Benched

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled home to visit my family and friends. It was my final “Victory Lap” before I return to work and lose the freedom to get out-of-town whenever I please. (It was BIG fun; I’ll share more about my trip at a later date.)

My last stop was my daughter’s place in NYC. Somehow, during the four-hour trek from Manhattan to Massachusetts, I injured my right arm from my “frozen” shoulder down to my fingertips. With time, there’s been some improvement, but I’ve reached a plateau. Yesterday, I finally said “Uncle” and called an orthopedist. I also emailed a “Therapeutic Yoga” practitioner I learned about recently; her husband happened to overhear me complaining that I was unable to accomplish anything but “Child’s Pose,” as he was measuring my apartment windows for new screens. (Ah, blessed be serendipity!) And after a wee bit of research, I visited Amazon.com and ordered a highly rated wrist band and a jar of the all-natural miracle potion that I’d brought to my mother. (It’s worked wonders on her badly sprained elbow.)

Unfortunately, what aggravates my wrist injury more than anything is typing. I’m using one finger on my left hand to write this, and it’s a very slow process. So, for now, I’m on the “injured” list. I hope I’ll be back to regular blogging soon. Also, I’m sorry that I’m unable to thank those of you who are now “following” me. At least I’m still able to read; I enjoy the wonderful array of writers here at the WordPress community. See you in my “Reader!” Be well!

Word for Today – Gratitude

GRATEFUL – noun

the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.

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There are many reasons why this image illustrates “gratitude” for me. Perhaps there are other words that spring to mind when you look at this photograph. Or maybe you would use a different image to depict what “grateful” means to you.

“Word for Today” uses a picture to illustrate a definition according to my personal aesthetics and sensibilities. I hope it also gives you something to ponder. Enjoy! And please comment, if you feel moved to do so.

Joy is…

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” Marianne Williamson

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Cancer – A Public Service Announcement

I recently learned that a friend of mine died after a long battle with cancer. The news came to me while I was in a blissful state of mind, following a recent visit to my oncologist. I was told that I’m cancer-free and was filled with gratitude. I’d been contacting my family and friends, sharing good news and thinking how different these calls were, compared to those I’d made when I was first diagnosed. Now I’m picturing my friend’s family, making the saddest calls of all.

Cancer takes lives in many ways. It may last for decades, with alternating periods of illness and remission. It can claim its victims after a few years, because the organ it’s invaded is more vulnerable or the type of cancer is more deadly. And cancer might also be fatal within a few months, because it was diagnosed too late and treatment is futile. I’ve heard too many of these stories, lately. “He was gone in three months!” “She felt fine, but her new job required a physical and they discovered she had cancer.” “He was only 35; they don’t do a colonoscopy until you’re 50!” The last remark was made by a nurse who was tending to me during my recent check-up.

It’s common knowledge that the earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcome will be. Having periodic diagnostic tests is very important, but I’d like to discuss another important component of cancer prevention. I’ll briefly tell you my story, even though the details are very “personal.” My heartfelt intention is to help anyone I can by sharing my experience with this life-changing illness.

While I was at work one day, I used the bathroom and was surprised to discover a small amount of blood in the toilet. Obviously, I was somewhat concerned, but I felt fine, so I returned to my desk. About an hour later, I became a bit dizzy and called a friend who drove me to the hospital ER. After an examination, the doctor told me I had an internal hemorrhoid that had developed a blood clot. I asked what the treatment was and the doctor said no treatment would be necessary. She suggested I “wait until it becomes too annoying” and at that point contact a surgeon, who would remove the hemorrhoid with a simple procedure.

It’s my opinion that if something’s in your body that isn’t supposed to be there, it should be removed. Waiting can necessitate a more involved or extensive procedure; I prefer to nip my medical issues in the bud. So, the next day I called a few surgeons for a second opinion. During one call I was asked “Were you bleeding?” When I answered “Yes,” I was told “We need to see you today.”

During my visit, I was examined and three biopsies were taken. Four days later the surgeon called me to explain that I had a rare form of rectal cancer. Luckily, further tests revealed I was in Stage One, but the tumor was growing rapidly, so my treatment needed to begin ASAP. The goal was to avoid surgery through the aggressive use of chemotherapy and radiation. I met with my team of doctors, learned as much as I needed to be an active participant in my cancer treatment, spiritually prepared myself for “battle,” and with loving support from my family and friends went through four months of treatment, eventually emerging as a grateful cancer survivor. My tumor was completely destroyed and I did not need surgery!

When I tell my friends this story, almost every one of them remarks, “I would have just gone home and waited for the situation to worsen,” as was suggested to me in the ER. One of my physicians remarked that oncologists rarely see a case of rectal cancer in Stage One, because people assume they have an internal hemorrhoid or simply ignore their symptoms. I recently read that instances of this type of cancer are increasing, because most people wait until they’re in real distress before seeing a physician.

