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    I am amazed over and over again by how the things that come out of my mouth for the benefit of others are invariably for me also.  I had a moving conversation with a client last week, which left both of us breathless.  She was deeply stressed and had been coping with far too many overwhelming events in her life.  I had shared a bit about what I learned from facing cancer that I thought might be helpful.  She asked me how I coped with the fear of the cancer coming back.

    I surprised myself by telling her that dying doesn’t scare me.  It’s dying without completing the urgent demands of my soul that scares me.  When I have accomplished what matters to me in this life, I can go.  I do not fear dying.  I was with my father when he died of cancer at age 44.  I know without question that death is not the end.  I know what a body looks like with nobody in it, and it’s just a discarded shell.

    On the day my father died, I felt him all around me.  I felt his love.  I felt the power of who he really was, as the Big Him.  I was cradled in peace of a kind I have never experienced since.  From that day, I have no doubt that I will not cease to exist the day I die.

    I needed to be reminded of what I have yet to do.  I have been off course.

    After that conversation, I took a little time the next day to revisit what was imperative for me.  I am going to be fearless and share.  Doing this will establish between you and me that I am committed to keeping this at the forefront of my mind and my days, so I can leave when the time comes with no regrets.

    The Six Imperatives:

    1.  I need to write.  I have been told many times that I have a book to write.  I know I have a story to tell.  I must tell it.

    2.  I need to sing.

    3.  I need to finish raising my children.  They were 7 and 9 when I was diagnosed.  I got to get them this far.  I’m not done yet.

    4.  I need to leave no unfinished business.  That means that the clutter in my house and garage are not left for my kids to clean up, among other things.

    5.  I need to see the world.  I have always wanted to do that!  Somehow I must make it happen.

    6.  I need to master the art of living from my spirit and not my limited ego.  I have had friends joke that I want to be Mother Theresa.  While I don’t feel called to go work in the slums of Calcutta, I do aspire to have the kind of trust that she did.  Love takes risks, fear lives in safety.  I aspire to live boldly.

    These six agreements are between me and my soul.  The people who are in my life, who I love, are people I trust to support these imperatives.  I have the most wonderful friends and the dearest husband in the world.

    When I got sick, I hadn’t been on a stage in 20 years. Now I am singing in a quartet, and we rehearse every Tuesday. I don’t know how I survived without this.  I discovered how much I loved to write when I started my Caringbridge blog.  It started as a way to keep people informed, and it became my lifeline.  When I emerged from treatment, everything was beautiful to me.  The world sparkled.  I was in a state of bliss much of the time, continually grateful to be alive, expecting the miraculous.  I told myself I would not lose this feeling, but over time I did.

    I will not name my client to protect her privacy, but if you are reading this now you know who you are.  Thank you, thank you!

    Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all”.  I will not fall asleep and miss the adventure!

    Yes, I’m still here! I got caught up in the delicious madness of Narnia. We had a great run. My daughter made me proud, I found new levels of wickedness, and my husband was delightfully typecast as Father Christmas. He always is kid furniture, and for this show he was double kid furniture! Every moment backstage his lap was occupied. A wonderful time was had by all.

    In November, I had a revelation. It has given me back my life and my future. It was suggested to me that I have my son evaluated for ADHD. As I went through the process, I was startled to discover that what I was hearing applied to me. I proceeded to get myself evaluated. At the age of 51, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I have had it all my life.

    Imagine, the combination of ADHD and chemobrain! No wonder I felt like I couldn’t get any traction! Now I understood why I have spent so much of my life in overwhelm.

    I was, strangely, not in overwhelm when I fought cancer. I went into hyperfocus, much the same way I did whey I bicycled the Pacific Coast by myself in 1988. I knew the goal and the path, and I had faith that I would get there. When normal life resumed and I had to juggle many interests and responsibilities, I was overwhelmed.

    So, the diagnosis was a revelation. The most amazing part was that I stopped beating myself up for being a flake, undisciplined, and underachiever, blah blah blah.

    No one begrudges a slower time running the mile to someone who has one leg shorter than the other. It’s a simple matter of brain chemistry. My frontal lobe doesn’t have enough available dopamine. Exit self judgment, enter partnership with my wildly creative brain. I love my brain. I love how creative and intuitive it is. I just lost some other stuff to have that. So, during December, after I got the formal diagnosis, I began to research. While I was waiting to see the doctor again, I learned all kinds of tricks to work with my brain. It has been extraordinary.

