I do not often make time to sit and watch television. Usually, I'm so busy with work and home chores that I end up lying in bed falling asleep to whatever is playing at the time. I've set a goal for myself this year, one of a few, to create a better life balance for myself which will in turn (in theory) affect a positive change to the balance in my family as well. So, today, on the third day of the "40 Bags in 40 Days" challenge that I have taken on, I am sitting down after work to write this blog today, will watch a show, eat some chocolate and then will clean something out... one more bag to declutter. This process of cleansing is refreshing.
I'm looking forward...
Looking forward is not always easy when you become weighed down; it's quite effortless to feel overwhelmed, burdened and worried. It takes intrinsic strength to recognize where to focus. I tend to go through cycles of this. But, as I continue to plan and force myself to live as normal as possible... life becomes slightly better... each day.
Today... I am happy.
Well, I am sorry I have not had a presence here in months. I'm not quite sure why I have gone AWOL, but I'm back and I have set a finish line for my book... though I know I am going to need help from someone to show me the path to editing and publishing... I'm a visual artist, not a writer. I think fear may have crept its way back into me like an incognito spot of sludge that just sticks and lingers. I've removed that now. Fear can be something that we don't want to admit we have but the truth of the matter is that we all have it and it shows up in various forms and affects us in unlimited ways. Fear and anxiety sometimes sit side-by-side, not always, but often. I'm not a psychologist either, nor do I aspire to become one, but it's comforting to think that I know just a little bit about a lot of subjects.
I've been caught in a web of frantic routine. And... as of last weekend, the clothes can wait! Quite literally. Laundry... I'm convinced that clothes multiply like dividing cancer cells the moment they are thrown in the laundry bin, but then the washer automatically eliminates them because I never see any great new items... or even matching socks for that matter. THERE'S SO MUCH LAUNDRY ALL THE TIME! It's exhausting and I've been putting my household chores higher on the priority list than they should be... and I've been lacking in prayer and connections to God because I have not made the time. My mom called the other day because she thought she might come out and visit and I immediately went through all the things I had to get done around the house on this day and then... this is an even crazier thought... I wondered why she suddenly offered to come out to visit after she had earlier stated she didn't want to be around sick kids (two of our kids are fighting allergies or colds or something small) because she just overcame something herself. So, naturally, in true anxious form, I imagined the worst case scenario: Is she terminally ill and wants to tell me in person on a bright, happy and warm day and this is her chance?! Seriously... things like that do happen, and sometimes they happen to me more often than others, so it's not totally out of line... just a bit, but not completely! She phoned me after I reached out to her with no success and called me a "ninny" for thinking that. I had no idea what we were going to do that day, but I knew I'm wasn't going to put her to work on my house that looks like the Tasmanian Devil came through it several times over. The clothes can wait!
We ended up going out for a nice family lunch that day and then my mom suggested we see "A Dog's Purpose." I had heard it was sad and I knew there was controversy, but after researching the alleged dog abuse, I found it to be false; so, we went to see the movie. If you've not seen that movie, I'm just going to say one thing... my mother owes me big time for that one! I'm a dog-lover with 4 dogs in our house and that movie had no right entering my heart and tearing it up to shreds over and over and over. It was pretty much a certifiably traumatic experience which brought back intense feelings for my Sally-dog that passed away so horrifically. My mother and I were separated in the theater by one of my daughters and the two of us were gushing with tears the entire time and then of course bantering back and forth about it and laughing at each other, which made the kids laugh at us because we were so sappy. Ugh... that was an experience to say the least. I was tired just from watching that movie!
Even though the movie wasn't really what I would have liked to have seen, our family bonding day was worth every moment of it. The laundry wasn't finished that day, but my internal spirit was filled. Control is a characteristic of anxiety and letting go of that can be helpful.
So much since my last post. First, my apologies. I find myself now in a position where I feel I may need to edit my words, share less, and carefully manage what seems to be just a little too much at once. But, as I have pondered the possible outcomes of sharing my personal life with others and what it may cost me in the end, I realize that it will ultimately end with higher reward. And so, I will continue this blog and I will continue my book. This comes from the heart and somewhere much more important than any Earthly gain/loss. I guess I needed some time to think about what to do, what to say and how to handle everything before making this post.
My last post was way back in April... to catch you up on my happenings:
- We went on a vacation to Disney World then over to Alabama to visit with family.
- Our oldest daughter is moving in and my husband is building her a bedroom/bathroom in our basement... because he's amazingly handy at EVERYTHING.
- Our three younger girls are growing faster than I like to admit.
- My in-laws made a big move... for the better, I think! Congrats to them!
- Our dogs are adjusting to having a cat in the house, who thinks he's a dog. I'm adjusting too.
- And... I was hired as a high school art teacher... the root of my hesitation here.
I watched one of my neighbors mow the lawn yesterday. I don't normally watch people mow their lawns. I'm not sure why I stopped to watch momentarily. But while I did, I started thinking such happy thoughts for this person, whom I don't know all that well. We have a few neighbors that I know have battled or are battling some type of cancer. More people than I think there should be. This neighbor is one of them. I watched as this person walked back and forth in the heat and humidity pushing that mower and I thought, "how AWESOME that he/she is able to do this!" Mowing the lawn. A chore I've never enjoyed partaking in. But this simple observation brought back years of flashbacks and feelings for me. I immediately felt all the darkness that consumed me during my healing period after my big series of hip surgeries... the feeling of helplessness and loss of all activities I was accustomed to and so abruptly. Anxiety started to show its face in a split second of watching the mower. I had to put my head back into the present and ground myself with where I physically stood to escape those memories that often seem so torturous. I then continued to watch and the next wave of emotions fell over me as the feelings of anxiety subsided and the excitement and happiness took their places. There was a time when I wasn't able to mow the lawn. I can now; it causes pain... but I CAN DO IT! I wonder if this person ever has those feelings. Do I internally over-exaggerate these feelings? Those of you who know me well are probably rolling your eyes thinking, "are you kidding? YES, YES YOU DO!" But it doesn't matter, it is what it is for me and for each of us. As I watched, I recalled laying on my stomach in physical therapy trying to bend my knee to lift my foot off the table. Something so simple... and I wasn't able to do it. That's how weak I was in the beginning. I can lift it today, but it's still fairly wobbly when my foot is up in the air. I never regained full strength. Did I give up? Did I reach my limit? Did I settle for "doable?" I don't know. I do know that the day I got that foot off the table was a very exciting day for me though. The day I ditched the walker and moved on to crutches was another milestone. Then I gradually went to using only one crutch. Then I walked with a cane for a very long time. The day I decided not to carry that with me was unsettling, nerve-wrecking and liberating all at once. Walking. It's amazing that we can take for granted such simple things that mean so much in our lives. Beyond walking... climbing stairs! That's a battle I fight every day! My house has stairs because it's almost impossible to find one-story houses for families these days! I'm happy to be able to climb them, but it's no easy feat for me... the person who used to love jumping up the stairs skipping every other or third step in a Tigger-like bounce. Oh did I feel like I was such a pro at quickly gliding up stairs. Now I'm happy just to reach the top. And stairs are everywhere... here a stair, there a stair everywhere a stair, stair. Ugh! But I can do it, and that's what counts.
