Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rant - Hair, Self Image

Rant first - you know how we should never touch a pregnant woman's belly without asking first? Consider this the same protocol for a woman with hair regrowth because of cancer treatments. And know how you're never to comment on a pregnant woman's weight? Consider this the same protocol when commenting on a cancer-hero's skin color, weight, hair curl and color. Be kind, be gentle, please.

Now, for today's post: 

I've changed, inside and out. I don't feel the same, I don't look the same. Gotta mourn what I'm leaving before I can embrace the new. God grant me the serenity . . . 

 September 2012
November 2012
December 2012
May 2013
June 23, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


I found out yesterday that my bone density decreased immensely during the past nine months. I went from 12% to 23%, from 3.1 to 7.1 (both doubling), throwing me full-fledged into the osteoporosis realm. In layman's terms, this means my risk of fracture doubled. This is not good, and does help explain why doing absolutely nothing but walking caused my foot stress fracture.

This also means that my bones will take longer to heal - another patience lesson!

My doctor yesterday gave me several options for medication, and of course I take my calcium with D and Magnesium religiously. I also do aerobic exercise and weight-bearing exercises.

The most disappointing thing I heard yesterday was, "Yes, you are at an increased risk of fractures, so you are going to need to be careful with your activities." No way, no way. I am 54 years old, and I will not wrap myself in bubble-wrap. I have no plans to sky dive or parasail, but I will live an active life (and wear a helmet when on my bike) - as soon as these bones heal! 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lessons I'm Not Learning

1. Asking For Help
Today I drove my car for the first time in 17 days.
I have asked folks (even strangers) to: be my taxi service, open my pill bottles, help me out of the tub, take me shopping for clothes to pull on, pull my clothes on, cut my vegetables, change the sheets on my bed, put my groceries in my car - then take them out of my car and put them away, vacuum my floors, plant my flowers, dead-head my flowers . . .
2. Giving Thanks
Throughout my back and cancer journeys I've said thank you a million and one + times. These thank you's were often accompanied by a note, a crocheted star, bread, or other gift. See, I never thought my words were enough - my "thank you" needed a physical token in order to be properly served.

Well, I'm more helpless now than I was while undergoing cancer treatment, and this has knocked me to my knees in the "thank you" world. Doing anything "more" than giving a thank you is pretty darn impossible. My words must be enough, the intentions of my heart are in every letter of this phrase -

3. Being Gentle
Yeah - I've not been kind to myself. I'm my worst enemy. Post cancer treatments I figured I could literally "get well soon" if I pushed myself hard enough. Then my bike accident, and I can't push! I have not exercised in 16 days (a record for me), I've slept in, moved slower, and the only thing I can "do" is "be." I am changing, there are days I don't recognize myself, but I am trying to welcome that new me into my life - willingly! I am doing my best to practice Karma on myself.

When will I learn? Hopefully the lessons of these past 18 months will sink in -
Here's a story from Hannah - she shares a similar perspective.

Talkeetna, Alaska, June, 2011

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fear and Loathing (aka Anger Management) III

Certainly life is filled with bumpy rides, yet I don't think it is in The Plan to stay in a closet and not acknowledge the fears and thrills life has for us. Yet acknowledging that fear can really be scary, putting us in a very vulnerable place.

I had a friend who shared with me a time when his anger controlled him. He and his wife had been fighting. He got so mad, he picked up the front of his couch, ready to turn it upside down. He was facing his big living room picture window, and when he looked up, his reflection was that of an ugly mean man, and outside he saw images of monsters laughing and applauding him. He was stunned - he calls this his life-changing moment. He put down the couch and walked away. He said he knew he had a decision to make. Was he going to serve the monsters, the anger, or was he going to acknowledge the anger, work through that fear, and move forward in hope?

I think of this story often (I wish it was only occasional) when I feel anger, frustration, fear, anxiety taking over my body. Actually it's mostly when I'm frustrated, before I get angry - I find little these days that truly angers me. If I am smart, before the frustration blossoms, I think, "Whom am I serving with this feeling, and do I want 'them' to win?" My religious upbringing teaches me that anger, frustration, fear - are all emotions Satan wants us to have, that when I'm feeding these emotions - and particularly when I act on them - inflicting injury on myself and others, then I am following Satan, and he wins. And the more Satan wins, the more I become a member of his team, following Satan, not following Christ.

