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    Today my daughter and my husband are on stage, while I am at work. They are in eTc’s production of HONK, which is a musical version of the Ugly Duckling story. My mom, my son and I are going to see the show on Saturday, which will be the last performance. I chaperoned last weekend, which meant chasing down little children and getting them into their costumes.

    I snuck out into the audience to watch my daughter in her big scene, and I was so proud! Her performance was polished, engaging, spot-on. Impressive even to a theatrical perfectionist like me. I heard similar feedback from others.

    I didn’t have a clue. She never practiced in front of me. Her comedic timing, her flawless British accent, and sweet right on pitch harmonies were a complete surprise to me.

    I wonder who it matters more for, me or her, that I was here to see it and be so proud? Probably her.

    If I had left the planet in 2007 or 2008, maybe I would have seen, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell her how proud I was of her. Because I am here, she knows.

    I feel truly blessed today.

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    I honestly love happy racket.

    Right now my heart-daughter and grandbaby are asleep downstairs, my daughter is on my bed harassing me instead of making the coffee I want, but she will eventually…

    My son’s best friend, my extra kid, poked his rascally head in my door this morning to wish me happy birthday. We’re all tired and silly, because last night was opening night of “Annie Warbucks”. Tom plays the stuffy butler, Miss Peach a rascally orphan, HD (heart daughter) helped with the stage crew, and the baby (“Bubbeeee…”)kept me company as I herded children (as a chaperone) backstage. It was a little odd not being on the stage, but I have enjoyed the long quiet afternoons when Tom and Miss Peach were at rehearsal. Tom and Peach are in the Big Apple cast, so they have two more shows to shine in their big parts.

    Today I am taking the day off, because it has always been my habit on my birthday to take some time for reflection. The last four birthdays this has been especially so. I am always so overwhelmed with gratitude for another year. I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am. This awareness is bittersweet today, because this last week I lost another IBC blogsister, Ashley Warrior Mom. Her IBC battle lasted two years. Two other blogsisters are fighting like hell. I know that each day I get to spend here on this delicious planet is a gift, and each year I get to have a birthday I think about how to make the most of the year coming.

    One of the little things that makes me happy is that I have never had a bald birthday. I know that may sound like a little thing, but somehow it makes me feel like I got away with something. For my 45th birthday I had hair, and was blissfully ignorant of the thief that had snuck into my house and was preparing to wreak havoc. By the time my 46th birthday rolled around, my hair was back, thick and wavy, I was feeling much better, the herceptin was tolerable and I was NED. I had hope, and I could see a future. I guess each birthday that passes now is anchored in to that triumphant time.

    What’s ahead? Enjoying my children, more time at Lucille Packard, more writing, perhaps more theater (when another villain part comes up for a soprano I’m all over it), gratitude, more advocacy, scrapping for the end of breast cancer by 2020. My beautiful daughter is twelve. I want her and her beautiful friends to grow up in a world without the fear of breast cancer.

    Oooh, Bubbee is up. Time to be Grandmama…

    Fragile, Handle with Care, NOT!

    What a glorious thing to go backpacking and discover that the post-cancer me is not as fragile and weak as I thought! I guess it’s the fond memories of my childhood that translates into the satisfaction of “being a trooper”, which was my Dad’s way of describing someone who rolls with the punches. Do you remember getting so grubby and scraped up that it took a long shower and lots of scrubbing to determine what was dirt and what was scrapes and bruises? The delicious feeling of a well earned sunburn that brings to mind a satisfying day outside? Maybe I’m nuts, but the feeling of being a little beat up but happy makes me feel sturdy and alive.

    I met my dear friend Susan at her home on Friday, and we were immediately derailed by a late bus (to bring my godson Victor home). Nothing daunted, we drove to fetch him on the way. We were quite delayed then getting to our destination, but we were determined to get up into the mountains that very night, dark or no. Fortunately Susan’s brother Frank, nephew Ben, and another friend (new brother) Paul were already there.

    I had some trepidation about this trip. What if… what if….. what if I overwork my chemo-d heart? What if my arm swells up? What if we get lost? What if my brainfog makes me forget something important? Blah blah blah, off my brain went, but my tendency to blast forward no matter what won out, and I’m so glad.

    When I put the backpack on, I was oh, so discouraged. I was out of breath within the first 10 yards, no kidding. The straps cut into my shoulders. My heart was racing. I needed the trek pole that Susan had provided. We were at 6,500 feet, and I was not ready.