This short moment of watching my neighbor mow the lawn made me think about writing here again. I related it to my next obstacle which I now face... holding a job in which I am not the leader. As a leader: I have the flexibility to step outside if I feel anxious, or head home if I have the after-effects of a panic attack and can no longer mentally function. I have the ability to make my own schedule. I am able to work it out if I am in too much pain to be on my feet all day. I can share my cancer-experienced life with the general public (which already is no easy task). These are all advantages I will lose when I start this new position. I'm nervous I may not be as great of a teacher I once seemed to be because of my hip, because of the anxiety, because of WHATEVER!
My being now is not what it was before cancer.
I think that's the problem. I need to get over this never-ending hill of fear and frustration. I used to be polar opposite what I am today. How do I get that back?! I'm not sure I ever fully will but I know that if I reject this new job, then the fear wins and I will head in the wrong direction. So, I have to at least try... and usually, when we fully TRY, we succeed. So I plan on succeeding.
I will balance this job with my studio and with my home life. I WILL balance.
I AM BALANCED! (repeat)
It's going to be imperative that I maintain balance. Balance affects performance. Balance affects anxiety levels. Balance... affects others.
So what exactly am I afraid of here? I'm not afraid of working for others, being in a classroom, teaching kids, making lesson plans, meeting deadlines or anything like that. I'm scared of myself, my internal self. How does someone with anxiety hold a full time job that requires being responsible for others' lives? Well, I need to suck it up and manage or BALANCE myself. It's pretty simple really... at least in concept. (I'll start with positive affirmations.) But that's not just it... what happens when they all find out I'm a cancer survivor or that I suffer from panic attacks or that I have pain issues with my hip that could potentially cause me to be out of work a day or two at a time... what happens if I have a setback and end up having more surgery and am out an extended period? What if this happens in my first year of work? We all know that people can't get fired for these things, but we also know that people DO get fired and are told it is for other reasons. So what happens then? I'll tell you what happens. LIFE GOES ON, so LIVE IT and STOP WORRYING! (Wow... that's an epiphany, genius I tell you, genius... what a concept... as if it's a new one! Why is this so difficult to grasp and enact?)
I'm thankful for my art background. I'm SO grateful to my parents for supporting my artistic interests... through high school, through college... all the way through today! I feel that with this artistic background, I have an advantage over others in that I am a phenomenal problem-solver... as an artist, I find a way to get through anything because there's always a way. Nothing is ever only black and white. ...and I'll overcome this worry and I'll find my path.
I'm excited about this new endeavor. I am looking forward to working with the already seemingly friendly staff and molding new, young individuals interested in art. I'm anxious to build my lessons for the year (though I'm overwhelmed with the disorganization of supplies which is setting me back because I can't get a grasp on what materials I have to work with yet). I LOVE the drive to the school... through the farmlands... it's very serene. I like the classrooms and the school building. I'm SO HAPPY that the studio is staying open and that I get to keep my dream going. I'm interested to see how the two will mesh in a year or so because I'm sure they will grow from one another... all in due time.
It's quite inspiring what we are able to gain from observing others and reflecting upon ourselves. Now, go mow your lawn.
I often say affirmations. I learned this while recovering from my hip surgery. I was so depressed, had no will to live and felt defeated. I was seeing a counselor. Each morning I awoke, and each morning I DID WAKE, I sat up in bed and then took my time getting up and getting moving. Not that I had a choice in how fast or slowly I went... I was at snail's pace regardless of my mental wishes. So, I would stand up and with each slow step towards the bathroom, I would say a short affirmation.
"I am well."
"I am happy."
"I am healthy."
"I am cured."
"I am feeling good."
"I am energized."
"I am thankful."
"I am strong."
I had a lot of small steps to the bathroom, so some of them were repeated, which I think is just fine considering it took some convincing to believe that what I was saying was true. It is important to say them aloud and not just think them.
I cried... a lot... during that time. I didn't know what to believe. I was still in a state of shock. I didn't know what to think. I could not make decisions if my life depended on it... and it did.. and I still did not make many, if any, decisions. Nothing was within my control for about six months or so... at least that's what it felt like at the time. Looking back, my state of mental well-being was at least to a small degree within my control, but I had no idea at the time. My mom was my biggest cheerleader and my coach... either giving me the love and cheer I needed or the shove and push to snap out of it. Hot or cold. Both worked at different times.
When I would reach the bathroom I would make it a point to stand in front of the mirror (my counselor suggested me do this as well) and then tell myself some of the affirmations to my own face. This was much more challenging that one would think and whether or not you think you need it, I suggest you try it anyway. I didn't like what I had physically become and I did not like looking at myself in the mirror. Not that I did before all of this but at this point, I tried to steer clear of reflections. Maybe I'm the only one that saw myself like this, I don't know. I didn't like myself. I saw some other being in the mirror. Someone puffy, sad, worn out, obviously torn apart, discolored, weak, unmotivated, ugly and dark. I'm pretty sure I could come up with more negative descriptions of myself than I could affirmations. As I would say these affirmations to myself in the mirror, I felt bad for myself because I didn't believe any of them and I absolutely did not consider the possibility that this exercise would help in any way.
I got out of bed today- NINE YEARS LATER and still alive!
