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Showing posts from October, 2012

Once a Cancer Patient, Always a Cancer Patient

Today I am grateful for my sister as she celebrates her 60th birthday. I have had a chance to get to know her the last couple of years in a way I never thought I would and that means a lot to me. I am also grateful for perspective when it comes to being a cancer patient.

The months of tests, appointments, blood draws, surgeries, and chemo treatments as my cancer was addressed in 2008 were exhausting, but they were the steps that needed to happen. One day I was just an average woman with above average risk for breast cancer waiting for the results of an MR-guided biopsy. The next day I was a full-fledged cancer patient rushing headlong into unchartered territory. What I went through in the next months changed me forever in many ways across all realms--physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When my third surgery was done and I started on Tamoxifen, I recalled walking out of my oncologist's office both relieved and scared that my next appointment wasn't for three months.

I h…

Gratitude in Times of Adversity

Today I am grateful for my free Nordic Track and some sweat this morning.

I am also grateful for the power of gratitude, in all times.

The huge storm Sandy continues to wreak havoc and is already blamed for 15 deaths in the U.S. and over 80 since it began in the Caribbean. People are without homes, power, transportation, and the conveniences we are accustomed to having.

The community I live in has had the tragedy of two teen suicides in less than a week. And it has been just 6 weeks since a teen died in a car crash here. Three families devastated. One high school, three teen deaths. So many grieving, mourning, confused.

A multi-car crash on a local interstate yesterday morning killed a cab driver who had been a physician in his native Sudan and who was working on becoming certified in the U.S. It was a chain reaction crash and his cab was pushed into the path of a semi. More tragedy. More loss.

So where does gratitude come in at times like this?  I have not been directly impacted by …

Faith is Everything

Today I am grateful for a Sunday afternoon fire in our fire-pit and Darcy's delicious homemade lasagna. I am also grateful for what my son teaches me.

My son Sam's Sunday school lesson yesterday focused on "Faith is Everything" and he created a flower with each petal talking about faith. It was just the message I needed when he joined me at the church service after class. I had had a rough morning--mostly of my own creation. I wasn't feeling very faith-filled at that point, but rather ego-driven.

If I were to make a poster about faith and what it means to me, my flower petals would say:

*Replace fear with faith. Or at least reduce fear with faith. Fear can be a big factor in my life if I let it take hold. Faith doesn't allow it to take hold.

*Faith without works is dead. I can't think my way into right actions. I need to act my way into right thinking.

*If I take one step toward my Higher Power, my HP takes ten steps toward me.

*My Higher Power sends me…

From Hangovers to Hanging Out

Today I am grateful for the hope I feel as each new day dawns. I am also grateful to spend a nice evening with other recovering people.

There were many Saturday nights in my drinking days that I ended up pretty drunk and woke up with an unpleasant hangover on Sunday mornings. I would get a Mountain Dew or two after church for my cotton mouth. The carbonation, caffeine, and sugar would revive me a bit. I don't drink Mountain Dew anymore. (I don't drink pop much at all.)

One of the ways I would "punish" myself on hangover mornings was to go for a run. I would often be replaying the evening before in my head or trying to fill in the blanks created by blackouts. Many times on those runs I vowed to quit, to do better, to never drink again, to be a better person, to have some control. The good thing about those runs is that they helped me feel better physically even though they were tough runs. I would sweat out some of the alcohol and get some free endorphins.

But until I…

Track in Time

Today I am grateful for the strength of my marriage to Darcy. I am also grateful for Oliver and how he will sometimes come and sit under the desk while I am at the computer.

It is Saturday morning and I have running on my mind. Darcy and I will go for a run a little later.Last Sunday morning we were staying at a B and B in Calmar, Iowa, home of my high school alma mater South Winneshiek. That afforded me the opportunity to go for a run and take a couple laps around the old track at South Winn. The track itself hasn't changed much in all of these years, though nearby athletic facilities have gotten an upgrade.

My love of running began early and I ran track in high school. I was pretty successful in the 800 meters and 1500 meters, and I usually ran a relay, anchoring it if it was the 4 x 800. I loved track and worked hard in the off-season to get ready for it. It kept me from totally going over the edge as my drinking progressed. And the success I had gave me some positive self-est…

Simple Abundance

Today I am grateful for warm blankets and acceptance.

I am also grateful I came across Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. It was on the bookshelf at the B and B we stayed at last weekend. I had my own copy years ago and referred to it for a time. Then, honestly, the size of the book overwhelmed my personal space and I stored it away. It is nice to revisit it.