    In January I saw the doc and she prescribed Wellbutrin. For me it is a miracle drug. The static in my head is much reduced, and often it’s not there. Instead of everything I have to do feeling equally urgent (prompting me to freeze) I know how to decide what comes first.

    My original intention was to try medication so I could feel what a more functional frontal lobe feels like. After researching Wellbutrin, I found to my relief that it actually has some other benefits that feel good to me. Preliminary research in mice suggests that it may have cancer preventative properties, because it reduces inflammation. It’s all good. We’ll see.

    Right now I am catching up on all the balls I have dropped in the last five years. Woo-Hoo!

    If you have left a comment recently, please forgive me. I will moderate soon. I have some spam to sift through. Aaaargh!

    Happy New Year!

     

    Well, here it is. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fortunately I am very, very busy, rehearsing for Narnia. Yes, I am the White Witch again! Five years ago, I was rehearsing. My daughter was 7. Now she’s 13, and playing the part of Susan. My husband, who I had just met in 2007, is playing Father Christmas. Five years ago I was a lot skinnier. My husband says I was scrawny. I was sporting the Annie Lennox look.

    Breast Cancer Awareness month is hard. While I so appreciate the funds that are raised for research, I detest the sea of pink and the pink labels on things so people will buy. It’s the good and the greedy all mixed together. My daughter confessed that she hates it as well. All during the month of October, she is reminded that she could have lost her mother. Two women on my support list announced that they are stopping treatment this week. It’s hard.

    All the dancing, writing, driving, working, has made my muscles sore. I am sore on my right side, and I noticed it just below my ribcage on the right side. I began to worry about liver mets. That happens every so often. An ache or a zing of some kind, and I worry. Someone on the list had a recurrence 6 years out. I don’t like hearing those stories.

    I stretch, I take care of myself, I watch the aches and pains, but mostly right now I’m having a blast. It’s family theater. The cuteness factor is extremely high, with little woodland fairies, animals, and cruelies, who are the witch’s minions. I have the most delightful little dwarf, my personal henchman, a ten year old named Amy. The adults in the show are there to do something magical with their kids. I appreciate all of them so much!

    If you want to see some great theater (really! We have fabulous talent directing this year), go to www.bayareaetc.org and get tickets to see the “Wardrobe” cast. We perform Friday night November 2, Sunday Matinee on the 4th, and Saturday November 10.

    When I started this blog, I came to know several other survivors in the blogospere. It is painful to me this October that they are all gone, all but one. At least the ones I knew well. I know it’s not because none of us survive. I know for myself that moving away from life being about cancer and into the next chapter tempts us to forget that people need to know we’re here. Many who make it get quieter, as life resumes. I have done that many times.

    For those at the beginning, know that I am one of many. It has been over five years. I’m still here. At the moment, cackling madly, turning little children to stone, singing fantastic music, and sharing the stage with my beautiful teenage daughter.

    Now, to bed.

    I have been in the middle of a five year crisis. I got a little off track. Fortunately, not far, just a little. I have course-corrected and I feel excited about life again.

    When I faced IBC in 2007, I felt deep in my bones that I would be all right. This wasn’t even logical, which fortunately I didn’t know. I just felt intuitively that the path to my survival was the path of total congruence. This is a loaded word for me. It means integrity, and by this I mean true. My life had to be the truest, more joyful expression of me that I could make it, or I wouldn’t make it. I felt deeply that I had to uncover all the joy in my life that I had been putting off until it was my time. In February of 2007, I knew that I might not get any more time. I had to make every piece of my world a reflection of what mattered to me. It was not only what I wanted to do, but it was what I had to do to get well.

    As I emerged from chemotherapy and surgery, I was back into my creativity full swing after having let it sleep for decades. I started making art, and had an art show at the Healing Store at the hospital where I was working. Some people bought prints. It was exhilarating.

    As I began my radiation treatments, I felt called to the stage after a 20 year absence. My daughter was doing theater that summer, and I found out that the main stage show was going to be “Narnia”. Waves of joy flooded through me and I knew I had to play the White Witch. It was glorious. The music was glorious, cackling and turning little children into stone was glorious, finding that my voice had continued to develop and mature without me paying an attention to it was glorious.

