Love Actually is a Box of Chocolates

I stood there with wide eyes, tapping my fingers together like a Disney villain, bubbling with anticipation as I looked through the glass at the perfect drops of heaven that flirted back at me.  Ah, the chocolate counter.  Chocolate was one of the first things my taste-buds rejected over seven months ago, but ability to fully appreciate the glorious taste of chocolate has returned!  And although I am well aware that sugar is something I need to ‘break up with’ to help keep cancer away, this day was not the day to end my love affair. This was the day I finished radiation and I was celebrating completing 21 days in a row at the hospital along with wrapping up chemo, two surgerys, and all the surprises in between.  No, this was not a day to walk past Purdy’s.

 The Lovely Ladies from Purdy's!

The Lovely Ladies from Purdy's!

The lovely lady behind the counter asked me how she could help, and I tossed my hands in the air exclaiming that I was celebrating finishing both chemo and radiation and chocolate is how I needed to do it.  She wholeheartedly agreed and quickly became my eager drug dealer.  As I finished picking my poison, a happy head popped out from the backroom, apparently the assistant manager heard our entire conversation and told me that the chocolate was on the house.  For me, it was instant tears. I was overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit and ability to connect with someone they had only just met. 

As I walked away from the store all I could think was... now this is love.  I sat down partly because my heart med's had my head spinning and partly because I was seeing flash after flash of all the love that has been poured out to me during this insane time.  Love has been shown to me in so many fantastic ways:

  • the friend who drove an hour just to see me ring the radiation bell.
  • friends mailing me shoes.
  • co-workers standing up for me at work.
  • my mom driving me to the hospital each day to avoid outrageous parking fees.
  • friends who live at distance going out of their way to make me feel like they live next door.
  • a brother who went late to work in order to be at the hospital with me.
  • another brother who was there for my surgery in order to be my comic relief.
  • a friend who sends the perfectly inappropriate cards on a regular basis.
  • countless messages of joy, encouragement and strength.
  • friends showing up, ingredients in hand, excited to teach me how to make healing smoothies.
  • being made French Toast with the 'good' maple syrup.
  • homemade food delivered with a smiles.
  • my nieces & nephew who just see their crazy Aunt, and not cancer.
  • the Super of the building who hand delivers my mail when I'm down for the count.
  • the random letters and gifts left at my door from people in my building.
  • friends sleeping over so they can keep an eye on me.
  • a dance community that continue to remind me they have my back.
  • the neighbour who tells me he doesn’t leave the pool until I do to make sure I am safe.
  • friends who take me to the Botanical Gardens and allow me to be the 90 year I am.

The list continues with one generous thought and kind deed after another.  I am swept away and deeply touched by the outpouring of kindness I have received since that dreadful call on January 4th.  Cancer made a crucial mistake, in it’s desire to pull me down, it ended up teaching me what true love is.  

To me, love,

  • appears in the form I need it to when I need it to.
  • comes from the most unlikely of places.
  • is always there, I just need to receive it.
  • is being vulnerable with people.
  • is a selfless action.
  • is choosing to always respond with kindness no matter what the situation.

With each day, love continues to show me it's power. I've realized it isn't something I need to search for, it doesn't involve limits, and it can't be measured.  No act of love is more powerful than another, and the best part is, love is always available to me.  

There is great truth in Hugh Grant's opening monologue from Love Actually (best movie ever!),

If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling
you’ll find that love actually is all around.

I have said from the beginning that I am loving cancer out of me, but I never expected that in return cancer would illuminate what love is for me.

My First Anniversary

It has officially been one year since this journey girl started writing about her ridiculous experiences and often obvious realizations, in an attempt to have fun with life's messy bits.

Reflecting back, choosing to be vulnerable and sharing emotions that even I think are bizarre and nonsensical, keep me from giving power to the ones that would rather have me hide and feel embarrassed.  I believe that electing to laugh with myself instead of judge how I feel is always the best course of action.  There is a unique joy to be had in finding humour in the most ludicrous of situations.

As it turns out, every lesson that is catapulted my way has had the same question attached to it, 

Do you want to learn from this lesson or leave it?

Although choosing to learn from an experience takes effort, energy and a a modicum of vulnerability, I’ve learned that ignoring lessons have a much more dramatic outcome.  Each time I attempt to chassé past a lesson, it tends to match my stubborn nature and repeat itself with more gusto until it finally borrows an anvil from Wile E. Coyote.  So the moral of the story for me is... stop the fancy dance steps, breathe, and face that lesson head on!

The one thing that has stuck me, is that fact that just when I think I have understood a lesson or finally acknowledged that two by four I was given to the head, I need to relearn it again on an entire different level.  Just when I think I have learned to let go of the little things, I have to learn to let go of the little things! Or just when I think I have learned to release control, I have to learn how to release control. 

There's no such thing as learning and leaving,
it's all about
learning, relearning, and oh maybe I need to learn that.

It’s just like Shrek once wisely said, “onions have layers, ogres have layers, you get it?” And although I'm less green than an ogre and prefer to think of myself as a layered cake like Donkey suggests, the same applies to me.  I am layered; and each layer I work through involves relearning lessons, being introduced to new ones, and becoming a better version of myself.

My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to keep learning, keep sharing and to just be happy through it all.

Thank you for being on this wild and unpredictable ride with me.

I am a Palm Tree!

A long time ago, in a school far far away, a plucky redheaded school teacher faced many a frustration and was up against several walls within the once calm, wonderful workplace she had been part of for so many years.  To survive the chaos flying at her from multiple directions she adopted a simple, yet power packed, five word mantra.  Each morning before walking into the building or when she was faced with a challenge that took her by surprise, she uttered these five words… I am a palm tree.

Between their not too hard, not too soft wood, tremendous height and deep wide running root system, a palm tree is magnificently resilient and can return to its original glory with ease no matter what mother nature tosses at it. Telling myself I was a palm tree helped the wackiness roll off my back and kept me from beating myself up when things didn't go the way I planned.  Now years later, I'm back to needing this same mantra!

When I have a task ahead of me I jump into organizational superhero mode that involves problem solving, research and lots of purposeful colour coded post-it notes.  I know how a situation should unfold because I have over designed it and am fully prepared to wrap it all up in a pretty box boasting the label of ‘complete’ when it's all said and done. 