    Nonetheless, I know the only way out is through, so one foot in front of the other with frequent rests ultimately got us there. And was it ever worth it! The trek there was beautiful. It was only 3 miles, not too tough terrain, only a couple of hills, so for all my woes it was manageable.

    We spent Friday and Saturday night there. We had one whole day of nothing at all, just hanging out, visiting, exploring the magic of the place. Susan calls it Camp Medicine Wheel because there is a mountain at the compass points to the West, North and East. We entered camp roughly from the south. We camped next to a river, which lulled us to sleep each night. On Saturday, a thunder storm surrounded us on three sides, while the sky above us remained clear. It was nothing less than heaven.

    I did make a couple of relevant discoveries for cancer survivors who backpack. I was diligent about my “Alaska perfume” (bug spray), but my left arm was covered by a sleeve all of the time so I didn’t spray it. When I went to bed, I took the sleeve off. Alas, forgot to spray! After that, my friends called me Lumpy.

    It was so gratifying to hike back to the trail head with plenty of energy, having become accustomed to the altitude (and having eaten a lot of the food we carried up!), with a chipped tooth, lumpy arm, burns on both hands, lots of sunburn and bruises, and an ear-to-ear grin. No, not fragile. What a relief!

    Sunday ended perfectly, with a stop in Angel’s Camp to look at rocks (there’s an unbelievable store there) and a chance to drum. We actually stumbled upon a weekly open drum circle.

    I wonder if other survivors doubt their resilience after being beat up by cancer and the treatments we have to take to conquer it. Anybody? What about folks still in treatment?

    I know that when I was on chemotherapy it felt good to push myself a little, to walk to my radiation treatments, to do yoga, to find the edge. I had just forgotten. This weekend was a much needed, very therapeutic reminder.

    Planning the next one….

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    And for Linda, and for Pat, and others who have asked. It’s so hard to know where to start with Complementary Therapies! My first thought when I was diagnosed was that I would use all the big guns my oncologist recommended, and all the big guns from the Complementary Therapies arsenal. At the time I was diagnosed, I had been a full time professional Massage Therapist for nearly 20 years. I knew all about complementary therapies, but I had been neglecting myself, badly. I wasn’t just a wounded healer. I had been limping for a long time. I had just emerged from an awful divorce, huge work stress (the hospital where I worked was downsizing, and the pressure was on!), and my children were suffering. They were 7 and 9. I knew something had to give, but I didn’t really know how to get out of the quicksand I was in.

    When I got the diagnosis, I knew I had to fight and fight hard. I decided that I had an opportunity to heal my whole life, and that embracing that task would give me the best chance to survive. I sought healing of body, mind and spirit, and most importantly to mend the rifts between them. The word “congruence” was my operative word, and still is. So, my take on complementary therapies is really an approach rather than just a list of modalities. having said that, I pretty much used them all!

    My practices for myself:
    1. Say “yes” when anyone offered help. Accept with gratitude. Believe that I deserved the help and that giving it was a blessing to the ones who offered.
    2. Put myself first, for the first time ever in my life, no matter who it upset. I was fighting for my life, and I knew it. A total stranger told me to do this, and I believed her.
    3. Actively and deliberately sought my own happiness. It took awhile to figure out what that looked like.
    4. Made a decision to stop beating myself up, period. Nothing was gained by my perfectionism, and I was beating myself down. Now I question my tendency to self blame, and if I find something that needs to change, I take note and move on.

    I had to rely on #1 a lot, because I was not in a financial position to pay for everything I received. Still, I accepted it, and it all helped, more than the sum of it’s parts. Here’s my list:

    1. Massage Therapy. I received a massage once a week while I was receiving chemotherapy. My colleagues at the hospital did this for me voluntarily, on their own time. I will always be deeply grateful for this.

    2. Healing Touch. I received this through a Stanford University study called Healing Partners. I received one session per week for six months.

    3. Acupuncture. My mom offered to pay for this because she knew it would help. I was a struggling single mom when I went on this journey so I did not have the funds to do this. I received acupuncture once every two weeks.

    4. Guided Imagery. I believe this had a huge impact on my treatment. I used it to keep my blood cell counts up, to maximize the effectiveness of my treatments, and for healing after the treatments were over. I’ve already written a short article about that on the pages for Complementary Therapies. Excellent Guided Imagery CD’s and MP3 downloads are available from Health Journeys.