Today, that meant me rolling over first and snuggling into my husband. (Huge feats... "rolling over" is something I didn't ever think I would do again on this date nine years ago and "snuggling into my husband" is another gift after having been through a divorce and now in such a wonderful partnership.) That was followed by talking to four needy dogs anxious for my awakening. (Four live beings depending on me. We have children who also depend on me as well. Imagine that. If anyone would have asked me nine years ago or even five years ago what I thought my life would look like today, it certainly would not have included anyone depending on me for anything nor a family of this size... that was only ever in my hopes and dreams.) Once up, I realized that the floaters in my eyes were bad and then immediately went into slight anxiety having memories of injections in my left eye. Of course, that instantaneously was self-diagnosed as a worst case scenario and spiraled into cancer and needles in the eye within about two seconds. I breathed a bit and felt congested then realized it was likely my allergies. I conducted some calm breathing and talked to the dogs for a couple minutes before I actually rose from bed. And then... I verbalized affirmations on the way to the bathroom to help soothe myself and as I said them today, I inhaled deeply as if to breathe in belief. I AM O.K. I didn't stand in the mirror today, I normally don't as most of you can tell on a daily basis I'm sure. I walked down the stairs in my pj's with my furry entourage and then released them into the backyard, all the while repeating affirmations intertwined with dog directions. The weather is nice this weekend, which is a determining factor in my overall mental state, sadly. So, thankfully, as I reached the glass door, I internally felt happiness as I noticed the sun was out, the sky was blue and the air was warm. I walked over to the kitchen to start the coffee, filled the dog bowls, moved the visiting cat from the dog food, let the fur-babies back inside, mixed my coffee and sat down at the table, facing that glass door to the world and thought...
WOW... I am SO THANKFUL today. Today... is a great day!
My parents treated us all to an absolutely amazing vacation last week to celebrate so many life events together... Me being cancer-free for 9 years this month, my dad's milestone of being cancer-free as well, my mom's birthday, my 40th birthday last year, my husband's 40th birthday last year, a brother's 40th birthday coming this year, his wife's college graduation this year, another brother's college graduation this year and his girlfriend's college graduation this year as well. We just wrapped it all into one HUGE celebratory week together in Caribbean! We sailed on Celebrity's Silhouette ship for a week to Cozumel, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Haiti. It's nice to get away, and even nicer when you visit new beautiful places... more importantly, though, vacations like these resonate in my heart and remind me of how wonderful life really is and how thankful and grateful I am to be living it... with family.
For those of you who may be unable to travel to such places, I hope that you will enjoy seeing a few images and reading about this trip and that it brings a smile to your face and warmth to your soul.
Of course, no vacation comes without my dark but always faithful companion, anxiety. A plane ride was inevitable for this trip as I needed to get from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale in one day. I know the drive should take about two days and trust me when I say I seriously considered driving down in one long stint... by myself. The thought of being held captive in a small seat barreling through the skies with no ability to step outside to breathe fresh air and claim some space around my body if it so chooses to panic is not a happy one, to say the least. However, the thought of allowing this disorder to cripple my ability to travel the world is far scarier than that plane ride. I do everything I can think of to overcome my fairly new fear of flying. I've traveled the world my entire life and LOVED it! I've been to Italy multiple times, France, Scotland, Greece... sailed the Mediterranean... I've been around the globe all the way to Australia even! I've flown to Hawaii... twice! I've been to the Caribbean and all over the U.S. What is the problem now!?! I internally argue with myself every time I book a flight because I'm angry with myself for now having this issue to deal with and it must come from within, but it cannot win! (Though, honestly, sometimes it does.) I even go so far as to try to estimate when the busiest time at the airport will be and then hope to get a flight during a slow time. (Psycho) So, I got on that plane and kept myself occupied with music and a movie and made it down to Florida... ALIVE and able to walk off the sky bullet consciously, happily and newly excited for the cruise! Cruises, on the other hand, do not make me anxious, oddly enough. I've determined that it must be because I can walk around, I can have space around me and I can step outside and breathe if I need to. Whatever. It is what it is.
We started the vacation off with a full double rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast while having some tasty beverages. If you've ever wondered what's at the end of a rainbow... here ya' go! Nothing but beauty and amazement. I'm sorry my camera did not capture the second arch... if you're not aware, when there is a double rainbow the second one sits above the more vivid first rainbow with colors in reverse order. When there is a triple (which I have only ever seen once), it will then reverse back again. As you know, I love rainbows. They are a sign that everything is ok. What a perfect way to begin this family vacation of celebrations!
On the most upscale, relaxing ship I've ever been on, we set sail on Sunday afternoon. I'll be honest, our first two days were rocky with high winds and our captain was hysterically funny about it during his morning announcements. Our first stop: Cozumel, Mexico. I'm not a fan of Mexico... only because my body doesn't handle it well. After living in Arizona and California and having traveled to many places in Mexico only to return with Montezuma's Revenge each and every time, I've decided that Mexico is not good for me. It's a beautiful place and has such a unique culture, but it just doesn't agree with my body. So, when we arrived, I only shopped a little for gifts for the kids. I had considered taking the long journey up to Chichen Itza or the Tulum ruins because I so very much love seeing ancient ruins and have never seen a Mayan pyramid or any pyramid for that matter. But, I was told I would not be allowed to bring my own food and beverage, so I nixed that option pretty quickly and stayed on the island. Unfortunately, my husband's dive excursion was canceled so he was stuck with me for the day. It turned out to be a warm, sunny and gorgeous day and I was happy to have him by my side as the rest of the family went on submarines or played games on the empty ship.
We were in Cozumel for the day then sailed on to Grand Cayman... I love that place. Once again, though, my husband's dive excursion was canceled. Poor guy. I had originally planned to rent a Jeep and drive my parents around the island to a beach- simply because I just wanted to drive on the right side of the car and left side of the road... in a Jeep because I love Jeeps. But, in Cayman, there is no dock and people are tendered in to port. There were 7 ships in the bay tendering at the same time and we were the last to arrive. Figures. So, we didn't get tendered in until the afternoon which meant no Jeep for me. But... if that's all I have to be bummed about right now, that's great! Fortunately, at there was no anxiety for me... though I did think about the possibility of it if I was was going to be stuffed into one of those lifeboats which they used as tenders. I was able to get a seat in front on top and outside! Score! Once again, we casually meandered around town. My husband was able to buy some of his favorite rum cakes and we bought some more souvenirs for the kids then went back to the ship. The view from the ship was stunning... each stop was more beautiful than the last.
