Lump-iversary

On the evening of Monday November 13, 2017 I discovered the lump that has made this year the whirling dervish that it is.

The morning after I found my lump, there was only one thing I could do that made sense to me… I needed to write about it. I never published this blog. I knew one day I would, but never dreamed I would be sharing it a while receiving treatment for cancer.

From the second I found that piece of foreign schmutz in my body, the goal has been to love it out of me and focus on eating the metaphoric elephant in front of me, one bite at a time. It has been one giant lesson on ‘staying in the moment’.

Below is the blog I wrote one year ago, 14 hours after finding my lump.
I can honestly say 2018 hasn’t been my favorite year, but… I wouldn’t change a thing.

Things Aren’t Always As They Seem…

It began like any other stretch; I opened my arms out to the side, dropped my head back and allowed my day to fall off of me.  As I began to move my way back to a regular standing position, I simply gave my upper chest a wee scratch and froze.  My hand stopped dead as it palpated the lump it had just discovered.

I quickly felt around, comparing both sides of my chest, but there was no mistaking it, I have a lump a little larger than a Cadbury’s mini egg in my upper chest.  

I instantly broke into tears and doubled over in shock. 

After I let myself spin for  couple of minutes I just stopped.  There were a number of truths waving frantically in front of me:

  • I have NO idea what I have actually found.

  • I have had a cyst on my face and polyps in my colon, why not another lump in my chest?

  • It could simply be an angry inflamed lymph node.  

I became calm.  There was no reason to assume the worst when I don't have the information.  Instead, I chose to enjoy my evening, and I couldn't help but laugh that an hour earlier I had posted a blog about ‘staying in the moment’.  So I decided THIS was indeed a moment I needed to stay in and not allow my head to make up stories that didn’t exist... after all, this girl has knitting to do for nieces & a nephew!

When I called my Doctor this morning the nurse asked me some routine questions, one being whether I am currently breast feeding.  I’m sad to admit that my answer to her was,

"I'm not using them for anything right now.  Not even for entertainment purposes."

I tend to call on my ‘go go gadget sense of humour’ when I know I need to avoid over thinking a situation. Thankfully the nurse appreciated my twisted whit and it was helpful being able to laugh while booking the appointment for my Doctor to explore my newly found lumpiness.

This moment I am sitting in, is all I can understand. And right now, I know that I am well.
Whatever my following moments hold, I plan on bringing joy with me and continuing to remind myself that everything is figure-out-able.

Stop in the Name of Love

Just another evening mindlessly trolling Facebook when I came across this post:

 
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The second I read it I wanted to raise my hands to the heavens and shout out a hearty amen! Then of course a tsunami of questions hit me:

Why do I treat taking a break like a buck-list item?
Why do I push myself to the point of exhaustion?
Who do I think is judging me if I stop?
Why don’t I allow myself to say ‘no’ when I need to say ‘no’?

I have a habit of over extending myself until I completely fall apart and then it takes so much more time and energy to recuperate than it would if I just stopped for a brief siesta in the first place. I ignore that desperate little warning voice in the back of my head that frantically jumps up and down like a Mexican jumping bean telling me to rest, and instead, convince myself that if I just get through my beefy to-do list, all will be well. But that list just never seems to get smaller and ‘just this one thing’ leads to another ‘okay, just let me do this’ and the next thing I know I have hit a wall and I’m down for the count.

What I really need to do when I hear those illustrious warning bells ringing is to ask myself ‘what do I need’ and actually slow down enough to hear the answer. Do I need an overflowing bubble bath? To ask a friend to meet me for tea? Bust out the knitting needles? Sit in peace and quiet? Go for a walk? Cut footloose in my kitchen?

Or is it a matter of,

  • saying ‘no’.

  • stepping away from social media.

  • letting go of a commitment that doesn’t bring me joy.

  • not holding a mistake against myself.

  • rolling with it instead of holding on tight to a desired outcome.

Giving myself a break doesn’t mean I am quitting, it means I love myself enough to pay attention to what I need. And sometimes I need to sit with a cup of tea and a Hello! magazine while the rest of the world is off doing their own thing.