    5. Support: I went to an Art and Imagery support group. This was a combination of Guided Imagery and using art therapeutically. It was very helpful. That program closed at the hospital and I really miss it. I also found my Caringbridge site to be a huge source of support.

    6. Counseling. Fortunately for me, this was available through California Cancer Care where I received my treatments.

    7. Laughter! I didn’t do “laughter therapy” (whatever that is…I haven’t tried Laughter Yoga but I have a friend who’s into it and loves it) but at the time I was diagnosed I had been attending a comedy improv class every week, and I made sure to continue. I timed my chemotherapy so I would be up for my class, and I didn’t miss a single one! Even after my surgery, I couldn’t play, but I could watch. I’m convinced that laughing my head off every week was very good for me.

    8. Exercise is very important! I took advantage of the “Living Strong, Living Well” program at my local YMCA and did weights, cardiovascular exercise, and whatever else seemed like fun. I also did yoga at home, and some chi gong. I had a couple of videos and they worked well for me. I have a chi gong video that offers a 10 minute sequence for cleansing, called simply “chi gong for cleansing”. I am convinced that my complete recovery from surgery with my range of motion intact is because I did yoga.

    9. Nutrition: My doctor told me, “Eat what looks good to you”. I wanted to be a martinet about what I ate, but I had decided to accept all help so I indulged in comfort food when it was offered. What I did do is create a smoothie that covered all the bases, and I had that every day during chemotherapy. Now I’m a bit more careful, but not super strict. I find the information on “Food for Breast Cancer” useful and I read the research they publish.

    10. Cultivate hope, actively. I read everything I could get my hands on about recovering. The book “Remarkable Recovery” was my constant companion. I read the stories over and over, especially if I was feeling worn out by it all. The gist of what I got from it was that beating the odds was about doing it how you do it best, and it’s different for all of us.

    11. Self expression and creativity. Everybody has her own way to do this. I found blogging, and loved it. I also got tons of support online, which was a huge help. I picked up a paint brush for the first time in 20 years or so. As I went through radiation, I was also rehearsing for a musical, again for the first time in 20 years. For you it may not be this sort of stuff, it may be something else, but whatever it is, it makes your spirit hum! If you’ve forgotten what that is, it’s time to discover it again!

    12. Prayer. Whenever anyone offered to pray for me, I said yes, by all means please do! Acknowledging that my life was worth praying for, and allowing total strangers to pray for me (I was on a ton of prayer lists) was an important act of self love. There is research that supports the effectiveness of prayer, and I believe deeply that true self love sets all kinds of positive cellular happenings in motion.

    13. Substitute “Feel Everything” for “stay positive”. I heard that stay positive stuff all the time from well meaning people. Being a Pollyanna does not help. Neither does denial. What does help is honoring what you feel, give it expression, and keep things moving. I didn’t elevate my lousy mood by pretending I didn’t have it. I blogged, “feel like crap, going to bed” and then later absorbed the messages of hope from my friends on my guestbook. I cried my way through a few infusions, and then felt better. After I cried I could make art or settle into my warm bed with some hot chocolate. Everything is allowed!

    There’s my first stab at it ladies, for my dear IBC sisters and anyone else this may help. If you have any questions about what’s here so far, or want me to elaborate some more, please send me an email at elizabethdanu@rocketmail.com. What you tell me you want is what will be in Part Two. In the meantime, I am sleuthing out links and resources.

    I hope this helps!

    Love,
    Elizabeth

    I was about business as usual today, having to do with my offspring. Discussing what they had experienced, I shared that I had faced IBC in 2007.

    The woman I was talking to said, “I had that”. Whoa! She was sitting across from me behind a desk, looking just as fine as you please, had it in 1995. She didn’t want me to take her picture or make a fuss. She was not into a fuss thanks, got stuff to do.

    What’s amazing about her story is that she’s alive, and the doctors who treated her botched it one way after another. She was diagnosed Stage IIIC IBC not before, but AFTER 2 botched surgeries where they took the wrong part of the breast! The third surgery yielded the proper diagnosis, MRM, only one breast, not bilateral because “we don’t do that”. Lots of dreadful chemo after (yes, after!) the surgery, which did not include herceptin of course because even though her cancer was Her2+ herceptin did not exist. Then, she did not get radiation either!

    Yikes! And there she is, cool as a cucumber, telling me about it!

