"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Wednesday, October 31, 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 have been fortunate to have minimal side effects from the Tamoxifen, but I do have some. I will spare you the details, but some of those side effects were evident over the weekend. It's always a bit unsettling to me when that happens. My mind starts to work overtime on what it might mean. Is the drug working? Why is this happening now? Should I be worried about uterine cancer? (Uterine cancer is a rare but potential side affect of Tamoxifen.) I have felt more tired, physically and mentally, lately. It's probably because I have been very busy and behind on sleep. But this mind of mine will get going down this path occasionally. 

"Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient" comes to mind at times like this. I don't live in fear, but it's a new normal post-diagnosis. If all goes well, appointments stretch further out, as do scans and other tests. But it still lurks in the background, coming to the forefront when some of the side effects I mentioned earlier kick in. So I go back to Monday's post and "reduce fear with faith."

Not all fear is bad. Healthy fear keeps me motivated to make good choices for my overall well-being. Healthy fear would have me making at least a phone call to my doctor or oncologist if I had a concern, and an appointment if warranted. Healthy fear has me paying attention to how I am feeling and what is going on in my body.

Onward into the day. Happy Halloween! I am grateful for the pumpkin shirt I got for $5 at Target years ago. I bring it out every Halloween and have made good use out of it. Have a good day!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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 any of these terrible situations, but I have faced adversity. We all have. Just as we have all faced loss in our lives.

The power of gratitude is not that it takes away the pain. The power of gratitude is that it gives us the strength to get through the pain. It softens the pain enough because we remember the gifts, the legacies, of those who die. It makes a storm bearable for those in the midst of it because it reminds them of what is really important--the safety of loved ones and having food, water, and shelter.

Gratitude in times of adversity reminds us all to make the most of today, because it
is all we get. Just today. Go live it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

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 many messengers of faith in my life. They are my family, friends, and sometimes even strangers who prove that faith is alive and well.

*I will never fully arrive at my faith destination. It is an ongoing journey. But the longer I keep moving forward on the path, the better the view gets.

*There are many spiritual tools in my toolkit. Prayer, gratitude journaling, staying in touch with others in recovery, reading key passages in meditation books, and asking for help from my HP are a few that come to mind.

*Most assuredly, regular practice of gratitude regularly restores my faith in the
world I live in.

No one else can give me faith. I can't give you faith. We each have to find our own. But that doesn't mean we can't help each other find it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

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 reached out and asked for help, I couldn't quit on my own. Until I realized I would need others and a power greater than myself to pull me out of my active alcoholism, my pattern continued. Drink. Vow to quit. Start again. Sometimes days later, weeks later, but sometimes the very next night.

That is why evenings like last night mean so much to me. To be able to spend time with other recovering people and hear their stories serves to remind me of what I need to keep doing. Recovery is a gift I certainly never want to take for granted. Hanging out with folks like me, people who understand the daily challenges we face, people who give me hope by sharing their own experiences and what works for them.

Hanging out with other recovering alcoholics and addicts is always an inspiration to me. Thanks to our friends who invited us to join them last evening, for my husband for joining me, and the other friend who was also able to accompany us. I can't do this on my own. Thanks for being here!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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-esteem to offset the downward spiral of self-hatred that was underway.

I went into coaching and when I graduated from UNI (the University of Northern Iowa) in December of 1987, I went back home and started subbing in local schools. I got the head girls' track coaching job at South Winn that spring. After landing my first social studies teaching job at South Winn later that summer, I continued as the track coach for the next two years as well.

Coaching has created some of my fondest memories in all my working career. I had the opportunity to work with and get to know many wonderful young women. We had a lot of fun too. One of the highest compliments I received from an athlete was "You helped me believe in myself."  What a gift to be able to take my passion for the sport and help others have some fun and success with it. Success being about much more than what place was earned in an event. At that time, we even hosted an invitational on our home track. My nostalgic run last Sunday brought back memories of those days.

