Shoving Squirrels in a Backpack

The adults in my family were working overtime behind the camera, bopping about like Mexican jumping beans, making goofy noises, and wildly flailing their jazz hands like their lives depended on it, but it was all for not… this one year older and more independent Tomlinson trio would have none of it. 

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My Birthday 2019 (111).JPG

It’s my one, not so simple, Birthday request each year; a proud Auntie picture with my bunnies.  Last year went oddly well, but this time around, Gracie just wanted her dad, Ethan was desperate to get out of the confounded costume and to just play already, and Elena, well, she at least remained amused by it all. 

Giving the restless bundles of joy freedom from their costumes, and space to regroup, we decided to try again. This time Chad tried dropping Gracie to me a second before the picture was taken, tossing in her favorite blanket for good measure, but Ethan was not going to give in and did everything in his power to wiggle away from the three girls holding him hostage.   It really was like trying to shove a bunch of squirrels into a backpack. 

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My Birthday 2019 (172).JPG

Oddly enough, my three wee restless amigos demonstrated exactly how I have been feeling lately, pulled in different directions, expressing multiple emotions at once and just wanting all of my ducks in an understandable controlled row! This is what happens when I get caught up hustling for approval. Lately I’ve been hustling;

  • to prove I belong in this new job I’ve been given,

  • to keep up to a pace that is beyond me,

  • to cover up the blanks I experience through Chemo fog,

  • because I think it’s expected of me,

  • because it was a habit I established before cancer,

  • to try to figure out what I should actually be doing!

I’ve become my own dog and pony show as I dance for my supper looking for any scrap of approval to give me permission to stop this waltz of desperation. This hustle and bustle is at the heart of what messed up my pace of grace to begin with. I don’t know why I need the wheels to fall off my wagon for me to see that I’m making small things into big ones, giving 150% when I have 50% in me, and insisting on doing things the hard way with extra unnecessary details. I am my own enigma wrapped in kooky and sprinkled with crazy.

Love and worthiness don’t have prerequisites, and when I use outside approval as a measuring stick for my own worth, it’s time to call Houston, because I indeed have a problem. Because worthiness doesn’t come from what I try to prove to others, it comes from me allowing myself to be me, accepting myself as I am, and knowing that at the end of the day, I am always enough.

One single semi-decent “as good as it was going to get photo!

One single semi-decent “as good as it was going to get photo!

Pace of Grace

I erupted in a full belly laughter that sent me flying forward in my seat. All of a sudden these past few months of, overdoing it, taking on too much, hitting walls, and sporting sheer exhaustion were made sense with three little words.

It happened while visiting my bright and brilliant friend who exudes joy from every pore; she’s that person you just want to prolong a hug with to ensure that her positivity will stick to you when you let her go. We were having a good ole fashion over due girly tete-a-tete;  how is this and that?  Have you talked with…?  You will never guess…? You’ve got to be kidding…! Questions bounced between us like a hot potato as I shared with her the fun I was having with my new job, the extras I had taken on at the school, the advisory council I was on at the hospital and my prouder than a peacock Auntie pride.  Then my eyes began to roll at myself as I admitted to being in tears over consistently catapulting myself past the line of burn out into the area of clinically bushwacked.

Honestly, I’ve lost count of how many times my body had called Uncle, or my mind has shut down while sending out smoke signals through the fog for something to give. I’ve hit more walls than the Kool-aid man and have a new collection of catch phrases that include, but are not limited to:

  • “I’ve taken a leap into the other side of burnt out!”

  • “I’m trapped in a cul-de-sac of exhaustion!”

  • and in 007 style, “I’m knackered, completely knackered!” 

And to top it off, each time I hit another pothole of pooched I’m flummoxed over how I got myself to that point yet again!

I didn’t even get a chance to give any of these ridiculous details to my joy-filled friend because the moment she heard the words “tears” and “burnt” she halted me mid-crazy and with all her wisdom declared, “girl, you need a pace of grace.” 

It all just made sense. That’s exactly what I’ve been craving.

I knew that I needed to find a new balance to accommodate all of the changes in my life, but it was something I would admit out loud without any honest follow through to find it. There was something wonderfully freeing and permission granting about these three words.

What does living with a pace of grace mean to me?

  • it’s using the phrase “I’ll get back to you” when an opportunity presents itself instead of blindly jumping without taking time to inspect my bungee cord.

  • it’s allowing myself to say ‘no’ without explanation or guilt glued to it.

  • it’s knowing that I have nothing to prove and releasing the need of outward approval.

  • it’s removing the reason, “but I don’t want to let them down” from any decision.

  • it’s listening to my body and giving it what it needs before it tosses the spins and klutzy moves my way.

  • it’s respecting my journey of getting to know the new “after cancer treatment” version of me.

Strength doesn’t come from saying ‘yes’ all of the time, nor is it defined by how much I have on my plate. The true brave thing to to do is take much needed breaks and remain at a steady trot instead of constantly hustling in a energy zapping gallop.

I left our visit feeling lighter and a scooch wiser, time for a pace of grace indeed.

A Sense of Humour Saves the Day!

I love my new job as a coop teacher. Getting to see students growing and being successful in the workplace, schmoozing with local business owners and making my cherry red dream of a car into my mobile office is dramatically different than my usual teaching assignments, but I’m having a bowl full of fun with it.

I had just finished visiting a student at a placement (who was in shock having learned what life is really like for an elementary teacher), and on my way to visit another student working in a nursing home (who surprised herself at how rewarding it is to help someone who can’t help themselves), when I realized that I was ahead of schedule.  Which for me, is no surprise, but it often tosses employers when I burst in beaming with sunshine 30 minutes early and they are still in a meeting.  I had 15 minutes to either drive like a 90 year old to prolong the journey, or make a quick stop at the house of my pregnant friend who was about to pop to see if she needed any help while balancing two other adorable kids.  But, my friend being the superwoman she is, was out and about. So, I fired off a quick text to her:

Hey Beautiful,

Had a couple of minutes between student visits and popped by….  Sorry I missed you my sweet friend… another time.

Followed, of course, by two emoji’s:

 
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Driving away sorry I didn’t get a hug in with one of my favorite people and feeling like an all-star supportive friend I was back to my route with my pom-poms in hand ready to spread more cheer.

Over an hour later with my student visits finished, I was back at the school to make notes, and get organized for the next day’s trek around the city when out of nowhere my heart went cold.  Wait, my wonderful friend never texted me back.  Either A, she needs me and I somehow missed her bat-signal, or B…. no, I couldn’t have… seriously, nooooo…

Yup, B was what happened… the text never made it to my dear friend, instead went to a male student I had texted just before my hiatus in her driveway. 

The palm of my hand met its familiar place on my forehead as I wondered how I always seem to manage adding chaos to the calm?

With trembling hands and a racing heart I texted the student a grand apology, all the while hoping he read it with his great sense of humour and not in any other horrific way I was imaging. 

