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Showing posts from January, 2013

Not Always Fair, Always Precious (Point #16)

Today I am grateful for this blog and how it helps me keep gratitude in the forefront of my thinking.I am also grateful for my counseling colleagues and the support we offer one another.

Point of clarity #16 is "Life isn't always fair, but it's still precious."

We are all entitled to moments of "life isn't always fair." There are plenty of examples we could all rattle off. If asked, I would rattle off:

-it's not fair my dad died before my son was born
-it's not fair I can't drink anymore
-it's not fair I got breast cancer (or my two sisters, or my friends either)
-it's not fair that depression runs in my family
-it's not fair...

See, it's easy to rattle off how life has been unfair to us. Easy, but not very helpful. Have your moments, but don't stay there.

It really boils down to dwelling in the "poor mes" or dwelling in a place of gratitude.

If I focus on what I don't have, what I didn't get, and so o…

Great Teachers (Point #15)

Today I am grateful for the arrival of Ellaina, the first child of my niece Stacy and her husband Drew.What a joy to think about being a brand new parent and the total sense of amazement that comes with it. I am also grateful for humor. It helps me lighten up when I get wound too tight.

Point of clarity #15: Children and pets are great teachers.

Sam was six when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Emily was 13 and Arthur 17. Kids may not say much, but they are thinking more than we realize. During the thick of my surgeries and chemo, we tried to give the kids enough information to help them understand what I was going through, age appropriately. We answered their questions. We kept a routine around the house and in our lives as much as we could, because that helps kids keep a sense of stability. It helped Darcy and I as well.

In return, Sam especially, taught me about resilience. About laughter always being possible. About the little things really mattering. Reading a bedtime story. P…

A Blessing In So Many Ways (Point #14)

Today I am grateful for support in recovery from alcoholism from both family and friends. I am also grateful for the laughter of my son and husband. What a nice sound!

Point of clarity #14: "My husband is a blessing in so many ways."

This one's for you Darcy.

He's been a blessing in my life since we met. Our marriage was strong and in year #10 when we faced my cancer diagnosis together. He was with me every step of the way; at appointments, surgeries, chemo, listening and processing with me as I made decisions. With me as my body changed after each surgery. With me to share the fear, the relief, the humor that worked its way into some moments. He showed a loving tenderness and compassion that meant so much during difficult times. Our marriage is stronger today.

Darcy and I temper one another in many ways. We aren't total opposites, but we definitely have our differences. Sometimes it is one another's tempers that we help temper. I so appreciate that he is qu…

Keep Priorities Straight (Point #13)

Today I am grateful for the beauty of a fresh snowfall and the physical capabilities to shovel it off of our driveway. I am grateful for my family and friends.

I am thinking of my friend Beth and her family today. Her father's funeral is this morning. I was hoping to be there, but that winter beauty also created driving hazards. Sending thoughts, prayers, and hugs your way Beth.

Point of clarity #13 is so very important, and I wish I would have fully learned that importance before I was in my early forties, but that's what it took. Time and a cancer diagnosis.

Point of clarity #13: "Three words . . . keep priorities straight."

I focused on this in a post from May 15, 2012 as well. It was titled "1-5, #6" and you can read it here.

I have been slowly learning about keeping priorities straight since I began my recovery from alcoholism. If I don't keep recovery and spirituality as key focal points in my life, I will lose recovery and then my priority coul…

H20, Lots of H20 (Point #12)

Today I am grateful to have finished the half marathon yesterday and to put some 9-minute miles together later in the run. (That may not be fast for some of you, but it's not bad for me, especially after I've already run 9 miles.) I am also grateful that Darcy was happy with his run too and that Papa Murphy's pizza tastes so good.

Point of clarity #12 is all about water: "Drink lots of water. Then drink some more."

Good advice for sure. As I said back in my post from July 27, 2012 here, I got serious about my water consumption when I was pregnant and then breastfeeding. But after 11 years of water, water, and more water, I remain firmly convinced that it makes a big difference in my quality of life and in my overall health. This time of the year I think it helps prevent some of the cold and flu bugs from taking hold too. Of if they do strike, they tend to be less intense and shorter-lived.