And you know what - fear, frustration, anger? They can steal time like nothing else. I cherish my time - I get angry when my time is abused by someone/thing else, but more often than not, I am the one who chooses to waste my time when I'm stuck with these emotions. I see it as time-vomit, all over me. Not only have I been puked on, but now I have to clean it up, and that takes time - and emotional energy - energy I could be using for hope, joy, happiness.

When my emotions take over, I try to march my rational thought into the picture, kick emotions out, and "think clearly." It's amazing how much emotional energy I give to things/people/circumstances that really do not warrant my time.

I can usually acknowledge my frustration or anger and work it backwards -  Why am I feeling this way? Where does this come from? Is this serving any legitimate value? I find the root of the issue, the "real" problem when I do this. Pema Chodron in his book, When Things Fall Apart, writes, "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."

Take cancer - anger, frustration, fear, anxiety are all part of the cancer package. Working it backwards - what am I afraid of? The unknown? Wasted time? Pain? Being disabled? Dying? What's the worst that can happen? Can I deal with that? Why? Why not? What can I do? Get the best doctors, gain knowledge, get support. Then move forward. BE. Trusting myself, trusting the process. Then surrender - and in surrendering, win. This too shall pass, this too shall pass.

This has gotten long, but for me it's important to put these thoughts down. I refuse to live in fear, in anger, in hatred. It steals my time, turns me into someone I don't like, and the monsters win.

So when I crashed on my bike - ahh, just minor. It's an accident, no anger lost here, in fact, I haven't smiled and laughed, with joy, like this in quite some time (except for my wild crazy post-cancer hair). I have wondered if perhaps I was taking my "get well soon," mindset a little too seriously, and this is my opportunity to lighten up. My honest sister told me, yesterday, that I was "pathetic." I am! Pathetically hilarious - worth every ounce of any shaking of my head I get, or give. Life goes on - it does.

"Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination." (Roy Goodman)

I CHOOSE HAPPINESS - how about you?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

F & L Part II

Willa Cather, one of my most favorite authors, having written painfully lovely books, such as O Pioneers, My Antonia, Death Comes to the Archbishop, in her memoir about her days in the Mediterranean, “Le Lavandou,” writes, “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame.” 

After a summer of life-changing experiences, I came to the awareness that my happiness could no longer be postponed, dreaming of a day when . . . was not what this life is about. Barbara DeAngelis teaches, “Sometimes it does take courage to have a real moment, and to be open to whatever it reveals to you. But the alternative is avoidance, denial, and a life spent running from yourself” (Real Moments, 75). I could run no longer; I had to stop. Our divorce was final on Aug. 7, 2003. I wondered if I had displeased God, but I knew He loved me in spite of myself – and that He would not condemn me for my actions. As odd as this might sound, in this state of being I found happy. I was free – and in a good way – free to be true to myself and not held down by the angst of the world I had lived in. Chicken Soup author, Alan Cohen, suggests, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure [even if it is miserable], to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful” (Real Moments, 97). This was my realization.

Fast forward to today. Over the years I have learned that my happiness was determined by my disposition, not my situation, and that God’s plan is a plan of happiness. He wants me to be happy. Happiness come from within and radiates out. Life isn't easy – I don’t know that it ever will be, but one thing I do know is that God hears and answers my pleadings, my prayers. My nightly mantra is this: "God is Love; Love is God." The universality of this phrase brings me happiness.

Although happiness is perhaps a perception – I do know that my happiness is not based on accumulating things, or on making sure I have a laugh a day, or a closet filled with J.Jill clothes, or a big house on the hill. It’s not based on how simply I can glide through life, avoiding obstacles. I am an explorer – always searching, always on the lookout – over the door leaving my home is the saying, “Go out for adventure, Come home for love.” I am home – with myself, finally. My happiness comes from being in love with living, in taking care of myself and giving to others. I am finding happiness in my day-to-day life – my happiness is in the journey, back-roads and freeways, dirt paths and rattling bridges; my circumstances have given me an opportunity to explore my outlook, and I choose happiness.

