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    Wow.  Hard to believe my last post was over a year ago!  This place must look like a ghost town.  Where does the time go?

    I have an interesting job these days, that I’ve been getting used to for the last six months.  It has created a very interesting perspective on my cancer experience!  What I do is screen massage therapists for an on-demand massage network.  I work for Soothe, interviewing therapists and accepting them into the network (or not).  The part that’s taking some getting used to is that the job includes receiving 30 minute practicals from candidates.

    Sure, it’s great to get massages every day I go to work.  It’s fabulous!  My office mates tease me about my tough job, lol.

    What I didn’t think about was how it would be explaining my contraindications at sometimes three times a day, up to ten times a week.

    Before I can proceed with having a therapist give me a massage, I have to tell her about my lymphedema, the tight fascia on my left side, and the neuropathy on my feet.  At first it felt a little weird.  Now I’m used to it. It takes the edge off after you say it enough times.

    I am 5’7″, have blue eyes, spend more time at a computer than I’m used to, and I have lymphedema.  Oh, and there’s no breast there on the left.  And the sky is blue.

    Technically, I still have breast cancer, and I’m in remission.  To me, I had breast cancer.  Once I had cancer that I could see and feel, I could watch it shrink, and after surgery I could joyfully believe it was gone.  NED, no evidence of disease, means that chances are good that it’s gone.  It’s been eight years now.  If I don’t think it’s gone, and that I had (past tense) inflammatory breast cancer, I could go crazy with worry and not live my life.

    I recently started downloading and editing the Caringbridge journals that I kept while I was going through it.  Soon I found myself drawn in, even though I’m just mostly downloading.  One night after getting lost in the journals, I became fixated on the risk of late recurrence and kept myself up all night noodling on the internet and worrying.

    It’s always there.  It’s probably good to just relegate it into another fact I recite to a massage therapist so I get a great massage.

    I feel a bit sheepish for staying away from here so long!  For every woman out there who’s just been diagnosed, I’m still here.  I’ll try to be here in my cyber room a little more often.

    Blessings,

    Elizabeth

     

    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!

    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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    Well, one teen and one pre-teen. She’ll be 13 in August and she’s practicing.

    This morning I was appreciating that I didn’t have to rush so much, not the way I did in the pre-cancer days. I would, like so many parents, get myself ready for work and get my offspring ready for school, then race out the door for a busy day and not get home until the day was done. I have it set up differently now.

    They get me up. I make coffee for me and tea for them, and see that they are well fed. I pack her a lunch and give him lunch money, which is how they like it. I enjoy my coffee with them, and then I take him to high school and her to middle school. Sometimes the journey is friendly, sometimes not, usually amusing if my sense of humor is intact (sleep?). I get home and leisurely prepare to work. I either prepare to see a massage client, do some writing, or work on theater stuff for the drama club at the elementary school. It’s lovely. I am tickled to report that as of today I have replaced all the income I will lose next month when my disability expires. I have added four hours per week at the children’s hospital, and I am getting some new clients. How can I not believe in a benevolent universe?

    This morning was hilarious. My daughter, the great leaver of messes and trasher of the car, was berating me for a banana peel that I had left in a Starbuck’s cup that I then threw away. An exchange ensued, wherein she was reminded by her brother and me that she uses the back seat for her own private closet. As the volume and irritation began to crescendo, my son began singing “love is in the air” plaintively. After we dropped him off, my other child leaped over the seat into the front. It would not do to arrive at Middle School being visible in the back seat!

    When we arrived, she announced that she was going to “chill” for a moment. I stopped the engine, and she applied lip balm, sent a couple of texts, and enjoyed her favorite tween song (boring) on the radio. Then with a great flourish she exited the vehicle, it seemed to me to greet her fans.

    I sat there for a moment and thought, I could have missed this. I wouldn’t have even known what I was missing.

    I thought of my friend Susan, who had to leave her babies while they were in kindergarten. Sometimes life is unbearably cruel, even in a benevolent universe.

    Today, if the rain gives us a break, some 2nd and 3rd graders, 4th and 5th graders, the choreographer and I will dedicate a school garden.

    Life is ever so sweet today.

    Back to the mat, this time to avoid having to take even half an Ambien!

    I’ve been reading the headlines with dread, the ones about sleeping pills causing death. A new study is all over the internet, terrifying millions of insomniacs, myself included. Fortunately I was able to stick with the subject long enough to investigate further, and this sleeping pill study everyone is upset about is seriously flawed. While the study authors controlled for some variables, they failed to establish that the link between sleeping pills and early death is actually causal. It could be that whatever caused the study participants to be insomniac in the first place was what predisposed them to dying prematurely.