Our bodies overall are about 60% water, with our brains at about 70%, an…

The Life of a Vehicle (Point #11)

Today I am grateful for the chance to run a half-marathon with my husband in the middle of a Minnesota winter. (I am saying that with a smile on my face.) I'm grateful we have the attire to keep us warm on a morning with below zero windchill. (I guarantee we will be wearing more than we are wearing in my profile picture.) I am also grateful for a much-needed nap.

Point of clarity #11: My body is just a vehicle. The life in it is what counts. But I take care of both.

Some people take better care of their actual vehicles of transportation than they do of their own bodies, their earthly vehicles. I try not to be in that category, though my sugar consumption would sometimes indicate otherwise. But I used to be in that category.

When I was younger, I drank to excess and smoked cigarettes. Not very good self-care there. But let's face it, when we are young we feel invincible and sometimes act recklessly. There has been one area that I have always honored in self-care. That is exerc…

Open-minded Inspiration (Point #10)

Today I am grateful for the video footage we have of Sam as a baby. I am also grateful for cake and ice cream-what a great team.

I am thinking today of my friend Beth and her family. Her father passed away yesterday. Thoughts and prayers are with you Beth.

Back to the "17 Points of Clarity." Point of clarity #10: "An open mind allows inspiration in."

A mind full of fear and worry is not open. An exhausted mind is not an open mind.

But a mind that can stay in the present moment, also known as "mindfulness," is one that may find inspiration coming through.

Mind-fullness or mindfulness? I'll take the latter.

When I was going through cancer surgeries and treatment, keeping the fear at bay with faith, and keeping myself busy with day-to-day stuff allowed inspiration to come through. Sometimes that inspiration helped me come to a decision about what to do next with surgeries. Sometimes that inspiration allowed words to flow from pen to paper, helping me pr…

Happy 11th Birthday!

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and the joy he brings to my life. I am also grateful for the lessons he teaches and the lessons we learn together.

Today is Sam's 11th birthday! I always have mixed emotions on my son's brithday. It is bittersweet. He's growing up so fast. I am so proud of him, but that "so fast" part makes me a little sad.

I am grateful for Sam's healthy growth and development, for his laugh and sense of humor, for how well he is doing in school, for his regular routine that works for him, for his personality that is a good mix of his dad and I, for his beautiful blue eyes. I am grateful I get to be a parent and though tough at times, my life would not have been as full and rich had I not become Sam's mom.

He is almost as tall as I am now. I notice that more and more during our daily hugs. But I tell him he will always be my little boy. That is reflected in my profile picture today. It is from 10 years ago, when he was 1. Love those tee…

Faith and a Pen (Point #9)

Today I am grateful for a calm demeanor when those around me maybe aren't so calm. And I am grateful when the tables are turned and someone else's calm helps rein me in.

I also am grateful for two pieces of snail mail yesterday. One was a note from my friend Diane. Another was a letter from my friend Bonnie. I rarely get mail like that, then got two on the same day. Made my day x 2. Thanks!

Calm fits nicely with point of clarity #9: "Faith and a pen can trump fear and despair."

These points of clarity came out of looking at my experiences with a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries in the rear-view mirror. In retrospect, I realized what I already knew. Faith and a pen had helped me for a long time.

Faith to me means a belief in a power beyond myself, belief in a good force at work in the world. I typically call the source of my faith God or Higher Power. Names don't really matter to me, the trust and belief do. Faith assures me that I am not alone, ever. A…

Side-by-Side Friends (Point #8)

Today I am grateful for knowledge of the serious nature of alcoholism. I am also grateful for push-ups and sit-ups.

Point of clarity #8: "You can't beat having a friend by your side."

This one's for you Jenny. I have mentioned Jenny several times in this blog. She and I were co-workers for several years before our breast cancer diagnoses less than a month apart launched us into what was a huge silver lining during the despair of breast cancer. For years, I had wanted to get to know Jenny better. I never saw this coming though.

