Cross the Line

There are many times in life where people are just trying to get through the day. I am not up for attempting to change the world or my little part of it when I have one of these days. On other days I can be quite formidable. It was on one of these more rebellious days I heard a good old Johnny Cash classic come across the radio – Walk the Line. Do we do what Johnny Cash advises in this song and stay in middle ground area to play it safe? There are advantages to not creating a fuss and staying socially accepted. Respecting boundaries is huge with me. I am not looking to cross any clear boundaries that have been made or have mine crossed. It’s tough for me to hold others to some I have made, but I have gotten better. I can say NO and mean it. Boundaries are meant to mark the limits of an area, to keep us safe, to enable us to play by the same rules.

But there are times you don’t get the notice you deserve if you walk the line all the time. Being a cancer patient is no time to walk the line. Cancer patients must dare to cross it. We must make a fuss because it’s our health that is on the line. Cross it, blur it, erase it, and boldly step into territory where you ask for what you need. New limits may need to be marked and a new set of rules written. These are a few of the times when I think it’s appropriate to advocate for yourself and dare to cross the line:

Cross the line when someone tries to make you feel “less than” because you have cancer, or that you’ve done something wrong because of it, or that if you just did this or that it would go away, or that you aren’t thinking clearly, or that you just aren’t good enough. None of these things are true. There are many pesky questions. These comments are a reflection of the person giving them. Just because I’m thinking about something differently doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it clearly. It’s insulting to infer my mind is affected because I’m making decisions that don’t jive with decisions someone else would like me to make. I won’t be gaslighted. I believe some comments that fall into this category are made in an attempt to feign that the person speaking them cares or to somehow make themselves look good. MAYBE they are sincerely trying to be helpful, but I don’t get it. You can’t lift yourself up by putting someone else down. Call these folks out while you’re at it. Possible responses may include:

  • Why are you asking?
  • Where did you hear that?
  • That’s not true. (I’m not interested in debating it.)
  • I disagree.
  • Let me answer your question as it pertains to me.
  • I choose not to discuss my health.
  • Choose more of an impolite response of your own choosing.

Cross the line when you feel your treatment plan may not be giving you its best. Patients never fail treatments. Treatments fail them. It’s more than okay to ask questions. Secondary cancer does not equate to substandard or second-rate care. We are not any less deserving than early-stage patients. Treatments need to be given in the spirit of the best possible outcomes as they are for everyone else. Sadness, pain, and suffering are all real feelings that don’t discriminate based on stage or prognosis. We should not have to ask for compassionate care or if something more effective may be available, but if these things aren’t there, cross the line. Keep asking if new treatments are available. You might not know if you don’t ask. Doctors may not know you’re interested in other options if you don’t speak up. Doctors may need nudging. Lots of nudging.

Cross the line if you do or don’t want to do something. This could be socially or medically, especially if you have questions about plans directly involving you. Remember it’s okay to change your mind. Everyone can change their mind and it doesn’t mean things have taken a turn for the worse. Everyone’s interests change and evolve over time. You can have energy one moment and none the next. You have a right to talk more about your treatment if concerns and questions have cropped up after agreeing to or starting something new. You are not being difficult. You are being an informed and empowered patient, a good patient in my opinion.

Cross the line when someone talks about someone who has died from cancer and then tacks on in a hushed voice that he or she was Stage IV. I mean no disrespect – but withstanding complications of surgeries or infections – of course they were Stage IV. It isn’t exactly a newsflash. I know I’m sensitive to those words. It always strikes me as somewhat insensitive and unkind to whoever died. Why does it need to a qualified by a stage label? Someone still died. Yes, life changes with a metastatic cancer diagnosis. I feel the time has passed, long passed, for people to whisper the words “Stage IV” after someone’s name. I’d feel better if they expressed more anger and outrage, asking instead WHY or HOW in this day and age hasn’t more research been directed to lower the number of deaths from metastatic breast cancer. THE NUMBER OF DEATHS HAS NOT GONE DOWN SINCE 1995!! I haven’t figured out a way to effectively address this growing annoyance I have with the whispers. Perhaps my first step is to find out why it matters to them to include the information of a Stage IV label with a lowered voice before I go on the defensive. It’s possible I’m misinterpreting their intent based upon the lens from which I hear it. I could then go on to explain how I’m living strong with a Stage V mindset.

I appreciate that people care about me. Most of the people in my life are not intrusive. Those folks get the boot. I have reached a point though that when I encounter someone who is either speaking about me or for me by way of assumptions or falsehoods that I won’t let it pass and be quiet. Perceptions about secondary cancer must keep changing. I felt such a wave of relief and support from a friend I had lunch with a month ago who listened with empathy as I shared how I felt about comments I heard about those with Stage IV. She said she knew LOTS of people who were living years past the five-year survival mark. She should know people like me because she’s a director of development with ties to events and donors at the hospital where I receive treatment. I know there are more people like me who are living by example and changing the perceptions, definitions, and conversations around metastatic cancer.