Still feeling stupid days later and seeing myself in yet another imaginary news worthy story, this time as the teacher who goes to jail for hitting on her student, I was grateful to see him in person where I could apologize looking into the whites of his eyes making sure he completely understood my fluke of a blunder.

Again, grateful for his brilliant sense of humour, we laughed, and made a few jokes as he told me that it was his girlfriend who discovered the text which resulted in an awkward conversation beginning with, “no, it’s my teacher” and ended with him scrolling through my other countless texts about his placement.  As he left the office, I reminded myself that by the end of the week I wouldn’t have to worry about mixing up texts again, because my work cell had just arrived…little did I know at the time that I would trade in hitting on teenagers to stalking a five year old!

It will never cease to amaze me what a prankster life is and oddly enough how much more fun a day is when the unexpected happens, even the embarrassing kerfuffles. And it seems that no matter what high jinks life has at my expense, a sense of humour saves the day every single time.  As it turns out, the less seriously I take myself, the more space I leave for joy.

Stalking a Five Year Old

I was tickled pink at it’s arrival. I held it gingerly in my hands, a box that held within it’s six walls a brand spanking new cell phone from the Board of Education that would make my new roll as a Coop teacher a much easier one. Not that giving out my personal cell number and having copious amounts of pictures of students on my personal cell phone wasn’t fantastic, but I was looking forward to separating my personal and professional worlds.

I lifted the lid to the pristine un-dented box like I was discovering a 100 year old relic, observing the bits and pieces all perfectly organized, and my nose being pleasantly accosted by a waft of new cell phone smell making an escape. I beamed with pride as I removed her, excitedly adding in student phone numbers and littering it with pictures of my nieces and nephew getting set to take her for a proper spin.

And it was at this point that things took a dramatic change of direction and the list of “what the…?” began. The list goes something like this:

  • the app store was completely empty, nothing, nadda, bupkis.

  • it was pulling a childish tantrum and refusing to link up with my email.

  • my personal cell kept saying it was an iPhone number when she was most definitely an android through and through.

  • and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it to receive any kind of text from my personal phone.

It took over an hour from two very patient wonderful Board of Education employees, and a lot of frustrated laughter to get her figured out and good to go. I skipped away with pride with how calmly I dealt with the blip and grateful that it would be smooth sailing from that moment forward.

But that night, as I sat in the perfectly made butt grove in my couch trying to motivate myself to knit one of the many projects waiting for me and watching Tom Cruise try to save the world on yet another impossible mission, I received a text on my personal phone. With a quick sideways glance towards the screen I became completely wigged out when I saw that it was coming from my work phone:

“Who is this?”

Blinking in disbelief I stared at the text. How? What? Huh? I looked around my condo wondering if someone had snuck in, secretly taken the work phone, and was trying to freak me out. The phrase, “the call is coming from inside the house” began to echo in my head.

“Who am I? Who is this?”

“You need to stop texting this number, it’s my 5 year old daughter’s phone”

It was at this point I became torn between being completely creeped out that my cell was texting me without my help and being wildly judgmental of a parent who would give a 5 year old a phone. I mean, really? I decided to stick with creepy, and with another visit to the Board of Education the next morning I had the number changed.

I have absolutely no clue how two people get the same cell number, but I did know that a five year old wouldn’t be able to answer any of the many questions I get texted from students out on a placement. With my new number in tow, I assumed I was finally free from making the front page of the news being hailed as the Stoney Creek Stalker of a Five year old.

But days later I received yet another warning to leave the five year old alone. It only took me a second to realize that although I was given a new number, I hadn’t yet changed it in personal phone contacts. So I was indeed still harassing a girl who just wanted to watch Peppa Pig and crush some candy. Yup, at this point, it was definitely my bad.

I’m not sure if the lesson here is don’t trust the phone companies, beware of stalkers when you give a five year old a phone, or never to assume smooth sailing; but what I do know is, that this was hilarious!

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

“I can do this…”

It was going to be a daunting task, my Kilimanjaro of the morning, but I was determined to make it work.  I received the email the night before from the teachers union announcing that we were to wear purple the next day in order to show our support to our care-taking staff on the brink of a strike.  Of course I own a purple dress, so I went to bed that night feeling two steps ahead.

But the next morning my confidence took a hit as I looked at the zipper-less dress wondering how I was going to wiggle my way into it. I yanked and pulled the fabric in opposite directions trying to encourage it to be two sizes larger than it was before considering stuffing myself into it. Then, taking a deep breath and sucking in all I could, I put the dress over my head and began to contort my body in unhuman ways in order to shimmy my shoulders and upper body into the purple sausage casing. 

I felt a weird sense of victory as my arms popped into place, but before I could get cocky my mirror asked me if maybe, just maybe I would like to wear it right-side forward.  Argh. Although the reflection was deflating, with superhero determination I manoeuvred my arms out once again, twisting and agitating my body like a washing machine, and voila!

Crap, still backwards.

With beads of sweat forming on my brow and determination fuelling me, I took another deep suck-it-all-in breath for one final dance with her in an attempt to get her facing v-neck forward. Feeling like the little engine that could, I repeated “I think I can, I think I can” over and over in my mind while I clocked myself in the head with my flailing arms repeatedly and my hips trying to be helpful by wiggling in every direction. Then, feeling triumphant for finally making it past the proper direction hurdle, I found myself up against the next great challenge… getting it over my hips and thighs.  The dress made an audible groan as I forced the unforgiving fabric to flex over my curves, while crossing my knees to make the illusion of one thigh instead of two and squeezing my butt cheeks together as best I could.

I stood looking in the mirror, and instead of feeling a grand sense of accomplishment, the dress began to laugh over the possibility of me wearing her out in public while betting me how long it would take for one of the seams to rip open in defeat.

Honestly, getting it on was such a chore, and the thought of attempting to Cirque Du Soleil my  way out of it again was so daunting that for a split second I searched for for a justification to support me leaving my house looking like a kielbasa ready to be sliced up for Sunday dinner. 

Although I knew it would be a mammoth task, she had to come off.  With all of my energy, bending in ways that were anything but attractive, grunting and making sounds only dogs could hear, I was able to free myself from the captivity of the dress making it a goal to be able to fit into the next time it was requested I wear purple.

With my body and dress equally relieved to be free, all I could hear was the question in my head Oprah admittedly asks herself often, “how am I making things more difficult than they need to be?”

How many times have I tried to force myself into situations I had no right to be in, or cram my very square tushie into a round hole?  I always know when I’m frustrated with a situation it’s because I’m trying to control something I never had the business of controlling in the first place. Sausaging myself into this dress was a reminder that when I feel like I have to force something, is usually when I need to let go the most.