Heading to Jamaica. I've never been to Jamaica before and haven't heard many good things about it from others, but we had a WONDERFUL time! The views were breathtaking, the beach was gorgeous, the food was great, the drinks were plenty and we were all on the same excursion this time. 40 of us loaded on to an air-conditioned bus and drove about an hour to a private beach where we each had a large, padded beach chair under palms and other trees, which surprisingly housed hundreds of very large, leggy, striped spiders! Needless to say, I was in the water nearly the entire day. And for some, that was the highlight of the day. Jamaican dancers worked their way across the beach for the guests and my husband and I had probably a little too much fun as we danced in the water behind the actual dancers. My brothers both have video of course... and likely many others do as well. You may find us on You Tube soon. LOL When we got back to the ship, we didn't realize we were suddenly famous and now known as "The Water Dancers" who provided several minutes of pure hilarity for many beach-goers that day. Another day with no anxiety. If only I could do this EVERY day.
One last stop on this trip... sadly, it's already almost over. It's so nice not worrying about anything for a week though... other than the occasional, yet scarce, anxiety tugging on me like a small child in constant need of attention. We head to Labadee, Haiti for our last land visit. Having seen the poverty in Jamaica and having been to Labadee before, I know what's coming. I like to spend my money with locals rather than corporations so when I shop abroad, I do tend to look for people on the side of the roads or in small markets who sell handmade items not found in big shops with brand names. I know Haiti has such a market, but I didn't know how big it had gotten since my last visit there. We docked! Last time it was tenders only. We talked to many of the locals who beg you to buy ANYTHING from them. They are all competing for your money... because they need it so desperately. I had saved the bulk of my cash for Haiti for this very reason and I knew I could buy some artwork from them, which is really what I love. I had tried to negotiate a price on a Oaxacan wood "animalito" in Cozumel, but wasn't able to get it where I needed it to be and so I am animalito-less. The beaches on Labadee are stunning with views of distant mountains and endless skies. We had wanted to ride the zip-line across the bay, but we didn't book it in time and missed out. (I suppose I should really try to be a better planner; I tend to let anxiety get the best of me though and prefer to play-it-by-ear so I'm not committed only to cancel if anxiety shows up that day.) So, once more and for the last time, we wandered small booth-like shops. Mark and I chose two beautiful paintings of beaches for a steal of a deal with cash to the locals and then we bought a few small items for the kids as well.
Cruising isn't really about where you go and the stops you make. It's more about the journey... such is life. I've been on a few cruises in the past and this ship was by far the best. (The worst ship was the one that sunk in the Mediterranean on the sail date immediately following ours! My mom and I wondered how that ship was floating and contemplated walking around with our life jackets on just in case... then it sank!!! Thankfully it sank AFTER we got off.) This cruise had very few children (which is nice if you're on an adult-only vacation) all of whom were so well-behaved! The food was phenomenal, the views were spectacular, the service was top-notch, the ship was gorgeous and we had such a great time!
There were two "Evening Chic" nights (formerly known as "Formal Nights") this sailing. My dad was not feeling well the first night and missed out, but then gradually came back to life and made it out for the second special evening. He is Scottish and owns his own kilt... we rented kilts for the rest of the men. I didn't take photos those nights since they had photographers all over the ship. We did buy some photos, but I have yet to scan them to post them for you. My husband is also Scottish, but has a different tartan than my dad's family... it was fun to see them all in kilts and in their appropriate colors. The ladies all wore black cocktail dresses. The food that is included with the cruise price was so delicious on this ship, but the specialty restaurants... there are no words... we had a hard time leaving those places after such decadence. How very blessed and lucky we all are to have been given this opportunity to enjoy life together for a week in such luxury. I am SO thankful. SO SO THANKFUL!
We said goodbye to our beautiful white ship, which they paint at every port, and headed straight to the airport. In usual Griswald form, I got stuck at security. TSA wouldn't allow me to go through the new scanner (even though I was TSA approved) and forced me through the metal detector, which ALWAYS alarms because of my metal hip/leg. And, as you likely know, if the metal detector goes off, they pat you down. So, I got the pat-down. Usually, this isn't an issue. This time though, they rubbed my entire body and then tested the gloves and told me that I tested positive for explosives!!! WHAT!?!?!! Of course, my dark companion showed up immediately to handle the situation for me, so I let TSA know that I have anxiety. They informed me of the process and allowed my husband to come to the little room with me. I was told that hopefully, the next rub-down will clear... according to TSA, many people test positive for explosives in this airport because of all the sun-tan products and lotions... whatever... news to me! If the second rub-down hadn't cleared (thankfully, it did), then they said they would have to question me and search my bags... then possibly DETAIN ME!?!?! And here I was, entering the airport just moments earlier with hardly any worries... relaxed, not fearing the flight and ready to go home. So much for that blissful feeling. Party's over... back to reality... BAM!
I'm home now and as I reflect on this family vacation, I can still feel the calmness and joy that sat inside me throughout the entire week. I hope I can hold onto it a long, long time. <3 It's interesting to think about how I feel when facing the possibility of having cancer and then comparing it to the feelings I have of worry when it's not about cancer. I often feel guilty. But the reality of it is that anxiety comes and goes in my life... regardless of the severity of the situation. Anxiety doesn't care as much as cancer isn't prejudiced. I was happy to have not had as much anxiety as I now "new normally" do... if only for a week.
P.S... Regarding my selfie at the top, before anyone gets the wrong idea... Yes, I'm in the car. NO, I'm not driving.
If you have read my last blog, you'll know I've been dealing with a little anxiety. I'm not yet ready to post the next section of my medical history or current concerns, so to try to keep my mind occupied, I scheduled a day of errands and some fun stuff with the girls the other day. While sitting in LensCrafters with the lights flickering... I started to feel uncomfortable... for no reason of course. So, I got up and walked around. My little entourage came along and as I was trying on my favorite brand of glasses, Coach, I came across these next to my normal style. As I grabbed a set, one little blondie grabbed another and then the other two followed along... then it was selfie time. We all made "cool" faces. I couldn't help but to laugh because the little munchkins were having so much fun bouncing around and pretending to be people they weren't. Maybe we should really start to act like children... well, actually, I do that quite often, maybe too often sometimes. Kids seem to know how to handle life's problems with so much more curiosity instead of concern like most adults, I'm convinced. In any case... the whole extravaganza actually worked and transferred my negative thoughts into fun and happy experiences in the moment! That is why when I got home, I Photoshopped out the background and stuck a colorful fun setting in there instead... much nicer than a wall full of other glasses, don't you think?