The truth is, I always know what I need if I just stop and pay attention; the challenge is to be kind enough to myself to actually follow through. Diana Ross in all her sequined glory had it right, some times I just need to stop in the name of love.

Junk in the Trunk

“Well, you’ve gained some weight.”

These words were uttered to me with a half laugh from the lean male nurse who was sent in before the dreamy cardiologist to ask the routine ‘how are you feeling’ questions. This week, along with the usual ‘have you noticed any swelling’ and ‘when do you feel dizzy’ inquiries, I was shot with this lovely observation. 

My first instinct was to throat punch him.  This is not something you have a light guffaw over with a redheaded woman who is in hormone treatments. I kindly reminded him of this fact and he causally replied, “yeah, I guess it’s only a couple of pounds.”

Now I was well aware of these pesky couple of pounds going into the appointment because I weigh myself daily to watch for any internal swelling caused by medications. I actually love my scale, because it says ‘you look good’ on the top in big cheerful letters and each time I step on it I hear Jerry Seinfield in my head saying “you are so good looking” like I’ve just sneezed. So no matter what the number says, I always step off of it with a smile.

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I was originally told that with chemo I could gain 15 to 30 pounds, and then more with the hormone treatment, so the fact that it is only a couple of measly pounds makes me feel quite proud of myself. But none-the-less, when the nurse stated this fact all I HEARD was….

  • how could you do this to yourself?

  • you aren’t going to cure yourself from cancer this way.

  • the seams in your pants must be crying out for mercy at this point.

And this is what really bothered me, not the insensitive delivery from the nurse, rather that my natural instinct was to shame myself. I was more than fine with these pounds before I walked into the office, so why allow him to make me feel any different?

It never ceases to amaze me how I can take anything someone says, and spin it around as an insult or jab at myself.  It’s like I’m constantly on the hunt to find confirmation that yes, I do indeed suck and need to feel more guilt than the average person.  It’s time to officially fire my own fear and judgement from the job of ‘comment translator’.

The reality is, I can interpret comments anyway I want, so I will choose to hear them with a positive edge, or better yet, be like a duck on a rainy day who lets things drip off me instead of using it as an opportunity to make myself feel guilty or small.

It all comes down to being kind to myself… and frankly, I love the junk in my trunk!

To Me vs. For Me

A few years go, while sitting in my big comfy chair with a fluffy blanket burrito-ing me, nursing a perfectly brewed cup of tea and immersed in a great book, I was hit with an epiphany.  A quotation popped off the page, smacked me with a 2 by 4 and caused my head to all of a sudden see my life with different eyes:

Life is simple.
Everything happens for you, not to you.
Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late.
You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.

-Byron Katie


At that time I discovered these words, I felt like I was hiking up Mount Everest carrying overflowing buckets of water with a sumo wrestler on my back all the while being used for emotional target practice.  I’d been tirelessly trying to get my ducks in a row and frankly, those stubborn birds weren’t having any of it.   But, this quote illuminated my real issue; I’d been playing an Oscar award winning performance of a victim acting like the world was out to get me.

After sitting with this quotation and breathing easier, I started to see things driving me bonkers with a ‘for me’ perspective and it felt so freeing I wanted to share my joy… it was Facebook posting time! I typed up the quote and with great satisfaction hit ‘share’.

It didn’t take long for my ‘you’ve got mail’ icon to light up and although there were people who resonated with it, I found myself staring in disbelief at the following added comment, “try telling that to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer”.  My heart sunk. 

How could my life changing realization be so hurtful for another person?  Would something as life altering as cancer change how I was feeling about my ‘to me vs. for me’ discovery?  Not wanting to take away from my new found outlook, I quickly removed the comment so it wouldn’t harsh my ‘aha’ buzz.

Fast forward to the present…

I got the call.  Lori, it’s cancer.

After months of treatments, being told ‘you need to know, the treatment for cancer can cause cancer’ and taking more pills in a day than I have my entire life, that Facebook shaming moment popped back into my head.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  I had my answer. 

I’ve been told I have cancer… and I don’t feel like it happened TO me.