Returning the dress to its home in my closet I grabbed a purple shirt I bought this past summer that not only fit, but was flattering to wear in order to cheer on our care-takers. It may not have been the fancy dress, but I left my house glad to be supporting people who mean a great deal to me and still being able to breath at the same time.  No forcing necessary.

Nailed It!

It was just another typical day on the job toodling around the city visiting students in work placements, quizzing them on what they are learning and kibitzing with the employers.  Mid-laugh with the owner of a dog kennel, a couple entered and interrupted our chin wag to ask me if I was the owner of the red car out front.  Immediately pride took over as I humbly admitted to being the owner of such a pretty car then braced myself for some ‘oohing and aahing’ on their part.  I mean how could you not?  She is the colour of joy, super sporty and was blending into the newly painted fall landscape without even trying.

But instead of giving a whistle and asking me how many horses are under her hood, he lifted his arm to point at her with concerned look on his face.  My ego deflated as I immediately had flashbacks to three months previous when someone thought it was appropriate to smash into her while parked in a mall parking lot and then cowardly skittering off without even leaving a simple note of apology. It was a brief moment of, ‘here we go again’ I needed to snap out of in order to see what he wanted to show me. 

Holding my breath and unclenching my eye lids to actually see, I looked to where he was pointing.  Huh, no ugly smash, no shocking mark, not a scratch to be seen, but… there was a flat tire. A conga line of gratitude sprang to life in my head as I realized that this stranger just saved me from doing some crazy damage to my car and and that the kennel just happened to be right next door to a mechanic.

The blessings kept piling on when the ‘too busy to really help’ mechanic instantly filled my tire so I could make the drive to the tire garage and upon arrival there, drove right into the mechanics bay without even having to wait or fend of the early birds putting on snow tires. They quickly found the pesky nail that had caused the morning sidetrack, then 15 minutes and $35 later I was off to the races, or rather, off to do the legal speed limit.

Once upon a time I would’ve made this simple nail puncture into a drama fit for the Elizabethan stage, feeding the little victim inside that likes to believe the world is out to get her and that she always gets the short end of the stick. But the wonderful truth is, no matter what mountain or molehill I’ve climbed I always feel taken care of, like something bigger than me is saying, “I saw this coming, it sucks, but I’ve got your back.”

I’m amazed when I look at the years leading up to cancer how everything seemed to shift in order to prepare me; purchases I made, friendships that formed, books that appeared, all arranging themselves like the perfect game of chess so I could win the game when cancer called checkmate. It was an experience I needed to have, but not one that I wasn’t well armed for.

Life happens, and challenges will never cease to arise, but as far as I’m concerned, a challenge is simply an opportunity in different shoes.

The Cat Lady Strikes!

The sales girls jaw dropped while her eyes popped out in a cartoon like manner reminiscent of Jim Carry’s character in the mask; “what happened?” She stared in disbelief as I held my arm up over my head feeling like a five year old showing her mom a boo-boo.

Her question was one I had been asking myself relentlessly as I attempted to solve the mystery of the leprosy like rash that had taken over my entire left arm pit.  It started with a single itchy bump and over the course of two weeks had morphed into a rash that could easily cause mothers to shield their child’s eyes while they rush them off in the complete opposite direction.  I quickly became my own Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to solve this great mystery, and like any legendary detective, I began making a checklist and stocking the most likely of culprits:

Mr. Razor – normally a kind fellow, was fairly new to the bathtub, but a suspect none-the-less. Changing to another new blade proved his innocence while the rash continued to take over the left side of my body.

Madame Shower Puff -  aha, now I had it!  Although she was also an upgrade to my morning routine, she hurt like the dickens when I used her over the raised red bumps.  But I quickly had to admit that using her hurt because there was a rash, not that I had a rash because she hurt.  Another dead end.

The checklist dwindled as I crossed off Sir Laundry Detergent, the Sultan of Olive Oil, Her Royal Highness The Body Wash, and the Mafia of my medication cabinet, until all that was left was Senorita Deodorant; but there was no possible way it could be my deodorant, after all, it was natural!

Turns out... it was the deodorant. 

With my cancerous lump so close to my armpit, I couldn’t get myself to use my usual preferred deodorant.  There’s no proof that deodorants can cause cancer, but after what I’ve been through, I’m going to remove any possible miscreants and leave nothing to chance.   Hunting for a natural deodorant that actually works had my head haunted by visions of Lollapalooza, Pig Pen from Peanuts, and never raising my arms again in fear that the stench would challenge that of my cancer farts.  But I also knew that products had come a long way since it was first suggested that rubbing a rock under your armpit could protect you from the forces of evil that seeps out during stressful situations.  I could figure this out.

And low and behold, wonder of wonders I found the miracle natural deodorant.  Not only was it made in Canada, came with cheeky names such as Lucy in the Sky, Like a Boss and Bonita Applebom, I couldn’t find a bad review anywhere. Plus, the one I had decided on was called Cat Lady and smelled like my kitchen when I go on a cupcake baking spree, how could I go wrong? 

What I learned the hard way after using the crazy Cat Lady for month, and being tickled that it passed the 45 degree weather test in Florida, was that I’m allergic to baking soda.  The other head scratching question was, why only one arm pit?  Then it struck me like an anvil to the coyote; my right side had experienced copious amounts of radiation, so not only did hair no longer grow under my right arm and 10% of my lung was nuked, it had also clearly killed any possible reaction to a simple body product.

In this never ending lesson of going with the flow and letting go of what doesn’t serve me there’s also attached the need to be open to different perspectives. Just because I think something should or shouldn’t be, doesn’t mean it isn’t.  I could tell myself all I wanted to that the deodorant was fine, but it didn’t stop the Cat Lady from striking. 

Standing in the middle of a busy store with my left arm over my head, and fellow shoppers attempting to hide the fact they were staring, the very curious sales associate inspected the red boil like formations that were now beginning to spread up my arm and down my side. It was clear she wasn’t feeling qualified to confirm my baking soda suspicions when she called in a reinforcement who, with barely even a glance at my art deco pit, became my pit soulmate as she admitted that the same thing had happened to her.  With reassurance she replaced my new favorite Cat Lady deodorant with baking soda free Sexy Sadie from the same line and just like that, the Cat Lady’s reign of terror had ended.

 
Sexy Sadie & Me

Sexy Sadie & Me

 

I Get it, I Get it!

What we’re trying to control is much better off without us, and what we’re trying to fix can’t be fixed by us anyway.

“Ah crap.”

The words leapt off the page like a 2 x 4 to the noggin and confirmed what the little voice in the back of my head had been attempted to shout at me for the past few days.  It had done cartwheels, loop-de-loops and tried its darndest to get my attention; but it wasn’t until that moment, while attempting to relax on my balcony with the usual cup of tea and reading a book by Marinane Williamson that I had to accept the “let it go and roll with it” message that had been trying so desperately to be heard:

  • The more important it is to us, the more important it is to surrender. 

  • We don’t have to be struggling all the time.

