Mirror Mirror

At first, I thought I was really reaching to connect things together in my life. Setting and achieving physical goals kept me focused on moving forward. Some sort of emotional “ah-ha” always manifested itself through these physical goals that were in process. My evidence is below.

One

Last summer, I wanted to complete a hike that required climbing an exhausting staircase made from rocks. The last time I completed it was in the summer of 2016. My body had been through so much two years ago and even more since then. But this is what I wanted to do and felt I could achieve. I began training in spring. Stair climbing became part of my workout routine. I increased time from ten minutes, to fifteen, and to twenty minutes in my house, going from my basement to second story, over and over again. It wasn’t terribly exciting, but it did what it was supposed to do and was a super workout. I knew both my strength and endurance had grown. I accomplished my hike (on a triumphant second try) and checked it off my list.

Work was going well in my weekly sessions with my fitness coach (permission given to shout out to Forest Coaching and Studios ). I also had made the difficult decision that it was in the best interests for my health to retire from teaching second grade. Necessary emails had been sent to my superintendent, my principal, my teaching team, and finally the staff at school. Describing those emails as tough for me to write is an understatement, but they were part of the plan to move forward with continued better health and my life. So, I was retelling all this to my coach while I practiced huge steps up and down from big blocks. It was all work going toward the successful hike. They were not average size steps. She commented on my retirement emails saying, “That’s a really big step.” Yes, it was. Then it hit me as I towered over her on top of one of these blocks that physically these were really giant steps and it all was a metaphor for what I was going through in my decision process.

My hike was something I had to do. I thought it was just about proving that I could do it. It did test my physical abilities and my will. Initially, it was planned as a birthday activity. It also became a celebration of a career that had successes, challenges, and finally closure.

Two

Building strength is a continued physical goal. Again through the support of my awesome fitness coach, I had progressed from lifting eight pounds to 65 pounds over the course of six months. Whooo-hoooo! Now November, I hadn’t lifted that much since summer. I worked on it again a couple of weeks ago. My first rep was tough. The blasted weight didn’t want to be lifted. I was frustrated. I remained immobile in my lifting position and commented on what was pretty obvious.

“This is heavy.”

Duh.

Then I dug into the lift. I slowly straightened.

“But . . . I . . . am . . . stronger.”

I stood strong and tall, victorious over the challenge. I almost cried, but I achieved it, and completed all my reps, with great satisfaction. Here is another strong metaphor for the emotional strength I’ve strived to build over time in terms of decisions, plans, and support I have needed to give myself. Knowing I am physically capable reinforces that I am emotionally and mentally competent to take on everything I do. I make the choices that are best for me. I am the only person who can be me. No one else knows exactly what’s it’s like. I get to decide. I can accept it if others aren’t with me. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. I am strong. I am enough.

I am more than enough.

Three

A couple of years back, I could walk an hour fairly easily. Due to side effects being on a certain chemotherapy drug long-term, walking deteriorated bit by bit due to neuropathy and then muscle issues caused by neuropathy. I didn’t have much stamina. Again I had to start slowly from the bottom. First, I walked twenty minutes on the treadmill. Gradually, I built that up to thirty minutes, and then forty minutes. When spring came I figured I was ready for outdoor walking. Eventually, I’ve built back up to a 60 minute walk. I feel my physical stamina and endurance mirrors where I am emotionally because I am so in this life for the long haul. I have more to do and need stamina and endurance to achieve all my goals. Just like with my physical strength, I feel my physical stamina positively spurs on my emotional determination every day.

Four

Now, I am working on jumping. I do not know how long I have not been able to jump. At the very least, it is correlated to the time when I was not able to climb or walk very well. I don’t remember really trying to jump for the sake of jumping before then. My “Jump Around” bits at Camp Randall Stadium on Badger Saturdays were always movin’ and groovin’, but not very jumpin’. Recently, much to my dismay, I discovered I could scarcely muster up a hop. I felt really old! Now, I can manage a high enough forward jump to clear a super small hurdle. It still bugs me. Surely, higher and farther jumps will be the next thing on the list to conquer. Interestingly, jumping too has an effect that’s mirrored in my non-physical life. I have been visualizing more writing endeavors for myself (like blogging, finding representation for a book I want to publish, establishing a platform). I must make a leap of faith. Learning how to physically jump again has been the hardest for me, perhaps because its mirrored counterpart is equally as hard for me. Well, blogging has become a reality for me, and that bodes well for my other writing goals. I will keep jumping in leaps and bounds.