    All the same, yoga is cheap, has no side effects, and best of all, helps me sleep. So yesterday I got started and last night I slept very well.

    I know that yoga is essential as well for me to manage my lymphedema. I am writing a lot these days, hence the somewhat sad neglect of this blog…been busy gearing up for the designed life I’ve been envisioning since I went through treatment five years ago now. That’s right, it’s been five years! I was diagnosed in February of 2007. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I don’t forget it.

    I’m almost afraid to call my blog “life after cancer” or something similar, for fear that I’ll jinx my good fortune. I know that’s silly. If the beast were to bite me again I could always call it something else. Right now, though, cancer is in the past. I am enjoying my work at the Children’s hospital, and some regular maintenance is keeping my arm from swelling up. I am starting to add more private clients, who just magically appeared after I said I was ready. I have been very busy writing for Yahoo, both on Voices and for Yahoo News. I actually get paid to be opinionated! I love that! Here are some links if you want to check it out:

    Complementary and Traditional Treatment Together to Beat Cancer
    What Your Insomnia May Be Costing You

    It’s the writing that makes my arm the most unhappy. All of it is really fun, and I have to really be committed to self care to make it doable. The yoga really helps.

    Oh yeah, there’s the mom job too. My offspring are now as tall as I am, and I am at the endless taxi driver stage.

    Life is grand.

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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…

    I wonder sometimes where I’d be today if I hadn’t faced the beast.

    Would I still be as stressed as I was? I don’t believe that everyone has a story like mine, and I do know that some cancers appear randomly, without any precipitating event. And, some of us were a breakdown ready to happen.

    I know that for myself, facing cancer was a major, major catalyst and as I result I changed everything. What was working, I did more of. What wasn’t, I got rid of. Things I loved that I hadn’t been doing became the things I did first.

    This weekend was about writing! I wrote an essay for a contest and sent it off. I had been procrastinating about it, even though I knew I would love to do it. I finally sat down to write and set my timer, telling myself that I would just scribble for 15 minutes and that would get me started. I ended up writing an essay that made me weep, one that I feel very good about. I don’t have any grand delusions that I will win (I’m sure there are 1000′s who sent an essay) but one way or another I’ll publish it! Alas, not now.

    The other deadline I had was a provisional assignment for Yahoo. I applied to be a Featured Contributor. Before I had cancer, I wouldn’t have even applied. I would have just assumed that I didn’t have the expertise or the clout to write about Alternative Medicine, which is the category I applied for.

    The new me said, Hey, what have I got to lose? If this is for me, not doing it is wasting time! I applied and forgot about it.

    Four days later I got a provisional assignment with a four day deadline. Ace the assignment and I’m in. I ace’d it. If you want to take a look, here it is:

    My article on herbs and chemotherapy

    I was delighted with what they asked me to do, right up my alley! I got paid to write. That just rocks.

    My freelance writing career has begun. I don’t know where it will go, and that’s half the fun. After I had cancer I began redesigning my life, making it up as I went along.

    Now I am a massage therapist/teacher/thespian/writer/artist/wife and mom. I really don’t know what to say when people ask,

    “so, what do you do Elizabeth?”

    Oh yeah, and blogger. Thanks for reading!

    Ah, the work of establishing an identity, coupled with raging hormones…my children are working so hard!

    Now, what’s my excuse?

    Actually, I can’t complain because at nearly 50 I’m pretty sure what I want to be when I grow up but I’ll never grow up, ever, so I’m just going to continue having fun. As long as I do this daily I will keep moving towards what I want to be when I grow up. I was reflecting on this today as I thought about this website, which is nearly a year old, born right around my birthday last year. My original vision was to create a site that would help people, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I floundered around a lot, trying to figure out what my site wanted to be when it grew up. I noodled around the internet into the wee hours, and slowly learned how to manage my own little queendom as I waded through spam and created and trashed numerous pages. Sometimes I didn’t blog at all because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be blogging about, forgetting that I blog because it makes me happy. Today I was berating myself because the site is, in my mind, a poorly organized ramble of disparate resources, until I logged on and found a comment that told me that this weekend someone found this site and was encouraged.

    Amid the sturm and drang (storm and stress, a la Beethoven) I am coming to some clarity about what I’m doing here, and the results should start taking shape in the next few weeks.

    And my teen, my tween and I?

    My tween had a call back for the Fall musical today, and was a handful and a half. My friend called her a wild cat. She’s 12, and everything is just so monumentally imperative and urgent! I take a deep breath and try to stay on for the ride. We worked together on her audition pieces and had dinner together before her audition. My husband auditioned as well, and they just got home a little while ago, wound up probably until the wee hours tonight.