I sat down and read through Breathnach's foreward again and loved these words:

"Simple Abundance has enabled me to encounter everyday epiphanies, find the Sacred in the ordinary, the Mystical in the mundane, fully enter ino the sacrament of the present moment. I've made the unexpected but thrilling discovery  that everything in my life is significant enough to be a continuous source of reflection, revelation, and reconnection..."

Wow! Thank you for these words Sarah Ban Breathnach. They are beautiful in how they capture what the practice of gratitude has done for me. …

FMSC and M.A.D.D.

Today I am grateful for safe travels for my husband yesterday and for some rain this morning. We continue to be very dry here, so we appreciate all we get.

I don't often blog about my job, though I am grateful for it in many ways. Yesterday was a good example of that. I went with our 8th grade class and several other adults to Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) to do some service work. It is a neat and effective organization that gets food into the hands of starving children. Our job for a couple hours was to pack these meals. They have been created to provide the best nutritional value to a starving child. We helped pack over 19,000 meals. Although I have been there numerous times with different groups, I always find it gratitfying. I was exhausted yesterday, but doing that work energized me.

Then last evening we had a speaker for parents from M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the topic was preventing underage drinking. It was an effective presentation followed by some g…

Voices of Hope Premiere

Today I am grateful for the smell of fresh-baked cookies and for Pizza Hut pizza.

I am also grateful to be part of the "Voices of Hope: Family and Friends" DVD project. My husband Darcy, son Sam, and I were all part of this and were interviewed last May along with other BC survivors and their families/friends. In August we saw the rough cut of the DVD, paring down 25-30 hours of interviews into a 25-minute DVD. This second DVD will be a companion piece for the first "Voices of Hope" DVD created in 2010. That DVD is meant for newly diagnosed women. This one is meant for caregivers. They are truly a dynamic duo in my opinion. The first DVD has had nearly 6,000 copies already distributed throughout Minnesota, many other states, and even other countries.

Last night at a nice theater in a nice little neighborhood in Minneapolis, this second DVD was premiered on the big screen. It was the first time, and likely the only time, I will see myself on the big screen. Two thin…

An Anniversary and "On Your Left"

Today I am grateful for the wisdom, experience, strength, and hope that is shared by others in recovery and how it inspires me. I am also grateful for spiritual growth and a God I trust today.

Today is the 14th anniversary of my father's death. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age 74, doing what he loved to do--working on the farm. One of my greatest sadnesses is that my son and stepchildren never knew my dad. Sam and dad would have really enjoyed each other's company and sharing farm talk. Time softens the grief, but we still miss you Dad!

Switching gears to point two of today's post, the type of gratitude I focus on in this blog usually goes beyond good manners and saying thank you, which is what some people first think of when gratitude comes up. But there is certainly value in good manners. I was grateful last evening as I took a bike ride that there are courtesy rules for trail use.

We have miles of trail in our community and we bike and run on those miles often…

A Full Weekend . . . A Weekend Full of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the nice wedding day my niece Kylie and her new husband Jordan had on Saturday, and for the small role my husband and I had as one pair of host/hostess (see my updated profile picture). I am also grateful for the safe travels that family members had to the wedding weekend.

As I sat in the quietude Saturday morning at the bed and breakfast we were staying at, I began this blog post, listing things about this wedding weekend that I was grateful about:

-time on the farm (Sam loves it and so do I)
-laughter and friendly competition as we played some 500 and euchre
-taking a walk with my sisters
-sharing in the washing of dishes and cleaning up after meals, like we used to
do growing up
-a pleasant stay at a pleasant B and B
-time to read and write
-not feeling the compulsion to "do stuff around the house" because I was away
from my house
-my son Sam enjoying an overnight stay with his cousin Brennan
-enjoying the appetizing smell and then the taste of …

Breast Cancer's Lemonade

Today I am grateful for those sturdy little notebooks I can carry in my purse or backpack. If an idea comes to me for this blog or other writing endeavors, I can capture it before it flits away again.

I am also grateful for the wonderful women who come to the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group. Some I have known for years now and consider friends.  There is honest sharing, true emotion, and usually at least a little laughter. I know it is cliche, but sometimes "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" does ring true.

The women I have met in person and in the blogging world, some fellow BC patients, some not, since my own diagnosis in 2008, have made the lemon of cancer into a more palatable lemonade.

The sour lemons of cancer are many: fear, lost sense of youth and security, treatment and medication side effects, estrogen out of whack, double amputation, did I mention fear (of metastasis in particular)?