Those two laps brought back good memories and gave me some perspective. My own high school running days were over nearly 30 years ago. My track coaching days at SW were over 22 years ago. I am now 47. I wonder sometimes how I got here so fast. But I am sure glad to be here. Still running. Still living life. Still appreciating the positive experiences I have had along the way.

Track in time. Back in time. Thanks for the memories.

Friday, October 26, 2012

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. I love the phrase "everyday epiphanies."  It can be easy to get stuck in a rut, to feel uninspired and unmotivated. But I find that regular practice of gratitude prevents that from happening because the recognition of daily gifts also brings daily energy and motivation. And to "fully enter the sacrament of the present moment" reminds me to slow down and be aware. Awareness is key to gratitude. We can't appreciate what we are unaware of.

Pick up that journal. Take that walk. Do a gratitude list, or an A-Z list on your way to work. Do 3 x 3 (http://habitualgratitude.blogspot.com/2012/05/3-x-3-better-perception.html). Write that next gratitude letter. Sit in silence and reflect for a couple of minutes today. Any of these will help lead you to the simple abundance Breathnach talks about.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

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 good discussion.  Further exhausted, I was again energized by the event because it was clearly appreciated by the parents who attended.

I am grateful for the range of activities my job presents, and yesterday was a good example of that.

Have a good day!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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 things struck me about that...how far I've come from self-hatred and hating mirrors to loving and accepting that reflection. And how very humbling it is to be part of this project and share with others. I am so proud of my husband and son, and all the participants. The strength of each DVD, as far as I am concerned, is that they contain a genuine and real range of emotions. There's laughter and there are tears.

I so appreciate the other wonderful people who took part, the people behind the camera, and those who offered financial support. I was touched and honored that my sisters drove 150 miles to go with us to the premiere and that a number of my friends and co-workers came. 

I am exhausted this morning, but feeling that gratitude glow as well.

If you are interested in seeing the trailer to this DVD and getting your own copy, please go to www.hastingsbreastcancer.com   

For multiple copies, contact dianedavies48@yahoo.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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. Staying right is helpful for safety and two-way traffic. "On your left" is helpful when passing someone from behind. When I am running, I appreciate hearing "on your left" from a biker or faster runner before they cruise on by. If I am the one passing, I always say "on your left." I don't want to startle anyone or risk injury to any of us out there enjoying the outdoors. People appreciate it when good manners apply to trail usage. We hand out thank yous to others and they hand them back to us. It is one of those places that complete strangers can offer kindness and consideration to others and everyone benefits.

The little things do matter.  Have a good day! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

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 chicken and wild rice soup
my sisters made
-still getting fresh garden produce like lettuce and spinach from my mom's garden
-the joyous occasion of a wedding to bring us together
-stealing a few moments to watch Sam sleep peacefully
-catching up with family members and some of my sisters' friends who were a year ahead of me in school
-my sister Ruth as an amazing MOB (that would be Mother of the Bride) in both her wedding day attire and her efficiency in taking care of details
-a run with Darcy Saturday morning
-a run alone on Sunday morning, including a couple of laps for old-time's sake (more on that later)
-good food, lots of good food

Was it a perfect weekend? No.  It never is. But when I frame it in gratitude, it looks pretty darn good.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

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 experiences, who share on a gut level, who face their fears on a daily basis, has been a real inspiration to me. In the last year or so I have also made more connections in the blogging world with those interested in the direction of the BC movement and the pitfalls of the entrenched pink ribbon culture. They are witty, snarky, intelligent, well-spoken, informative, actively working for change. They have taught me plenty. Though I have never met them in person, I feel like we are becoming friends through our words and sharing in the blogosphere.

Two big pitchers of lemonade from the sour lemons of breast cancer. Thank you to my buddies in support group and my connections in the blogosphere.

We are heading out of town for my niece's wedding so I won't be posting for the next three days. Instead, I will work to be alive and awake for the family time and the wedding festivities.

Have a good weekend! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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 senses, and that they all work well. They allow me to especially enjoy the unique gifts each season brings. I know "gift" is a stretch when the wind chill is 30 degrees below zero, but it does make me appreciate a warm coat and a warm house to come back to. But I am a season ahead of myself.