The second I was presented with this cancer journey, I put on the cape of 'I've got this' and replaced grungy mats throughout my home, researched how to read medical reports and bought so much toilet paper that it wasn't until this week I needed to buy more!  I made myself battle ready and with a clear plan from my Doctors that told me how this was all going to go down, by gosh golly gee I was all prepared for the craziness. Or so I thought. 

I had forgotten one crucial reality... the plan I was given didn't include all of the surprises and detours that have magically appeared around each corner.   It's because of all these forehead smacking moments that whenever I describe for my family a new step in my treatment their first question is “yeah, but what are the exceptions?”  It turns out I’m exceptional… and not necessarily in the way I would like to be!  Every plan that has been put into place has involved a creative, out of nowhere slide in a different direction.

More importantly, I am hurting myself by clinging to how I think things SHOULD go when really, I need to be a palm tree about it.  I need to bend and flex with the changing winds, surprise storms and always appreciate the sun when it shines.

I need to do what I can do, then let go and allow things to unfold the way they need to.  What I have discovered is...

Just because something doesn’t unfold the way I expect it to,
doesn’t mean I didn’t do it or accomplish it.

Chemo being cut short was not in the original plan, but just because the treatment didn't look like the way I was told it would, doesn't mean I wasn't successful with chemo!  

Being flexible, and open to possibilities outside of my own overly organized plan will help me feel less duped and side swiped when things do take a different or wild turn. And when I am open to things not going the way I originally intend them to, then it isn’t a catastrophe when the outcome looks different then what originally devised. 

Flexibility allows me to be resilient, knowing I can handle anything tossed my way. Why?

Because I am a palm tree!

palm-trees1.jpg

Don't go Bwakin' my Hawt...

I sat in the cardiologist’s office waiting to hear the results from my heart ultrasound that I fully assumed would be glowing; after all, I’ve been doing everything I have been told to do and I had my organized chart of daily weight and exercise to prove it.  This girl takes great pride in being an 'A' student under any and all circumstances! 

It was discovered back in May that chemo was using my heart for a punching bag and now this new treatment I started in June tagged chemo out of the ring and has continued to beat my heart like a piñata.  For three weeks now, I have been taking the fancy heart med's that make me dizzy and screw with my balance, cut down on my salt intake, and as far as I was concerned, all that was left was to be told that my heart was stable and working all tickety-boo.

So when the cardiologist informed me that the ejection fraction (fancy way of saying ‘blood pumping’) of my left heart ventricle had dropped another 4% to 48%, I was a bit gob-smacked. 

I walked out of the office with Elton John’s,  Don’t go Breakin’ my Heart playing in my head; except it wasn’t his classic version, instead, I heard it sung by Barry Kripke from The Big Bang Theory  with his charming lisp; “Don’t go bwakin my hawt… honey if I get west-wes...’.  I'm not sure why it was this version of the song that came to me, but it sure made the experience more dramatic. Barry continued to serenade me as I headed in shock to the chemo suite for another treatment dodging a million thoughts and frustrations along the way.  Wow, heart failure.

What was truly irritating to me (you know, besides the heart failure) was the fact that when I asked the nurse what I could do to help my heart, she said, “nothing”.  Nothing?!?   I am the Queen of ‘do-ing’; give me a task, deadline and purpose and I will have it done sooner, more efficient than expected and the final result always looks a lot prettier than what was originally envisioned. Telling me there is nothing I can do puts me in a very uncomfortable position.

This was new territory for me, the point in the journey where ‘doing’ ends and trusting begins.  I have to…

  • Trust my medical team.
  • Trust the medications I am on.
  • Trust in all the love people are continually sending me.
  • Trust that all the work I put into being happy through this process is still the most important job I need to do.

The definition of trust includes having a firm belief in something, and I choose to believe in the inevitable happy ending of my cancer journey no matter what's tossed in front of me.

Happy is my ONE job. 

So I paused, breathed through the fear, let the crazy move through me, and I went back to my job of Happy... of course I did this all while wearing a pair of snazzy black with while polka dot heels and Barry singing right there along side me. 

 

 
IMG_1202.JPG
 
 

Compared to What?

I finally heard it. I had to step outside of myself like an alien from Men in Black and eavesdrop on my own conversations to do it, but it was shockingly clear. Sometimes it was a subtle thought that floated through my head or a random comment that snuck into conversation with a friend; but either way, this automatic habit was getting in the way of my joy.  I need to stop,   

COMPARING!

Most often these thoughts are like whispers that are hardly noticeable...

  • she looks amazing, I am such a mess.
  • I lost all of my hair to chemo, yet that person didn't, they must be a better person.
  • my boss is kinder to my colleague, obviously I don't work hard enough.
  • they are so much better with money than I am, how do I not have more moo-la at my age?

I am using my Olympic worthy abilities of beating myself up to zap away joy by comparing myself to others and ultimately making myself feel less than wonderful. 

Comparison has become a tool that I have been using to dictate my worth and figure out how to fit in.  Whether it's to determine how to act, what to buy, or find permission to wear bright funky tights in public; I am going outside of myself for permission to just be me. 

But how can I learn to be me, when I am comparing myself to someone else? Letting go of this cruel un-necessary metre stick of comparison allows me to,

  • explore what it means to be me, in all of my glory!
  • accept that my own approval is enough.
  • free up some real-estate in my head for much more wonderful things to move in.
  • not take myself so seriously!
  • rid myself of the icky anxiety that comes with trying to keep up with the Jones'.
  • be happy in my own 'burn quickly in the sun' skin (it’s a redhead thing!).

Nobody knows me better than me, and it comes down to the fact that I am allowed to like what I like, I am grateful for who I am, and I am ROCKING this bald head! 

And golly gee, I am MORE than enough… this isn’t in comparison to anyone.   

 
Does it bring you JOY_ (2).png
 

Fluffy Romances & Epiphanies

It doesn't take much to make me happy.  I'm a girl who loves the simple things in life and it's an added bonus if I can get a slice of chocolate cake on the side.  My current favorite simple pleasure is reading on my balcony with a perfectly steeped cup of Jasmine green tea in a fancy mug.  Reading is big deal since chemo stole my eyes ability to focus and put my head up into a foggy fluffy cloud keeping me away from my beloved books for months.  When I was finally able to pick one up and could physically see the words, my brain was still more interested in floating rather than focusing.  