    Being fully self-expressed was my lifeline. I developed boundaries, much to the dismay of my children. I decided that if it wasn’t fun, if it didn’t make me happy, I wasn’t doing it. Most of all this applied to work.

    As the terror receded into the past, I began to realize that my commitment to self expression had waned as well. Hence, the crisis. I wasn’t bouncing out of bed happy to be alive as I did back then, just after being plucked from the lion’s jaws. In 2008, I was so happy every day that choosing the path to joy was easy.

    What if from the very beginning, each of us learned to express ourselves truthfully in every area of our lives? Would we even get sick? When I got sick, I hadn’t felt much but resignation and stress for a long time. I was a burnt-out massage therapist recovering from a soul-killing marriage and ugly divorce, with two hurting children. I didn’t see any light at the end of this dark tunnel.

    When I was told “you have cancer”, I knew I had to find it or die.

    Lately I’ve been busy writing, working at the children’s hospital, seeing private clients, and looking for the opportunities I may have been missing to be wildly creative. The book got back-burner’d for a little while as I stretched my freelancing muscles for paying clients, including some web pages for a silicon valley consulting company. Bay Area e.T.c. is doing “Narnia” again, and now my daughter is an accomplished thespian who could shine in any role she gets. She will audition for the part of Susan, and I am preparing to bring an older, wiser, slightly rounder, certainly more energetic White Witch to the stage. My husband is even planning to get in on the fun.

    A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. What is it that you gotta do?

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    Thanks all who took my survey, thank you thank you!

    I have been noodling over the book, and got bogged down in how long it got. I put that one on the back burner, and what wants to be on the front burner is this one:

    Vitality from the Inside Out: 9 steps to personal congruence

    Why congruence? Because this is what I instinctively did when I received my diagnosis in 2007. I knew that I had to get 100% of me behind staying alive and thriving past my diagnosis. I wanted to raise my children. I knew that only a life that I was really excited about would be worth the fight I had in front of me. So, I set out to heal my whole life. I was seeking congruence.

    This is a word that’s been at the heart of my value system for a long, long time. It feels great to name it and look at the future through that lens. This first e-book will get my toes in the waters of e-book and internet land. Then, I’ll write some more.

    I have a few titles in mind to help my sisters who are entering Planet Cancer, and for their families. I wish I could snap my fingers and write them all at once, and have them ready tomorrow!

    My son made a powerful observation about Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. I commented that both of these children’s authors lived long, productive lives. My boy quipped, “that’s because their lives were full of peace and purpose”. What a kid. Pretty world smart for a boy of nearly 15.

    Peace and purpose is what a congruent life looks like.

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    Turning 50 was rather cool.

    I was diagnosed at 45, so getting to 50 was a double milestone. I am one month away from that magic number, five years from diagnosis.

    The truth is that breast cancer can and does recur after five years. It just doesn’t happen as often. I also read recently that late recurrences have a better prognosis than earlier ones. It’s all good. After having a bunch of tests done and coming back normal, I am breathing a great sigh of satisfaction and relief. I didn’t really understand how much I had been putting on hold.

    One thing I am amused by is that suddenly I am not in denial about being in menopause. It was as if some tiny part of my mind thought that maybe my period would come back! Now that I am at the age when my mom had hers, I can go right ahead and have a midlife crisis. I’m having fun with mine.

    First, I went with my daughter to get her contact lenses and decided that it was time for me as well. So, last Thursday I saw my own eyes right up close for the first time in twenty years. Cool! Right along with that I got to see the wrinkles and dark circles that my funky blue eyeglass frames were hiding. Hmmmm. Then there were the gray hairs…

    Yesterday I went to Lady Foot Locker and bought myself a really good pair of running shoes. I was feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days, when I lived in Seattle and ran Greenlake regularly. I have very fond memories of runner’s high. I surprised the sales guy by asking him, “which shoe would you put your mom in?” It was a great question and I got a clear answer, so I went out and ran in them this morning and it felt great.

    If 50 is the new 30 (really?) then it’s downhill from here. One advantage to having so many tests and scans is that I have seen with my own eyes that I have wear and tear on my hips and low back. My doctor says that it would be strange not to have these things at my age.

    So I’m an old fart. That’s ok. Beats the alternative, it’s true. All the same, I’d like to slow it down a wee bit.

    Spring’s comin’!

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    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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