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    When I decided that I was “not —-ing leaving the planet” because I was going to raise my kids, I had no idea what that would wet hugactually look like.  It didn’t matter.  It was a gift to anticipate, a package to open when the time was right, and I was determined to be around to open it.  I was mostly concerned about my children growing up without me.  What I didn’t think about at the time, but am thoroughly enjoying now, is what an absolute blast they are.  Teenagers are crazy and wonderful.  My mom refers to their “demented energy”.  Yes!   As long as I  maintain my sense of humor, I ride the tougher waves relatively easily.  I find that true of most things!

    You’ve probably heard of the ALS ice bucket challenge.  I wish I’d thought of it for IBC!  Anyway, I’m glad.  I had to have my dunking, but I didn’t mind.  The picture to the right is of my daughter, my son, and her friend.  They were nominated for the challenge, and recruited my son to dump the ice water on their heads.  After he did his brotherly duty, my daughter’s friend shouted “Hug!” and they chased him down.

    They tickle my funny bone and exasperate me daily.  My son thinks “school is stupid” and tested out early.  My daughter has decided she’s going to Columbia University (now I’m sweating bullets) and after years of constant squabbling, they are good friends.

    When I was fighting cancer, I didn’t know entirely what I was fighting for.  I was fighting for the surprise, for the unopened gift I didn’t want to miss out on.  If you are currently in the fight, whether a cancer, depression, or just a rotten day, remember that none of us can predict how good it can be!  So, if it sucks right now, take heart.  There is no limit to how much better it can get.

    If you want to see me get dunked, follow the link to my facebook page.  She who nominated “Mama Danu” (Emily…an exceptionally good kid) thoroughly enjoyed sopping me when I started to run off at the mouth.  Her mom and my daughter are laughing in the background.

    I love being “that” mom!

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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.

    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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    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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    There’s still time to catch the show if you’re in the Bay Area! This coming weekend is the end. I’ve had a great time, and I’m glad to get my weekends and Monday nights back. All the same, I am going to enjoy every moment on stage and every blissful note I get to sing for the next four performances.

    Tom will be The Wiz one more time, on Saturday. Check out the Bay Area e.T.c. website if you want to see some really fun theater and a lot of really adorable kids!

    Tech week was insane, as it always is. Nine days in a row in the theater with late nights and life as usual. The house becomes a wreck, everybody gets cranky, and we hear songs in our heads in the middle of the night. I used to worry about the stress, the lack of sleep, forgetting my vitamins and my vegetables. Now I have come to the conclusion that having my spirit hum is every bit as good for me as some yoga or a green drink! When I sing, every cell in my body is joyful. That just has to be good for a person!

    So, on with the show, and back to normal on Monday.

    I saw my oncologist a couple of weeks ago and I feel very reassured. No causes for concern whatsoever.

    And the request on the right? I am going to D.C., and I am so stoked! My scholarship covers registration and lodging, but not meals and travel. So far I have received donations to cover half my airline ticket, for which I am so grateful! I didn’t have it to spend, but I spent it anyway because I have to go! My ticket is purchased on faith, and I still have to cover meals and other expenses. If 60 people donate $10.00 I’ll be there. Or, 120 people at $5.00. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who already have helped! I will report in depth on what I learn, and you can bet I’m going to use every bit of it.

    Now to organize my bizillion costumes for tomorrow!

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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

    Like the conscience in old cartoons, My Own Death sits on my shoulder, reminding me to pay attention and treasure my life.

    I was noodling around this evening as I often do, looking for cool juicy stuff on the internet, and my meanderings brought me to an article written by a Palliative Care nurse. She writes about the common regrets she hears from the dying. I was deeply moved by the article, because what happened to me is that I got a second chance, so every regret that she listed was a change I had the opportunity to make in my life.

    Everyone who faces life threatening illness and survives gets a second chance if they choose. I am so grateful that my second chance came while I was still young enough to have more years to enjoy my children, and to follow the passions that I had forgotten on the back burner for so many years.

    The little annoyances and aches and pains that make me afraid are the reminders of my commitment to myself. None of us knows how long we have. Am I doing what I want to be doing, what matters most to me with each day that I have?