Although I am still fighting the good fight and can’t yet see or appreciate all of the lessons that are going to come out of this experience, I’ve never asked the question ‘why me’, and I’ve made it perfectly clear that cancer has no power over me. To be completely cliché, I find myself feeling emotions deeper than I ever have before and I finally understand the phrase, “all you need is love”.  I’ve become corny and I’m good with that.

Freeing my heart from its protective gear, feeling safe being vulnerable and learning how to just roll with it, is priceless… and this has happened FOR me.

So, my answer now to the comment “try telling that to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer” is: I have told these words to myself, who has cancer, and I feel… gratitude.

Purging with Purpose

I got back into my car and sat there frozen.  I wasn’t expecting to be overcome with such emotion, but tears were emerging and I felt so full of joy and gratitude that I thought I was going to burst.

***

My home is still in DEFCON 5 mode after the wee flood and with my house out of order, I feel like my entire life is topsy turvy flipped upside down.  To deal with this chaotic disorder I went into a mega cleaning out mode and have been drill Sargenting my way through every corner of my home; no drawer is left unturned, no shelf is sacred and there will be no hiding under any cushion! If it’s in my home then it’s up for debate whether it remains there.

I’m tired of holding onto things because because I’m simply used to seeing them or feeling guilt over getting rid of something that although has been in my closet for years, still has the purchase tags attached to them. Living in disarray had me desperately craving space so this clean-out was going to be epic and there was no room for guilt.

I asked the cliche question, “does this bring me joy” then heard The Clash singing Should I Stay or Should I Go in my head before finally deciding to make use of an item or find someone else who would appreciate it more… and yes, the metaphor of getting rid of the old to make space for the new has not been lost to me!

One of the bigger clean-outs was my bathroom vanity.  Whenever I see my products on sale I buy with the philosophy of, “if 1 is good then 10 is better” so I am beyond overstocked and was feeling cluttered from my over preparedness! 

While debating what to do with the overabundance that was barely being contained by my vanity doors, I stumbled upon a charity called The Purse Project. This fabulous organization collects purses filled with ‘female must have products’ and gives them to women in homeless shelters or on the street at Christmas.  It was after giving the coordinator two large bags full of products, a few wallets, and boxes of tampons that I found myself in tears in my car.  There was a deep feeling of joy that I hadn’t experienced in so long wash over me. Giving to this charity was by far more healing than any meds I have taken.

It was a reminder to me that when I’m at my worst is often the best time to show gratitude by giving.  There is such a joy knowing I can make a difference, and it’s a wonderful way to gain motivation to keep moving forward myself.

Each time I have felt like the process of kicking cancer to the curb weighing on me or sense it wanting to take me over, the question I ask myself is,

How do I want to take back my power?

And cancer can’t touch the joy that comes from gratitude, sharing or helping others. My purging gave me so much more than some needed closet space, it ended up giving me a feeling of purpose.

My Circus, My Monkeys

“I beg your pardon?”

This was my response to the clipboard wielding insurance bloke who nonchalantly told me that I would need to replace the flooring throughout my entire home and not just the living room where water damage had reared its ugly head. Turns out, my air conditioner has been on a secret mission to leak out as much water underneath my floor as possible before finally causing the wood to buckle and become a noticeable issue. Since my beloved floor has been discontinued for quite some time and covers 90% of my home, I will need to pack up my worldly possessions like I’m skipping out of town and have all of my flooring replaced.

I was gobsmacked.  

 
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He attempted to Pollyanna me by saying this was an opportunity to have fun and do something different, to which I frantically replied… BUT I LOVE MY FLOOR!  It was an upgrade, has a unique piano finish and it magnificently matches everything I own.  I’ve been in love with it from the moment my feet took their first step onto its glorious surface and I have no desire to replace it with anything else. This sucks.

Needless to say the insurance guy hot-tailed it out of my home as fast as he could to sidestep this irrational redhead. But from the moment he left, it has been one little disaster after another; the list of lunacy includes, but is not limited to:

  • my DVR deciding to stop working… and after waiting over a week for a non-Jim Carry cable guy to visit, I was told the wires were put back in the wrong spots… so the cable box is fine, however, my pride took a hit.

  • my cell phone’s constantly flirting with me by playing the ‘I’m about to die on you at any moment’ game.