  • Surrender means, by definition, giving up attachment to results.

The paint balls of truth were being shot at an unforgiving speed and I covered my head looking for mercy exclaiming, “I get it I get it.”  Even this stubborn redhead couldn’t miss the truth staring right back at her… I need to breathe, let it go, and like Steve Winwood sings, just roll with it baby.

I had only been back to work for three days and feeling hog tied because the recommended gradual return had me only scheduled for 1/3 days.  To the average person, this sounds reasonable, and wise, but to this all or nothing full speed ahead girl, it felt like a punishment and had popped my internal bouncy castle.

The message of surrender that I had been bucking so hard first made an appearance when without thinking, I climbed the stairs to the second floor at work only to have to stop half way laughing and completely out of breath because my heart was making my head spin and it felt like I had just climbed half way up Everest. Huffing and puffing while holding onto the railing I saw that I was trying to be my pre-cancer self in my post-cancer world.  Returning to work had been like entering another dimension, and it had sucked me through hyper-space landing me right back into my old habits of rushing, trying to force things to happen, and feeling frustrated for frustrations sake.

But standing there on the landing between floors I realized that not only was there a fresh coat of paint on the walls, new computer programs for me to learn, and new faces adorning the hallways, I was different as well.  I’m proud of how I have dealt with my cancer journey, taking things as they happened, not making assumptions, accepting help, rolling with the crazy and just munching on the elephant bite I was on at the time.  Worrying about what could happen wasn’t an option, manipulating a situation because I think I knew best didn’t cross my mind, and the more I just focused on being happy through it all, the more I realized that things always happen exactly as they need to. 

It may sound funny, but surrendering to the cancer journey was easy, after all, I had never done it before, and was truly at the mercy of those who knew what they were doing.  Transitioning back into a familiar life while learning a new body, new reactions, new priorities, and a new job it becomes work to ignore that sinister little voice judging me and continually reminding me, “well that’s not how you used to do it.”   If ever there was a time to be kind to myself and roll with it, it is now.

Me being me, even with the realization I had stranded between the sets of stairs, it took a number of days, a frustrated inner voice and Marianne Williamson’s book to finally have me waving the white flag, admitting that maybe, just maybe I didn’t know what was best, and needed to take it all as it comes. 

So, while I sat with my cooling cup of tea, finally hearing and accepting the message, with gratitude I said good-bye to the person I was, and welcomed the adventure of getting to know who I am now. 

And who I am now not only needs to walk slower, but she needs an elevator!

My First Time...

I couldn’t sit. I was too zippy, so I ignored the stools provided and just leaned on the high counter staring out the window fully alert and holding onto my hot chocolate for dear life.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but here I was at Tim Horton’s after having contacted a perfect stranger, anxiously waiting for them to arrive to complete the transaction.  Looking around the bustling famous franchise, nobody seemed to suspect what I was about to do; I couldn’t believe it myself.  Yet here I was, in Kitchener after driving an hour and a half surviving the wicked 401 traffic flirting with the option of bolting while stress eating a chocolate dip.

Then my cell jumped to life with a text and broke my whirling thoughts, ”I’m pulling up in a gray SUV.” 

My blood went cold and I felt my fight or flight response go into hyper aware and protective mode, after all this was my first time, and I didn’t know what to expect.  Was I crazy for doing this?  I could still just leave, after all, no money had changed hands.  I kept reassuring myself that I picked to meet in a public place that police officers frequent for a reason. I wasn’t going to turn back now. 

I saw the vehicle pull into the Tim Horton’s parking lot that was buzzing with the after work rush hour crowd desperate for a caffeine fix and carrying my first ever purchase from Kijiji. 

It was that time of year again, time for the annual Wasaga Dance for Miracles and I was fully intending on going overkill with my costume.  The theme was Las Vegas, and combined with my secret obsession with vintage wedding dresses, there was no question in my mind that I was going as a bride.  Hours scouring Kijiji, Value Villages, and Facebook Marketplace all brought me to this point.  The dress had only been worn once in 1988 and was perfectly preserved in its original storage box. The delightful woman who was selling it said that it was just taking up space and was happy to off load it. 

As I looked trough the clear window on top of the box I began to get giddy at seeing the explosion of ruffles, protruding pearls, full rosettes and an actual hat veil.  I had already tried on countless dresses that had been fitted for the stick figure starved bride and been disappointed, so there was no questions I would need to try it on.  The owner was happy to let me bust the dress out of its pristine packaging and told me to feel free to take it inside to the bathroom; but there was no way this massive pile of fabric would be able to be manoeuvred around a wee Horton’s bathroom.  Like the good uptight girl scout that I am, I had anticipated this issue and came prepared wearing leggings and tight tank top hidden under my sweater; I was going to try on this tulled delight right there beside the Timmy’s Drive through.  In this moment, the fact that I have no pride and very little shame came in quite handy.

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Once the dress was on, the backed-up drive through began a chorus of honking horns and hanging out of their windows shouting their congratulations. With animated arms I attempted to explain that I wasn’t actually getting married, but it was a loosing battle. Tossing my hands in the air with surrender I began thanking them all like I had just won the lottery. Why pass up on an opportunity to celebrate? Even though it was an illusion, it was putting smiles on all of our faces and was a heap full of fun.

I began the long drive home with a puffy mother of all tulle dress filling my trunk, and the glow of satisfaction on my face.  There was no surprise to me that this woman was a fellow breast cancer survivor, and we spent a great deal of time sharing our experiences while I stood there looking like a pile of swans and the honking continuing around us.  She became another soul to add to my ‘glad we strangers connected’ list.

How was my first time you ask? Wasn’t what I expected, but admit it was successful enough that I would be shopping on Kijiji again… maybe next time Royal Doulton china could be involved.

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One Job!

I stood in my bathing suit, make-up-less, at 11:00 pm at the front desk doing my best to be charming and make the wonderful lady behind the desk feel sorry enough for me to help. My brother had ONE JOB, and that was to be in charge of the tickets to Universal Studios; yet, here I was after accidentally discovering we needed actual printed copies batting my mascara-less eyelashes and crossing my fingers.

Thanks to Disney’s brilliant hospitality, very little bewitching was needed from me before the cast member behind the desk was happily offering to print the tickets for us.  Little did she realize that by offering to help me, she was also going to inherit my lousy luck with technology and what should have taken 30 seconds morphed into a 45 minute comedy of errors.

  • First, her printer stopped working.

  • Then, we emailed it to a manager to print off at another printer… email wouldn’t go though.

  • Then, we emailed it to another manager… email still wouldn’t go through.

  • Then, we tried a printer connected to wifi, and although it looked promising, half way through the print, the printer it ran out of ink.

  • Finally, we made one more email attempt to yet another address…. and voila, tickets!