I will enjoy the fall day presented to me today. What is your favorite season? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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 mail
-the sounds of cars passing, planes overhead, and a golf ball being hit, all within seconds of one another reminded me of how interconnected our little world can be
-the sound of my breathing as I ran, and Oliver's breathing as he ran beside me
-the smell of fall as I took a deep breath
-how things look different when leaves are off of trees

I dropped Oliver off and did a couple more miles on my own, pushing my pace more. My breathing pace picked up. I thought about breathing and how very important it is and how very little most of us, me included, pay attention to it.

My friend Jenny is a yoga instructor and has practiced yoga for years. She taught me a yoga breathing technique that I use most mornings. It's cleansing and centering and I appreciate it. But I'm not that good at taking it with me into my day. Progress not perfection.

When I was going through chemo and all things cancer, my friend Jill reminded me to "Just Breathe" and I have a humorous and special memory of her and the song "Just Breathe" by Anna Nalick that was out at that time. Just breathe. Just appreciate that you are here and getting through this. It was helpful then and is helpful now when I remember to use it.

Today I will appreciate breathing, lungs in good working order, and the air out there for me to breathe in.

Monday, October 15, 2012

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 my head around Brother David Steindl-Rast's words from yesterday's post and also these from the next pages:

"Even the predictable turns into surprise the moment we stop taking it for granted."

I need to be awake to stop taking the many gifts in my life for granted. Put that way, wakefulness is certainly worth the risk.

Today I will focus on my level of wakefulness, and how risk-taking can stretch me in positive ways.

Have a good day!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

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 will try to be aware of my level of wakefulness. Gratitude keeps me more awake.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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.) But we are all still here, still living life, still surrounded by our loved ones. Too many BC patients suffer a metastasis and it is what claims 40,000 lives a year. Two dear friends of mine, Sheila and Jenny, also are BC patients. And there's the many wonderful women I have met in support group, through the Voices of Hope DVD projects, and in the blogging world. I worry and wonder who may end up with mets. But I don't live in fear. I try to take action.

I wrote the essay that follows and submitted it to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Rejected. Then I submitted it to USA Today. I like submitting to USA Today because their rejections are swift. (My motto--nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

Then I remembered that I have my own blog now. So here's that essay:
Giving Voice to the Silenced
 The wrong kind of awareness has us stuck in a pink rut in the midst of another Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are hung up on mammograms and early detection, but they are only part of the picture, and misleading at that. A new “m” word needs to be moved front and center to help dislodge the pink stalemate. The word is METASTATIC. It’s big, bold, and scary.

This Saturday, October 13, 2012, is the 4th annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Many do not know what metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is, and those who do live in fear of it. MBC is the cancer that kills, the cancer that takes 40,000 lives a year in the United States. Breast cancer that stays in the breast is not deadly. Metastatic cancer means it has left the initial location and spread. The most common places breast cancer metastasizes to are the lungs, liver, brain, and bones. There is no cure for MBC, though many live for years after diagnosis. The current mainstream breast cancer movement ignores MBC patients. They don’t fit the smiling, happy faces of survivors that marketers want to put on breast cancer, especially this time of year, so they are shut out. It is time we give voice to those who have been silenced. Their hope is no less real, but it is more urgent.

Up to 10% of those diagnosed with breast cancer are at Stage IV, with metastasis at initial diagnosis. Another 30% of those first diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will later suffer a metastasis. That can happen in two, eight, or twenty years. We don’t know who it will happen to or why. Cancer cells are very stealthy and they do not give up their secrets easily. Do we really need more pink stuff to buy or another catchy phrase on a t-shirt?  “Saving Second Base?”  How about saving lives?  We need a concerted effort to pick up the pace of research so we can unlock the mysteries of these mutant cells and stop them.