  • my dishwasher gave me a bizarre flashing error… but after her and I had a serious girl-to-girl chat, she quickly corrected her issue and is back to being on her best behaviour.

  • I needed to make an urgent run to my osteopath to put in a few ribs that went out of place after excessive coughing caused by my heart medication… how I drove a stick shift to get there is a total mystery!

This run of insanity has me understanding what Oprah meant when she said that some mornings she wakes up and says, “thanks, but I don’t need a lesson today God”.

What I’m grateful for is that with each unexpected issue I get to see how far I have come with how I react to life’s unpredictable surprises. I breathe better now when life drops a metaphoric anvil on my head because I know that,

everything is FIGURE-OUT-ABLE.

I might be less than happy with a circumstance, or feel a little loco over getting sidetracked by an unexpected absurdity, but truth is, this is my circus and these are my monkeys… and it will all work out.

My life isn’t about trying to make everything perfect and run smoothly, it includes surprises, out of the blue startles, and the odd ambush, but no matter how much I am taken off guard, I get to choose to embrace the crazy. I have discovered that,

the more I roll with it, the happier I am.

So I’m going to keep on rolling … even if that involves replacing my floors!

Dr. Delicious Part 11

This time when I arrived to see my cardiologist I was prepared: legs shaved, nose plucked and because my radiation burns are gone, I was actually able to wear a bra!  Yup, I was all set to be charming, dazzle him with my brilliance and happily offer up my legs to be felt for swelling.  

As I sat there waiting for the cardiologist to arrive and being oh so proud of actually remembering to self groom before the appointment, my phone lit up with a message from my bestie at work. It was a message like no other, and it made my heart swell larger than the Grinch’s did when he discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

The wee video starts by showing three of my favorite peeps I work with, then pans out to include the rest of the staff all telling me they miss me. There was so much joy and care coming off the screen that I could barely soak in a tenth of it. I felt like I had an army behind me as I waited eagerly to hear how my heart was dealing with my treatment. Gratitude filled me, and my eyes couldn’t contain my tears. To me, this powerful video was a sign that today’s appointment was going to be a good one.

The door finally opened, and found I myself looking into the clear blue eyes of a different cardiologist, who although I enjoy working with, wouldn’t give me the opportunity to redeem myself after the last hairy debacle with Dr. Delicious.

But delicious or not, the nurse almost had to restrain me from leaping off my chair and French kissing this Doctor… why?  Because it was the first heart appointment during this entire journey that good news was involved.   Each appointment has been about how much my ejection fraction is dropping and hearing about the newest sparkling pill that would to be added to my growing collection.   But this day… my heart went from working at 44% up to working between 45-50%!

And yes, I am still in early stages of heart failure, and yes it is only a couple of percent better, but… the numbers are finally going in the right direction, and every percent in the right direction is worth celebrating! If there is one thing I have learned during this wacky ride is that there is no such thing as a small victory and each one is worth cheering for.

I started to laugh, which confused Dr. Blue eyes, but I’m just so used to bracing myself to handle bad news that I almost didn’t know what to do when it is good!

So I did what I do best, I made a joke…

“Well Doctor, I don’t let boys break my heart, I sure wasn’t going to let cancer do it!”

I left the office with my heart in one piece and my army cheering me on.

Justifying My Crazy!

I stopped.
Frozen in my tracks.
Did I just say that?  And say that OUT LOUD?

I was walking to my car by myself, debating something in my head (that I now have no memory of), and out loud I said, “well, we both know…” like I was having a full blown conversation with another person.

It was official, I’d crossed the line from mildly quirky to completely unhinged!

I tried to brush it off as a one time occurrence, but when I started paying closer attention to myself, not only was I using “we both know…” more often then I care to admit, but I was also saying,

  • “ah, good point” …when I was trying to figure something out and highlighting a new point of view.

  • “between you and me”… like there was a secret that needed to stay locked between me and, well, me.

  • “come on Lori, you know better than that” … acting like my own parent by coaxing myself to make the right decision over the easy one.