I am done walking the line.

Living Hopefully

Superheroes are part of current popular culture. Super human strength, agility, and speed quicker than lightning save cities or planets. Right and might both outwit and outlast villains every time. I like to think of hope as its own superpower. It is its own light in the dark night. Hope calms the inner storm. Hope saves. There are days it takes a beating, but it is never snuffed out. It always resurfaces stronger and brighter. It is also transferable from one person to another which makes it even more powerful. I wish hope could be embodied in some type of physical form where we could call out for it and see it leaping over obstacles in a single bound and knocking out the bad guy. It sure would make life easier. We must do our best to take on that persona ourselves. Superheroes are good examples of what it means to adopt a hopeful lifestyle.

When we live hopefully, we become those superheroes.

Hope by definition doesn’t make you feel doomed. It provides strength and wipes out fear. Hope moves forward. Hope is a Stage V quality. Throw resiliency and toughness in there as Stage V qualities as well. One on its own creates a reaction. The reaction is greater when several of these qualities are combined. Stage V is also a superpower worthy to make a stand against villainous cancer.

Adam Sicinski is a life coach, founder of IQ Matrix in 2009, and has developed over 350 self-growth mind maps. I honestly can’t gush enough about these mind maps. One of his points in  “How To Nurture Hope When Life Starts Getting Really Tough”  is that hope can’t come and go from a person’s life as the need arises for it. Instead, hope is a lifestyle. Hope becomes an integral part of each day. It requires trust and faith in yourself that you can get through tough times and follow through with your actions and plans. He writes when you nurture hope you lessen doubt, anxiety, and stress which alleviates some of the uncertainty while facing these emotions. In turn, your levels of belief rise and you can act in a more positive way despite whatever trouble you face.

Pessimistic thoughts must give way to a sense of certainty. Hope becomes more proactive this way rather than a passive act. More of Adam Sicinski’s ideas follow as to what it means to be a hopeful person.

Living hopefully means . . .

  • You are grateful for the life you have. Even though you are living with gratitude, it does not limit you from seeking out a better life.
  • You want to make things better and look for ways to make your life better. Actions and opportunities pave the way step by step.
  • You will always do your best to make the most of every situation.
  • Every experience has some value. You remain hopeful that things will turn out in your favor.
  • No matter what happens, you maintain a positive outlook.
  • Living in the now. This means that by making the most of today, you increase your chances of making the future you want a reality.
  • You do more than just hope things work out. You work to make it so. Sometimes this means building on past successes and learning from what has happened. Mistakes can be helpful.
  • Living generously. Giving to others often provides a better understanding about your own personal struggles while allowing you to grow toward where you want to be.
  • Looking for opportunities where others can help. You can’t do it all on your own.
  • Ridding yourself of worry and regret. It breeds anxiety, stress, and hopeless thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. These are not perfect people, but people with a sense of purpose who work through challenges as cheerfully as possible with attitudes that keep them moving forward.

This last idea is really important for me because positive people seem to have many of the other qualities needed for living hopefully already present. We gravitate toward one another and conversations about positivity and hope unfold naturally. I need to surround myself with these people as someone living with cancer. I also need to continue being the person living hopefully.

I also like that Sicinski doesn’t say that nurturing hope means nothing ever goes wrong. A perfect life isn’t realistic. Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to life’s challenges. When mistakes are made or unexpected circumstances are encountered, those who nurture hope will likely see these experiences as opportunities for growth. I think there are many similarities in hope as a lifestyle and being resilient.

A lifestyle that embraces hope involves gratitude, trust, positivity, happiness, and belief. Nurturing hope causes you to reflect a lot on your life and draw upon strengths and resources. These shifts in thoughts and lifestyle apply to anyone who wants to live with a mindset geared toward hope. Hope as a lifestyle also correlates positively with a Stage V lifestyle.

One of my most hopeful times of day is in the predawn of the morning. I’m still in bed, relishing that state of bliss between sleep and awake. It is quiet. In the summer, I can hear birds chirping melodically. When it’s winter, the gentle sound of the furnace is comforting. I feel refreshed and have the whole day stretching out before me. Anything can happen. I like to think about how I see my day unwinding and set a positive intention. Often I just appreciate the stillness and let myself be. Now, I understand mornings aren’t everyone’s best time, but I’m betting you can identify a time of day where you have an abundance of hopeful energy. Maybe it’s during your morning coffee or tea. Maybe you find it while out for a run. It could be much later in the day when you’re driving home from work. The point is to give yourself some time every day to be intentionally hopeful. It takes only a few moments to let gentle hopeful feelings and reminders have a positive impact.