I have said it before and I will say it again... if you haven't yet, schedule in something fun to look forward to... even if it is a special dinner, a night out, an afternoon stroll or a chocolate brownie. Whatever. Having something happy planned in your day can make all the difference in your attitude and sometimes even help push back the negative thoughts that lead to anxiety.
Worry. Concern, Fear, Nervousness, Uneasiness, ANXIETY. I've been trying my hardest to fight off anxiety the last few days. I actually have nothing to be worried about right now yet my brain is unfathomably always capable of producing something to be concerned about... it is inexplicably 100% reliable when looking for something as a cause for concern.
I was perusing my Facebook feed this morning, as I do too often, and a friend had posted this:
Of course, I "liked" the post and immediately realized that she had unknowingly posted it specifically for me. This was the work of God, I'm sure. I read it several times over in hopes that it would stick with me throughout the day. I analyzed it, or rather overanalyzed it... to the point where I realized that the words "him" and "he" should have been capitalized. Then I internally slapped myself in the face and snapped out of the criticism mode and back into the message. As I drove to work today, I prayed. I prayed about all the things I was thinking and worrying about so far today which early in the day was already a list that kept me busy praying for the ride to work- an hour and fifteen minutes long.
...And I felt peace.
As I go about my day at work, a couple women stopped in with information on Relay for Life. We shared information and they went on with their day. I, on the other hand, started thinking more about cancer, and everything I've been through. It wasn't in a depressive, anxious way as much as it was in a "what do I do with this to make it good?" way. I then recalled the anxiety I have been fighting off the last few days and really started thinking about the possibility of it never really going away. If it never does fully go away, I better learn to live with it... I've been with it for 8.5 years now, so come on, I should know anxiety in and out pretty well by now yet it always surprises me and often gets the better of me. It is what it is right now for whatever reason and I need to just move forward through each day as it comes.
If you've read my previous posts, you'll have read one about after-cancer care regarding the growing developments and awareness for "survivorship." I read another article on that today: 'Cancer Survivor" Taking on New Meaning for Patients I've been, for the most part, enjoying new information on this subject lately even though they often come with new concerns for this worrywart.
I suppose my message for the day would be to take each day as it comes and release yourself of the burden of too many concerning issues. Focus on the positive aspects of anything negative that comes your way and smile today because after all, today is a blessing that we will not have tomorrow. Enjoy life.
I had planned to write another portion of my medical history today to help complete the story, but then realizing that I'm the most successful procrastinator on Earth I internally deliberated the importance of getting to my Christmas post now before I miss it. Plus, sometimes when I review too much of my history through cancer, it triggers anxiety which I've been fighting off lately with the added stresses of my life that pile on each year (of which I'm extremely grateful). Just before I opened up to post this, I was browsing Facebook and came across this re-posted by a friend of mine through a Facebook Page called High Anxieties:
Of course, I see this as a literal sign to post something a little lighter in subject tonight because I have just about every symptom on the list there and don't really need to trigger on a full attack just before Christmas. And so, with the rapidly arriving celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our savior, I switched course.
This post will be a difficult one for me. I'm not religious. Religion is a man-made business... but I'm not against it either. I love my parents' church friends and they are absolutely huge contributors to my health and well-being through prayer and support. But, I don't necessarily feel as though I fit into one specific religion fully and therefor find myself in a predicament to commit to one church and/or religion over another. I consider myself very spiritual. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus as our savior. I truly feel that my relationship with God is a strong one, through prayer, thought and action. Beyond that, it becomes confusingly complicated for me. I'm by no means a "thumper" of any type and quite frankly don't care for people who push their views upon me. I'd rather do my own homework on my own time and make educated decisions myself rather than as a result of others' opinions. So when I get to the story below, you need to know this about me because this experience I am about to share publicly puts me in a very vulnerable position, one for which others may discredit me, starting with this simple statement: "I experienced personally the healing hands of Jesus." BAM! Hitting like a book across the face. There it is.
Months. This experience with Jesus took me months to talk about. I was so scared that people would think I was reaching for something, anything, to heal or cure me of cancer that if I spoke of this personal experience they would think I was a whack job. I've seen and heard of so many stories of seeing Jesus in food, or clouds or window panes, or so many other ridiculous places and each time those stories caught my interest, I immediately discredited every single one of them with my judgmental, artistic and analytical self. I also did the same with my own personal experience, not wanting to believe it as an experience, but rather a dream. So when I finally started telling the select few people what exactly I had experienced, I made absolute sure that they knew I was open to the possibility of this just being a dream. But at least I had started to share it with others, I suppose. Baby steps. Every time I spoke of it, I felt a rush of energy through my body, the same rush that I felt during the actual encounter. That energy has faded in me over the years. But now that I am dredging it all up again, I can feel it once more. The more I shared this story, the more I began to BELIEVE that it really and truly was not just a dream. Yet, to this day, I falter and often lose my faith and trust when I need it most- scan days and biopsy days.
Meeting Jesus- my simple and short version:
After my hip/femur reconstruction (which I've not yet posted about but will), I was home recovering. I slept with an abductor pillow between my legs while on my back. One night, in the middle of sleep, I awoke. Out of nowhere and for no reason, I opened my eyes as if I knew something was happening, but did not know what. I turned to look at my then-husband who was sound asleep and then I took a peek at my dog laying at our feet who was in dreamland. I was confused because that dog was so in tune... she could sense earthquakes before they hit. Amazing. So when I saw her completely unaware, I decided my feelings must be off and I rested my head back on the pillow, but remained wide awake. I was calm, overly calm for having just woken up in the middle of the night feeling something was going to happen but not knowing what. Then in mid air, a light began to appear. One would normally freak out about this, I would assume. But I was just so inexplicably relaxed. It grew larger and larger and came closer and closer to me. As it floated above me, I knew it was Jesus visiting, even before He took partial form. This light transformed into the SYMBOL of what we know Jesus to be, the images of Him in His human body. Without words, He informed me that indeed it was Him and He is pure light but for my own sake, He was forming into our recognizable icon. I saw this light once before in surgery and now again this night. It's no light we can reproduce here on Earth; it's immensely illuminated and a different kind of light. (I'll share that other experience another time.) His face took form, his shoulders and arms appeared all the way to the very tips of his fingers. His body began to take shape and then faded off into His light. He hovered over my heart with his hands flat and crossed and without a physical touch or a single word spoken, a rush of energy poured through my entire body sourced in the heart. I was being cured of cancer. I knew this was the intent. I was informed, again with no words, that I was "CURED" and would never again need to worry about cancer.