None of these are coincidences. I don’t believe in those. My physical pursuits have incredible meaning for what I am working on personally. Cancer impacts both, but it doesn’t define either. I hope you can see symbiotic mirroring in your life. I’d love to hear from you if you have stories to share.

A Strong Mind

Some choices are a lot easier to make than others. Choosing the length of a walk on a given day is an easy choice. Ordering a favorite meal at a restaurant is easy. Snuggling up with a good book is an easy choice. Sleeping in is a no brainer.

Other choices are harder. We all face tougher decisions about many things ranging from work, finances, home, relationships, marriage, parenting, and health to name a few.

Giving myself a chance is often the hardest. I can be my own worst critic. It’s easy to support others, and yet I doubt myself with the exact same task I am so confident others can achieve. Sometimes I perceive a physical drawback; other times it’s a mental obstacle of self-doubt, inner criticism, and negative self-talk. The mental obstacle always is present, causing me to question a physical choice. Just as I do physical strength training, I can strengthen my mind.

How do I maintain a strong mind?

I can’t do (insert difficult activity here). Well, what if I could? What would it look like? How would I get there? Why do I think so definitively that I can’t? When my fitness coach asks me for two or three more reps during a workout, I respond that I can do three more and I do. This wasn’t always the case. When I think of all of the reasons why I shouldn’t do something, I have to stop myself and come up with reasons why I should absolutely and unequivocally do it. It isn’t that I have to do something, but rather that I get to do something. Positive self-talk and compassion sends negative thoughts on their way.

If I don’t believe in myself, I’ve already greatly limited my chances to succeed. There are times when it feels like I am the only one believing in me. Being stubborn is usually a great strength of mine that I need to recognize and work to my advantage. I must tell myself that I can and reframe things in the affirmative.

Planning is a huge reason for many of my successes. I am a planner. When I have a plan, success is more likely. Plans used to always work for me. Then cancer threw a wrench into some of those plans and success took a lot more work. Success had to be redefined. I needed a lot more contingency plans and attention to so many details that at times all it seemed I did was planning and plans were never put in motion. Plans so often changed. Then I transitioned into a “plan and adjust phase” where I wouldn’t take it as an automatic failure if Plan A didn’t work out. I would adjust a bit and call Plan B a learning opportunity. I would just keep chipping away at whatever until I found a way to succeed. This still works well for me, although I often feel like I have to work a lot harder to pull off something physical than someone who looks like they’re achieving it effortlessly.

Looks like. I have no idea what effort someone may be making physically or mentally. It also rings true that others do not understand how hard I’m working. We are all the same that way.

As an aside, I would like to state that when my plans change, it isn’t something I want to happen. I want to keep plans, but can’t always make it work. Please don’t take it personally. I’m already too hard on myself when I have to cancel or turn something down in anticipation of side effects I know are coming. I’m working on finding more soft spaces within myself.

Breathing resets my body and gives my mind a reset as well. Maybe it’s just thirty seconds of good, deep, diaphragmatic belly breaths. It’s all I need to remind myself that I am the boss of me, that I am strong, and that I can do it. Meditation has proven health benefits in that it reduces stress, blood pressure, and has sleep benefits. Even a deep sigh with an extra long exhale can trigger the automatic nervous system from being over stimulated to being more balanced.

Music also helps me, whether I need something relaxing and classic, or I’m in the mood for more current hits. Do country roads take you home? Is it all rock and roll to you? Does Bach have your back? Fine, fine, I’ll stop (in the name of love). The point is to have music available that you love and that suits what you need. Music expresses emotions and works with parts of the brain in ways that words alone do not.

Movement resets both my mind and body. Sometimes I think exercise really does more for me emotionally than physically. Even though there is a chill in the air, the cold, fresh air makes me feel alive. Not too long ago, I took a walk in one of my favorite places on a very windy day. A slight mist became heavier. I didn’t care. In fact, I absolutely loved it and knew it was exactly where I needed to be. There’s also a correlation to walking faster which helps keep my heart happy. Although it sounds counterintuitive, moving around lessens fatigue. It may feel like the last thing I want to do. Exercise helps clear mental fog and I feel better overall when I’ve finished.