May the coming new year offer many opportunities for living hopefully.

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What are you hoping for this year? What plans have you made to help turn your hopes into something real?

Finding Hope

There are 26 places named Hope in the United States, ranging from Wisconsin to Mississippi, and from Alaska to New York. Hope is on the map in several European countries, and even farther away in Pakistan, South Africa, and New Zealand. There are a total of 50 cities throughout the world named Hope.

But you don’t have to travel to any of them in order to find hope. Likely, you would find some there if you did, because hope is everywhere. You just need to know where to look and be really good at keeping it when you find it.

Hope is plentiful. It can be found in every smile, the water, and in the air. Unfortunately, hope can also be elusive when it’s most needed. Below are ideas of some of the expected and unexpected sources where I have found it. As you read the ideas below, I encourage you to identify a strong example of each that resonates with you.

  • Family: These are the people who know you best and have your best interests at heart. Choose the family members that have always given that unconditional support. My grandma was always a source of comfort and support. I loved holding her wrinkled, beautiful, and amazing hand. She wouldn’t even have to say anything. Just looking at the miracle of a woman in her upper nineties who had lived a remarkable life made me feel hopeful. Memories of her words and actions still echo wisdom, warmth, humor, and hope.
  • Friends: I know some of my friends will be there through thick and thin. When the chips are down, true friends are the ones who show up. I can be myself even if I’m feeling tired, down, unwell, or a little grumpy. They are givers and they lift me up. We have the stupidest jokes that we still think are funny. These are the friends that keep me hopeful.
  • Strangers: How strange! But every once in a while you will cross paths with someone who says exactly what you need to hear at exactly the right time. Family and friends cannot always do this. These strangers come in and out of my life in a flash, but they often say or do something that has a lasting impact. Maybe it’s a tweet I read or a comment I overhear. Perhaps it is something said directly to me. It could even be a small act of random kindness.
  • Faith: Maybe you get hope from going to church, temple, a mosque, or some other physical building. Maybe it’s through prayer, reading scriptures, or through sharing your faith with others. Feeling a spiritual presence creates strong feelings of hope. It’s different for everyone, but I believe we all believe in something, and that something is the faith needed to lift us up when we need help standing.
  • Fitness: I often find my spirits are raised when I’ve gone for a walk or I’ve spent time hiking or biking. When I achieve something that I couldn’t do before, it makes me feel confident, believe in myself, and be more hopeful. I think the endorphin release that goes along with exercise not only contributes to happiness, but also hopefulness. It was an invigorating 27° F the other day and being outside walking really made a positive difference to my day. When I’m happier, I naturally feel more hopeful.
  • Nature: See fitness. But also just being in nature and listening to the stillness or surrounding sounds can make a person feel happier and more hopeful. More and more people are finding health benefits when spending time in nature. These are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Feeling hopeful definitely is part of one’s emotional health. Give me trees!
  • Meditating: Find the best way to meditate for you. It can be completely focusing on your breath in total silence. It can be a guided meditation. Music, nature, yoga, other fitness, and prayer all have potential for meditative practice.
  • Books and Movies: Both are great sources for telling stories of hope. Find what appeals to your individual tastes and interests. There are far too many possibilities for me to even make recommendations. What a fun book club idea it would be for readers to bring books or titles that have nurtured feelings of hope and then swap them with one another.
  • Music: Here is another place where you have to find the right fit. Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” always has been an incredible piece filled with hope and possibilities. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” is another good one where you actually can see the moments in the song when the sun rises above the horizon to greet a new day with hope.
  • Art: Nature photography and pictures where I feel I can walk into the scene give me hope. I’m not sure what it is, but I think it has something to do with my thoughts while enjoying these types of art. Most of the cards I send actually are crafted from my own photos from nature. I find them visually pleasing and love sending them.
  • Science: Yep, it surprises me a bit too, but science holds future cures for diseases. Hope and science should not be separated. Researchers don’t live in isolated worlds of facts. They are inherently hopeful that what they theorize, what they believe, will become fact. Their ideas are rooted in curiosity, wondering, possibility, and hope. Hope works through science. My medicines are infused with hope. It’s one of the side effects I don’t mind experiencing.
  • Self: When you get really quiet, when you dig deep into yourself, you will find your answers and the hope you need. You know what works best for you. Blogging is a way for me to express my hopeful thoughts to others. A journal may be an excellent way to explore your inner most thoughts in a manner that allows you to reflect back on thoughts. The place where hope must absolutely be kept is within your heart. Hope is a little bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she discovers there’s no place like home. Hope has been there within each of us all along. From time to time we need reminders. We need to know how to nurture it.