Anger Management on Friday -

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Part I

OK, this post has absolutely nothing to do with Las Vegas, but the title has a good ring to it. However, I do want to write about fear and loathing. So many times this past 18 months I've been asked how I have kept such a positive outlook during my physical limitations. I've been mulling this over for a couple of weeks, and I think I'm ready to share. This is my journey, and I'm standing butt-naked here, but it's time for me to take this risk:  

Martha Washington is attributed to having said, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” 
A poor marriage and  many years of looking outside of myself (as well as a certain amount of immaturity) left me an angry, bitter, hardened woman. Neglect and indifference had taken their toll on me, and my spirit was imploding. On the outside I accepted church callings, signed up for civic service, excelled in school, was a phenomenal mother, and I hated my life. That fa├žade was difficult to carry, so one day I asked God to leave me alone, and I walked down that sandy beach all by myself – all by myself. He was not carrying me. I abandoned God, not the other way around. The “Footprints in the Sand” poem (written by Mary Stevenson in 1936) I kept hearing left me disgusted me – a dreamer sees himself walking along a beach with God. He sees footprints – sometimes one set, sometimes two. He asks God about the times he (dreamer) sees only two footprints, reprimanding God for not being with him in his times of need. God replies that this is when He is carrying the dreamer. The idea that I couldn’t take care of my issues without His help did not make sense to me. Reading this poem, analytically, contradicted what I knew – You see, when there was only one set of footprints, they were mine, because I chose not to let God into my life. I was disappointed and angry with Him. I abandoned God. 

I couldn’t help but think that if my reality was going to be a re-presentation of eternity, why, maybe I’d rather burn in hell than live forever in the hell I was already in. I felt hopeless; my life was dark, dry, dismal, deprived of even an ounce of happiness. I had no security, no adventure. LDS Church prophet, Thomas S. Monson recently said, “Your future is as bright as your faith.” I had no faith, no future, no vision. I had given all that I could give, and I was empty. 

And then one day I decided I was tired of letting others control my internal happiness. I had spent years thinking it was wrong for me to want happiness, and being miserable was the only other option. In Deuteronomy 30:19 I read about another option, “Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live”! I was sorting through some boxes holding my past lives, and I found a handout I had given some women as a part of a religious studies lesson, “Sometimes we’re too busy existing we forget to live,” and I knew my future was now, and it was time to get out of my darkness and back into the light – to live. Little did I know this would lead me to inviting Christ to walk with me down that sandy beach – two sets of footprints instead of only mine. I decided I wanted loving Heavenly Parents in my life rather than vindictive, vengeful parents. I spent many hours, sometimes days, contemplating my relationship with any higher power. One autumn Sabbath, the Primary children sang the song, “A Child’s Prayer.” 

Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.

Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
"Suffer the children to come to me."
Father, in prayer I'm coming now to thee.

Pray, he is there. Speak, he is list'ning.
You are his child; His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer; He loves the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav'n. (LDS Children’s Songbook #12)

So I prayed, to my Heavenly Father; I am His child. Shakespeare, in Measure for Measure (a play that deals with issues such as mercy, justice, truth, pride), asserts, “Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know” (Stumbling on Happiness, 60). I did just that; I began feeling the intenseness with which I loved my children – how all I wanted was for them to be happy – to have hope in their lives. I thought about my parents – they wanted the same for me. They are happy when I’m happy, sad when I’m sad, and they pray for me when I’m weak, alone, angry, hurting, just like I do for my own children. 

This was my epiphany – and the answer to my prayers as I put this simple song to its test. My God is a loving God who had a Son who loved His Father and siblings enough to give His life that I might spend my lifetime living rather than existing;  I could have faith in a bright future. If my God loved me as much as I loved my children, as much as my parents loved me, then I would choose to live in this light; I would choose happiness, and I would work as hard as I could to find happiness and then to live in that goodness. M. Catherine Thomas, wrote, in Spiritual Lightening, about her own journey of healing: “To choose positive, affirming, tolerant, forgiving, Spirit-filled energy over negative energy is to choose godliness over evil. I think it’s that simple. There are finally only two forces at work on us, and they are continually at work; and until we learn to discern and reject most negative energy, we will be victimized by it” (142).