To satisfy both my eager inner reader and chemo brain, I picked up some fluffy hallmark like romance novels where blanking out on a page here or there wouldn't keep me from following the completely obvious story line leading up to the oh-so predictable ending.

But while reading one of the fluffy overly sweet cavity causing books, five words leap off the page, slapped me in the face and halted me in my tracks.  These five words flew past the chemo fog, darted through my protective walls and hit smack dab in the middle of one of my secret well protected fears: 

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes.

The fear originally poked it's head up back in January during the two weeks I was scrambling to wrap things up at school before zipping off to surgery and beginning my cancer journey.  Amongst the report card writing, lesson planning, and essay marking was a whisper in the back of my head that taunted, "when you return, one day you will be sitting at your desk and realize that although you have fought off cancer, you are right back where you started".  The notion that I could go though such a colossal journey and not move forward in my life sent chills down my spine, so I locked it away... until I read those five words.  

The reality is that..

true change comes from MY decisions, and if I continue to make the same
decisions, I will continue to get what I have always gotten. 

Same old same old is just fine if that is what I want, but it isn't.  I was ready for a change before cancer, and knowing that change is as simple as making different choices, puts the power back in my hands. I'm the one who gets to choose to explore the different prongs of that fork in the road and make my life bigger than it already is.  

Turns out, the fear of nothing changing was an illusion, because I wasn't fully appreciating that change is always just a different decision away.  It doesn't involve anyone's approval but my own and I don't have to wait for someone else to give me what I am desiring.  Better yet it means I never have to feel stuck!

It's just like Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy; 

You've always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.

I am now embracing the power I have always had... the power of choice.

 One step better than my balcony... THE COTTAGE!   

One step better than my balcony... THE COTTAGE!

 

I Otter be More Like the Otter!

This week I stood in front of a picturesque window soaking in the resplendent view of the lake behind my friend's cottage. There was just the right amount of sun peeking through the perfectly placed clouds to show off the thoughtfully manicured gardens framing the shore line; it was awe inspiring.  Mid daydream my friend eagerly pointed out the four paws up in the air floating by us.  There, basking in the sunshine was an otter showing off his ability to truly relax and take it all in.

Otters are my favorite animal; besides their sweet angelic faces and snuggle appeal, they really know how to let loose and play.  They play as if their life depends on it.  Their eyes twinkle with glee and they embrace good humoured mischief without a worry to how they appear to their fellow otter or other onlooking wildlife.  

As I watched the delightful, cheeky, Disney like creature showing off his ability to completely relax, I found myself envious of their ability to cut loose and play at any moment. It struck me that I couldn’t remember the last time I truly played.  When was the last time I laughed so intensely that I ended up in tears? The most memorable for me is about eight years ago when a fellow line dancer decided to strike a pose by tossing her leg up over her head and slapping her posterior at the same time.  It was a sight to behold, and the most powerful laugh I have ever experienced… but that was over eight years ago!

When did I stop playing?

It’s not like I don’t have fun or have things that contribute to my happiness:

  • I love the time I spend playing with my niece, but I’m still always looking out for her safety and protecting her at the same time.
  • I can out hobby any Grandma, but that's just my creative side flexing their muscles.
  • Line dancing is my jam, but am I fully letting myself go out on the dance floor? (well outside of my audible curses when I screw up!)
  • I enjoy making fun of strangers in public and laughing with them about it, but that is just lighthearted kibitzing.

What I'm talking about is complete and utter abandonment, no concern for appearances and a true exhaustion from letting loose!  Busting a gut! Less adult and more childlike. 

Play should be for play sake, it shouldn’t be about working towards a certain goal or specific result.  The action of play is the result!  No room for fear, no room for holding onto a protective wall, no concern about how I look, just getting my goofy on!  And that is what I am feeling the need to do, just get goofy!

The more I think about it, the more I see the benefits out weighing the costs of just busting loose: 

  • It brings in even more joy into life!
  • It contributes to my creativity.
  • It's a tension reliever.
  • It allows me to feel free.
  • It strengthens relationships with those I played with.
  • It's both physically and mentally therapeutic.
  • It helps me take myself less seriously.

And in order for me to reap these benefits I have to allow myself to cut loose, have a hearty guffaw, and release my inner child who is so anxious to be allowed out to play.

What it comes down to for me is… I otter be more like the otter.

Sea-Otter-LeDent.jpg

Best Foot Forward!

Chemotherapy was a special kind of mixed-up experience.  Before starting it, there was no way I could have anticipated the insanity that was going to be tossed my way.  What I did know, was that I needed to give myself something else to focus on besides the actual appointments.  I needed to think about something that made me happy instead of putting my energy into trying to figure out how any spell from Harry Potter could get me out of having to go at all. 

The needed distraction I chose was an obvious one (at least for me!)... I put the focus on my tender tootsies.  The question I asked leading up to each chemo appointment was: what shoes am I going to rock today? Because shoe love is true love!  They give me that same powerful, dizzying, 'bring it on' feeling Kate had when leaning over the front of the Titanic bellowing, "I'm flying"!  

March 9 2018 Chemo #1 (5).JPG
March 23 2018 (5).JPG
April 6 2018 (2).JPG

The truth was,

I couldn’t change the fact that I had to be at chemo.
But I could manage how I approached it. 

I have always been a big believer in the fact that there is power in how I choose to react to situations, but I began to see the strength that came in how I was approaching them as well.

April 20 2018 (8).JPG
May 4 2018 (6).JPG
May 18 2018 (11).JPG

What was really neat to see, were all of the other positive added bonuses that appeared from my fancy feet distraction:

  • They ended up being conversation starters allowing me to meet some wonderful people I never otherwise would have met.
  • People close to me were texting to ask what was on my feet instead of focusing on their concern about my appointment.
  • It gave something for the nurses to laugh over.
  • They allowed me to sidestep some of the anxiety that built up leading to an appointment.
  • And they made me feel like… me.

Just feeling like me was freeing.  I wasn't a cancer patient, I wasn't trying to figure out how I should act, I just got to be me through it all.   I was able show cancer that although it had set up camp in my body, it by no means was given the power to change who I am.  