But the lemonade of connecting with women who have shared similar ex…

Fall--My Favorite Season

Today I am grateful for the wisdom of letting go and letting God. I don't always use it when I need to, but I use it more than I used to.

I am also grateful for the beauty of the fall season.  Fall has always been my favorite season. I don't really know why. I love the fact that, living in the Midwest my entire life, I have always gotten to witness the ebb and flow of the seasons. About the time I tire of one, the next one comes along. 

I like fall because I am not a big fan of heat and humidity, so the air feels especially refreshing when it starts to cool down. It felt even better this year after an oppressive couple of months this summer. I also love the changing colors, not just on the trees, but all over, with plants, grasses, and such. It is amazing the colors that Mother Nature comes up with. I love the crisp air and the smells that tell you changes are coming. I love the rustling leaves.

Stopping to think about the changing seasons makes me grateful for all 5 of my se…

Just Breathe

Today I am grateful for family meals together. We get at least a few every week and that is so important.  I am also grateful for the wisdom others share with me.

Thinking about being awake and being alive as discussed in the last couple of posts, I made a conscious effort to be more fully awake on my run yesterday afternoon.  I will sometimes run with my radio and headphones on, or if not, I am still usually deep in thought and not the most aware of my surroundings. I run routes near our house that I have run many, many times.

I listened and paid more attention with all of my sense. Random observations included:

-my footfalls and Oliver's footfalls and the difference in sound between his 4 feet
and my 2 
-how every dog's bark sounds a little different, like every human voice
-the sounds of lawn mowers and sprinklers and people making use of a nice fall day
-the way the partly cloudy/partly sunny sky looked
-people arriving home with bags of groceries or out checking their…

Worth the Risk?

Today I am grateful for my husband's sense of humor. It can help take my edge off when I am spiraling into crabbiness. I am also grateful for family meals together.

I tried to be more awake yesterday. To feel the wind in my face as I biked. To hear the vacuum picking up the dirt from our floors. To smell the fresh and clean bathroom. To taste the stuffed burger my husband made for dinner. To see the vibrant colors of fall when the sun came out in the afternoon.

Even a little conscientious focus on wakefulness can heighten my sense of awareness and of gratitude. Is it worth the risk? Definitely!  But the ways I mentioned above are not the real risky ones. It is still too easy to sleep though life and miss so much. Life and love are challenging. It can be "safer" to avoid taking risks that make us vulnerable, put us in a place where we could be hurt. But if we are always trying to avoid hurt, we also end up missing the joy that comes with risk as well.

I am trying to wrap …

Are You Awake?

Today I am grateful for my son's enjoyable football season and for falling asleep on the couch on a relaxing evening.

I have been doing a fair amount of reading about gratitude and really loved the book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl-Rast. There were so many "zingers" in there for me that I knew I would need to read it again, so I picked it up yesterday.

On p. 8 of his thought-provoking book he states what he hopes people gain from the book:

1. Waking up is a continuing process. No one wakes up once and for all. There is no limit to wakefulness, just as there is no limit to aliveness.

2. It is risky to be awake to life. It takes courage.

We have to choose between risk and risk. We run the risk of sleeping through life, of never waking up at all. Or else we wakefully rise to the risk of life, facing the challenge of life, love.

Thought-provoking indeed. There is so much to ponder in those few lines that I will leave it at that for now.

Today I wi…

Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

Today, October 13, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

Today I am grateful for efforts to bring more attention and research funding to metastatic breast cancer, the cancer that kills. I have too many people I care about who live in fear of metastatic disease. I want future generations to be able to put that fear away.

My sister Zita was diagnosed with BC in 2004 and I was scared. Scared for her. Scared for my 6 other sisters and I. My sense of security was shattered, and I wasn't even the BC patient yet. In 2006, my sister Mary Jo was diagnosed with BC. Fear amplified. Sense of security smashed to smithereens.

My own diagnosis came in 2008. Living your worst fear is tough, but definitely different than living in fear of your worst fear.

My worst fear today is that one of us will have a metastasis of our BC. (Mary Jo was diagnosed with a primary lung cancer in 2010. She is plugging along and doing well. I can only imagine what it felt like to get that news a second time.) B…

Spiritual Light or Human Darkness?

Today I am grateful for a bike ride at dusk yesterday. I felt the need for speed and fresh air, and the bike ride took care of both. I am also grateful for the spiritual advisors I have had over the course of my life.