When I told her about my diagnosis (we both had family histories of BC) she was already heading down a similar road of tests, mammograms, etc. When she called to tell me of her diagnosis, we met that night and spent time at a Barnes and Noble, in the women's health section. We were full of fear and questions, but we knew already that we were also blessed to have one another. Over the next weeks and months, we talked for hours on the phone,…

Free and Effective (Point #7)

Today I am grateful for heat that works indoors when the temperature is below zero outdoors. I am also grateful for a conversation with my friend Sheila.

Here we are at point of clarity #7: "Endorphins are free and very effective."

If you know me and/or have done any regular reading of this blog, you know that I love to exercise and I love the benefits of that exercise: time to myself, taking in nature, mind-clearing, and the endorphins that give me a natural mood boost.

Don't take that to mean that I think endorphins are all that is needed to feel better. For some people with mental and physical illness diagnoses, the need for prescribed medications is real. I am so grateful that there are efficient medications that help people I love and care about. I do believe that exercise, if possible, can complement the medications.

I am grateful that when cancer came calling I was able to maintain some level of exercise. Even when all I could do on my worst days was walk a few b…

The Body Parts that Matter (Point #6)

Today I am grateful for a visit from my sister Ruth and her friend Bob. I am also grateful I was able to go just down the road to our local library to meet author Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber and have him sign his book for me.

His book is titled Tell My Sons. Weber is dying of cancer and the book is a letter and a legacy to his three sons. I read the preface and introduction as I waited in line. I am already taken in by the whole idea of this book, but I am in the middle of another book, so I will report back on both when I am done reading them.

Point of clarity #6 is "I can live without my breasts. Just don't take my heart and soul."

Breasts are a feminine hallmark, but they are far from the only thing that defines women. I wrote this line, "I am not less of a woman, just a woman less her breasts," in an essay that appears on Gayle Sulik's Pink Ribbon Blues blog. Here is a link to that guest post titled "What Lies Beneath" from a year ago:

What Lies Be…

Laughter is Always Possible (Point #5)

Today I am grateful for a fun birthday party for my son Sam and three of his buddies. I am also grateful that we have a great bakery in our town.

Point of clarity #5: "Laughter is always possible."

Laughter is a companion emotion across the range of emotions. And not just nervous laughter when we are talking about the difficult emotions like fear and grief. Real laughter that is healthy, healing, and cathartic.

Here are a couple examples from my cancer experience:

*Two days after my diagnosis, I was attending a meeting where the facilitator asked innocently "Does anyone have anything they want to get off of their chest?" I thought to myself "Sure, I have some cancer right here (pointing to my right breast) that I would like to get rid of." I didn't say it outloud, but I laughed to myself. Some fear was released and the tiniest bit of acceptance took hold.

*Three months later, about two weeks after my first chemo treatment, my head started to itch and…

New Glasses (Point #4)

Today I am grateful for sunshine and good parent-teacher conferences for our son. I am also grateful for the better view that gratitude provides me.

Point of clarity #4 is "Gratitude is a good pair of glasses to wear. It makes everything look better."

Like the bathroom mirror after the shower steam clears.

Or the car windshield after the defrost mode has done it's work.

Like going to the eye doctor and finding the right prescription option.

Or focusing on what is going well rather than what isn't.

That is what really helped me through the worst post-chemo days and the toughest early days after cancer surgeries. I'm walking, talking, laughing, breathing. I'm loved and supported. Things sure look better from that vantage point than they would through the "Why me?" and "Poor me!" lenses.

And then the lyrics of one of my all-time favorite songs comes to mind-Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now."

I can see clearly now, the rain i…

Considering Mortality (Point #3)

Today I am grateful for the patience medical care providers have with me and my questions. I am also grateful for a working dishwasher (besides me that is).

Point of clarity #3 is "Having to consider my own mortality helps me cherish my life."

Though I didn't consider my mortality at the time, mainly because I was in my late teens and early twenties, my drinking days could have killed me. After my cancer diagnosis, I went to the scariest places. Cancer kills. Will it kill me? I wrote about getting a third chance. Surviving active alcoholism and having a shot at recovery had already been my second chance. Would a post-cancer life be my third chance or had I run out of chances?

