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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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    Is it yours?  Is it your family’s?  Does it belong to your kids, your job, your partner, is it hostage to dreams you have tucked away for the future until you could ransom them?  Do you value it?  Why?

    When I was diagnosed with IBC in 2007, my life had become unbearably stressful.  I was overwhelmed by the fallout of a horrible divorce, I was struggling to make ends meet, my children were hurting, and I came perilously close to losing my job which had been a labor of love for many years.  When the doctor who did my ultrasound and biopsy told me “this is very possibly a cancer”, my first thought was

    Oh no.  My poor children.  No.  This can’t be happening.

    I knew I had to survive for them.  Then I realized I had to survive for me.

    Four days later, I was at a restaurant waiting for my breakfast, passing time while my car was being serviced.  I got the call from Dr. Borofsky.  Yes, the mass in my breast and the lumps under my left arm were cancer.  I was sitting next to a couple having breakfast, and I tried not to call attention to myself.  After the call, my breakfast arrived.  I tried to eat it, but it tasted like sawdust.  As I was struggling with my breakfast, the couple got up to leave.

    The woman approached me and said,

    “Honey, you’re gonna be all right.”  I was speechless.  While I recovered, she continued.  I remember her face ever so clearly.  Big blue eyes boring into mine, red hair, her expression deadly earnest.

    “Do you have children?”  I nodded tearfully.

    “Well, this is their time to learn that you come first.  Nothing, and I mean nothing is more important than taking care of you right now.  Do you understand?”  by this time I was really crying.  She went on, “and when you get scared, you just feel around in you left back pocket, and I’ll be there, praying for you.”   I blubbered, “promise?”  and she did.  She meant it.  To this day I don’t know that woman’s name.  I never saw her again.  I will always be grateful to her.

    Later, my struggling seven year old daughter would tell me “ever since you got cancer, all you care about is yourself!”  That was hard, but self care for me was not negotiable.  If I gave my life away, how was I to love my life enough to tell my body to hold fast?  Whose life was I fighting for, if not for mine?

    It was tough at first.  I had to learn to pay attention to subtle signals from my heart and spirit about what I wanted to experience, what I wanted to do with the windows of strength and focus that I had.  Before my surgery, I painted my room purple so I would be enveloped in my favorite color while I recovered.  I rediscovered painting after decades of not even picking up a brush.  I made my Bay Area stage debut as the White Witch in “Narnia”.  I blogged on Caringbridge.  I accepted every offer of help I received, as a heart opening opportunity.  I went to my comedy improv class every Tuesday and laughed like a lunatic.  I made sure that even if I felt like crap, I saved some juice to sing my children their lullabies.

    Happiness and satisfaction made my body hum.  I chugged along through chemotherapy uneventfully without interruption, which was the goal.  Creating a life that fed my soul kept me engaged in doing everything I needed to do to get well.  Self care was not a task, it was love.  It was love for myself, love for the people who cared about me, love for my children, love for this beautiful world which I am still blessed to inhabit.

    Today my life looks very different.  I had been a professional full time massage therapist and teacher for nearly twenty years, and now I had a moderately gimpy left arm and not so much stamina.  So other things, things I loved, came to fill in the gap.  I provide massage for very ill pediatric inpatients at a children’s hospital, and I teach theater arts to children in an elementary school.   The art that began to emerge after my year of treatments was shown locally, and people actually bought prints!  I discovered through Caringbridge (which I highly recommend) that I loved blogging, so here I am blogging again!

    Having discovered who I’ve been hiding all these years, I brought her to light and my husband of just over a year found me.

    So, with all this ”me” focus, what happens to my kids?

    I laugh with them.  I nurture their dreams, and they get to see that I am nurturing mine.  I spend more time with them.  I do shows with my daughter.  My son just popped his head into my room and said something ridiculous, cracked me up, then left without a word.  I take them and their horde of friends to the beach.  When I have been taking care of myself, I have the patience of Job, which is quite an asset with a tween girl and a teenage boy.  Most of all I am still here, with them.

    That red headed woman was an angel.

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