Oddly enough, no part of me was agitated or annoyed at the circus that was being created, after all, brothers will be brothers and technology will always be my nemesis; instead I truly enjoyed the visit I had with the front desk diva as the manager ran around like a chicken with his head cut off on my behalf.  Our chin wag covered a myriad of topics from family, to how we became the people we are today and included both laughter and tears ending with a supportive, ‘you’ve got this’ hug.

My favorite thing to bring home from any trip are people. I collect selfies with strangers like baseball cards, because they remind me that life really is about connection, kindness and knowing we are all in this together. Just like gems lose their jagged edges by rubbing up against other gems, I believe I become a better person with every individual I share a moment with.

Along with Lacharite, the Queen of the front desk, I brought home a fellow breast cancer survivor who just came up and embraced me like a long lost cousin after reading my ‘celebrating cancer free’ button and Bud, who I believe was the inspiration for the sloth in Zootopia along with being the most endearing of all the Magic Kingdom cast members. Each person I collect may have their own unique story but we share the fact that we all have good days, bizarre days, off the hook ridiculous days and are all just doing the best we can with what we are given.

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Aug 13 2019 - Day 6 Magic Kingdom (90).JPG

The next night when we arrived back to the resort beaten down by the obscene Florida humidity, I was greeted by the fullest, most decadent bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. Although the card said it was magic from the resort staff, I knew that there was one Tinkerbell in particular who was behind it all. Lacharite told me later that she wanted to contribute to my celebratory week and what better way than with a surprise.

Our stories may be different, but connection can always be made when we realize that at our core we are all love.

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Great Intentions...

I had my labour day all mapped out and busting with great intentions.

  • First… I wanted to jump into my work email and get caught up with over a year and a half’s worth of emails, memos and attempt to get my head out of hospital mode and back into some form of work one.

  • Second…I wanted to finish editing my musing so all I had to do Tuesday morning was post it so I could focus on the grand 1/3 return to work.

  • Finally… I wanted to switch on my super binge knitting mode to get a jump start on a baby blanket for a friends baby that is due in October.

It was a day to stay put, get on top of things, and take advantage of my sunny balcony.  But life did what it normally does when I think I’m organised and on top of things, it treats me like a game of Janga and begins pulling away the pieces of my great intentions one by one. 

So what really HAPPENED…

  • was being totally tech blocked by my employer with a new shiny computer program that decided I have to do extra somersaults to get past the firewall.  So, no work email for me!

  • was my computer randomly shutting down mid-edit pulling some bizarre sort of hissy fit refusing to turn back on.  She was on strike and holding my blog captive.

  • was discovering that I had abandoned my cable hook at my moms the night before. But after keeping me away from working and writing no way was I going to allow life to cripple my Lollapalooza of knitting days. I dug deep into the abyss of my knitting bag and found a re-enforcement, pulling it out with a triumphant ‘a-ha’ and feeling like I at least had one victory under my belt.   

Before getting my knit-on, I sat calmly staring at my lifeless computer and laughed. It never matters how good my intentions are or how anxious I am to accomplish something, life always seems to be reading from a different user manual for me than I am. More importantly, I’m okay with that, because no matter how different something looks than I intended, or no matter how many twists and turns are tossed in my direction, in the end, I always end up exactly where I need to be. 

Lessons come from the most paradoxical of places, whether it is the beginning or ending of a relationship, an opportunity presents itself, or disappears, I lose something, or I discover something, there is always something new to learn if I’m open and willing to see it.

Although I’m not sure yet what the lesson is for me with my tech-catastrophe yesterday (except for the fact that I should be using Google docs instead of my desktop), I do know that a day of rest before jumping back into life was exactly what I needed.

Holding on for Dear Life!

I was clutching onto my left breast for dear life cursing an 8:30 am hospital appointment less than 24 hours after my port removal surgery.  I was feeling the full effect of an article I read years ago awarding Hamilton with third place in the ‘who has the worst roads in Canada’ competition, as with every minor bump, bounce and crevasse gravity pulled cruelly at the incision.  I drove like I was in the 80’s game Frogger dodging this way and that desperate to avoid potholes, but the only thing bringing some form of relief was holding onto the surgery sight like it was the last cupcake on earth.

It was only a month earlier that I had sat in front of a confused oncologist who pointed to the port still happily nestled in my chest and asked,

“What is that still doing in you?”

According to her records it was removed a week after my final treatment, but there I was, a permanently bruised lump under my skin waving for all the world to see. 

It was surprising to me how attached I’d become to the bumpy triangle shaped piece of plastic with its un-natural length of tube for a tail.  I remember the colour draining out of my face and a million questions parading through my head back in April when to my dread I was told that it would be removed ASAP after my final warming of the chemo chair.  I tried to cover the ports ears, but the cheer emanating from the oncologists as she explained the removal was undeniable and I felt like my niece when you attempt to take away her favorite worn and dirty blanket, protective and flipped out.

It was strange, because no part of me expects to ever need it again, but this plastic knobby contraption has been my partner in crime through treatments, blood work, inappropriate comments to hospital staff and every surprise turn… and now it’s just being taken? 

Luckily for me miscommunications, lost requisitions, and assumptions all played key roles in the delay of the surgery, giving me two extra months to tote the port around and allowing my head the opportunity to catch up with what my body has been doing over these past 20 months.  No amount of manipulating on my part could have gifted me with this extra time; it was all trust, deep breaths and goin’ with the flow.

Timing continues to be a lesson for me. The truth is, the less energy I waste worrying about things I have no control over, the more I see that things happen exactly as they need to, and often with more ease than I ever could’ve dreamed up.

Now, as I was driving port free, doing all I could to bring relief to the fresh incision and avoiding eye contact with the passers by whose befuddled reactions confirmed how crazy I must have looked, I just smiled because the only thing I was holding onto for dear life for anymore was my chest.

Surgery day happening exactly when it needed to!  …and of course with my beautiful mom who hasn’t missed a treatment.

Surgery day happening exactly when it needed to!

…and of course with my beautiful mom who hasn’t missed a treatment.

Celebrating like always after another step… normally it’s with tea and scones, but this day we needed something MUCH stronger!

Celebrating like always after another step… normally it’s with tea and scones, but this day we needed something MUCH stronger!

Faint of Heart Saves Bank!

“Seriously, be quiet or they’ll kick you off the ride!”

Wise words from my saje brother who was just trying to keep me from being booted off of a ride that I’ve been waiting five years to experience. But I couldn’t help laughing out loud and saying, “but the warning sign is half about me!”

The warnings about this wild Harry Potter ride in Universal Studios were first displayed on a robust sign before entering the hallways of Gringotts, then again read aloud right before committing to the ride by a goblin hologram for those who defiantly ignored the massive entry sign. This ride was taking extra measures to ensure that whomever dare to dawn a foot onto this wizarding extravaganza knew what they were stepping into.  I was mesmerized; never before had I given ride warnings a second glance, and now it read like my resume:

  • Heart Condition… check

  • Abnormal Blood Pressure… check

  • Dizziness… check

  • Physical conditions… grey area

  • Recent Surgery… check (but what’s recent, really?)