I came closer to dying because of my drinking than I did during my cancer treatment and surgeries. I sure hope it stays that way. But I don't know anyone who has heard "you have cancer" who hasn't done some double-takes regarding things like being around to see their kids grow up,…

Knowing Fear (Point #2)

Today I am grateful for the challenges and rewards of my job. I am also grateful for clementines (cuties)-an easy-to-peel and tasty snack.

Point of clarity #2: For me, fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown.

But it is still fear. The toughest fear I faced in my cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2008 was the period between my diagnosis and my first surgery. Believe me, there was plenty of fear once an MRI found a "suspicious area" in early May, followed by an ultrasound and then the biopsy on May 27. I knew there was a very real chance I had breast cancer, and the waiting was so hard. The two days from biopsy to confirmed diagnosis on May 29 had me thinking of Tom Petty's lyrics--"the waiting is the hardest part."

Once I knew it was cancer, however, the fear took on a different tone. Until surgery is done, there are so many unanswered questions--big questions like has cancer spread to the lymph nodes? Treatment plans are developed around surgery pa…

Day In and Day Out (Point #1)

Today I am grateful for my job and the students, parents, and co-workers I get to interact with. I am also grateful for support from others in recovery from alcoholism.

Point # 1 from "17 Points of Clarity" is "All any of us have is today."

Nitty-gritty gratitude day in and day out doesn't mean I always have a smile on my face and preach living life to the fullest. Some days suck. Some days I wonder who is out to get me. Some days I am exhausted and disheartened. I always look for meaning in my life though, and that is easier to do day by day. And you know what? I always find some meaning.

Pain hurts. But pain reminds me I'm alive. Joy feels good and reminds me how much better it can feel after the pain. Without both pain and joy, I don't think I could really appreciate what I do have. We have to lose some things before we realize their value. We have to love with an open heart before we can know true joy.

In cancer circles you will hear people talk ab…

17 Points of Clarity

Today I am grateful for time to sit and converse with my brother and his wife. I am also grateful for my stepson Arthur and the young man he is becoming.

Today I am starting a look at my "17 Points of Clarity." This is the title of one of the essays I wrote for the book my friend Jenny and I wrote about our breast cancer experiences after our diagnoses less than a month apart in May and June 2008. It tells the story of how the 17 points came to be. Then, I will take a point a day for the next seventeen days.

This essay was written for the segment Jenny and I dubbed "rear-view mirror." It was the last of 12 essays we each wrote on 12 different aspects of our experience, but we put it early in the book. We were trying to capture what only hindsight can capture. Even as I read through this essay again, I realize that the time (over 3 years) since I wrote this, has further deepened the insights I have. As I read I also sensed the joy and relief that I was feeling in t…

Find the Good

Today I am grateful for a visit with my brother and his family. I'm grateful for the safe travels they had here and for the enjoyable time together.

Time with family is precious. I am reminded of that more and more as I get older. I appreciate that they took the time to come to see us. My brother and his wife have two kids close in age to ours. It is nice for them to be able to spend time together as well.

It is easy to find the good when the weekend has been pleasant. But it is still possible to find the good even in unpleasant circumstances. My new gratitude journal (Thanks Dorothy!) has daily quotes in it.A recent one has this quote by Alex Haley:

"Find the good--and praise it."

Short, to the point, good wisdom.

It is similar to the Dove promise I had in another recent post:

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

Four years ago I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomies. Progress was incremental. Daily exer…

UPPERCASE WOW, lowercase wow!

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy, our communication level, and our levels of communication. He is a gift in my life and I don't want to forget that.

I am wrapping up my own look at Anne Lamott's book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, today with consideration of what she calls uppercase and lowercase wows.

She talks about wows coming in all shapes and sizes, just like us. Your uppercase and lowercase wows may be different than mine. Case is in the eye of the beholder.