That's a powerful statement. Cured. (Not healed, that's a comparison conversation in itself... being cured is different.) Never again will I need to worry about cancer. Yet, every time I go for scans every 6 months, there's that chance of cancer, isn't there? But there isn't. I AM CURED! Why do I not trust this?
My purpose in life is to make others happy. It is as simple as that. That realization came through Jesus' visit as well. Clearly there's a plan here and I don't know what to make of it, but it sure would make life a lot easier if all I actually did worry about was whether or not I was making others happy. Give happiness to others and live on. Just as quickly as He appeared, He dissolved away into nothing. It didn't take me long to get back to resting in comfortable sleep, but I did find that when I breathed deep through my heart, I could feel the curing, healing energy He gave me, through and through.
In all honesty, I don't believe He had just given it to me then... I know it was there the whole time; He just needed to show me where to find it. We all have these healing powers within us, we just need to locate the source in our hearts to use them... and it's not easy to do if you've never done it before. In fact, it's not easy to keep doing... it's something that needs to be exercised often, like muscles. Now if I could just remember my own words now.
The next day and the days following this experience it was all I could think about. I asked my then-husband, an atheist, if he had seen or heard anything throughout the night, but he had not. That personal visit was specifically and solely for me alone, which I had presumed. Naturally, I began to question this whole ordeal and even partially discredited myself, but I wanted to believe, and so eventually that belief became stronger than the doubt.
Could this be why I am cancer-free today after being given only six months to live 8.5 years ago? I never received treatments, only surgeries. It is unrealistic. And I have more stories from the years past to share that attest to the strength of this belief and encounter.
Jesus saved me.
He saved us all and one by one, He is saving us again... over and over... whether we realize it or not. I am so thankful for Him and while I know I often fail at making others happy, I know I have a desire and will to accomplish this for Him and for everyone else. So this year, my prayer for everyone is to make your Christmas Day the happiest day of this year! It is, after-all, the celebration of the birth of our savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who wants us to, simply put: be happy together.
I love you all, thank you for reading. Please share this with everyone and I'd love it if you would leave a comment.
It's the holiday season... a time to be grateful, to bask in the warmth of our hearts and share love and empathy with all those around us. It's a time of reflection and realization. I thought today might be a good time to review some of the tough stuff that I've been through- the beginning. It reminds me of what we are able to endure during the dark hours. Sometimes my walk down memory lane is not all sunshine and melted chocolate filled with strawberries and sweetness, some roads are shadowed by the old, heavy branches of dead trees and sounds of creatures that seem to haunt. These feelings often rush through my body as if they are happening all over again but then I am usually able to pull myself forward to the current moment of: BEING HEALTHY, strong and thankful. I've been through it, it's done... remember that. Let's enjoy the season with happiness and deep breaths. So here's a bit of the beginning:
This part of my life is so distant and was not all that important to me until after my diagnosis of cancer. (I say that as “my diagnosis of cancer” rather than “my cancer diagnosis” because one therapist mentioned to me not to own it, never own it… we’ll get into that later.)
I was ill with what I thought was a cold for a couple months. While completing my post-baccalaureate degree in Art Education at Arizona State University (a two-year program that I petitioned to finish in one short year), I became sick. Perhaps I pushed myself a little too far too fast, or maybe I’m just trying to find reason for this issue that seems to be the first domino in a long and winding line. Friends and family insisted I check for pneumonia. I was fatigued and had all the symptoms of just about anything you look up on the internet. I tried to explain it away because of my school schedule and workload, but I could not deny that I wasn’t recovering. So, after a few doctor appointments and rounds of antibiotics that didn’t do anything, I went in for the pneumonia x-ray. Nothing. But it had to be something because I was in pain and not myself. I was coughing and so tired all the time! Finally, an emergency room doctor one day thought to test for Valley Fever. Positive. Well, at least we know what it is now. Valley Fever comes in the form of a fungus that lives in the Southwestern United States of which only a very small portion of people are allergic. Guess who!? Yep… I’m one. There is anti-fungal medication, but it is not delivered unless absolutely necessary, and my case was considered mild so I did not need it. I was at near the middle/end of this approximate two-year health issue when I moved to Orange County, CA in 2002 after successfully completing that teaching credential program with honors. I secured a job teaching middle school art in California and was set to begin the following fall season. Very exciting! Here we go…
Orange County, CA
My health seemed mostly stable. In fact, I felt like I was in the best shape of my life when I was preparing for my first marriage in 2004. I was of sound weight, had ample energy. But, I knew something was a little off. I attributed it mostly to stress and Valley Fever. I had tested for Valley Fever at one point to see if it had run its course since I was feeling much better, but still sick often off and on. The Valley Fever was gone! YAY!!!! I get to move forward with my life and not worry about that. (This time of my life is still a distant memory. I have since pieced together the parts I personally deem important or possibly a piece of a large puzzle that I often find myself trying to put together… as if once it’s all put together, I’ll have the recipe to prevent cancer.) But then I began having vision problems. Major vision problems. The optometrist noticed some odd happenings and recommended I go to the opthamologist. The opthamologist said it looked as though I could have some detachment in the retina but he really could not say for sure and told me to watch for flashing lights, like as if the paparazzi was flashing cameras on me (right, because I know what that’s like). OK. So, then I’m referred over to a retinal specialist… and this is where the real fun with my vision begins.
Sometimes you think you’re headed in for one specific thing… other times you know you don’t know what to expect… and then there’s those times when what you’re informed of is just downright shocking and almost unbelievable. This was one of those times.