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But wait…I’m not an expectant mother, and fog or strobe effects don’t affect me! 

Seeing that it was practically a tie between what I have and don’t have, I walked into the elaborate fictional bank with confidence and fully prepared to take on whatever Gringott’s had to offer.  I was carrying half of the warnings AND going to break the rules by going on the ride anyway… it was a big day for this follow-the-rules-to-the-letter girl.  But as my brother continued to patiently point out, I wouldn’t be able to do either if I continued to boisterously announce to everyone in the lineup that I wasn’t about to let a heart condition hold this muggle back from saving the wizarding bank from a fire eating dragon! 

What ended up amazing me was how alive I felt by doing something in spite of warnings, in spite of what others were telling me, and in spite of that little voice that likes to cut me off mid-adventure with guilt and Pollyanna proper-ness. It wasn’t like I was breaking a rule that was destructive or harmful, rather, I was allowing myself to take their advice into consideration and then making a decision based on what I knew I was capable of doing.

It’s so easy to use other peoples opinions as an excuse to miss out on unfamiliar opportunities, but the truth is, I’m the only one who really knows what is best for me, and life is fuller and more enjoyable when I choose to be curious and brave over scared and safe.

In the end, not only did I survive the ride and save Gingott’s bank from fiery danger… I went back and did it a second time.

Cake-A-Palooza

Friend: My dad’s disappointed that you didn’t show up for karaoke.
You’re in the bad books now. Sucker.

Me: I thought it was THIS Saturday?!
I’ll bake him a cake and all will be forgiven.

Friend: Correcto mundo all will be forgiven with cake.

Me: ON IT!!

It was a friendly, innocent text exchange solving a life blip like I normally do; with something baked and drenched in sugar.  I raced home, ransacked my baking cupboard, and discovered I only had enough ingredients for one chocolate or two vanilla cakes and would have to make a random coloured buttercream icing instead of the fudgy chocolate one I’ve worked so hard to perfect.  No problem, as long as the cake was at least chocolate, I could receive partial absolution. 

I live in a building that enjoys social gatherings such as; euchre, darts, the occasional rowdy BBQ and in this case, I was after forgiveness for missing a karaoke night.  To be honest, I take the sport of singing popular songs over pre-recorded backing tracks a little too seriously.  Having a history in music, I put a bizarre pressure on myself to be the dark horse who performs, like Susan Boyle who caused a wave of shock around the world when she uttered her first notes.  I don’t like to perform unless I’ve practiced at my piano, in the shower, to my dust bunnies and in the grand stage of my car. So honestly, the fact that I mixed up the dates (thank you chemo fog) had me a bit relieved.

The cake baked perfectly and all I needed to do was shave a little off the top to make sure the layers sat even, wait for it to cool, then zip it upstairs to beg forgiveness.  Now, shaving a cake is a little like choosing to cut your own bangs, you need to proceed with much caution and plan for only one precise cut, any more than one always ends in disaster.  To my delight, the cut was another feat of perfection.  As I set the cake on the cooling racks feeling quite proud of myself, I couldn’t help but pop a bit of the shavings into my mouth as a reward… wait… that doesn’t taste right. Where’s the usual mouthwatering chocolaty goodness? What is this?  Double checking that my taste buds weren’t playing a cruel trick on me I inhaled the last bit of shaving and confirmed…all I could taste was baking powder. 

So much for the perfect cake.

Anxiously glancing at the clock, I still had time to bake another and get it up to the karaoke-disappointed-neighbours on the eighth floor without having to wake them up to deliver it. The cake would now have to be vanilla, but I figured by combining copious amounts of sprinkles on top of the cake with my shameless grovelling they would easily be distracted from the lack of chocolate excellence. 

I tossed the pathetic excuse for a chocolate cake into the trash and began whipping out what I needed for cake numero deux.  Chucking all of the ingredients into the silver bowl, I whisked and blended, but as I was heading over to my electric mixer I stopped dead, “well that isn’t right.” Looking at the batter I realized I made a fateful error with the eggs and now my mixture was crazy wet.  I knew I could probably manipulate the recipe and make it work, but after the first cake fiasco, I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I would have to make a third cake.

I put a plastic bag over the mouth of the bowl full of useless cake batter and turned it upside down to speed up the process of emptying it, but of course, the pesky bag decided to jump out of the way and I found myself looking at my counter covered in the thick ruined vanilla batter.  Yup… about right.

After I rescued my kitchen from the free range batter, the measuring, mixing, and planning all started for the third and what would be the last time since I was down to the final bits of my ingredients.  Then with dismay, I realized I was officially out of eggs.  With determination fueling me, I put on a bra, grabbed my wallet and hot-tailed it to the corner store to buy the needed shelled ingredient. I wondered how a day that was going so well could take such a drastic turn, but refused to be bested by a baked good.

The final cake appeared to be fine.  Although one half was thicker than the other, I decided the bright blue icing would easily mask that silliness.  With the ticks of my loud mantel clock filling my condo I feverishly began icing.  I can do this!

Then… there was a knock on my door.

Halting mid-icing swipe, I rushed to the front door while wielding a Tiffany blue icing covered knife to see my neighbours standing there giddy with delight at my insanity.  All evening, I’d been keeping their son abreast of my cake-a-palozza and they seemed to enjoy my foible filled evening more than the anticipation of actually getting the cake.  While I put the final icing touches onto the third cake, I repeated the story of my evenings wacky antics and with a final flair (and much relief), I handed over the cake and crossed my fingers that it was actually cooked properly. My fabulous neighbours left my home, cake and amusement in hand, and I just laughed.

Knowing point A & point B has never been a problem for me, but, the journey between the two points tends to be full of surprises, sidetrack and where the real adventure lies. This is why I will always be a journey girl instead of a destination one, because that’s where all the fun happens.

The Paperwork Hoedown

I stood dumbfounded in the frozen food isle of Costco with my jaw sitting on the less than sanitized floor and my eyes preparing for the Bellagio water show-esque waterworks;  “What do you mean you didn’t receive the paperwork again?” At this point I had lost track of how many times I had been spun around by the paperwork jig;

And a…1….but you need this,

And a…2…but you are missing that,

And a 3… but we didn’t receive this,

And a 4… but we already sent that.

It’s been a confusingly muddled and endless dance to get papers from one person to another and just when I think things are solved and all hunky dory, I find out that once again the head of this beast has no idea what the tail is doing.  This paperwork hoedown has turned out to be a full time job in itself, and the cardio isn’t nearly as rewarding as the hootenanny’s with my line dancing peeps.

I hung up the phone from being told that once again the paperwork I worked so hard to get transferred to them had been misplaced, and I was feeling like a parent pitted between her two children as I listen to one blaming the other for breaking this, and loosing that. All that was left for me to do was stop.