We add insult to injury for MBC patients when we turn away in fear. It is likely we all know someone who has died of breast cancer. With names like Deb, Theresa, Carol, Tricia, Elizabeth, Kim, Lori, and Rachel, they have loved ones who miss and mourn them. We owe them a better effort. We owe our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and the next generations a better effort. The pink mania of recent Octobers has put a singular face on breast cancer—triumphant survivors who “beat” the disease—creating illusions of progress and a sense that the right fight means victory. This is a slap in the face of all who are handed a Stage IV diagnosis, implying that they failed to be strong or courageous enough. It is to these current MBC patients we owe our best effort.

Instead of being paralyzed by fear, we can be catalyzed by it. We need to look metastatic breast cancer and the 150,000 American women and men living with it today in the eye. Start with facts and resources such as those provided by the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network at http://mbcn.org/. Funding for advanced disease is currently very low, at about 2% of overall cancer research dollars. Join Metavivor’s (http://www.metavivor.org) “30% for 30%” campaign to increase that 2%.

Start conversations with others and listen to the real stories of courage and survival, the voices of those living with advanced breast cancer. One such voice belongs to Lisa Bonchek Adams. I don’t know Lisa personally, only just recently meeting her in the blogosphere, about the same time she found out that she has Stage IV breast cancer. The cancer she was diagnosed with nearly six years ago has metastasized to her bones.     

With sisters diagnosed in 2004 and 2006, and my own breast cancer diagnosis in 2008, one of my worst fears is Lisa’s new reality. With her permission, I encourage you to check out her reality at http://lisabadams.com. A strong dose of truth is needed to break through the pink haze as we mark this Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

(If you go to http://mbcn.org/ you will see more stories from the brave women living with MBC. They are adding a story a day this month. Less pink, more action.)

How does this tie in to gratitude? How doesn't it?  There are far worse things to lose than your breasts. All ANY of us have is today. Make the most of it.


Friday, October 12, 2012

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 alcohol at age 14. When alcohol was added, the darkness and self-pity were compounded. My brain was not a friendly place, least of all for me. I didn't realize how much impact those negative thoughts and that darkness would have on me.  Not until some light started coming through at least.

Spiritual light. Guidance. Direction. Help from outside myself. Less self-hatred, more feelings of worthiness and acceptance. Hope and faith.

Left to my human devices, I chose negative thoughts, depressing music, and alcohol.

Given spiritual tools and using them has made all the difference. Today I choose the light.

My daily practice of gratitude is one of my crucial spiritual tools.  What are some of yours?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

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. It took until adulthood to fully appreciate most of that though.

The clincher for me was living through many drunken nights. I could have died of alcohol poisoning, killed myself in a car accident, or other tragic endings. But someone was watching out for me, someone had a bigger plan to keep me around. When I got sober and looked back on my drinking, I had felt abandoned by God, when in fact God had been there all along protecting me. I was the one who had abandoned that relationship. Slowly, I started working on building that damaged relationship back up. It is work I continue to this day, but we get along much better now because my periods of abandoning God tend to be much shorter.

"Faith without works is dead."  We may be spiritual beings on a human path, but it is definitely my humanness that teaches me why I need spirituality.

Have a good day! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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 last 12 and am fully immersed in year 13. Each school was different and added to my variety of experience and I appreciate that. Being at one school now for a long stretch has both advantages and disadvantages, but I would have to give the nod to the advantages.

I am grateful for many apsects of my job, and when the ones that are more challenging come along, I try to remember the positive aspects.

What do you most appreciate about your job?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

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 the right kind of sharing, not burdening. Speaking of burdens, being grateful and sharing that with others is never the wrong kind of sharing. It lightens the load we each carry by pointing out the blessings of this day, thereby taking my mind off the burdens, even if those burdens are all in my head.

That's it for now. Closing Lisa's random thoughts on gratitude for today.

Monday, October 8, 2012


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.healthofwomenstudy.org to sign up and encourage others to do the same.

Have a good day!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

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 wrote Friday morning, after being in a funk for a few days. The funk wasn't about any one thing in particular, just life in general. For me, that boils down to expecting too much and accepting too little.