The reality is, things happen in life I don't see coming, but I get to choose how I react to them; and when I have to do something that I would rather avoid, I get to choose how I go through it. 

And I have decided to do it all with my best foot forward.

June 1 2018 (4).JPG
June 8 - Herceptin #2 (4).JPG

Attaching to Non-attachment

I have been looking forward to this day for months, longing to hear those four magic words... you are done chemotherapy!  In reality I have one more round to pump into my fighting body, but because I am an overachiever when it comes to side effects (this girl always gets her A+), stopping before the final round would help to avoid any permanent damage.  Not that I haven’t enjoyed the nausea, numb fingers, constant fog and Hulk like bone pain, but I am more than happy to hear that chemo is behind me.  Sayonara! Adios! Arrivederci!  

Now, I am well aware that I still have three other major treatments to get through in order to rid my body of this craziness, but to have chemo behind me is exciting and a milestone I am eagerly anxious to celebrate.  Wahoo, one down, three to go! 

What does this tell me about myself?  How easy it is to get attached to an outcome of something I desire!  Blinders go on, I focus in on what I want and I push forward with great gusto and non-wavering determination.  Yet this hyper attachment to an outcome often leaves me feeling exhausted and disappointed because most times, I have no control over what is really going to happen anyway. 

Just because I want to be done chemo, doesn’t mean that is the best thing for me.  And to truly feel peace about what my Oncologist is going to say, I need to release myself from the attachment I have to this favored outcome.

So, I now rely on the power of trust.

Trust of course involves three of my least favorite things: releasing control, not over planning for my next steps and letting someone else take care of me!

But when I look at the alternative all I see is wasting time,

  • figuring out next steps that don't even exist yet.
  • worrying about outcomes that may never happen.
  • chasing an outcome I have no control over.
  • going in circles fighting an outcome I don’t want when it could be the best thing for me!

When I release myself from being attached to a desired outcome I experience blessings I didn’t even know where available to me and no matter what the answer, I get to feel peace.

Letting go of what I think I want will always allow me to
appreciate getting exactly what I need.

So, bring on the outcome of today's appointment, because I know that no matter what my wonderful Oncologist tells me, I will leave her office with peace and a whole lot of gratitude!

 
 Just another day in the chemo suite!

Just another day in the chemo suite!

 

Narnia Doors & Boogiemen

I love living on the lake front trail where I enjoy cheering on the teams of bikes going by, saluting them with a cookie from my comfy chair.  I myself retired from running the trail a few years ago and am now a walking enthusiast who gets to leisurely enjoy the surrounding community and organized trail.  I went from focusing on my running time and icing my hips to smelling the roses and becoming a nosy neighbour who judges gardens, window treatments and can’t help but search out the bizarre. 

When I do find something unusual, I quickly jump into concocting story about it, getting nitty gritty with the details of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it all.  It is a spin on the classic people watching in a mall while eating a cinnabon, except this involves petunias, garage organizations, and lawn ornaments. I truly never know what I will find during my treasure hunt of nosiness!

Currently there are two observations in particular that have the attention of my childish imagination:

Story Numero Uno… smack dab in the middle of a disorganized garage stands a door; just a random door with a frame around it.  I have attempted to peer around it to see if there is something on the other side, but I just can’t seem to get the right angle from the street!  And although this garage is anything but organized, there is a ring of space around it, so like the proverbial cheese, it stands alone.   My current top three possible stories for it are:

  • they are building a safe house in their garage and clearly know something I do not!
  • it is the beginning of one of those pieces of art that make millions but make no sense.
  • it is the door to Narnia… all of my will goes into not attempting to see if this one is true!

Story Numero Dos... there is a man in his late 60’s that I've caught in the mornings sleeping in his car out front of his house (or so I assume it's his house).  I am sure there are rational reasons for his situation, but my brain is playing with the following more irrational wonderings:

  • he is the world’s worst private detective who no matter how much caffeine or chocolate covered coffee beans he downs, his narcoleptic ways always seem to get the best of him.
  • his rolling pin wielding wife changes the locks whenever he stays out late at night so he is stuck there until forgives him… yet again.
  • he shares his home with a boogieman and it is just easier to give him the house at night.

Coming up with the stories during my walk keeps me amused and helps me exercise my over active imagination along with my calves!  

The problem with having an imagination that is always on a sugar high kicks in when I start doing this with my own life.  When instead of discovering the truth, I choose to make up a story which paints me, life or the people around me in an unflattering light.  For some reason, these stories always assume the worst and question my worth, make me feel insecure in a friendship or feed an irrational fear.  They are easily made into excuses and yet another creative way to beat myself up.

The one question that has saved me from going down this rabbit hole of made up stories is simply... is that true?

Is it true I’m not worthy?
Is it true I’m not good enough?
Is it true I’m too afraid?
Is it true I’m alone?
Is it true they have better things to do?
Is it true they don’t care?

And when I’m really honest with myself, the answer always ends up being a resounding, no! So then I need to get parental with my brain and say, ‘thanks head, that isn’t helpful’, letting it go and being brave enough embrace the truth.  Because the truth is always kinder than any worst case scenario story I can make up.

For as much as I love to spin a yarn, when it comes to how I see myself or those I love, the truth is always so much more wonderful than fiction.

Smiling's My Favorite!

Today I decided to gather up some books, wrap my shiny head in a funky scarf and take myself to a coffee shop.  I love frequenting cafes in different towns and today I chose Starbucks in the booming downtown of Oakville because I was craving their Jasmine Mint tea and a big comfy chair that looked like it was plucked right out of a TD Bank commercial. 

It turned out that two of these chairs were setup directly in front of the main doors with a grand view of the bustling street as well as the faces of everyone who walked in desperate for a caffeine fix.  I decided to take advantage of the spot and exercise my face muscles by smiling at everyone that walked in the door, which basically made me the unofficial Barista greeter.   I get a kick out of trying to get the most miserable of faces to crack a smile, it's a bizarre victory for me!  Plus like Buddy the Elf, smiling really is my favorite. 