The retinal specialist, who was so very kind and extremely accommodating to my near anxiety (I say “near” because I didn’t really have anxiety issues much before cancer, but I did tend to get nervous for big appointments), that I almost felt worse for him than I did myself. Almost. He informed me that I had what was called “Pars Planitis with Macular Edema.” Basically, that is a part of my eyeball inflamed causing a fluid buildup that ultimately affected my vision and could potentially become so bad that it causes blindness. OK… I’m a visual artist. I have been an artist as long as I can remember, literally. I have built a nice resume as a professional artist and now I teach visual art to kids. My favorite part of art is color theory. SEEING COLORS!!! How do I continue to make art if I go blind? Obviously, this was a huge blow to me! A threat of going blind would be devastating for anyone, but I felt like my world would crumble because visual imagery is my LIFE! Fortunately, this is something that can be treated and managed, but with side effects. Usually it is treated with steroid injection in the eye. Let me repeat that… A NEEDLE IN THE EYE! Luckily, I got the needle just ABOVE the eye in the eye socket. Which is bad enough. Though, if that doesn’t work, the doctor will put the needle directly into the eyeball. (Think “Clockwork Orange.”) The steroid injection eventually causes cataracts in 100% of patients. So, I have that to look forward to now. And, while it isn’t all that painful when administered, it’s just absolutely grotesque (to me anyway, maybe most of you can handle watching a needle head towards your eyeball, but it’s pretty nerve-wrecking for me)… even just the thought of it is just gross. Then, shortly after the injection, the whites of the eye become bubbled out with red blood. As an artist, I began to imagine all sorts of things that could go wrong with this of course, but the worst part is when the doctor told me that I would be fine and all went well, “just watch for blood; it will be normal for the white of your eye to turn red and puff up a little as the blood enters between the layers of your eye, but if it starts oozing out, you’ll need to call me right away.” UHHHH… WHAT?!?!! Did that just happen?! Some doctor just informed me that my eye could bleed from the white part!?!?! OMG… I’m going to pass out if that happens, that’s all I could think about. Of course, every minute of the day, I was checking my eyes in the mirror. The kids at school either cringed or thought it was the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. Fortunately, that never happened to me. THANK GOD! The red bloody eye stays bloody for quite some time. It slowly fades off. Though it’s not painful, it’s not something you can just hide, especially in a middle school classroom. I was taking too many days off and ran through my sick leave quickly. So, with this last round of edema that popped up in 2006, I chose not to have the injection again and go with an oral steroid instead. (sigh of relief for me… dodged a bullet or rather, a needle in the eye.)
During this time, I had seen a few different doctors. I decided to find a Naturopathic Doctor. Given my newfound fear of doctor visits, I thought I should try the natural route. I believe in Naturopathy and I believe that our bodies have the abilities to heal themselves if properly nutritioned. I also believe that treating our bodies as a whole is more beneficial that treating a symptom, as most modern day MD’s practice. So, I started on my naturopathic journey. (More on that later.) In California, it is legal for Naturopathic Doctors to be primary care doctors and so after a few initial consultations, I found one I absolutely loved! So, while she was working on boosting my immune system with drips and supplements, I continued working out, eating healthy and trying to figure out why my vision was so bad in spurts. (Side note: We need to advocate for Naturopaths to be legal as primary care physicians in all states!)
I found that this vision problem that I was experiencing is known to be a “symptom” of something larger. Of course it is, right!?! CLINK! I’ve somehow managed to find myself in the middle of a set up domino system of bad happenings. So… what’s the list of options for horrible issues that could be causing this vision problem? Do I get to pick the least problematic? The one that is the lesser of all evils or am I going to assume it’s going to be the worst? We all assume it’s the worst, don’t we? As you can guess, the list entails just about anything and everything. I say this literally, not metaphorically. It literally could be anything because it is related to an autoimmune disorder. Of course, my brain immediately finds the worst case scenario and I start praying. Not that I never prayed before, but I think the vast majority of us tend to pray a little harder or a little more often or with a bit more spirit when we feel we are in need. And, that’s where I was at this point. COMPLETELY LOST.
So, I went through testing… several doctors, lots of blood tests. I did my own research and was actually hoping to get a body scan because I KNEW there was something wrong with me before the doctors even confirmed it. Ask my BFF… she will tell you “You kept saying you knew your body was off. You said it!” So, of course, in our lovely nation, with our “healthcare” (or lack thereof) system, I was not able to get a scan just because I wanted one because I could not afford it out of my own pocket and even if I could, I’m still not sure I could have gotten one.. So, I kept on searching.
I have a very close relationship with my mother. So, she would fly out from Chicago and take me to these doctor appointments as I grew a little more nervous each time.. I would find a doctor, go, come home with nothing new. Find another, go, come home again with nothing new. At one point, one doctor told me it was all in my head and I honestly wondered if he was right. My mom and husband kept me calm for the most part. I was also feeling good about keeping my health up with the Naturopath. Still, I knew something major was wrong. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find it but I knew I didn’t want to go blind so what choice did I have?
We always have a choice; we just don’t always see it.
My life was busy. My life was good. Overall, I had very little complaints, considering. I married in November of 2004. Thankfully, with the whites of my eyes white! Then, after selling our townhouse, we moved into our house with a yard close to the university my then husband was attending for grad school, close to my aunt and a cousin with his family… life was great. We adopted our baby-dog, Salvadora Dali (Sally for short, my mom used to call me Sally as a child and it wasn’t looking like I was going to be having children of my own at this point to pass the name down.) Sally was hands down, THE best dog ever and more like a daughter in a furry body with four legs and a tail. We had money for vacation. I was building my name as a professional artist and working as an art teacher. And, I continued to try to get my health under control. But, eventually, I was out from work so often that I started having to pay for my own substitute teacher. I was overworked and beginning to feel fatigued again. I made a difficult decision to quit my teaching job on good terms, thankfully.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do for money so I set myself up with some credit cards just in case. My then (now ex-) husband wasn’t making enough to support the house we had just purchased, but I could not continue with the stress of the job I had while fighting to be healthy. I wasn’t sure this was the right decision or not and I miss teaching there very much, even to this day. It was a great staff, a wonderful school of children and supportive, friendly administration. It was not an easy decision to make, but I knew I was sick and I could not afford to keep paying for my subs… nor was it fair for the kids to have subs that often. So, I went into real estate knowing I could start fairly quickly with little investment. I did that alongside a home-based business to make a little money, but it was so very not rewarding. Now my morale was diminishing. I was a real estate agent for about a year while still going through the search for this health issue that was causing my eyes problems.
