard and is hard on myself when something doesn’t work out. It seems the rest of the world slowly reemerged from the lockdown of COVID and embraced the year more positively than I have.

What’s been your biggest blogging roadblock this year and did you come up with a way to get around it?

I haven’t felt blocked in terms of content and ideas. Material usually presents itself. I’m not sure if that will continue.

A bigger roadblock is exposure. I want to reach more people, but I haven’t garnered as many followers as I hoped I would. I feel established, but I don’t do a lot of promoting.

No, I haven’t found a way to get around it and maybe it isn’t necessary. Being able to share and have people read what I write is a privilege for me. I’ve tried to toot my horn with a Facebook page catered to my blog and cancer content. You can follow that here. What I’ve found is when people don’t have a personal connection from their own experience or through a loved one, it’s too heavy. Photos of puppies and kittens get more attention.

So, basically, I need to figure out how to use puppies and kittens to attract followers.

What’s something you accomplished with your blog this year that you’re proud of?

Spelling.

Try fam-trastuzumab-deruxtecan. It’s both hard to say and spell. The brand name Enhertu is much shorter. Nailing some of these drug names is an accomplishment. How about a cancer spelling bee?

On a more serious note, I’ve continued to publish consistently. I’ve included narratives to share my experiences as a patient. I’ve written more poetry to express myself. Letting some vulnerability show up through my words has been another revealing step for me.

More readers are responding to my mid-week posts where I share a thought-provoking quote. I’ve honestly thought about phasing this out at the end of the year. I felt it hasn’t been very successful at times. I am reassessing what to do with my Wednesday Words posts.

Here is a sample from Wednesday Words. Do I keep sharing these pearls of wisdom?

What are a couple of your best blogging tips?

Blogging gratuities are never expected but always appreciated. I have PayPal and Venmo.

Am I kidding?

Send me some money and find out.

Or you can follow my blog. Those are the only choices.

As a writer, my biggest tip is to write what you want. It’s more authentic that way. Sincere writing circles me back to that first question about who I am. Some of my favorite pieces haven’t racked up the views or comments I had hoped they would, whereas a post on writing and stories is still surprisingly well read. You never know how something will go over which is why it’s important the writer likes it. When my heart shows up through my words, I believe I make a stronger connection with readers.

How do you handle negative feedback or comments?

Everyone loves what I write. Wink, wink. I have received comments offering different perspectives from time to time, but nothing I would call overtly negative. I confess I wouldn’t like negative feedback, but I think it’s best to think of it as constructive criticism and turn it into a learning opportunity. Growth can come from these discussions. Or I can delete them and grow that way.

Share a link to a favorite post you’ve written recently that you want more people to read.

One is such a lonely number. Two is better. Three’s company.

I often return to Love Letter to My Future Self when I need a feel good boost.

Cancer Haiku shares big ideas about cancer in a few words.

A Day of Surgery gives a glimpse into the more medical side of my life.

Thank you, Nancy, for your summer blogging challenge. It’s an awesome opportunity to discover new blogs and share mine. I also love reading my fellow bloggers’ responses to your questions. I hope many others will check them out at Nancy’s Point. Click on the link below to access other blogs in the hop.

Enjoy these dwindling days of summer weather.

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B Positive

B Positive is a CBS sit-com about a therapist who needs a kidney donor and is looking for a match. He can’t find one within his family to match his B-positive blood type. A woman he once knew offers him one of hers and is a match. The series gives a glimpse into the life of someone waiting for a transplant while still portraying someone living a normal and crazy life. The show brings visibility to hard things through humor.

Could a similar comedy work with metastatic breast cancer as the sometimes background/sometimes foreground subject matter? I’ve learned things about transplants that I didn’t know before I started watching B Positive. It’s been an educational tool like I imagine a breast cancer “comedy” being. Comedy isn’t the right word because there’s nothing funny about any cancer. I don’t know what the right words would be.

A serious comedy?

I know I’ve had my moments where I’ve come home from an oncology appointment with some doubt that it was me in the exam room. Once I asked an oncologist to look harder at one of my nipples. Honestly, who does that? A closer look was taken. All was fine. Another time I had an enlightening conversation about discomfort “down there,” my vagina, and vaginal dryness. I assured him I didn’t want him to check it out. He thought for a moment and shot back about how estrogen deprived I was. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. We moved back to discussing the upper half of my body. I daresay these visits are comedy gold packed with meaningful content.

Uncomfortable humor is always hilarious to people not experiencing it.

What other meaningful content could be balanced with comedy? Here are a few ideas:

• Diagnosis

• Hope

• Fear

•  Pinkwashing

• October (We Are Aware) Awareness Month

• Identity

• Comments

• Clinical Trials

• Research

• Chemotherapy

• Hair

• Side Effects

• Battling, Fighting, Losing the Battle/Fight

• Scanxiety

• Life

• Success

• Family and Friend Issues

• Loss

• Day-to-Day Life

• Working and Treatment

• Relationships

• Positivity

• Early and Late Stage Perspectives

• Kale

Death of course would need to be addressed. I don’t think death is funny so I’m not including it in the list to balance with comedy.

I don’t know how any of this would work.

I don’t know if it could work.

Viewers could get a glimpse into MBC. Would it be hard? Yes. Would it be done correctly? I have no idea. It bothers me enough now when commercials for medication intended for thrivers are shown and no one is wearing a bandana or having any difficulty at all. Other characters on TV or in books don’t meet my expectations either. They either die such a painful death that another character is affected more, or they are portrayed as achieving goals that are pretty unreasonable.

What would this amazing show be called? Comments about breasts that are off the cuff or meant to be cute, funny, or sexy are instead incredibly offensive. Breasts and boobs should be removed from the title. Nor should the title be scary. It is a comedy even if it contains serious subject matter. One of my friends calls herself Meta Martha. A title like this would be short, sweet, and to the point. I’m already using it as a working title. Or perhaps just Mets. It could be mistaken as a sports show and pull in more male viewers.

B Positive is a title that carries two meanings. There is the reference to the main character Drew’s blood type of B+ that he needs to match for a successful kidney transplant. The other meaning is to be positive with whatever life throws at you. I’m on board with positivity (usually). Positivity is a feel good energy. Positive people attract like-minded individuals with similar energy. I feel better when I am positive. I am often described as positive. All good.

And yet, it takes more than “being positive” to “beat” metastatic breast cancer. Someone I hadn’t seen in years told me of someone she knew who had Stage IV cancer and now didn’t have it anymore. She was treated at Carbone as I am and had chosen western medicine to treat the cancer. Skeptical, I asked for her to share a bit more about this woman’s story. Positivity was the instant answer. Positivity cured her. It certainly could have helped, however, it isn’t measurable. It is better than negativity. I figured there was more to this story but didn’t ask. I changed the subject. Later, this friend also shared her daughter (whom I taught) cried when she heard I got sick years ago. She asked about my support network and offered help with meals, driving, or whatever. Both were unexpected comments that touched me. Empathy and kindness may need to replace the be positive slogan.

Hospitals promote programs and research while treating cancer. Reputable foundations and charities don’t get the exposure they deserve. News stories are often missing important information. Celebrity deaths bring temporary attention. Celebrity survivors don’t help much. They beat it after all. All of these combined haven’t brought information and a sense of urgency to people who aren’t affected personally. If you haven’t been personally affected, the cause isn’t as urgent.

TV shows have nationwide exposure and massive audiences.

Metastatic breast cancer needs that kind of exposure.

Maybe I need to write a pilot.

Martha, what do you think?

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.