    Susan said in her blog, “please don’t pity me. I have work to do”. I am certain that the passion she has for this work of the heart that she does will keep her alive. I feel deeply that my passions keep me well, and feeding them is a smart survival program.

    Today I joined my daughter and my husband for the audition workshop for “The Wiz”, the musical that Bay Area ETC is doing this spring. Part of me thinks I don’t have time, and that I have other important things to do. This article was a timely reminder that doing what I love is the most important thing I can do, and the fact that I get to do it with my sweet family makes it all the more ridiculous not to do it. So, this week I’ll be warming up the pipes, practicing my cackle and hoping the director can see my diabolical side!

    go here to be reminded.

    Is yoga therapy?

    For me it is. It is good for me in a number of ways. It was good before I got sick, and it is good for me now whenever I take the time to do it. It was especially helpful after I had surgery. My doctor was delighted and amazed at how back I got my range of motion! At this time there is no difference in how I can move my left arm (the one affected by surgery) and the right. There is also very little difference in strength, although I have some lymphedema in the left arm. The lymphedema occurred for the first time when I got distracted and neglected my practice of yoga.

    Here is why it’s good practice:
    1. It is meditation, for folks who are challenged to meditate. The poses require concentration to do properly, and the breathing is very settling. I believe that yoga provides the same benefit for me as sitting for meditation. It is true also that the practice of hatha yoga is said to make the body comfortable for meditation. Either way it is a win/win.

    2. Yoga brings my full awareness into my body. I am more aware of all of me, my spirit inhabiting my body and everything going on it it. I am more likely to take care of issues before they start if I am doing yoga.

    3. Yoga is just plain good for me. It is one more expression of valuing myself. My balance, flexibility, and strength are improved when I do yoga regularly. The benefits are more than the sum of their parts!

    4. When I am doing yoga regularly, I suffer fewer odd aches and pains. When I feel rotten in general I get paranoid and off center, fearful of the beast coming back. This is something that survivors deal with all the time. The fewer odd aches and pains I am subject to, the less anxious I am! I think also that the awareness I have will make me notice sooner if there is really anything amiss.

    5. Yoga, practiced vigorously, is good for your heart. It qualifies for the type of exercise survivors need to decrease the likelihood that our cancer will recur.

    6. Yoga makes me sleep better. It also makes me require less sleep. Now that’s efficient!

    There are yoga centers everywhere, some good some not so good. It’s important to feel confident and at ease with the person you are learning from. There are also a lot of great videos out there. I mostly taught myself and then go to classes every so often to make sure I’m doing it right. I also love the yoga program on my Wiifit!

    For now I’m going to follow my own advice, and sign off so I can do some yoga before I go to bed!

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    This is a special time of year for me. Not just because it’s Christmas, but because somehow I managed to skip being sick at this time of year. The Christmas before my diagnosis was lovely, and then I was diagnosed in late February. By the time Christmas 2007 rolled around, I was sporting cool short Annie Lennox hair and feeling pretty good! I spent it in Seattle with my family, and I was high on life, grateful beyond words to be still around and not sick. My husband was a nice guy on the periphery of my world, and 2008 brought him right in. It was a wonderful time of joy and appreciation. Somehow that feeling is now linked permanently with Christmas, and each one since then has felt indescribably blessed.

    This Christmas is my third year after cancer, currently No Evidence of Disease (NED). As I am grateful and mindful of this, I am acutely aware of all the women I know who are still dealing with it. I am also acutely aware that this could change any time for me. Each day is a gift, and each Christmas of health and love is a priceless treasure.

    A woman on my support list who was dealing with a recurrence just had a clean scan for Christmas. Woo-Hoo! God is good.

    We just had our Christmas, because my daughter is with her dad now. So the madness occurred last night and this morning, and now all is calm (and the house is trashed!). It’s kind of nice to be in a quiet space while much of the rest of the world is still shopping madly!
    My husband, my son and I will go to bed early and be up before dawn to deliver meals to shut-ins tomorrow morning. We did this for Thanksgiving, and my husband got a call earlier this week asking for our help again, because they were terribly short handed. This surprised me! I guess folks don’t want to get up that early. Denny’s, here we come!

    I give thanks today for the light of hope and gratitude in my life. May your holidays be filled with every blessing!

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