Pain in my right hip lead me to seek help from my Naturopath who was now officially my general practitioner. Now, hip pain is a common monthly occurrence for me because I’m a freak of nature. I don’t get abdominal cramps during my menstrual cycle like most people; I get hip pain instead. The kind that makes me want to lay in bed and not move any muscle from my stomach down for an entire 24 hours. Whatever. But when it didn’t go away one month, then another, my naturopath said “Let’s get a scan.” I know I had been asking for this scan but the thought of there actually being a legitimate reason to have it now scared the crap out of me. Seek and ye shall find. Maybe I should have ignored my problem so it would have gone away… that’s what I was thinking anyway.
She recommended a scan because I was currently taking that oral steroid for the vision problem. Over time, the steroid can cause something which occurs in the hip… She was looking for Avascular Necrosis. It was a longshot to have this given the short amount of time I was on the steroid. So, I wasn’t too concerned about that, but was more concerned that I had to have an MRI now. I’ve never had one. I’m slightly claustrophobic, not too bad, but enough to make me nervous about the scan… not to mention the fact that I might just find what I was looking for… and I certainly wasn’t ready. I’m not a fan of looking for problems… they generally tend to find their way to me without looking. AND… they told me it would require an IV (which to me meant hooking me up to a tube with liquids, which I had not ever had in the past… freak out time!)
I won’t go into the details of the stress of having this MRI run, which in retrospect were not nearly at the level my stress of scans becomes now- NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. It actually wasn’t that bad. Just loud. They gave me earphones with music to listen to and since my head was not being examined (which has now become a running joke with everyone who thinks they should scan my head all the time), I didn’t need a helmet or get put into all the way. We were just looking at the hip. The IV that this anxiety girl was so worried about was just an injection without the tube. Lucked out on that one… just put that domino back upright before it hits another.
The ND (Naturopathic Doctor) called me a few days later and immediately said “Hi Amanda, Where are you? I want you to sit down and take a deep breath.” While this of course made me feel like I was going to die immediately because that is never a good thing when a doctor says that, I was thankful she was so kind and caring when she did say that. I trusted her… and still do to this day. If that woman called me today and said “Hide, the sky is falling!” I totally would! So, I sat down and took a deep breath. I honestly don’t even remember where I was when this happened, but I do remember that I was with a friend at the time consoling her about money issues and we were headed for ice cream after an errand of some sort that I had to take care of. The doctor said “As we expected, the good news is that you do NOT have necrosis. The not so good news is that we do see a large tumor in your leg bone near the hip. That’s probably what is causing the pain... (words fade to mumble in my memory because I’m stuck on “tumor.”)... full body scan… cancer… maybe benign… bone scan…” I’m really not sure about all of what she said anymore.
Long silence. I hear nothing around me. I forget where I am. My thoughts? I don’t hear them. I don’t have any.
Complete, fragmented immediate meltdown.
My day of consoling my friend just took a U-turn. I need to go home.
I could have cancer?
I went through routine check-up scans a week ago today. I ended my last scan post with "The Doctor is in." This time around, I was quasi-confident, quasi-scanxious... I wasn't sure if I was up or down, content or uneasy, complacent or hopeless. Since my last scans in June sent me through a summer of tests and biopsies, which miraculously all turned out to be benign, I was somewhat expectant to have only good news of no new issues to probe into as they've all just recently been tested. But then again, The little voice in my head reminded me that if there's something new happening, sometimes it could be possible to not find it right away and after six months, perhaps there could be something there that they will need to test and in it they will find cancer. (This is the scanxiety, the downward spiral of thorns that spits you into a pit of worry and depression after tearing through your body which affects not only a mental state but a physical one as well, if you let it hit that bottom. I seriously believe that I am THE ONE person in the world that gets this worrisome with scanxiety.)
Fortunately, I was pre-occupied with some delays in the clinics due to computer issues. I also brought my laptop with me to get some work done. Why in the 8.5 years I have been participating in routine scans I have never brought my laptop is now alarmingly curious. So, I was keeping busy and that helped. Then, everything sort of just went quicker than it usually does... literally... not just because I was per-occupied, but I didn't actually wait as long in any part of this process as usual.
Long story short, I received the good news! Another six more months to life life as I know it until my next scans. Meanwhile, I have some new things to worry about... ha ha... normal human stuff for a non-anxious person, but I'm not normal so of course, I immediately assume the worst-case scenario.. I have a mole that likely needs to be removed, sliced up and tested- fantastic... maybe even more than one. And, I have to have a follow-up mammogram in February from the biopsy in August. That means we'll be checking for cancer in January and again in February. So much for a six-month break. A double whammy of worry for this freakazoid. (Cue the guilt of being a healthy cancer _______ while there are others hanging on to their lives by a thread.) The hardest part to remember is that I'm fine, I'm good.. If they find something, we WILL manage it. Cancer is not welcome in this body of mine and I will eliminate it through belief, family support, doctor assistance, faith proper supplementation and intrinsic exercises. I did it once before and that was certainly worse than anything they could possibly find a second time around, right? (Let's just bank on that.)
I haven't made my appointments yet. I've been told NOT to live my life around cancer. HA HA HA... how do you do that? Isn't health a top priority? Don't we need to work around our health? I'm not saying I'm going to ignore these issues, but I AM going to at least enjoy the next two weeks through Christmas before I start thinking about more tests. That settles my mind a bit and I'm ok with waiting two week in an effort to preserve a little sanity and serenity... that makes the wait worth it right there.
For now, I am thankful.
I finished another commission piece the other day, which is the photo attached to this post. My family and I went to see Santa tonight! We had a lovely dinner and we've made plans for tomorrow. We have some financial stress, but who doesn't around this time of year and we are so very blessed to have a roof over our heads, food on the table, jobs to provide income, parents that are supportive, healthy children and great friends! I'm always fresh with gratefulness in the weeks following good scan results.