Some of my uppercase wows:
*Denali National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park
*crossing the finish line of each of my 10 marathons (especially the three I  have finished
beside my husband)
*true love
*sobriety
*long-term friendships
*walking along an ocean beach
*the Oregon Coast
*writing inspiration that picks me up and carries me away
*giving birth
*frost or new snowfall clinging to trees

Some of my lowercase wows:
*a warm bed
*my favorite pair of jeans
*a shower after a workout
*sun…

Wow!

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and the joy he brings. I am also grateful for what he teaches me about life and being a parent.

I was thinking about Anne Lamott's third essential prayer-"Wow!"-and Sam came quickly to my mind. Giving birth to him was a major WOW! I loved being pregnant and his birth was pretty smooth. Contractions and that final urge to push. Amazing stuff! I wrote about baby Sam in my "Nuzzle" post from December. Read it here.

I get mixed emotions when each birthday arrives for Sam. His 11th is coming up. Bittersweet comes to mind. I love that he is growing up healthy and happy and doing well. But I miss each phase he has already been through. I know the next years will become challenging in new ways, but I look forward to the young man he will become. One of my regular "thank yous" is for his healthy growth and development.

I think "Wow!" when I think about even having a child. I was 33 when I got married and 36 when we…

Hidden Waters

Today I am grateful for the morning quiet that allows me to gather my thoughts and gives me time to do some writing. I am also grateful for the hidden water sources in my life. Read on.

Here are a couple more paragraphs from Anne Lamott's latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, from the "Thanks" section:

      So I say "Thanks," because revelation has shown me things that are miserable that somehow I may get to sidestep; or that are miserable but that prayer and friends help me find a way through; or that are painful and beautiful in ways that make your heart ache, that draw you closer forever to the comrades who have walked with you.
      Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so…

Thanks

Today I am grateful for a fender bender with no injuries and a valuable lesson to a young driver. I am also grateful for car insurance.

A minor inconvenience for me was kept in perspective by Anne Lamott's second essential prayer:Thanks. Thanks again for no injuries and a vehicle that would still get me home. Thanks for reminding me that in the whole scheme of things, this is nothing. Nothing in comparison to things like metastatic breast cancer or siblings dying suddenly or alcoholics going back to the bottle.

I so appreciate Anne Lamott's style because she writes raw and genuine. Her words often strike an emotional nerve with me. Here is one striking passage from the "Thanks" chapter:

"It is easy to thank God for life when things are going well. But life is much bigger than we give it credit for, and much of the time it's harder than we would like. It's a package deal, though. Sometimes our mouths sag open with exhaustion, and our souls and our minds do…

On My Knees

Today I am grateful for Oliver and our quiet time together in the mornings. I am also grateful for the supportive friends I have in recovery.

Yesterday I mentioned getting into position to ask for help. I meant that literally.

As I grew into adulthood, I balked at praying with hands folded, on my knees. I was tired of the ritual and routine I had grown up with. My attitude was "I'll pray when and how I want to." I became a prayer rebel. It helped me to move beyond the idea that prayer was just a group thing and I realized the most important part of prayer was my mindset and my words, not my physical position. My rebellion paid off and prayer took on more meaning, but I was still holding back.

When I was going through a difficult time in my early 30's, hurting over a relationship that had ended, I went back to my roots. I wanted this relationship to work out, instead it became a great example of an unanswered prayer in my life. He was not meant to be the one I stayed…

"Help, Thanks, Wow"

Today I am grateful for our house and the good feeling that comes after cleaning it. I am also grateful for time to put pen to paper.

If you are a fan of Anne Lamott like I am a fan of hers, the title of my post today may sound familiar.It is the title of her most recent book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I wrote a couple of posts back in August regarding Anne Lamott. Check them out below:

Favorite Author: Anne Lamott       and         Nitty Gritty Spirituality-Anne Lamott Style

The more I read about the idea of prayer, the more I realize that the key seems to be found in the simplicity of it. And that there are as many ways to pray as there are people. 

