I am so unproductive right now. But that’s alright.
I spent the weekend on a getaway with good friends (very relaxing), and then I tried to jump right back in to everything when I got back home. That was quickly followed by a nasty cold that sent me running to bed, and hiding from the light.
Maybe my body is telling me to just chill out. I don’t always have to be productive. I don’t have any looming deadlines outside of those I assign myself (including these weekly posts). Time to lighten up a bit and relax.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
This weekend, I’m planning on making a few laps around this tree with that thought in mind. This labyrinth, and the Harmony Hill retreat center where it resides, is one of my favorite places in all of Washington. I’m also planning on spending my days doing yoga and soaking in the beauty of hood canal, followed by nights filled with girl talk, laughter, and the 3 Bs: booze, B-movies, and contraband bacon.
And boobs. There is always talk about boobs. It’s de rigueur at a getaway for young women with breast cancer.
I’m hoping a weekend away with women who know exactly what I’m going through is just what I need – a lot of fun. It sure was last year. And this year – no homework!
Those were the words I wrote without thinking: “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.” I was shocked when I looked back and saw that I described my blog in this manner. Since writing the post, I’ve gone back and stared at those words countless times. To be honest, the words make me a little uncomfortable. Those hastily written words contain truths I didn’t realize were simmering under the surface.
Friday Night I found myself on stage at Courage Night as one of five women reading our work about surviving cancer. In the Q&A session, as I was describing how my blog had evolved, I recited this line from that blog post: “CoffeeJitters has been a single girl making her way in the world blog, a wedding blog, an infertility blog, a photography blog, a quitting my job and going back to school full time blog, a wow! I’m pregnant! blog, a mommy blog, a cancer blog, ….” except I swallowed the words “a relearning how to dream after cancer blog.”
No, in a room full of cancer survivors, women I love and trust, and who understand better than any one else, I could barely voice those words I had already published. I’m still not quite sure whether I said them out loud when I was at the mic.
I am currently taking Susannah Conway’s “Blogging from the Heart” class, which is proving to be more magical that I could have ever dreamed. This class is also bringing me face to face with that line – “a trying to relearn how to dream after cancer blog.” She is asking me to dig deep, and think about the purpose of my blog. It is easy to spot the focus on gratitude and appreciation of everyday magic, but this blogging practice is also challenging me to stretch.
Just as a physical injury can leave the body bound up in a tight little ball of muscle, the emotional trauma can have a similar impact on the spirit. Yoga and stretching and movement will little by little improve the flexibility and range of the body, but it’s sometimes painful and frightening. It is work that exists entirely outside of the comfort zone. I’ve reached the point where I understand what I have been intuitively trying to do, yet simultaneously resisting – to improve the flexibility and range of my imagination, of my ability to re-dream my future.
The process is slow and difficult, but looking back I can see how I have gradualy expanded the time frame of my dreams. Since diagnosis, I’ve had trouble imagining my life more than a few weeks or months ahead. Now my dreams stretch as far as five years out. Some day soon, I’ll be able to imagine myself at my daughter’s high school graduation.
I can’t say goodbye to the cancer experience just yet, I’m still dealing with some residual complications, but I am in the process of moving on. I did so much more than deal with cancer in 2011, but it featured prominently in my life.
Before we get to the rest of my life, I did write up a post detailing what a day of radiation treatment is like, which has been quite a popular post over the past year. I hope it helps people who are facing this treatment, and a little nervous about what they are in for. (I also wrote a similar post about chemotherapy.)
Random act of kindness: I received an amazing gift that still brings a smile to my face and checks my attitude every time I use it
I am so ready to get on with 2012.
I’m not doing resolutions this year, instead I’m picking a couple of words on which to focus as a kind of guiding principle for the year.
I picked “habit” and “kaizen”
The two are related. By habit, I mean I’m going to be intentional about creating healthy habits, slowly and gradually, the same way my bad habits get their start. For instance, I’m gradually improving my diet instead of going on a crash diet cutting out everything at once. Kaizen was a new term to me, meaning small improvements made every day will lead to massive improvements overall. This year is going to be all about incremental, sustainable change.
Do you have any plans, resolutions, or words of the year for 2012?
It’s that time of year when the world is washed in pink, and people prance around in their favorite tongue-in-cheek, boob-aware apparel. But how much awareness does all this bring to the realities of breast cancer, and how much does this just turn our attention to boobs?
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against boobs. I am pro-boob. I was quite attached to mine, till one tried to kill me. Boobs are awesome, an entertaining conversation topic, they bounce, they feed babies, they’re happy, fun playthings. Breast cancer is the Debbie Downer in the room.
But I can’t wish the pink away, not until we find a better way to fund finding a cure. Unfortunately, not only do we have to endure pink every year, but every year breast cancer survivors go out and parade ourselves around to raise money for breast cancer organizations we believe in. Like it or not, the reality is that many good organizations funding research and programs that help women with breast cancer survive depend on October, on the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the make the majority of their budget for the upcoming year. And yes, the results of that funding has lead to research that led to treatments that beat back my cancer. And those fundraisers brought in money for breast cancer support organizations that helped me survive my treatments. These fundraisers do make a difference when the money goes to the right place.
So as much as we hate it, we put on the pink and we paste on the smile, because these programs helped get us through it, and now we’re paying it forward so those programs can help someone else. BUT, we’re very careful who we support.