I took a break from my self-designated greeter post to freshen up my tea mug when I felt a gentle hand touch my shoulder and a kind voice whisper in my ear, “you are going through chemo, aren’t you?”  I turned to see woman a little older than me with a beautiful head of hair (when you don't have it, you notice it!) and her warm expression looking back at me; “I’m two years past my breast cancer battle and I just love your energy”. 

I melted and immediately felt like I was having a reunion with a long lost friend.  We quickly jumped into girly chit-chat mode where we discovered that we both chose to fend off this pesky thing called cancer in the same way; by being out in the world as much as we could, by choosing to make happy our goal and letting smiling be a form of medication.  

I left the conversation feeling uplifted and appreciating the power of connection.  We didn’t know each other, but our experiences automatically allowed us to understand the other.

My favorite definition of connection comes from the researcher, writer and woman extraordinaire, Brene Brown:

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

I love this.  

In reading between the lines of this definition, an authentic connection means:

  • I never have to work for approval.
  • I never have to be pretend to be someone I'm not in order to fit in.
  • I can be completely vulnerable and feel safe.
  • we are cheering each other on, pom-poms and all!
  • there is a balance of give and take in the relationship... connection is a two way street!

When the lady cheerfully left the store I couldn't help but be grateful for the authentic connections I already had in my life, but had a new appreciation for the unexpected connection I could make with a stranger who I simply shared a journey with.

It was a lovely reminder that often a connection is a smile away.

Great Big Shoves!

It had been a full day zip lining through the lovely lush forests of Costa Rica & my fellow geek in crime (my Bestie) and I were quite pleased with ourselves.  After all,  we had just flown miles above forest floors, soaked in the breath taking views and spent a lot of energy avoiding the question, "are their safety regulations as picky as they are back home?"

We were hiking out of the wild forest exchanging our adventure stories when our guide surprised us with a final stop.  They were going to give us one final opportunity to test fate and see if we could still leave the forest in one piece. It was... the Tarzan Swing. 

And it's exactly what you are imagining; a wooden platform that jets out over a bottomless valley, a harness around the waist, and one think long rope that is tied up so high you can’t even see where it's anchored.  Then, you jump, drop and swing out... and yes, we were told this would be fun.   But even my inner daring wild child was asking, "REALLY?" 

I decided to keep an open mind about it, and although I loath big drops, I said to myself with a very shaky confidence, ‘when in Costa Rica’!   So, it was with great trepidation that I inched my way to the end of the wooden platform where I could clearly see the immensity of the drop I would have to experience before the rope would loose slack and allow me to swing free through the forest. 

I froze. 

Two men busied themselves attaching this carabiner to that and harnessing me in when I had a loud screaming epiphany... I am allowed to change my mind!  With all the assertiveness I could muster (which was a challenge through chattering teeth and knee knocking) I anxiously told these fine gentlemen that I had changed my mind and I would not be connecting to my inner Tarzan today, thank you ever so much. 

For a split second I was relieved, I had exercised my right to change my mind, be clear about what I wanted and everything was going to be okay.  But it was during this relief that I also heard these two men giggle like school girls as I felt their hands on my back and shove this non-consenting Canadian off the ledge. 

 The PUSH!

The PUSH!

 Surviving the push with very little dignity. 

Surviving the push with very little dignity. 

Needless to say, my dropping was anything but ladylike!  I screamed like a howler monkey, creative language rapidly left my lips and I was beating myself up for not writing my will before leaving for this trip!  I was terrified.

... until I made it to the part where fear was behind me and I could relish the the reward of the glorious swing.

These men didn’t know me, to them I was just another fearful vacationer who was way too willing to let this experience pass her by.  What they did know, was me getting past my fear to experience something amazing was just one big shove away.  I just wish they didn't get such a sadistic satisfaction from it! 

As I walked away from the experience with legs still shaking and heart beating out of my chest it was hard not to wonder,

What else in life had I missed out on because I said a loud and fearful no?

How often does fear win and hold me back from new levels of joy and experience?

Do I really want to limit myself to challenges that aren't really challenges at all?

Where else in my life to I need a great big shove?

There have been plenty of experiences that have presented themselves to me in life that I wouldn't have taken on if it hadn't been for someone loving me enough to give me a good shove.  And that is what separates a good friend from a great one; a good friend listens and supports me in whatever I want to do, but a GREAT friend knows when I am making excuses, letting fear hold me back and shoves me anyway. 

It is so easy to get comfortable within the limits I set for myself, but there is so much more to experience on the other side of my fear.  And truthfully, fear is often just excitement in different shoes.

Although Tweedledee and Tweedledum were not thinking past doing their job and getting the raving redhead off their platform, I am grateful to them for doing so.  Because it wasn't a challenge that I wasn't capable of conquering and it was definitely time for me to push the boundaries and show myself the joy on the other side of my fear.     

Sometimes a Great Big Push is Necessary to Experience Great Big Joy.

 

P7030036.JPG

Fill-R-Up!

To know me is to know that I love my car. She is the right snazzy colour, hugs me in all the right places and her power makes driving so much more fun … ahhh the glorious stick shift!  She’s my happy place and I rely on her for so much more than to get me from point A to point B.  She's my...

  • own personal dance club where I get to boogie down shamelessly. 
  • karaoke bar where to sing recklessly at the top of my lungs. 
  • hiding place where I can shed a few tears when I am away from home.
  • bestie who patiently listens to me bicker endlessly about how rediculous other drivers are. 

Honestly, I don't know how she puts up with me!

When I bought Joy (her official name after many a creative suggestion) I was given a list of what sounded like very impressive qualities that glorified what she is capable of doing. During this sales pitch I did what any self-respecting new car buyer would do, I nodded, smiled and focused on the fact that she was the same red as my toenails.  For all of the excitable stats the car guy gave me (let’s be honest, he had me at ‘big sale’) there is one thing she will always require in order to show off her great and almighty strength… fuel. 

I have discovered that my own strength works in the same way.  This became obvious to me when I was driving away from a typical Sunday dinner involving babies giggling, a niece dancing to Justin Timberlake and friendly debates over broccoli being cooked in plastic bags and was struck by how great I felt.  I had originally arrived exhausted and completely spent, but the time laughing, making fun of my brothers (something I will never be too old to do) and dancing with my niece truly filled my depleted tank.  Then I saw a bigger picture.    