This isn’t the same thing as when I stub my toe and burst out with an expletive or when I’m driving and make comments to other drivers that they can’t hear; no, this is me having true full blown conversations with myself, by myself, out loud.   

So, does this now make me a few fries short of a happy meal? Is my elevator refusing to reach the penthouse? Could my wheel be spinning without a hamster? Am I now officially as sharp as a bowling ball? Or am I certifiably nuts and need to keep a look out for rogue squirrels following me?

The better question is, what do I want to do with this? 

I decided to admit that talking out loud helps me organize my thoughts, emotions and actions.  And if I believe that I carry the answers to my problems around with me, this is just another tool I can use to help me hear what I’m trying to figure out.  And frankly, if I were a character written by Shakespeare, he would just say I was talking in soliloquy (yes he was a man that was known for cheating on his wife and drowning himself in the local mead, but he has a good point!)

I’ve spent so much of my life avoiding myself because there were truths I didn’t want to admit or want to have to deal with, but this new found eccentricity could contribute to opening me up… so this is a good sign, right?

Yes, I am justifying my crazy here, but that’s what a perspective is… looking at something from a different angle and appreciating all aspects.  After all, who decided that I have to keep all my figuring and problem solving confined to my head anyway?  Why not see the benefits instead of putting myself down for getting my quirk on?

I’m just rewriting my own definition of ‘normal’.  Because I’ll be honest, I’m having much more fun in life with my own definition then any other I have come across …“ah, good point Lori”.

Dancing With Family

Sunday morning I stood holding a perfectly brewed cup of tea amongst the sleeping butterflies on the sand as I watched the waves lap up on the beach in Wasaga.  Each year on this particular Sunday in September I stand somewhere on this beach and recharge from a weekend of crazy antics, over stuffing myself with delectable food and line dancing with a community who truly know how to have a good time.

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My fabulous friend Val, who has a grand capacity to care for others, has run this particular line dancing weekend for the past 18 years in order to raise money for cancer research.  All year round she gathers prizes, networks with local vendors and works overtime designing outlandish costumes her friends are obligated to strut around in during the weekend.  A massive crew of eager helpers arrive a day before the event to organize the magic, dance instructors volunteer their time to teach and dancers buy tickets for countless raffles and Betty’s famous penny sale. It is a sight to behold and a joy to be part of.

For obvious reasons, this year hit close to home that all of this hard work and tomfoolery has contributed to research that will have me saying this time next year… I am cured.

I found myself enveloped with love through countless hugs, kisses, laughs, tears and thoughtful gifts. It was beautifully overwhelming and at one point I looked at Val and told her I didn’t know how to accept it all.  She put on her serious ‘I’m going to smack you’ face, pointed her finger at me and said, “you need to take your own advice… accept and just say thank you”.  To be clear, for as much as this woman knows how to give, she knows when to put her foot down and call a duck a duck. So, I stopped saying ‘you shouldn’t have’ or pressuring myself to say the right thing and opened myself up to simply receive.

  • I relished every hug and soaked in every kind word.

  • I appreciated the death stare Doris would give me when she sensed I wanted to do a spin.

  • I delighted in meeting new dancers and forming fast friendships.

  • I was grateful for Cathy booking a place that would accommodate my unpredictable attendance and making sure I had a place to stay if the drive home was too much.

  • I treasured thoughtful gifts that were all so heartfelt.

  • I felt supported and excited over the fact that Val & Cathy took the time to include my quotes in the program.

  • I was grateful to Jackie for being the Morgan Freeman to my Miss Daisy.

  • I appreciated my friends for keeping an eye on me at all times to make sure I remained upright and knew when to encourage me to take a nap!

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I truly believe that,

what makes a tradition is who you share it with,

and I share this tradition each year with a community that has a tremendous capacity to love.  There is a true sense of belonging during this event because we all just get to be our wild wacky selves… even when that includes wardrobe malfunctions or the need for backup underwear.

At one point I stood looking at the beautiful tree shaped mural on the wall that holds pictures and poems in tribute to those we have lost to cancer and felt a deep gratitude for the fact I was at the event in person… and also appreciating the ladies who threatened me to remain off of it!