Not everything pink forwards money on to organizations that are seeking the cure, or supporting women with breast cancer. There are so many devious programs out there making money hand over fist selling pink items. Some paint an item pink even though it’s a known carcinogen. Some send no money at all. some just bilk the well-meaning of extra cash. They send $1 to a breast cancer org? Sure, but they bumped the price from $5 to $10 before they painted it pink. That little bit of pink is making them an extra $4 a pop, and you’re buying, not because you need it, but because it’s pink. Sometimes it’s more effective to make a direct donation (also tax-deductable) rather than purchasing something just because it’s pink in October.
Yes, awareness is important. Yes, its the once annual reminder to do the self-exam that we should be doing every month. But we also need to spread awareness that young women, even young girls, can get breast cancer. And men, too. And we can’t stop at awareness.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of amazing women who are dying – and they’ve got all kinds of awareness. Awareness is not enough. We need a cure.
I like to think of myself as having superpowers. My favorite superpower is the ability to make things go away by not believing they are true. I’ve had a lot of practice using this superpower; I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer while I was still breastfeeding my baby.
That was practice using this superpower, but no success.
One of the first things that hits you over the head with a cancer diagnosis, after confronting your mortality, is the understanding that you are not in control. Control is an illusion. This is a very difficult concept around which to wrap your brain.
We’re constantly bombarded with messages about how we are in control. Make a plan and execute it. Just do it. We are the product of our own choices. Metaphors abound: in the drivers seat, steer the ship, drive to success, master of your domain (giggle, snort – if you got this Seinfeld reference, you’re old like me).
There is a lot of truth in these ideas. We are the product of our own choices – to an extent. But there is so much we can not control. The child with neuroblastoma did nothing to deserve that disease. They did not earn it. Neither did I.
For all this time we spend juggling – super-moms with all their balls in the air at the same time – we also live with this fear that one dropped ball will bring them all down. If we miss a ball, a deadline, a dental appointment, 50,000-mile maintenance check, the world will keep on spinning whether we pick up the peices and run to rejoin the party, or throw our hands up in the air in defeat.
Some of the balls are going to drop.
I worried so much after my diagnosis: How am I going to effectively parent my child, keep up the house, finish my degree, and battle this disease? I realized that I could not keep all those balls in the air. I made a choice. I decided that parenting and health were my priorities, housekeeping would get attention as I had any to spare, and I took a leave of absence from school. A year later my daughter is happy and healthy as she enters her twos, I’m nearly done with treatment though still battling fatigue, my hair is starting to grow back, and in January I returned to school full time. But, my house is still a mess.
I’m still making choices about my priorities. My house still isn’t winning.
Martha Stewart has a large staff of well paid employees that help her pull off all that magic. I don’t have to be Martha Stewart, and most of us have no hope of having a large, well paid staff to make us look good. What you see is what you get. It’s just me, Baby. Lovable. Imperfect. Flawed. With mutant genes running amok.
I am letting go of the illusion of control
I don’t want to give you the impression that I’ve got this fatalist attitude where there’s not much sense in trying because there is no hope of success. I don’t believe that at all. I try. I work my butt off. I pour blood, sweat, and tears into motherhood, and everything else I do. But I’m learning to distinguish between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.
I can control whether I provide a quiet time and space for my daughter to take a nap
I can not control whether she goes to sleep
I can control the amount and quality of the food that I eat, and I can control the amount and quality of my exercize.
I can not control my weight
I can control my own reactions to my toddler’s behavior, and I can control whether she has been fed, and provided ample opportunity to play and rest.
I can not control whether she has a meltdown in public
I can provide sufficient towels and a bath mat
I can not control whether my husband soaks the bathroom floor when he gets out of the shower
I can fight like hell, do everything prescribed, and more
I can not control whether this cancer comes back
Life got so much easier when I stopped trying to unbelieve what I didn’t want to be true. I can’t control whether or not I have cancer, I can only control my reaction to that fact. A huge burden lifted when I stopped trying to control things over which I had no control. I can’t control everything. I don’t need to control everything. The fact that I don’t control everything doesn’t make me less of a person, less of a woman, less of a mother. It makes me human. It makes me vulnerable. It makes me brave and scared at the same time. It makes me real. And it makes me more empathetic to everyone else around me.
Sometimes, the best things in life are unplanned. Usually, the worst things in life are unplanned. Either way, survival, thriving, requires the ability to adapt. In order to incorporate this new reality into my life, I’ve got to accept it. The more time I spend thinking it just can’t be true, trying to control the uncontrollable, the longer it takes to find a way to make the best of the situation.
I used to work for a cruise/tour company that was smaller, and a bit more intimate than most. This gave us the flexibility to chase rabbit trails, and make impromptu itinerary changes to take advantage of opportunities as mother nature provided. The director used to say “we have an itinerary so we have something from which to deviate.” That’s a little closer to the way I live my life these days. I make plans and set goals, I work towards them, but I try to stay flexible enough to change as necessary. That helps with crisis management; it also makes it possible to savor rainbows, and jump on opportunities as they arise as well.
This week, the girls at SITS are discussing perfection and the art of letting go. Join the conversation (Linky included). We’re also using #SITSLettingGo on Twitter.