I realized that through all of my crazy wack-a-do experiences, leaps of faith and surprise journeys, it wasn't just my own strength that got me through.  I was drawing on the support of others and the many different joys in my life.  They were fuel for my strength. 

Needing fuel does not mean I am weak, just wise enough to know that my ‘push through anything’ ability isn’t enough.  Me thinking I SHOULD push through life all on my own and not accepting help or rejuvenating just leads to me beating myself up when I find myself completely burnt out.  I became a stronger person when I realized that,

Strength Requires Fuel.

Strength being fueled can be seen every where, from a crowd cheering on runners during a marathon, to the simple gesture of telling a friend you are there for them.  It is the fuel that makes me feel braver and I get stronger each time I fill up.  It is the reason I can keep going even when I feel overwhelmed and like I can't carry on. 

So, how do I fuel my strength tank?

  • the kindness and encouragement of others
  • time laughing with friends
  • snuggling my niece’s or nephew
  • family dinners
  • doing something meaningful or wildly obserd

I don't doubt my own personal strength, but I also humbly recognize, and am grateful for, how much stronger I am because of the fuel I gain from those around me.  

In realizing that Joy and I have something in common, I have decided it is time to treat myself as well as I treat her; regular check-ups, give myself the good car-washes, and keep my tank FULL!

Eating an Elephant

If I had to choose just one famous elephant as my favorite, I'm not sure I could!  The first that comes to mind is the classic Dumb and his Mom, Mrs. Jumbo, who completely make the heart melt with all their Disney goodness. But, then there's Horton with his great curiosity for new worlds or the French Barbar with his sense of adventure, sophistication and leadership abilities.  And although more like a woolly mammoth, I can't help but love the devoted friend Big Bird has in Sufffleupagus!

The elephant is a symbol of strength, stamina, size and ability to work well with each other.  It's because of these admirable qualities they have been made into many a cliche. 

When someone references 'the elephant in the room' we all know that means something is looming in the air people are avoiding talking about.  It is an insurmountable issue that makes people uncomfortable, puts them on edge and forces them to put crazy work into pretending to ignore it in hopes someone else is brave enough to say something.  

When someone says 'an elephant never forgets' we know it's a reference to their enviable memories (which of course means that the elephant in the room isn't going anywhere!)

When an ex-boyfriend used an elephant as a reference to my backside, well, lets just say he is an ex for a reason! 

But the elephant reference I use when people ask me about something I haven't experienced yet on my journey is...

it's like eating an elephant, I'm doing it one bite at at time.

It's easy to get caught up worrying about how I've dealt with something in the past, or the 'what ifs' of the future, but the truth is, the only moment I have any control over is the one I am currently in.  

It means I choose not to waste my energy on the unknown, or what has already happened.  The past is behind me and the future will take care of itself, but the challenges that face me today are the ones I can do something about and need my attention.   It doesn't mean I'm ignorant about future happenings, it just means at this point, I can't do anything about them! So I ask myself,

what can I deal with in the here and now?  
This is the bite I take.

With each 'bite' I gain confidence in my ability to handle craziness and better prepare myself for the next challenge around the corner.  I take the energy I would have wasted on worrying and put it into the task at hand.  

I want to make the most of what I can accomplish now, and to do that I need the daring of Dumbo, curiosity of Horton and sophistication of Babar.

IMG_3882.JPG

Take the Compliment!

Why is it so hard to take a compliment?  I know I LOVE to give them, I enjoy making someone else feel good. But taking them?  

There is a very sweet group of teenage girls at work who so eagerly tell me every day how much they like what I am wearing.  They actually get excited to see my outfit and enjoy telling me why.  But one day after one of their kind observations, a girl stopped and pointed out to me, "Miss, do you realize that every time we compliment you, your reply is always 'oh, I'm just comfortable'."

It was then that I realized that I was blowing off the lovely comments these girls were so enthusiastically giving me.  My inability to just graciously take the complement was making these girls feel like their kindness wasn't appreciated. 

There seems to have evolved a very bizarre formula around taking a compliment:

  • Someone gives a compliment
  • The receiver is surprised (and sometimes uncomfortable)
  • The receiver then is quick to brush it off by putting themselves down
  • The receiver often deflects the attention by saying by tossing a compliment right back
  • The giver is left wondering why they gave it in the first place!  

Where a compliment should build someone up, we are all so quick to use it as an opportunity to prove how unworthy we really are.  This happens by how we quickly dismiss the compliment by saying:    

  • this old thing?
  • oh, this was so cheap.
  • yeah, when I bother to make an effort I can look half decent.
  • yours is so much better than mine.
  • actually, no, I'm a mess today.

We are so out of practice appreciating ourselves that when someone else goes out of their way to make us feel good, we just see it as another opportunity to point out our flaws.  

We are telling that other person we aren't worthy of their thoughtful observation and end up robbing them of the joy that comes from being kind to someone.  And often we scramble to compliment them in return so we redirect the focus onto them and off of ourselves.  But nobody gives a compliment expecting one in return.  They simply want to feel the joy in making someone else feel good about themselves.  We need to allow them that joy and start agreeing with them!!

So, it is time to take the compliment!  And the only two words that are needed to do that is... 

Thank You.  

 

The 'P' Word

I could feel it all the way down to my toes, it was going to go off at any second... it HAD to!  Even though it felt like I had been sitting there for hours, I knew the evil oven timer was only set for a 30 minutes.  But what if someone accidentally added more time?  Or worse, what if someone added more time intentionally?  I was always so careful to watch the ceremonial setting of the timer to eliminate any funny business, but I knew my mom was a wily one and if she didn't hear me working, she would add time; and I did have two brothers lurking around the house.  Seriously, I was already prepared for my upcoming lesson, why do I need to sit here and continue to work on it over and over?  

I loved playing the piano... but the practice part, well, that was another story!

My ultimate lesson in the power of practice came years after mom's oven timer when I decided I was going to prove to my hard nosed piano teacher that I indeed was practicing plenty.  I had no problem playing my pieces perfect at home and it was only when I arrived at her house with her hovering over me, breathing disapproval down my neck did I actually mess up.  

