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What a difference a year makes

In 27 days I will celebrate one year of remission.

Today, I reflect on one year since I got the telephone call.

At 8:58 AM my doctor left a message that did not pop up on my phone for  at least another 20 minutes.

I was at work, and my office is in a cellular black hole. I was unable to listen to the message through my phone. I had to call my voicemail from a land line. I learned that I had cancer via voice mail.

I’ve left the voicemail unheard, like this, since, that day.

I remember looking at my desk, that space between my keyboard and the edge, staring at the wood as I listened. He gave me the pathology report results, and then gave me some names and numbers of oncologists to call, and of course asked me to call him back if I wanted.

I remember taking a very deep breath. I had a moment of overwhelming helplessness. Didn’t know what I should do first. I didn’t want to call my husband or my family. I tried to think of a way to get through this without telling anyone. I realized that was going to be impossible. I decided to take care of business. I think this all happened in 16 seconds. I called and made an appointment with the first oncologist he had recommended and then called my doctor back.

So began something I had not signed up for.

Looking back, I can honestly tell you that in so many way this has been the darkest year of my life.

I try to hang on to those moments that gave me moments of brightness, but it’s some of the hardest most desperate hanging on I’ve ever done…

Especially during those times when recurrence, in spite of a “98%” survival rate (which is the same as any of us pretty much) becomes that focus on the knowledge that I am on that low end of that 98%  spectrum and a swirling mess begins. I wish I could invoke my husbands Austrian pragmatism and just eschew that as silliness.

Actually, there is a part of me that can. What ends up happening is that I have conflict.

So, since I have dedicated October to mindfulness I want to explore how I can manage this conflict. I hate feeling the way I’ve felt this past year.  This article gives some clear steps on how to do that:

  1. Whenever you become aware of negative thoughts and emotions arising, rather than ignoring them, or setting them aside for later, identify, acknowledge, and honor them.

Identify: As a result of my cancer diagnosis; I am scared. I am angry. I am sad. I feel lonely. I feel ugly. I feel unloved. I worry that it will come back, every little pain or ache can bring that worry to mind. I feel unworthy. I feel like crying. I feel tired.  I feel selfish for being so sad and upset about these emotions. I feel let down. I feel like family is a joke. I am heartbroken that my mother chose to defend my aunt and berate me just a few months after my surgery when I was trying to find the good things in this. I’m angry that my aunt was a crybaby about my not thanking her enough. I feel like friends can bring greater value in times of stress (and this haunts me). I feel weak. I feel like a failure. I feel judged. I feel helpless. I feel like something I considered vital was beat out of me by this cancer, and by those I love. I am heartbroken to realize I no longer think I’m a kind person.  I miss the pre-cancer me.

Acknowledge: I clearly can see that these are all related to my diagnosis and experiences relating to all that has happened to me in the past year.

Honor: I have tried to do this, this is where I am stuck.

This past weekend I was at a leadership retreat where we did an exercise in which we had to picture us as an 8 or 9 year old.


I was told to picture that little girl in front of me. And tell her that I loved her. That she was bright, and kind, generous, and beautiful… loved. I was to caress her cheek, and hug her. I was to tell her she was valuable, important, strong, and brave.


2. Become very clear on what the specific upset is by identifying the exact thoughts that are bothering you. Are they self-judging, bad memories, or anxiety about future events? Any thought that causes dis-ease in you, regardless of past, present or future is applicable.
3. Next, indentify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.

4. Once you’ve clearly identified the thought(s) and emotion(s), close your eyes and explore the imagery they subsequently create in your mind (once you’re familiar with the practice, you won’t always need to close your eyes—i.e., if you’re driving, or in public you can still do this.) Do the thoughts and emotions create colors, shapes, figures? Are they abstract or clear? The important thing is to let your thoughts and emotions create the imagery while you simply become aware of what they are.

5. Breathe. We’re at the half way mark and I’d like to offer you a sincere congratulations on completing the first half! Our natural tendency is to suppress these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, often telling ourselves that we’ll deal with them later—but honestly, does later ever come? Unfortunately for most of us, it never does. So even just by taking the time to become conscious of, and identify these unpleasant thoughts and emotions is a huge step! Let’s not stop there however, because here’s where the really good stuff starts to happen.

6. This step is where everything begins to change! Once you have the mental images of what your thoughts and emotions look like (and even if there’s no image at all, this practice still works), picture yourself holding the image (or lack thereof) in the same way a mother holds a newborn baby. Picture the image of your painful thought and emotion wrapped in a warm blanket, being held with very loving care closely to your heart, your chest, as you extend it very sincere compassion from your heart center. (You can also use the imagery of wrapping the thought/emotion in a warm blanket and placing it in a baby carriage, and rocking the carriage back and forth.)

7. Next, mentally (or verbally) say to the image that you know it’s there and you promise to care for and hold it with compassion until it’s ready to go. Do your best to say these words from a very sincere place in your heart.

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A year in my life…

A year ago, I had sent my son off to Europe and missed him terribly.