Hope is an essential part of a Stage V mindset.

If you have chosen to ignore a timeline provided by medicine and wake up each and every day choosing to live relentlessly, you understand.

If you believe in science that will prevent cancer cells from mutating or becoming treatment resistant, you understand.

If you believe in immunotherapy as the future of cancer cures and treatments, you understand.

If you believe that life is good and that your actions, beliefs, and the strong voice you speak defines hope, you understand.

If you believe in remission, in positive energy, and in hope, you understand.

You’d also be right.

Stay hopeful.

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We all need hope. Please share any ideas about hope so we all can benefit. If you are enjoying reading these posts, please consider officially following through your WordPress account or with your email address. Click on the gray “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and follow the prompts if interested in following as an email subscriber. Thanks for reading!

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?

Stage V and Kardashian Power

IMG_1077 close up copyThe Kardashian family is highly successful. Whether you approve or disapprove of their choices is not the point in today’s post. What is relevant is how they have been able to achieve the level of success they have experienced and harnessing it to change perceptions about cancer.

There are many causes for their success. The Kardashian brand is highly visible in the public eye. They have strong financial backing. The family’s influence is far-reaching, almost anything Kardashian turns into gold, and each family member knows how to work the Kardashian brand through the use of social media. Each family member has celebrity power.

My brand is Stage V – a cancer stage focused on unrelenting wellness.

I do not accept that Stage IV is the end of the line. Therefore, I’ve created a space where I live in alignment with my own expectations, ignoring what I’ve heard in terms of medical statistics. Stage V is a way to think outside the medical box, shattering it, and creates a mindset toward surviving and thriving. This brand, product, however it would be labeled in the business world if it were to be thought of as something to sell, needs to become more visible to the masses. Using social media is a good way to increase visibility to the public eye.

I do not have the same type of assets like those possessed by the Kardashians, nor am I a celebrity. I am okay with this because I am introverted and treasure my privacy. Yet, I understand that in order for what I am branding, individuals with a Stage IV cancer diagnosis need to re-envision their life as a Stage V lifestyle where living in a world of wellness is the focus. Stage V needs to be branded like a Kardashian perfume. It needs to have Kim-Kanye visibility on social media, and it needs to be talked about and recognized as a real and viable concept. Survivors who ooze Stage V qualities are the best recognition to give it credibility and success. Exposure and increased visibility will mean Stage V becomes more than a powerful brand; Stage V becomes a way of living as intended.

I have heard two news stories about Stage IV cancer over summer that used the back-to-back sentences: “She has Stage IV breast cancer. She’s dying.” It was maddening because the story was about a woman swimming Madison lakes to raise awareness about metastatic breast cancer. She looked every bit as strong and as alive as a person could be. The part about her dying just didn’t seem accurate, nor did I think it was necessary to the story. I contacted the news station and found out this was how the woman featured described herself. I disagree with her description, but I wholeheartedly support and applaud her efforts. I choose to see her as Stage V.

How can you talk about Stage V in ways that promote its visibility positively?

Education is the first step in bringing about change. More survivors are speaking up and being such educators. If you are a reader with cancer and you are ready to make a difference by altering perceptions one by one, use the following as scripts to guide conversations in shifting others to a Stage V mindset.

  • Explain what Stage V means. Keep it simple but be very clear that you are living in a space of wellness. You have moved beyond the medical classification of your health and are living fully. You don’t accept discussing your health in unhealthy or disparaging terms.
  • Possible script – “Thanks for caring. I am living each day in a mindset of wellness. Yes, things have changed, but I don’t see myself as sick.”
  • Possible script – “I don’t feel sick. I feel well. I am taking such good care of myself that I will be even healthier in the future.”
  • Live and lead by example. Normal is as normal does. Wellness is as wellness does.
  • If others cannot accept your mindset as being one of unrelenting wellness, then politely tell them they can step aside and get out of your way. You do not deserve to be categorized and put in a box. If you are not going to block your own path, others will not be allowed to either.

What would Kim Kardashian do? I don’t think she’d listen to criticism or let naysayers stand in her way. I believe she would speak her mind and get on with what she needed to do. Appropriate disclaimer inserted here: Of course, I don’t know Kim and have no idea what she would really do. Yet, the idea that you create and then live something better if you aren’t happy with the choices offered to you is exactly the same whether one thinks about Kardashian Power or Stage V Power. Again, I don’t really know what Kim would or would not do. The bigger question . . . What will you do?