So, I set up a tape recorder (pause for a brief moment of respectful silence for simpler times) determined to record myself playing perfectly so when she accused me of not practicing enough, I could make a grand scene by pulling the cassette tape from my pocket and proclaiming, "a-ha, proof that YOU are the one tossing me off my game". 

Instead, I had played the pieces so many times to get the most perfect recording I could,  that when I played it for her she just said, "good, lets move on".  The wind was knocked out of me, I was so sure she was the problem.  Instead, I was the with the epiphany that deliberate practice (not the actual practice I was doing) really could get me the results I wanted... who knew?! 

Age 6 April 1981.JPG

Now that I am a 'seasoned adult' I appreciate how deliberate practice can be used beyond my physical skills; it helps me become the person I want to be.  

  • I learn to be brave by doing things that I am fearful of.
  • I learn patience by choosing to be patient in uncomfortable situations.
  • I learn to be kind by doing acts of kindness.
  • I learn to love by practicing loving what is hard to love.

As for courage, that is a funny one.  Often being courageous is seen as something we are or aren't, but it's like everything else I want to be; if I want to be it, I have to practice it.  

Each time I have chosen to have courage I learn that I am a courageous person and with each small act of bravery, I prepare myself to be brave with the bigger things.   I guess there is always the option to practice fear, anxiety or anger, but if I am going to put the energy into practicing anything, I might as well chose what will bring me more joy.  

My years of practicing the piano never made me into Mozart, but it gave me one of my most valuable lessons,

Whatever I choose to practice, I become good at;
so I need to chose wisely what I practice.

 

Lovin' it Out of Me

As I stood there looking around the two large rooms filled with people hooked up to IV drips and baring beautiful bald heads, I couldn't believe that I was the sickest person in the room.  How can this be? I feel FINE and look healthy... yet here I stand, observing the next step in my journey having to accept how backwards it all is.  I have to make myself sick to be better.

Time has become an enigma, as everything seems to have unfolded at lightening speed yet painfully slow at the same time. Often I am rushing to stand still.  And although there have been many appointments and phone calls during this time, the one that continues to echo in my mind came on January 4, 2018 at 2:45 pm.  It became official.  I have breast cancer.

It is like I have been airlifted out of my life and dropped into one that is full of wild unknowns and grand question marks.  Except for the fact that I am completely clear on how this story is going to end (with great health and peace), getting from where I am now to the beautiful end result is new territory.  

The most important decision I have made to help me brave this new wilderness is about how I want to feel.  So many people feel anger and hatred when they hear the word 'cancer', and I totally get it, there is nothing nice or attractive about this word.  It is an unwanted guest.  But what I realized is that the surgeon can remove my tumor and my oncologist can zap away the cancer, but in the end, I am left with my emotions. So if I focus on hating cancer, then when it is gone, I am left with the hate.  So right from the start I decided I was going to,

Love it out of me.

With love as my chosen emotion, I can allow the frustrations and overwhelming feelings to move through me instead of sticking to me.  Because when I am at the other end of this journey, all I want to be left with is love.   I didn't truly appreciate the depth of this over used word until now, nor did I fully comprehend the power of loving an enemy to the point of making them my friend.  

Love is the answer to the crazy question, how will I get through this? 

Whether it is the love I choose to feel from myself, accept from family and friends or from the amazing team that is supporting me at the hospital... my ONLY job through it all is to...

Feel the Love.

Hairy Roommates, Detours & Marmalade

I have a very peculiar roommate who wears red rubber boots (which I assume are Hunters), a bulky, yet ever so stylish blue duffle coat, and is constantly moving  around my home carrying a torn, well used brown suitcase.  He never complains about my dust bunnies, or my single girl ways, and although he is from England, never criticizes the fact that when I make tea I don’t put the milk in the cup before adding the properly steeped tea from a teapot that has never been washed... after all, it is a true crime to put soap in a teapot!

His name is Paddington. 

 Having tea and Victoria cake at Kensington Palace with the slight hope of the Duke & Dutchess of Cambridge joining us... after all, this is their home!

Having tea and Victoria cake at Kensington Palace with the slight hope of the Duke & Dutchess of Cambridge joining us... after all, this is their home!

 Wandering the streets of London and pausing at The Ritz where we delusionally plan to stay during our next visit.

Wandering the streets of London and pausing at The Ritz where we delusionally plan to stay during our next visit.

We share a love for London, enjoy following our curiosity and are both loyal to our sticky food of choice.  And while his sticky food choice is marmalade and I am a Nutella girl, we agree that the only way to eat either of these tasty delights is straight from the jar. 

And to answer your question, no, he isn’t just for kids. Frankly, I believe adults have more to learn from this anthropomorphised traveling ball of fur then any child does.   

And what is exactly to be admired about an animal who sees the importance of footwear and not pants?

  • His wonderful regard for politeness… please and thank you are used in excess and he always addresses people by their proper titles (mine being ‘Her Royal Highness’ according to my account at Harrod’s in London!)
  • Kindness is always his motivation…even if his good intentions turn into chaos.
  • Being different doesn’t hold him back, being different is WHY he fits in.
  • He sees beauty all around, is inspired by curiosity and always has a marmalade sandwich in his pocket in case of a hunger emergency.
  • He chooses to be his 'own bear'... doesn't bend to the popular stereotype of eating honey, doesn't hanging out with piglets and tigers, and has no interest in picnic baskets or scaring happy campers.

Finally, when it comes to his attitude towards his infamous adventures, he is a constant reminder that sometimes the journey we find ourselves on isn’t necessarily a journey we have chosen. 

Some journeys are chosen and others are thrust upon us.

Although I love every journey I have made for myself, it is often the ones that I don’t expect to go on that have the most profound effect on me.  These adventures were not on my bucket list or even something I would ever consider (and may actually want to run from!) but for some reason, they present themselves to me.  These surprise detours tend to have a powerful impact on my perspectives and even if I can't appreciate them at the time, serve to make me a better version of myself.  

I embrace the notion of things happening FOR me and not TO me. Believing that things happen TO me just makes me feel like a victim, where knowing that things happen FOR me allows me to remain positive through the crazy, optimistic through the wilderness and feeling joy no matter what the circumstance. 

So as I take on a journey I never signed up for, I take the attitude of Paddington with me;  I am grateful for the amazing people in my life who are always there to cheer me on, my eyes remain open for new lessons and I promise myself to enjoy the food along the way!