It struck me that all of this anxiety and stress was coming from deadlines that belonged to someone else and other peoples inability to organize all while preying on my type ‘A’ personality to do everything in the right and proper way. Enough. I was officially letting go of pushing, unnecessary problem solving and using deadlines of others to dictate the levels of my panic mode.  To be honest, the more I was attempting to smooth out each and every little bump, the more tangled it all became.  It was time to stop kicking in the quicksand. 

Wanting to fix things and do things ‘right’, is a lifelong habit of mine and it seems to always involve me attempting to stuff very hexagonal pegs in extremely round holes.  It’s exhausting!

It’s exhausting,

  • assuming I always know what is best in a situation.

  • limiting my perspective because I’m fixated on an outcome.

  • fighting with a reality that isn’t changeable because… it’s reality.   

One of my mantras with cancer involves treating the journey like eating an elephant, only focusing on the bite I’m on at any given time. And it amazes me how by approaching it in this ‘staying present kind of way’, that phone calls come at the right time and coincidences happen when they are most needed; it’s like the more I surrender to the reality around me, the smoother it all goes.  Time to take my elephant biting philosophy into everyday life.

I’m done forcing things to happen.  It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden I’m going to become complacent and irresponsible; I will always do what I need to do, and follow up when necessary, I’m just done thinking things should be one way when they are really another.  So the new dance will be more of a fluid foxtrot,

And a 1… no more fighting with reality, and taking life as it comes. Why fight with life when I can dance with it?

And a 2… if I can do something about it, then I do it, and if I can’t do anything, I let it go!

And a 3… always remembering that even if I’m not happy about something, things always seem to work out and I end up being exactly where I need to be.

And a 4… no matter what is going on in my life, I always have only one job… to be happy.

Let’s dance!

Me Too!

“Can I ask you about that?”

I barely had that chance to comprehend the question before the strangers peter pointer was hovering over the protruding port in my chest that had been surgically implanted in order to receive my cancer treatments like a bionic woman.  She eagerly waited for me to reply while standing in my personal space bubble with questions dancing in her eyes. I hadn’t even realized that the dress I was wearing had me ‘showing port’ and flashing my radiation tattoos like a proud biker, but looking down I saw them both waving to the world and now being examined by a keen stranger.

Knowing today was going to be one hot tamale, I decided to hit the street early and walk around the quaint wee village of Jordan before my heart slapped me with fatigue forcing me back indoors to my couch in order to bask in the glories that is air conditioning.  Heat has always made me a bit loopy, but with a heart not firing on all cylinders, my fatigue has a very special ‘100 year old woman needing an asthma inhaler and walker’ quality about it.

Being the open book that I am, I swiftly switched into story teller mode prepared to give a well-practiced speech about the past 20 months of my life, but the moment I said the opening words, “I’ve been in treatment for cancer…” she cut me off with recognition flashing across her face and announced quite gleefully, “me too” like she had just won the lottery and found a kindred spirit.  What followed was a lengthy conversation in an empty store between two cancer patients exchanging battle scars with her adorable 88 year old friend listening with fascination because she herself had never experienced any kind of physical bump during her many years.

As the tennis match of a conversation bounced back and forth, each statement was met with an enthusiastic “me too” discovering our treatments and bodily reactions to the highly drugged circus were twins.  I found this wildly bizarre since one of the very uniquely annoying things about cancer treatment is that it’s as individual as a finger print for everyone who experiences it.  But as it turns out, we shared the type of cancer, how it was treated, how our bodies reacted to each step of the process, heart failure and the same doctors in the cardiology ward. The only real difference, outside of our ages and the fact she’s married with children and I’m flying solo, is that she could keep her faculties about her when talking with Dr. Delicious. I still drool, pray my legs are hairless and “humina humina” my way through our conversations! 

It was our own version of a ME TOO movement and I loved that although I knew nothing about this 65 year old woman, we just ‘got’ each other.  That has been one of the most amazing things about this experience, the strangers I connect with instantly, the random gab sessions in the most obscure of places and the wonderful powerful realization that I am never alone. No matter what I experience in this surprising life, it is comforting knowing there is always a ‘me too’ out there I connect with.

Her 88 year old friend continued listening with amusement claiming that she’d never be able to get herself through such an ordeal.  But that’s the funny thing about the human spirit, we don’t’ know what we are capable of until it is licking us on the nose and we have to deal with it. Strength, support and joy are always there for the taking. The impressively healthy friend then announced that she was tremendously grateful for her life, and now connecting with her, I energetically replied, “ME TOO!”

Ashton Kutcher?

I sat surrounded by members of the Juravinski Cancer Centre at a retreat waiting for someone to pop up, point at me and tell me I was being punked. 

I assumed twenty years in education being on committees, participating in countless professional development days and escapes out of the school to the board of education would have prepared me for a retreat in the healthcare world. But as I sat listening to one of the thoughtful speakers I realized that I had stepped into an alternate universe.

The most obvious difference was that the attendees included an equal number of surgeons, assistants, nurses, family practitioners, patients & specialized doctors and I had no idea who did what.  Our name tags only announced our names, and nobody was asking the cocktail question, “so, what do you do” in order to label each other... well, except for me who was wildly fascinated by it all.  Egos had been left at the door, and the 60 of us were like members of King Arthur’s court sitting at the round table, equal.

Everyone was engaged, we all laughed together, and the space created allowed everyone to feel comfortable being vulnerable with their experiences or questions. Coming from a profession where title is king, people get exercise by rolling their eyes throughout meetings, thrive on negativity and watch the clocks as they text who they are meeting afterwards, this was amazing and I was enamored by my view. 

Then just when I didn’t think the day could get any better, something happened that still has my head spinning.  Although we were scheduled to be there until 3:30, at 3 the grand Poobah stood up, thanked us profusely for our time, recognized the challenge it is to take a day away from whatever job that had been left behind, and announced the day was done.  He recognized that we were saturated, and there was no benefit to pushing though another 30 minutes. I frantically searched the room for Ashton Kutcher to jump out to announce the grand joke, but as I watched people filter out of the room, I realized that this was for real.  We weren’t being held captive, weren’t told that we owed them time, and I wasn’t given what we didn’t cover to take home to do for homework.  We were just done. 

I sat in my car after a powerful day of information, conversation, building relationships and a little kibitzing knowing that this is the kind of job I want; a job that puts equal value on all positions, a job that creates an open and safe space and a job that values my time, energy and contributions.  It felt revolutionary and shattered any assumptions I had about our healthcare system. 

I then realized that it doesn’t matter what job I return to, because I am the one who gets to decide what it feels like.  I’m the one doing the job, I’m the one who decides how I do it, and I’m the one who has to live with me at the end of the day. Joy isn’t something I’m working towards achieving, it’s the biggest asset I bring to the table. So it doesn’t matter what job I do, I will do it with joy, or I won’t do it at all.  And frankly, if I could make happiness a priority during a cancer journey, I sure shooting can bring joy back to education!