I was thinking further about being spiritual beings on a human path. The human path I used to be on was a dark one. One of my favorite songs when I was growing up was "Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. I listened to my older siblings' music and still love the late 60's and early 70's stuff. I listened to "Sound of Silence" on a 33 rpm album, often sitting on the floor next to one of the speakers in our stereo (you know the old stereos that looked more like a piece of furniture). The song struck a chord with me, the opening line of "Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again" fit my young mind, sad to say. 

Darkness and self-pity were my default modes for years, even before I started drinking alcoh…

Spiritual Being, Human Path

Today I am grateful for some front porch time last night. I am also grateful for the spiritual growth I have had over the years, particularly in my years of recovery from alcoholism.

A saying that always gets me thinking is "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."

These are the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. de Chardin was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who lived from 1881-1955. Some of his teachings and ideas came into conflict with church officials during his lifetime. This little bit is the most I have read about the man behind a favorite quote of mine, but it sounds like he spoke his truth. That takes courage and I am inspired by that.

Spiritual being. Human path. Spirituality is where it all starts. Where did it start for me? Today I can say that being raised Catholic, attending Catholic school through 8th grade, and spending every holy day of obligation at mass did teach me some things. I…

Variety--The Spice of My Job

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and for the strong and consistent parent he is to all three of his children. 

I am also grateful for my job and the variety it offers on a daily basis. I had one of those days at work yesterday that left me exhausted, but also appreciative that one of my favorite things about my work is that no two days are alike. Sure, there are many mundane things I must take care of regularly, and year-in and year-out, but there is always plenty of variety in terms of what comes up with students and parents. I always learn from conversations I have, and I also am reminded of the valuable years of experience I have in this job, in this particular school. That experience comes through in many ways in many conversations.

I taught high school social studies for 10 years, was an elementary counselor for 2 years, and now have been a middle school counselor for 12 years. I was in 5 different schools in those first 12 years. Now, I have been in one school for the l…

Share or Burden?

Today I am grateful for lively conversation with my friend Kelly yesterday and for time to give to my writing projects.

In a different conversation I was having with my friend Jill yesterday, the idea for today's blog post came to me. Jill and I are one another's go-to friends. When we need to unburden, vent, sort things out, we can count on one another. That's a good friend to have. Thanks Jill!

In our conversation yesterday we were talking about the difference between sharing and burdening.If I share something with the right motives and consideration, it will probably turn out alright. If I share something with the wrong motives, or out of anger or spite, it probably won't go so well. That makes sense doesn't it? But I am human, so I don't always act in the ways I should. It was good to have the discussion and the reminder.

But it also got me thinking about gratitude. If I practice gratitude, I am in better spiritual condition and I will be more likely to do …

User-Friendly

Today I am grateful for an early morning run and doing an A-Z gratitude list on that run to get my heart and soul motivated.

I am also grateful for the user-friendly nature of the online questionnaires for the Health of Women Study. It is easy to get to my account and the questionnaires that I can take are easy to access. I have done three so far and they didn't take long. The longest was about 20 minutes, the other two took only about five minutes. I completed each in one sitting, but I have the option of saving what I have done so far and coming back to it later. I can also go back and look at my answers during the questionnaire and at the end before I submit it. User-friendly. I appreciate that.

I also appreciate the chance to contribute to worthwhile data collection and research that will hopefully lead to breakthroughs in causes and risk factors for breast cancer, and therefore get us closer to a cure.

Women over age 18, cancer diagnosis or not, you are needed. Go to www.heal…

Write On!

Today I am grateful for the beautiful fall colors we are enjoying recently.

I am also grateful for the power of writing in my life. I know I repeat myself at times on this topic, but it is worth repeating. Writing poetry saved me as a young woman in the midst of my alcoholism. Writing in my gratitude journal saves me today when I get in a funk and slip into some self-pity.

And writing inspires me to reach out to others to discuss what is important to us, to share what we feel passionately about. I have about three different essays/writing projects I am working on right now. Last night as I worked on revising an essay, I got into the writing zone. I love it when that happens. I got caught up in the editing and revising. I could see what needed to be cut, where things needed to be tightened. The right words came. I had fun and I believe the essay is stronger as I re-read it this morning. I get fired up when that sort of things happens. It reminds me why I am a writer.

Below is a poem I …

My Own Changing Landscape

Today I am grateful for a date night with my husband and grateful that writing some poems yesterday morning helped pull me out of a funk.

Since I was on the topic of changing landscapes yesterday, and I am making an effort to talk more about my breast cancer experience this month, I am going to talk about my own changing landscape, courtesy of bilateral mastectomies on December 17, 2008. 