 Although Paddington always has his trusted suitcase by his side... I chose a Harrod's bag instead!

Although Paddington always has his trusted suitcase by his side... I chose a Harrod's bag instead!

Voiceless for THE Mouse!

There I was standing on a street in Toronto, somewhere in the Business district I had never been before looking up at this tall, daunting, nondescript building.  I was there to audition for Disney, but the building was anything but magical; no colour, no joy, no character to greet me at the door and nowhere could I hear It's a Small World After all playing.  But no matter, I was there for an audition, and I mean, why not?  I was in my mid-twenties, I have a background in theatre and who wouldn't want to spend a year playing around with princesses, pixie dust and talking animals? 

I arrived with:

  1. A head shot... which I had thanks to the Much Music VJ audition I did the year before. 
    (Yup, I will pretty much audition for anything that involves me making a fool out of myself!)
  2. My resume... okay, so my experiences came from my degree in music and countless school productions, but they HAD to mean something, right?
  3. Some over confidence... after all, that degree in music was an honours degree, and I have a killer smile! This audition was in the bag, and I thought the only thing I had to decide on at this point was what park I wanted to work for.

After signing in with the front desk with an overtired stage hand who was being pulled in multiple directions, I was escorted into a small gymnasium where I would sit for my call time with the other anxious thespians waiting for their chance to evoke 'oh's & ah's' from the casting crew of Disney.  

I stopped dead in my tracks when entering the room at the sight of parents coaching their kids, others kids stretching like they were made of rubber and seeing that these kids were actually, kids! The average age of my fellow auditionees was 13!  I felt like I should grab a walker to assist me, after all, 30 was around the corner and I was old enough to already have a career, vote, serve on jury duty and was actually able to drive myself to the audition!  

I placed myself on an old old elementary school gym bench praying I wouldn't get a sliver in an uncomfortable place and tried to slouch enough as to not tower over the young-ins on either side of me.  I sat there in a state of shock for countless minutes and then something funny happened, the kids who were there on their own started to gravitate towards me.  They were craving a pep-talk, confidence boosting and a few even cornered me into giving them guidance counselling for their future. Although I wasn't at work, I was still very much a teacher and it ended up being good familiar diversion as I waited anxiously to show the good employees of THE mouse what I was capable of.

Then it happened... my name was called and it was my time to audition.   I was placed in front of a panel of 4 extremely intimidating people from Disney in grey suits all holding pens poised ready to judge me, and a piano player set to put music to my craziness.  As he started to play, I opened my mouth but.... NOTHING came out!  I stood frozen, wondering why these words I knew like the back of my hand had run for cover somewhere in the recesses of my mind.  The jovial piano player continued playing, bopping his head back and forth and when he got to the chorus, I was finally able to at least belt out the final words.  In the end, the only words I sang were:

pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

The music stopped, I thanked them for their time, and I laughed my way out of the room where dreams where meant to be realized.  

Although I didn't leave the audition with a new career at Disney, I did leave feeling the following:

  • pride in myself for not leaving when I realized I needed to be between the ages of 10 & 14 to audition!
  • gratitude for meeting some really neat young performers and being able to help them. 
  • appreciating my ability to stick through the entire audition even-though I was voiceless for the majority of it!
  • loving the opportunity to try something uncomfortable, failing, and simply being able to laugh afterwards! 

Following my curiosity is one of my favorite things to do.  I never know where it will take me, who it will introduce me to, what lessons I will leave with or what new perspectives I will learn.

In the end all I could do was laugh and follow the advice of the song. So...I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started all over again with new adventures.

Mickey-mouse-image-hd-disney.jpg

Confessions of an Over Apologizer

Sometimes I apologize so much I annoy myself!  Seriously, I apologize for:

  • being early (I have no memory of apologizing for being late!)
  • my house isn't clean enough (EVEN if I just finished cleaning!)
  • for doing more than I am asked to (basically I apologize for going out of my way to make someone else's life easier!)
  • for apologizing too much (yup... I understand the crazy here). 
  • when I give a gift I don't think is perfect enough even though I went out of my way to research the gift, had it imported, paid extra for duties and had to drive to the States to pick it up (yes, this has happened to me more than once, and most recently, this Christmas getting my brothers Christmas gift!)
  • needing a pedicure when I have to expose my feet and they aren't perfectly red and chip-free (my osteopath gives me a funny look every time I apologize to him for this!)  
  • for not giving a cashier the right amount of change ...or for using a $20 for a small purchase and I am the first customer of the day.
  • to make others feel better when THEY are the ones who screwed up!
  • to make a situation more comfortable... nothing like an apology for nothing to keep things less awkward!

This list really could carry on in an embarrassing way, but I think it is clear....I have a problem!
(and I didn't even include my habit of apologizing to furniture when I bump into it!) 

An apology implies I have done something wrong and need someone else to release me of my shame, guilt and feeling like a silly billy (these last two words are the ones we are using around my two year old niece so she doesn't pick up the really 'good' words!).  Yet, when I look at this list, I really don't see actions that require forgiveness.  So, why am I apologizing? 

What am I saying about myself when I am living a life apologizing for each and every move I make?  Am I looking for approval or could it really be that I feel, 

no matter how hard I try, I'm just not good enough?

Just HOW HIGH are these crazy standards I have set for myself?  I would never judge others the way I judge myself; with others I am compassionate,  remind them that perfection is a myth, and give them permission to be happy with who they are.  So why can't I do that for myself?

Instead of apologizing for:

  • being early, I need to just enjoy the fact that I arrive places calm.
  • how clean my house is, I need to just enjoy the fact that I have wonderful people who visit me.
  • going above and beyond, I need to be proud of my attention to detail.
  • apologizing... well, this just needs to stop!
  • a gift I give, simply enjoy telling the story of how it came about.
  • my toes... well, I just need to RELAX!
  • not having the right change, just thank the cashier for the change she gives me.
  • someone else, give them the opportunity to own their actions.
  • the sake of making a situation more comfortable, l need to simply be present with how each situation feels without attempting to control it.

It is time to stop apologizing when there is no apology to be had and accept that even if I make a mistake, stumble or do something completely silly billy... I am enough.