Trust Me

It was a simple question; one that I thought was worth dropping to my oncologist because of how many other people had asked it of me:

When I’m done this fourth treatment, how do we test whether I’m cancer free?

I mean, there would be testing right? They must have some super high tech thing-a-ma-bob that does a violating scan of my body to tell me that, “yup, we got the rascals.” After all, at this point I’ve experienced some brilliant wack-a-do machines doing some bizarre things to me in order to help conveyor belt me though this experience, so I was expecting the final machine to be Steven Spielberg impressive. 

But, the answer I received was as simple as the question I posed:

“We just assume we got it all.”

Wait… what?  Assume?  As a kid I was always taught that ‘assuming’ had implications that would make me look as bad as the person I was having them towards; well, that and it gave me the rare accepted opportunity to swear while rhyming off how it made an “ass of you and me.”  So when the Oncologist looked at me and used ‘that’ word, I immediately felt myself morphing into Donkey from Shrek, “is this another one of those onion things” you know, a final cancer puzzle to challenge my chemo addled brain?

My oncologist gave me a highly amused look that she uses with me often and explained their assumption is based on my four months of ugly chemo, two months of radiation, twelve months of Herceptin, remaining in hormone treatment for 5-10 years and their countless years of research.

Although it made perfect sense, it still broke my heart a wee bit to discover that being considered cancer free was being pinned on the fact that she was following a formula from some dusty old textbook from her fourth year in med school. Like Hermione concocting a spell from her Book of Spells; simply follow the steps, add some personal flair, release a dramatic abracadabra and voila, cancer free. 

In order to give myself a chance to process this grand assumption, I sat down in the cancer center atrium and took a mental inventory:

4 Major treatments with all their glamorous side-effects,

Countless pills, needles, and invasive poking,

1 Heart being put into failure

And 10% of a lung now nuked and now useless, shattering any dreams of being the next American Idol,

Trusting that all of the above worked… priceless.

I dropped the word ‘assume’ and replaced it with ‘trust’.  Trust in the experience of my healthcare team, trust in the know-how of the hospital staff and trust that when I said at the beginning of this journey a happy ending was my one non-negotiable during this unpredictable experience, that that is exactly what I am getting. 

It’s natural to desire a guarantees in life, but it’s when I rely on non-existent absolutes that I become inflexible and things tend to go wonky.  Life is fluid, ever changing, and choosing to role with it instead of resisting it, makes the ride so much more enjoyable.

So, looks like you are all stuck with me… because I am cancer free.  Trust me.

 
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My Dust Kickers

I’m surrounded.  Seriously, surrounded. 

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After a night of celebrating being finished with the BIG chair, one of my favorite people said she was reminded about a story she read on Facebook. It’s about female elephants in the wild and how when one is giving birth her female peeps gather around her so she can’t be seen in the middle. The circle of rowdy friends then stomp and kick up dirt to throw off any possible attackers or predators from the scent so she can give birth in peace.  They are a wall of thunderous protective Mama’s and the message is clear, if a threat wants to get at the vulnerable child-bearer they will have to somehow Kool-Aid man through the wall of raging friends first. 

This is how exactly how I’ve felt over the past 19 months; surrounded by people who have been seething on my behalf and fighting for me when I don’t have the energy to do so myself. But unlike the elephants, I don’t have a single posse to kick up the dust, I have multiple herds to protect me. Whether it’s my biological family, my chick crew, my dance family, my chosen family, each one of them have been protecting and supporting me in their own special way. 

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My herds banned together to make that protective circle around me, daring cancer to attempt to break through their fierce protection. And cancer took that dare by becoming aggressive, spreading, and attacking my heart, but in the end, it didn’t stand a chance against the crazy protective tantrum of my dust kickers. These people love me for who I am (crazy shoe fetish and all), support my wacky antics and there was no way they were going to let cancer get the best of me. They’ve kept me safe so I can concentrate on my treatments, protecting me from ignorance, sheltering me from emotions that have no part being on this journey, and always ready and excited to jump in when needed.

I am blessed.

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I can never say enough about the wonderful people that surround me.  These wild wonderful folks have my back, proving over and over again that there is power in community.

Keeping with the ‘shoe’ theme of this journey, I’ve been saying that the people in my life have been my shoehorn throughout; there to support me when I need it, guide me through the crazy, and force me into places I don’t think I fit!  

I am over flowing with gratitude for every hug, message, call, cup of tea, dinner, flower, thoughtful gift, and specifically for each and everyone of my dust kickers.  

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Gratitude Tsunami

I stood and just looked at it, the big beautiful shiny bell, attempting to comprehend its significance before collapsing in half from the weight of the past 19 months and allowing a tsunami of emotions to wash over me. 

There was never a doubt in my mind that the outcome to this journey would a happy one, the tricky part was getting from point A to point B.  And now, here I was at point B and it was a lot to take in.

I remained bent in half attempting to breathe, overcome with gratitude.  Grateful for,

  • being done having my chest continually punctured and sitting in the big, albeit comfortable, chair

  • the nurses that dropped what they were doing to rush out to be part of this moment with me

  • my family and friends who have shared this burden with me

all the while experiencing a movie playing in my head of all the decisions I’d made that were detrimental in keeping me here, alive in this moment and I was gracefully humbled.

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Finally pulling myself together, through tears of absolute relief and joy, I gave that bell all I had. 

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The next morning I stood looking out of my kitchen window feeling an expansive freedom that I could only assume is how a convict feels after they’ve been released from prison.  Total and absolute freedom.  No decisions to be made, no scrambling to be done, no rush to feel better only to be knocked down again, no pushing though or sucking it up, just a feeling of unlimited openness and space.  I felt more ‘me’ than ever before, and it was clear that this is a beautiful fresh beginning.

I felt peacefully aware and saw everything around me for the first time; I marveled at the ease of making a cup of tea, admired the colours in my counter-tops and almost hugged every decorative towel hanging in my bathroom, basking in the newness and just being thankful. 

I was struck with a profound ‘a-ha’ when I realized that how I’ve lived my life through cancer treatments should be how I always live: fully present, only focusing on the elephant bite at hand and making it my one and only job to be happy.  I thought they were survival techniques, but turns out, they are how I want to live my life.  Appreciating the moment I am in, leaving the past behind me, knowing these is nothing I can to about the future until it unfolds, and remember in any situation I have the power to be happy. Toss in a little, don’t take things personally, avoid making assumptions and always do your best, and this is how I always want to live my life.

Smiling to myself I realized, I had cancer, but… I survived.  And if I can survive this, then I’m going to be unstoppable.

Family party at the bell!

Family party at the bell!

Lori’s Angels

Lori’s Angels