In the first pages of her latest book, Lamott says:

"Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding." (p. 1)

"Let's not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let's just say prayer is communication from our heart to…

A Sad Day, But a Good Day

Today I am grateful for old friends, safe travels, and an early morning run in the fresh, cold air.

This morning I was running into the coming daylight. Yesterday morning I was driving into it. I was on my way to Des Moines for the funeral of Chris, my friend Sheila's brother. I met my friend Beth halfway and we made the rest of the trip together. I appreciated the time with Beth too.

Chris died suddenly at age 47. That is a tough one. No time to say goodbye. Such a shock. So unexpected. So young. But there is some comfort for family and friends because Chris was doing what he loved with people he loved.

It was good to see Sheila, her family, her siblings. It was good to see Beth and several other classmates and friends. Chris was a year behind us in school, so we ran with the same crowds. The service held to celebrate his life was very nice. Chris clearly made a difference in many lives in many different ways. I hope it also brought solace to his loved ones to hear the words of …

Scars of the Physical and Emotional Variety

Today I am grateful for my stepdaughter Emily, on this, her 18th birthday. I appreciate getting to know her better and spend more time with her in recent months. I am also grateful for my ears, with which I can listen to others.

I guess I am still thinking about the earthly vehicle I referred to in yesterday's post, and about scars of the physical variety. I have numerous scars on both knees from the many tumbles I took while riding bike on gravel roads when I was growing up. If you have done the same thing, you probably recall the painful job of picking pieces of gravel out of your skinned knees.

I have a scar on the index finger of my right hand from my pre-teen days. We used to get up on the roof of the chicken house on our farm. That was easy enough, it wasn't very high. But on one of these trips I caught a sharp corner and got a nasty cut.

During the basketball season my sophomore year of high school. I was going for a loose ball and my nose collided with the forehead of …

Earthly Vehicle

Today I am grateful for this earthly vehicle I reside in. My body is far from perfect, but it serves me well. I am grateful for acceptance, when it comes to my body and life on life's terms.

It has been a long journey to get to this point of acceptance of my body as is. I haven't always treated my body with respect. Drinking alcohol to excess and smoking cigarettes certainly didn't qualify as respect. But I have always been one to exercise and stay active. That alone makes a huge difference, not only in how I feel physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are all interrelated and efforts in one area pay off in all areas, in my experience.

It concerns me to see so much emphasis put on just the physical component of who we are. In our society and culture, it seems to be too much about how we look, what we wear, what size we are. More and more types of cosmetic surgery are becoming more and more common. I believe happiness and self-esteem are inside jo…

A Pattern That Needed Breaking

Today I am grateful for my job. I enjoyed my time off, but I appreciate the job to return to.

I am also grateful that gratitude letters #14 and #15 are on their way.

I am thinking of my dear friend Sheila and her family today. Her brother passed away suddenly, in his mid-40's. Thoughts and prayers go out to her and her whole family.

The pattern I am referring to in the title for today's post is a cancer pattern that developed in my family. My sister Zita was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, my sister Mary Jo in 2006, and me in 2008. Mary Jo had a second cancer, a primary lung cancer, diagnosed in 2010. I was a little nervous for 2012 with that every other year pattern that had been going on. Now, I can safely say the pattern has been broken.

But that doesn't mean complacency or being lulled into a false sense of security. It is important to remain ever vigilant with my health and be aware of changes in my body. I hope my family members are doing the same, both those …

Happy New Day!

Today I am grateful for an outdoor run with Darcy yesterday and the proper attire to keep us warm in sub-zero windchills. I am grateful for family time together, the four of us, as we did a little shopping. And I am grateful for my stepson Arthur's successful GRE.

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and my hope for you in 2013 is for health and happiness. But today, just today, is really what matters, and is all any of us have. There are no guarantees, regardless of our circumstances. I am not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. I think people tend to set themselves up for failure with goals that are too lofty or long-term. Another reason to stay in today. Daily resolutions are more attainable. If they work, keep doing them. And start whenever you want. The date on the calendar is just that. A date on the calendar.

Taking life in 24-hour chunks is a recurring theme in this blog. I have used the quote "Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch it's a cinch" …