This weekend is so much more than the over the top games, inappropriate jokes, embarrassing costumes and fundraising, it is a celebration with a great big family. Standing on the beach that morning I gave a prayerful thank you for each member of this tribe that fuels my strength.

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I'm My Own Grandma

The morning started like any other, grateful for my overly comfortable mattress, giving my less than bald head a scratch and eating an apple wondering why a wicked witch would choose an apple to poison? After all, there's more of a guarantee someone will accept a pie, cookie or Klondike bar from a stranger over an apple... just saying. 

I was getting ready for my daily walk, or rather I should say getting suited up for playing my rousing game of, 'how long can I walk before having to sit on a bench', when I was struck with the realization that, I'm official now my own grandma.  The realization happened as I was hanging my cupcake shaped ‘if found please return to’ tag on my hip pack; but it was more than the fact that I now have to walk around with emergency numbers hanging from my fanny pack and also more than the fact I was indeed wearing fanny pack to hang them from, but rather because of so many little things that added up to my current reality:

  • I need to pause going up stairs to catch my breath.
  • I now own a top of the line fancy pill splitter.
  • My blood pressure changes with every movement.
  • The label on my pill containers say 'hazardous' in big block letters.
  • I have post-its around my house that say 'pills?' to remind myself to take them.
  • Nap time IS my party time.
  • I lose track of my thoughts part way through the actual thought.
  • I keep Kleenex in my sleeve to help me deal with a never ending runny nose.
  • I carry candy in my purse to suck during treatment as a distraction & of course offer a piece to all the nurses.
  • My thought filter is gone so I say the first thing that comes to mind in any situation.
  • I have selective hearing so sometimes sounds are too soft other times they are too loud and honestly I can’t focus to understand to know what is going on anyway!

This current truth really snuck up on me, I have gone from being 43 to 83 in a matter of months.  But the wonderful reality is,

this is temporary.

It's too easy to get caught up worrying ‘what if this is it’ or asking ‘how did I get here’; I find it freer to laugh, put on my big floppy hat and be just be grateful for that Kleenex in my sleeve, happy that I'm smart enough to use post-it notes, appreciate that I am always packing sweets and relieved knowing that if someone finds me passed out on a sidewalk they will know who to call. 

It's all about taking the perspective of gratitude.

Life is fluid and the one thing I can always rely on is the fact that change is inevitable. This means I never have to feel overwhelmed by the current situation I am in because there is always another situation coming my way.  So, I will be grateful for the good, know the bad won't last and always be wise enough to turn down apples from strangers.

Punk'd by Hairy Legs!

I was feeling quite self-conscious while driving to my cardiologist appointment since the wicked burns from radiation had me going bra-less and therefore leaving my ladies out to roam free (okay, I was actually feeling naked!).  As I was debating the ability of my dress to mask my new hippy freedom, my peripheral vision picked up on some odd simmering coming from below my steering wheel. A quick glance kicked me straight into mortification mode when I saw that not only had hair begun to take away the Bruce Willis follicly challenged look I had happening on my head, but that my legs were a forest of healthy growth as well.   I was so excited to see hair growing on my shiny dome that I forgot that it would also grow back in other places!

The shock of my legs had me instantly looking in my rear view mirror for a full hair inspection only to find my lip glistening, my eyebrows were in need of a shape and horror of all horrors my nose needed excavating!  I drove dumbstruck.  I don't think I have ever been this hairy in my life!  I had gone from being as hairless as a sphynx cat to resembling an escaped Sasquatch that was about to take on the city. 

I rationalized myself out of my embarrassed haze by remembering that I was only going to the hospital for one appointment, then I could dart back home to deal with this surprise need to landscape. I mean honestly, no big deal, I didn't need to take myself so seriously. So I began breathing easier and had a quick laugh to myself as I wondered what was the worst thing that could happen?

Then, the Universe smiled at me and said, "challenge accepted."