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


One morning last week, when my alarm went off at 5:30am, I wondered what it would be like to not wake up so early (after all - I have no one to wake up except myself), and wake without an alarm. The past few days I have gotten that wish (be careful what you wish for), and I have decided that I am an early riser, on purpose.

I like being healthy.

I like moving my body. I have been physically active most of my adult life - teaching water aerobics, walking with friends, stretching and strengthening with yoga, dancing - and discovering Nia, lifting weights, and doing weight-bearing exercises.

I eat a healthy diet, and I take the adage that my body is a temple pretty seriously. I believe in Karma, even in a physical, temporal way. What goes around/in, comes around/out.

Three years ago, after putting on some weight, I was introduced to Cody, a personal trainer. (Jenna and I had a trainer years ago, and I wasn't terribly impressed with him, or the mega-fashion-show gym. I am not a big-box exerciser.) Cody and I have been "together" now for three years. I appreciate the individualized workout plan and attention I get. 

With Cody's help, I exercised throughout my cancer treatments, even if it meant doing yoga and stretching. She has become more than a "You can do one more rep," trainer - she is my nutritionist, my confidante, my cheerleader, my friend.

A couple of weeks ago she told me to she needed six months to get me back to the weight and strength I was at before cancer. I trust her; I have no reason to do otherwise. In fact, I am/was lifting the same weights already, and this week I was going to begin training for a 5k.

I will be patient, but yoga on Saturday, 7:30am. I think I'll set my alarm.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

10 Things

 My answer to, "What were you thinking when you crashed on your bike?" I was thinking, "I am living my life without regrets; cancer does this to folks. Me included."

10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer
By Dr. Lissa Rankin
June 7, 2013
As a physician who interviewed women who had survived breast cancer . . . who studied patients who experienced spontaneous remissions from cancer . . . I discovered that those who had overcome cancer shared one remarkable thing in common. They had all faced death and made a conscious decision to live every day like it might be their last. The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these people were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Curious what I learned?
Here’s what these courageous people taught me about how to live. 

1. Be unapologetically YOU. 
People who survive cancer tend to get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.

2. Don’t take crap from people. 
People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you sell out your authenticity to stay in her good graces?

3. Learn to say no.
People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.

4. Get angry. Then get over it.
People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats.  They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay upset. They release resentment. But they don’t stuff their feelings.

5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.

6. Do it now. 
Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Leave that deadbeat husband. Prioritize joy. Live like you mean itNOW.

7. Say “I love you” often. 
People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.

8. Take care of your body.
People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid toxic poisons. Get enough sleep. Above all else, prioritize self care.

9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.
People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”

10.  Take risks.
People who survive cancer have faced their fears and gotten to the other side.  They know life is for living because they almost lost it. True aliveness and real joy lie in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings.  Live like you might die tomorrow.

Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for a life threatening diagnosis to test out how much you want to live?

Monday, June 10, 2013


This is what has happened in the past 5 days:

I hurt my foot, thought it might be a cramp. Played with grandchildren as the pain intensified.

I couldn't exercise walk. I called an orthopedic doctor who is a friend of the family. His office could get me in at 4:15pm.

So, I decided to go for a short bike ride, because that wouldn't put pressure on my foot.  Blocks away, at the driveway-lie entrance to a service station, my bike moving from asphalt to concrete (crazy busy intersection, so I wanted to get off the road), my tires edged in the gutter, rather than moving over the bump, I was thrown from my bike, me going north onto the concrete, and my bike going south onto the asphalt.

My left elbow smacked the ground first with the rest of my arm, then face, then knees following.

To make a really long story short (besides the fact that typing with 5 fingers is ridiculously slow), I had surgery. The doctor inserted a plate and screws. said my elbow was shattered. I see him in 2 weeks.

Saturday and Sunday:
Mostly a fog, because I have learned the importance of managing my pain.

I picked up a boot for my right foot this morning.Doctor's PA wants to see me next Monday, thinks I have fractures in my hand and wrist!