I was diagnosed with both infiltrating ductal carcinoma (IDC) and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Fortunately, the more concerning IDC was successfully removed with a lumpectomy that July. Unfortunately, DCIS remained at the margins of that lumpectomy. DCIS is early stage cancer, some even call it pre-cancer, but it can be illusive and we don't know yet whose DCIS could go bad and whose may sit there for 40 years doing nothing, so it gets addressed. In August, a re-excision was attempted to get the rest of the DCIS. None of these decisions were easy, but each was made with the information I had…

Changing Landscape

Today I am grateful for the growth that can come through pain and difficult emotions. It is gratitude that helps bring me through such times and allows me to see the growth.

I am also grateful for the new perspective that changes bring.

While we were out of town for our marathon, the landscape of our rivertown saw a significant change. The massive mainspan of the new bridge being constructed was lifted in place. Now the 60-year-old bridge is side-by-side with the new one, slated to last 100 years. Out with the old, in with the new. It will be a long process yet, but plenty of work has already been done.

I have been fascinated by the spectacle of construction. But it certainly reminds me of the necessary patience it takes. This project has been underway for a couple years already and has at least a year to go yet. Sturdy structures built to last take time to put together. That sounds like what it takes for strong marriages, friendships, and parenthood too doesn't it? In ways, we ar…

It IS the Little Things

Today I am grateful for fried eggs. I have enjoyed them my whole life, from farm-fresh eggs straight from the chickens when I was growing up, to making them at 2:00 in the morning when I would come home drunk in my late teens, to a quick supper when we are busy now.

Fried eggs. Pretty basic, pretty good. Gratitude takes the little things and helps me appreciate them, which makes me appreciate the big picture of my life more.

Last night as I read to my son, I was struck by how much this simple gesture means to me. We, but mostly me, have read to him nearly every night since he was a baby. From "Goodnight, Moon" to "Green Eggs and Ham" to "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" and "The Greatest Moments in Sports," we have covered many stories and repeated many dozens of times. And this bed-time reading often comes when I am tired and not the most patient anymore. I always seem able to summon up the energy to read and spend those few precious minutes with …

On Hoods and Hugs

Today I am grateful for hugs and for the cozy feeling I get when I put up the hoods on my favorite sweatshirts.

When the temperatures get cooler, I will often wear a sweatshirt around the house. When I was going though four rounds of chemo four years ago this month, I started putting the hoods up when I was wearing those sweatshirts. By then, I had lost my hair and it helped me feel warmer to have my hood up. It became a habit and it continues to comfort me. Some days, it also reminds me of what it was like going through cancer treatment. I think it is important, especially this month, to talk about the realities of cancer treatment. That can help keep the pink onslaught in perspective and remind us that breast cancer is not a feel-good pink ribbon. Breast cancer is, for many patients, months of tough treatments and surgery recoveries.

The hood makes me think of the hugs too. After my bilateral mastectomies, hugs at first had to be gentle. Then, as I healed physically, I started getti…

On the Front Porch

Today I am grateful for my friends Betsy and Jill and our growing shared history. I am also grateful for the front porch of our house, and the back patio.

Saturday evening after sunset I sat on that front porch for a few minutes. The air was cooling down after a warm fall day. I had been on the go all day, so not surprisingly, after a few minutes I was dozing off. (When I slow down and sit still, I am usually drowsy in a matter of minutes. Sleep deprived perhaps?) Still, not a bad way to close out a good day.

Sunday morning as the sun was coming up through the trees, I spent a few solitary minutes on the porch again. Enjoying a cup of coffee, I took in the sights and sounds--birds, geese, cars, golfers, a gentle breeze starting to come up. Just sitting and taking it in. That can be a tall order for me because I always have so much I want to do and so much that needs to be done. I have to practice slowing down. Our front porch is a great place to do that.

My husband calls this porch a…

Take Action and Join the Count! Here's HOW . . .

Today I am grateful for the wonderful breast cancer bloggers I am getting to know in the blogosphere and for what they are teaching me. I am also grateful for the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's new initiative--the Health of Women Study.

It is also worth mentioning that Dr. Susan Love underwent a successful bone marrow transplant recently as part of her treatment for leukemia, which she was diagnosed with in June. I very much respect Dr. Love and the work she does surrounding breast cancer and finding answers. I wish her well in her recovery.

This is a blog about gratitude, but it's my blog and I'm a breast cancer patient so on this opening day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I just want to say a few things. First and foremost, I feel deeply blessed to have my health and be able to do things like run marathons. I take less for granted than I used to and I remember my priorities better than I used to.

I am proud to be part of the growing discussion about wha…