I think it was the Starbucks app of the week that was a picture a day app. I downloaded it, because;
1) it was free
2) I was thinking about documenting how much I missed my son

So, I took the selfie… and time flowed and I stuck to it and yesterday I got a notice that I had taken 365 photos.

One year, one insane year.

A son sent abroad at a very young age and being diagnosed with cancer. Not really sure which was hardest at the inception.

I missed my son terribly and was so happy when I reunited with him.

And hearing you have cancer sucks, sucks, sucks… and somehow it infiltrates everything.

But I missed my son and that was the hardest thing ever, and yes.. in a way, it was harder than being told one has cancer.

But the cancer things has its own craziness, craziness that makes everything outside the norm seem so much scarier.

So here is that one year of selfies, and as I sit here trying to figure out what all to tell my oncologist when I call him tomorrow, I think I look so much happier now than I did when I missed my son so much!

Peek-A-Boo – I can’t seeeeeeeeee you…..

Oh my, how many times did I play that game as a new mother…. There were countless delights in the delight and giggles of my newborn son. I loved watching my son take his turn,  cover his eyes, and then swiftly moving his hands away. Staring at me, wide eyed, with the expression of “Mom, I was here the whole time”, laughing as I pretended that I could not see him.

The idea is to learn object permanence.

My brother, when he was young, used to close his eyes when he wanted to be alone (no matter how many people were in the room with him). He was completely convinced (I believe) that if he could not see us, that we were no where near him.

People were and are always present to each other. This is true, even if you adopt some sort of frantic philosophy in which you would argue that everything is not real. That my brother was, in fact, alone and/or there was no one in front of my son when he had his eyes covered.

I thought about these times after I read this article  the other day.

I find humans to be fascinating, we are social beings. There must be some kind of thinking that has an application to technology and how we tend to act towards each other. I mean, why do we act so terribly when we can’t see the face of the other… trolls, for example, thrive on this, I would argue that they depend on it.

I’ve been told that gossip serves a crucial social role for us humans. Gossip moderates our social behaviour… and I think that it applies to this in a certain context. So, imagine if you will, how easy it would be to scold someone you know via text or email if you did not have to see them. One would put their scorn into a few words and be as clear, concise and I might argue brutal… after all we want to make sure the point gets across.

This message puts the other end of the social interaction on the defensive. It is more likely than not, that a series of texts or emails get exchanged with a defensive end and an aggressive end. For delicate social relationships, this is probably not the best way to go about communicating.

This is so hard for people like me who hate talking on the phone. I prefer a text, or an email. I tend to not even want to talk to people. I am an introvert.

This is a modern day reliance that tends to be abused. When I sit on a board or committee, I tend to default to this. I have noticed that feelings get hurt so much more quickly over text or email. I know that I have been on the hurt end. I know I have also been on the giving end…. though not usually in giving of a complaint, but in pursuing a conversation.

So, I ponder the reliance I myself have on technology to communicate my feelings. I am trying to move away from it. Of course, I have this (these, actually) blog(s), they are a public written communication. And my blog is also subject to vitriol and complaint.

Text, email, and even blogs are devoid of any kind of social interaction. When we speak we can at the very least know that the subtle intonations are being heard (even if misheard). When we write, sarcasm doesn’t usually translate. When we speak, there is a possibility we can react to body language. When we text, we don’t.

So much is inferred through sight and hearing. I can see if the person I am speaking to has outward signs of having a bad day. I can hear if someone is making a joke. And though people miss these cues often when in person or over the phone, we are less likely to miss them than if we text.

In the days of “The FaceBook”, Twitter, email, text, instant message… we have lost the physical interface.
If you consider things like Facebook, Twitter, or even blogs you can see  how there is a modicum of backlash. Will we learn how to do this better?

When will learn to be more gentle with one another?

A safe place

If you go back to my first posts you will find them pass word protected. The reason for that is that at the time I was stuck in the middle of a melee of the sort where women behave badly against each other. I was receiving threatening calls at home, and by email, people were speaking cruelly and irresponsibly about the group of women I was working with at the time.

It was ugly… it was a very brutal demonstration of how women love to rip each other apart. It is sick, and I say that as I admit to having done that very same thing,

I don’t understand why this happens. It is almost a cruel joke. My mother might argue that it is how we keep our behavior in check. We won’t behave outside a norm for fear that we are gossiped about or something like that. Though I think she has witness women being nasty to other women as well, and would admit it is a curiosity and even cruel.

So, this is my new safe place. I have to be honest and say that I am not 100% fond of WordPress… mostly because it is not where I began my blogging life… it is not where I chronicled my pregnancy, my life as a new mother and a human navigating a cruel world. I have a loyalty to where it all began, though it is more out of pure sentimentality I suppose.

I wonder if I should import everything here and just change homes?

I just want more freedom to write honestly and I just can’t do that over at my original home.

This is why.

I probably should not post here either, but it is every so much harder to follow anonymously over here.

I want to keep this up, I  want to rant, vent, celebrate, express gratitude.

Well, I will place an intention… and see what happens.

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