    My teenager is right on track, already on top of all of his classes except algebra, because he bombed a quiz due to girl distraction. Here it comes…

    As for me, I am suffering from too much good stuff to choose from. Much as I wanted to be in this next musical, I did not audition because I know I would be overstretched. The children’s hospital where I work is starting an outpatient pain clinic, and I am the primary therapist. I love the hospital work, I just love it! I worked on Saturday with inpatients and came home feeling blessed.

    Soon the drama club will be resuming, and there is the possibility of adding another school and another club.

    I have an advocacy workshop coming up in October and I hope to go backpacking again once more before the season is completely kaput. So alas, eight weeks of intense rehearsals would be too much, and I am jealous all the same!

    I’m writing for fun, and trying to get better at it.

    This site, however, is my baby. It is now an unruly teenager and needs to be directed!

    What I want to do here is to reorganize a little so that anyone who comes here can find resources. I want to sleuth out more great links, as well as write some good posts about ones that I already know about.

    More inspiring stories, more humor, more simple how-to’s like how to keep your fingers from going numb when you’re on Taxol for example, more just plain ol’ uplift and leg up. More tools for more varieties of hard knocks!

    As for posts, I am going to experiment and give myself permission to write about whatever I want, as I did when I went through treatment. My life was an open book, and somehow that was so liberating! A teacher of mine once told me, “the personal is the most general”, and scribbling is as good for my health as exercise and vitamin D.

    Until soon…

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    My Mom is a writer. She just published her third book of poetry. Go Mom!

    My sister is a writer. She published a short story once, but unless she publishes, she doesn’t show us anything!

    I discovered that I was a writer on my Caringbridge blog. I guess that’s another unexpected gift that cancer gave me. For a long time, I thought that writing was Mom and Emily’s gig, not mine. I had a long chat with my mom about it. She told me that even my brother Paul has published an editorial in the local paper! Who knew? I already knew he is a fine musician. I guess I come from a talented family!

    So, I’m embracing this new calling of mine. I have been blogging for awhile over at Everyday Health, and recently I got an e-mail from my contact there that I would be reporting directly to the editors, because (drum roll….) they like my writing!

    I’ve sorta been quiet about it. It’s my own private thing, or has been. When I started my blog at Caringbridge, I did it to help me get through the toughest time of my life. It was for me. When I started getting comments from people I had never met, it felt wonderful to know that what was so satisfying for me to write had value for someone else. Still, I would not call myself a writer.

    Now, I am summoning my courage to write “on purpose”, and try to get good at it.

    Will you tell me what you think? Give me some feedback?

    I just published an article on Associated Content. It was an assignment. I thought it would be fun, so I took it and did my best. Will you follow the link and take a look? If you like it, will you become a fan? If you like it a lot, will you tell your friends?

    In the meantime I will (as Jo said, in “Little Women”, one of my favorite books of all time) up and take another.

    Onward!

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    I truly can’t wait until next Wednesday…

    I have one foot in the school routine and the other in the last gasps of summer, and I say enough aready…

    My son started high school last week. So far, so good! My daughter starts the seventh grade next Wednesday, and at this point if I try to hold her to a sane schedule she accuses me of ruining her summer. Ah, the drama! No wonder we do theater together.

    What I want desperately is some sleep, and next week I shall have it.

    I have had a lot of ambition for these last few days, and have fallen miserably short of everything I wanted to get accomplished before Fall hits full swing. I am going to be busier this fall than I have been to date since I finished cancer treatment over four years ago. I am wondering if I will be able to keep it up, grateful for the chance. I am working more at the children’s hospital, the drama club will be resuming, and I have another part time job visiting elderly folks who need a bit of sunshine (this doesn’t feel like work at all). I also am determined to be a super organized mom (there’s a stretch) and may be in the next musical, not sure yet. My mom would caution me against trying to do too much.

    I kind of think “too much” depends on what the too much is. Is it something that drains me or feeds me?

    Am I excited about it?

    Can I recover my momentum if I have one of those crazy no sleep nights? What’s my recovery plan if I get too insanely overwhelmed? Will I miss out if I don’t do these things?

    Are my eyes too big for my stomach, as the saying goes?

    Better to stretch than to shrink, and I can handle it. My backpacking trip restored my confidence in my ability to take some lumps, so here goes. My kids are transitioning, and so am I.

    And, that iconic five year anniversary looms in the near future. I am almost superstitiously afraid and also contemplating a deep sigh of relief. Five years is not a promise, but it makes things look better and better.

    My daughter is at her dad’s tonight, and I am going to bed early!

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