    Go figure. Sometimes the best care in the world does not do what we want it to, sometimes the worst in the world doesn’t stop us from conquering. The happy medium is that these days, when women and doctors know more than they have ever before, and patients are full on players in their own story, more and more of us are going to beat it and get on with it, and decide for ourselves whether “making a fuss” is useful or not.

    So much for statistics, prognosis, or any other attempt to predict the outcome of anything!

    I guess what this reinforces for me is that always, always, anything is possible.

    I continue to make a big fuss, to help keep things moving forward in the right direction as much as I can, for all of those who can’t.

    My 15 year IBC survivor friend is quietly doing a whole world of good where she is. She is impacting the next generation, and I’m so glad that she’s still around, doing what she’s doing. She is someone I will run into frequently in my everyday life. Now every time I see her I have another reason to smile, and smile big.

    Here is the post that started the Army of Lego Princesses

    The Army of Strong, Brave Princess is growing. Go to Toddler Planet and follow the link to Annie’s blog, and believe that this world is full of good people!

    I ran into a friend today, one of my theater buddies. Our two daughters talked and played games on our cell phones while we had a good visit, a hard one too. She is terribly worried about a dear friend of hers, another mother fighting cancer. Felicia shared her ambition to involve her school in a massive fundraising effort for cancer research.

    We had stopped into a store earlier in the afternoon that is run by a breast cancer survivor. She’s got this cute little shop on B street in downtown San Mateo, dedicated to making a difference. You can find out more about her at www.livingpeacefullystore.com. I found out that Barb was a cancer survivor when I asked her about the “Cancer Sucks” bear she had on display. I used to wear a badge on my bucket hat that said the same thing! It made me smile.

    Felly and I got matching little heart necklaces with a peace sign inside. Hers is pink, mine is purple. After we visited the store, we got some frozen yogurt and she told me what she wants to do. She is envisioning car washes, bake sales, maybe a musical theater production, all to raise money for cancer research. I think she was inspired because the lady who runs the store has a son in Felicia’s P.E. class.

    How many of our children have been touched? How many want to do something, and don’t know who the others are in their community that also want to do something? I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

    It’s a mighty good world, with good folks in it. Yes, there is all kinds of ugliness, violence, want, disease. And, joining together to do something about these things is such a deep satisfaction, such exhilaration, such hope. Today instead of being paranoid about my aches and pains (I have a spot at the front of my right hip that is bothering me, stretching like a nut so I can make it go away and stop worrying) I can focus on what I am able to do, and remind myself to take care of myself so I can keep doing it.

    Susan, what you inspire in others inspires me. The disease you face stinks and what your courage in the face of it draws from people is simply amazing and wonderful. Now that little lego princess is on my desk too, every time I turn on my computer.

    Rock on Princess!

    I got this delicious link from my dear friend Ann today. This is well worth the three minutes or so it takes to watch. Click on the link and start your Friday night with a big smile!

    A young man and his hummingbird buddy

     

    I was in Sedona for the Christmas of 2008.  I declared myself AWOL because I was there alone, accountable to nobody.

    My children were with their dad for Christmas, my fiance was working a lot, and I knew that by the following Christmas my children would be with me and their new stepfather.  It was one of those sudden, undeniable urges that I’ve learned to listen to.  It was everything I wanted it to be and more!

    I blogged on my caringbridge site, I hiked, I sought out the famous energy vortexes, I gleefully took myself out to a nice dinner on Christmas eve.  I enjoyed my own company, with no one to entertain me but myself.

    The last time I had enjoyed such a long period of solitude was in 1988, when I rode my loaded bicycle down the Pacific Coast alone.  It was an amazing, transformative trip.  Solitude and self determination have a way of peeling away layers, revealing what really nurtures my spirit and what I want the most in my life.  It was the perfect thing to do to settle into the next stage of my healing, when I would no longer be receiving any chemicals at all, when I would try to move forward into my post cancer life with excitement and not fear.

    The first 2-3 years are the most critical after IBC.  What’s good and bad about it is that if it bites again, it tends to do it quickly.  My challenge was to not be distracted by the awareness of this, to have faith that I would continue to get stronger.  My mentor, Jean, said “the trick is to act as if you have control while realizing that you don’t.”.  Not easy certainly, but necessary.

    It has now been nearly four years since I was diagnosed in February of 2007.  I think I need to go AWOL again soon!

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