I sat waiting patiently freezing in the Doctors office feeling grateful for the pasties I fashioned for myself under my dress, when the door opened to reveal to me that today I was getting the drop dead handsome cardiologist with a George Clooney smile and the only words my brain could put together were, “huminah, huminah, huminah”.  Although grateful the drool stayed in my mouth and my lack of vocabulary remained in my head, I instantly flushed remembering how I had failed with flying colours my hair inspection on the drive in.  Swiftly and with as much grace as I could muster, I bent my knees to hid my legs under the chair crossing my ankles in Royal Princess style thinking that I if couldn’t hide the escaping nose hair or wild eyebrows I could at least get my beastly legs out of sight.  

Honestly, I was so distracted by his handsome face and stylish ways, that it didn’t even phase me when he told me that the ejection fraction of my heart was down another 4%.  Instead I was more focused on exchanging witty repartee and mentally deciding whether to serve chicken or steak at our lakeside wedding... oh, or a build your own taco bar!! 

I wonder if this is a new program at the hospital? When there is less then wonderful news to pass on to a patient, send in a visually delectable barer of bad news as a distraction.  Worked for me!

I thought I was doing quite well keeping my composure, answering his questions with a modicum of intelligence, of course all while trying to see if he was wearing a wedding ring (which, sadly he was) until the unthinkable happened; without any warning, he bent over and began feeling around my ankles and then up my calves searching for any sign of internal swelling.  The more he moved his hands around my razor sharp legs the more flabbergasted and paralyzed I became.  

Really?  He had to go for the legs? I'm sure that my neglected legs are at the bottom of his complaint list when dealing with patients, but for me, I wanted to shout, "but I'm wearing fresh clean underwear" to prove that I although I didn't shave I still follow proper ladylike protocol when visiting a hospital.   

Walking back to my car shaking my head at myself, and honestly getting a really good laugh at this humbling moment where I fully expected Ashton Kutcher to pop out and do an excited touchdown dance, I wondered what lesson I was being taught.  I mean, come on, there has to be some gem hidden within this punk'd moment?

But, there wasn't.

Sometimes an experience is just an experience and over analyzing can take away the fun of a Murphy’s law moment that is simply meant to be a great story.  Let's be honest, God has a great sense of humour, and clearly, we both just needed a good laugh!

Purposefully Purposeful

He sat across from me with a strong daring look on his face, this man who has known me most of my life and therefore knows when I am avoiding something I find uncomfortable and gets a fiendish delight from pushing my hidden buttons.

I had just finished giving him and his extraordinary wife the update of my ever changing cancer journey when he gave me this challenging and quite saucy look that penetrated any defense I could possibly muster and asked,

“so, what’s your purpose?"  

His wife froze, and in the silence that hung after the question she cautiously said, “oh no, he’s going to go deep”.  It had the feeling of an old Western duel in the middle of town; people were pulling children back, women were frantically closing their shutters and a tumble weed gently blew down the dusty evacuated road. 

This question is one I had been asking my entire life, or rather I should say, I've been in a grueling tug of war attempting to figure out my entire life.  It was in this moment when the question was tossed out daring me to answer in any other way but truthful, that the truth became crystal clear… I have no idea! 

I laughed when I said it out loud and felt a relief wash over me as I saw that this Battle Royale I had going on with purpose finally come to an end.  After this realization I confidently added, “but, I think I’m about to find out”. 

For as long as I can remember I subscribed to the notion that life involves one grand purpose, and I've been on high alert, waiting for a dramatic ‘a-ha’ moment to reveal itself to me.  But this narrow focus and definition of purpose has kept me from seeing that each day has its own unique purpose attached to it and that,

when I do what I do purposefully, then I am living with purpose. 

Purpose isn’t something I need to find or earn, it’s something I experience in the moment.  Its not underestimating how smiling at a stranger or helping a struggling neighbour with their groceries is part of that days purposeful agenda.  Every act I complete has a purpose, and my job is to make the motivation behind my actions one of kindness and compassion always executing them with joy.

I now define my purpose as a life of being purposeful. It is the sum of every act of kindness, it involves:

  • sharing my gifts.
  • being thoughtful and kind.
  • being happy.
  • sharing my story.
  • just being me.

After my response to the question, my worthy opponent tossed a proud smile my way seeing that after 43 years,

I may finally be LIVING with purpose instead of SEARCHING for one.

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!

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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. 

 

 
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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.   

 
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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.

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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"!  

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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.

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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.

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