Here's that poem:

Throwing Up

I caught the bug
Of ego inflation
It brought a
Soul sickness
And a spiritual

I felt like
Throwing up

So I did

I threw up
My hands
And surrendered
My will

That is the cathartic nature of writing for me. What kind of writing helps you the most? What kinds are you willing to try?  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

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 in front of me at the time. The re-excision was not successful and my twice-excised breast was already scarred and deformed. Chemo was next on my cancer treatment agenda, so that became my focus while I made decisions about my third surgery.

It was clear to me now that my next surgery needed to be a mastectomy. I chose to have both breasts removed for a number of reasons. I chose not to have reconstruction for a number of reasons as well.I was clear in my decisions and have not regretted them. But that doesn't mean it's easy to go from 38 C's to flat-chested and even a little concave. I will never forget the last days before my mastectomies and saying goodbye to my breasts (last run, last sex, last shower) and I will never forget the first moments after waking up from surgery. One of the very first things I did was look down at my new landscape. And I was relieved. Relieved to be done with surgeries, relieved to be done with chemo and have hair growing back, relieved to feel I had done what I could to rid my body of cancer and be able to move forward with the type of life I wanted to live.

My changing landscape took time to get used to. I remember the strange feeling of sleeping on my side with no breasts. I remember feeling phantom itches for the first weeks--like my breasts were still there. There was grieving and healing.

Today I accept my flat terrain and as I am about to head out for a run, I even embrace it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

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 are always under construction. The key is using the right tools, materials, and attitude.

That brings me back to one of the best on-going benefits of gratitude. It teaches me patience and it teaches me to slow down and enjoy the process of life. It teaches me hard work always pays off, just not always on my timeline. Gratitude slows down my world because I'm not consumed by chasing the next great thing, rather I am appreciating the great gifts I already have in my life.

Slow down and have a good day! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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 my 10-year-old.

I know there will come a time when he outgrows this routine, but that makes me appreciate each night we share this tradition even more. It IS the little things that make a BIG difference in helping me keep my priorities in life straight.

Look for the little things that make a big difference to you today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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 getting used to how hugs felt without breasts. You know what, they feel different, but they feel good.

I think back in appreciation at the tenderness shown to me by my young son (6 at the time) when he hugged me as I recovered. And the consideration shown to me by others, who knew without saying a word, that what I needed wasn't sympathy, just straight-up support.

Share a hug today.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

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 an "oasis" and it really is. I thank him for the setting he creates with plants and furniture. I pledge to make better use of it.

Where is your slow down place?

Monday, October 1, 2012

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 what is wrong with the current breast cancer awareness movement and what is right with it. Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's (DSLRF) efforts definitely fall in the "what is right" category. Taking action for a cause is empowering, especially if you have been personally touched by something, as so many of us have been impacted by breast cancer. Our own or in someone we care about. 

Here are a couple ways to take action. Join the new DSLRF initiative called the Health of Women Study at www.healthofwomenstudy.org.  It is open to women worldwide over the age of 18, both those who have had breast cancer and those who have not. The goal is to build a huge database of information from women about women to help find potential answers to the causes of and risk factors for breast cancer.

You can also join the on-going DSLRF initiative known as the Army of Women at www.armyofwomen.org. This is also open to all women regardless of breast cancer history. This database helps researchers locate research participants in months instead of years, allowing the pace of research to pick up.

It just takes a few minutes to sign up for either and then you have taken positive action for a good reason. You can then decide what you want to participate in. It is all totally voluntary and your information is protected.

Please consider joining one or both of these initiatives. I am already in the Army of  Women which is trying to recruit a million members. (The Army is over 369,000 strong so far.) I was number eight-thousand one-hundred and something for the HOW study this morning. Let's get both numbers climbing rapidly.

One more thing as we begin a month that will provide many opportunities for pink purchases. If you want to support the breast cancer cause, please be a discerning consumer. Know where the money is going to and how much of it is being donated. If you don't like the answers or don't get an answer, consider returning it to the shelf.

And on that note, I continue with my day. Cancer patient or not, all any of us have is today.  Make it a good one!