Having cancer compounds negative chatter all the more. It can step in instantly when something doesn’t work out and tries really hard to stop me. There is no room for that kind of chatter if I am to maintain my strong mind. And I am. I just need to keep giving myself the chance I know I deserve.

And so do you. We are all the same that way, too.

 

Stand Tall Like You Mean It and Other Definitions of Strength

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BEING STRONG is one of my repetitive themes. I think about it, talk about it, and write about it.

I do it.

I used to think of being strong in purely the literal sense – muscular, powerful, and indestructible. Rarely, if ever, do I achieve this type of strength. In time, my definition broadened to a mental strength able to withstand hardships and adversity. Both of those definitions still hold true for me, but strength takes on a personal definition when you define it as an integral part of yourself as a cancer survivor. What does it mean to be strong as someone living with cancer?

Physical Strength

Being physically strong helps build your own private army inside to combat disease. A strong body makes it harder for disease to take hold. A strong body usually means a strong immune system. And it feels good! Build strength and stamina as you are able. Walking, cardio, and weight training all build stamina and strength. Pick an activity you enjoy. Physical strength does so much more than build muscle. Being physically strong also boosts your confidence and will.

Stand Tall and Mean It

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Posture is great and exerts your confidence. I was surprised to discover I grew an inch in the past year. The reverse is more what I’d expect. I attribute the miracle inch to working out more, stretching my spine, and not carrying myself slightly hunched over with the fear of what might happen next. I’ve learned a lot about how to stand tall physically and emotionally. Right now, I want to emphasize the more figurative meaning. Be more than okay with the choices you make. You get to decide. You are in control. There are many days it feels like you aren’t in control, but you are so much more than a bad day or days. Trust yourself to make the choices that are right for you. No one else has to understand it. Stand tall and mean it. I find myself regularly surprised at how good I feel when I think of myself as ten feet tall on the inside. RISE UP!

You Are Strong Enough

No matter what situation you find yourself in, you are strong enough. I love the pep talks I give myself. It’s really important you know how you feel about how you plan to live because you will have many opportunities to speak your intentions. Not everyone will support these. Too bad for them. Some may even insist you can’t do something. You certainly are stronger than someone else’s opinion of your inner strength. You are stronger than you know. Think of all the unknowns, challenges, and disappointments you’ve gotten through in life. Don’t doubt that you are strong enough to handle what comes your way. You are amazingly strong.

Tears As Strength

I have always been a crier. It has taken years for me to grow into my tears and understand they are a strength and not a weakness. I am comfortable with my feelings. I am vulnerable enough to let them come. And I have an ugly cry, just saying. Crying it out releases emotions that need to be sent away. Everyone is different. Some of us are more sensitive than others. Crying works really, really well for me. LET TEARS BE PART OF YOUR STRONG STORM.

What does being strong mean to you? Being a strong cancer survivor means I can define strength however it works for me. I can push myself a little harder and farther physically. I can tell negativity to take a hike. I can be tough enough to take breaks and rest. I can have a good cry when needed. However I choose to define strength, I know I am more than strong enough. We all are.

Finding A Way

Diana Nyad is the first person ever to complete a swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark tank. Here are some of the numbers: she did it when she was 64 years old, it was a 103 mile long swim, it took her 53 hours, and she completed her swim on her fifth try on September 2, 2013.

Her mantra was persistent – Find a way.  She didn’t give up.

Finding a way is a constant theme in my life, too. I need to find ways to increase my strength and stamina. I need to find ways to stay motivated and never give up my belief that I am healthy. I need to find ways to lead and live by example. I need to find ways that reflect purpose and meaning in my life. I need to find ways to experience joy every day. I need to find ways to live my truth. I sure need a lot of things! Life is challenging for each of us. Finding a way is challenging for me because I am finding my way as someone living with cancer.

LIVING with cancer is an intentional part in finding my way as opposed to battling or fighting cancer. My energy is focused on living, and living well. Yes, there is grit involved. Sometimes it is hard. But the words are there just as they were for Diana Nyad – find a way, find a way, find a way. No matter what.

And so I have decided to write about finding a way, my way, and what that means to me in my efforts to be strong, to be hopeful, and to be well as I live with something that has pushed me more than anything I have ever known. I am pushing back. If you read something that helps you find your way, then so much the better.

Find a way, find a way, find a way.  Always.

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