I've been surprisingly upbeat - but hey, it's not cancer! Here's to healing!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Susan's Story - Happy Endings

My boss/family doc recommended I see the same oncologist he'd been seeing. Great recommendation! Another good AND personable doctor. He too, spent a good hour with my husband and me. Answered every question and even gave us his cell phone number so we could call him any time we needed to. That didn't end up being necessary but it was a comfort. My regimen was Adriamycin/Cytoxin every 2weeks for 4 cycles, then Taxol weekly for 12 weeks. I also got a shot of Neulasta after each A/C treatment to keep my blood count up so I wouldn't have to miss any treatments. There are lots and lots of potential side effects from these meds. A few I experienced included "chemo acne" - painful cystic acne all over my head, face, and even under my breasts. It hurt to shower. I didn't have teenage acne anywhere near that badly! I developed an extreme pain in my back from the Neulasta, but only once and it was 90% better the next day. Then my thumb nail beds started to hurt. At first I thought I was texting too much! Then the rest of my nails hurt - fingers and toes. Then all my nails turned brown. The acne and fingernail side effects were not mentioned in any of the literature I had. Later, during the Taxol treatments, I didn't get nauseated (I didn't have nausea with the A/C treatments either) but NOTHING TASTED GOOD. My sense of taste was totally altered. All I could or wanted to eat was a bowl of oatmeal in the morning and a Boost supplement for lunch. I lost 40 pounds! I had plenty more to spare and even wish they'd make a diet pill that caused the same effect! 

All through that I was able to work at my job, though only three days a week instead of my usual four in order to accommodate chemo on Fridays. I had a mediport placed just under my right collar bone after one of my veins became unusable. I was able to have blood drawn from there, get chemo through there and have a blood transfusion through there! It worked out great for me! At one point I became anemic enough that I got out of breath walking a few feet! Hence the transfusion. Didn't have to miss chemo, though. I really didn't want to have to prolong that if I could help it. On June 1, 2012, a year ago today as I write this note, I had my last treatment! 

In August, I had my reconstruction surgery on BOTH breasts and the plastic surgeon removed the mediport. He created a new nipple on the right breast, and a few weeks after healing from that, his P.A. tattooed an areola. It's the only tattoo I have or will EVER have!

What I've shared here with you so far, are some of the facts relating to my diagnosis and treatments and surgeries. These are important to me and I hope helpful to anyone who may read this. More important than the facts of what I've endured, are the many blessings I received throughout this little walk. Countless friends near and far offered prayers, sent cards, provided meals, cleaned my house and my co-workers - including my boss - painted four rooms in my house! My husband and daughter were a constant source of comfort. For many years, though, I've asked in my daily prayers for a greater knowledge of my Savior's atonement and how it applies to me. I've endured other challenges in my life - losing my mother a week after my daughter was born, watching my daughter endure her own trials, some as a result of poor choices. (I learned what unconditional love is in that situation!) 

However, I didn't feel like I KNEW the Savior like I needed to. Then I got cancer. I had absolutely no control of that other than to make and keep appointments and do what I was told by doctors I came to trust completely. I also learned to trust my Savior completely. Matthew 11:28-30 says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (KJV) I'd learned years ago, that when farmers made yokes for their oxen, they'd measure them and fashion the yokes specifically to those measurements. The yoke could not be reversed because then it wouldn't fit properly and the oxen would be uncomfortable and or not be able to perform their tasks. Each of us has our own yoke. I can't wear anyone else's yoke. It wouldn't fit. We are yoked to Jesus Christ. He carries our yokes! Now it makes sense!

I literally felt the burden of cancer being carried by my Savior. That was one of the countless things He endured in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He carried His cross to Calvary, and as He breathed His last breath before fulfilling His Father's will. I felt no fear. I shed no tears. I was never discouraged. Any pain I suffered was easy to bear. I have no concerns for my future because I know without a doubt that with Him I did and can endure all things. I just have to let Him do what He says He will do. I am not perfect, and I'm certain to stumble. However, I will never look at my cancer experience as anything but a blessing, and if I have to go through it again, ever, I will be grateful because it will mean I will be able to take that walk with Him again.

Susy McGowan