The point I feel compelled to make is this: Pay attention to your body’s signals and take action. I realize that many people avoid second opinions or doctor visits because they fear hearing “bad news.” However, if you let fear guide you, the news you get at a later date could be worse than what you’ll hear today. It’s been said that we’re motivated by either fear or love. Please, love your body and listen as it guides you!

Turbulence

FEBRUARY, 1970
I was sitting next to a priest on a United Airlines plane, bound for Kansas City and rocking so hard its metal skeleton clattered. The Man of God was no comfort to me. After the pilot’s stammering announcement that we’d be making an emergency landing, he’d slapped his palms together in a prayer position, jammed his eyes shut and began muttering Hail Mary’s to himself, over and over. I noticed beads of sweat were dripping down his collar, so I looked out the window, squinting through the blur of clouds that were pouring down snow. Suddenly, I saw the wing moving. It looked more like a piece of a model airplane than a jumbo jet and it scared the hell out of me. My stomach lurched as I realized something I’d thought was quite sturdy was actually fragile and could easily be broken, taking me with it. Little did I know this revelation would take on an even scarier form within the next few days. As the pilot steered the plane downward, aiming toward a landing spot in a snow-covered cornfield, I felt scared and vulnerable. Which is exactly how I would feel for the next five days.

 

Word for Today – Beautiful

BEAUTIFUL—adjective

having beauty; possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind.

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There are many reasons why this image illustrates “beautiful” for me. Perhaps there are other words that spring to mind when you look at this photograph. Or maybe you would use a different image to depict what “beautiful” means to you.

“Word for Today” uses a picture to illustrate a definition according to my personal aesthetics and sensibilities. I hope it also gives you something to ponder. Enjoy! And please comment, if you feel moved to do so.

Have We Met?

Is it possible to say “Thank You!” and “You’re Welcome!” with just one sentence? Is it plausible for someone to give and receive in the same moment? Is it realistic to say you know someone, if you haven’t ever met? These questions and their answers (Yes! Yes! Yes!) prompted me to ponder being a reader, a writer and, most recently, a blogger.

If I had to squeeze all of my feelings about blogging into just one word, it would be gratitude. I am deeply grateful to “meet” you here in the WordPress community. Not just to “meet you,” as in “Hello, my name is Laura,” but to meet you during the invisible action that is communication in it’s purest form. It’s when I meet someone heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul in the wonderful, safe place trust has built, where I feel free to share the deepest parts of myself, knowing I’ll be received with kindness, free from judgement.

In these precious moments, I often discover that not only are my thoughts and experiences understood, but they are shared. To feel understood is one of the most precious gifts I ever receive; maybe my gratitude springs from our shared need to feel we “belong.” Whatever the reason, nothing comforts and inspires me more than knowing I’m not alone. It gives me the courage to move forward every day, no matter what challenge I may be facing. It fuels my intention to be of service to others, no matter how small or grand the gesture. It makes me love.

This life is filled with give and take, ups and downs, challenge and triumph. I have memories of carefree, childhood discoveries, tales of travel and adventures from my “glory days” and those joyous, life-changing events, like the birth of my beloved daughter. I’ve enjoyed the many simple pleasures we’re all blessed with from one year to the next. I also remember days when loss and grief seemed insurmountable, when depression stole my will and spirit and my recent years of illness, when I wondered if I’d ever be my “old self” again. Then came a cancer diagnosis and the frightening thought that I wouldn’t live another year. Luckily for me, that fear was short-lived; my cancer was caught in Stage One and I responded beautifully to my treatment protocol.

When faced with my own extinction, it wasn’t long before my priorities became crystal clear. I had plenty of time to reflect on my life story and to decide how I want to spend the next chapters. Plotting my intentions was quite simple; I said to myself, “I’ve always wanted to ____ ” and filled in the blank, over and over. I realized I wanted to write “in public” and decided a blog was the perfect place to do it. So, you are now part of my new chapter, where I share my stories and listen to yours as my heart overflows with gratitude. So, Thank you…You’re Welcome…It’s wonderful to meet you!

Dedicated to Anna Quindlen
For Living Out Loud and for helping me realize I have something to say.

Picture Perfect

The first image I saw today was a photo of Katy Perry, sitting on the edge of an unmade bed in her bra and panties. Millions of people will see this photo, since it graces the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. What people won’t see is the “before” image of Katy, which wasn’t “perfect enough,” so it went through the Photoshop editing process. The changes are so subtle that I wondered if I’d ever see an untouched photo of a woman in print again.

I realize that people in the beauty and entertainment industries feel a greater pressure to look “perfect” than those of us who live outside the public eye. However, many men and women create unrealistic standards for themselves and retouched photos are repeatedly blamed for inspiring impossible expectations. I’ve often told my daughter how beautiful she is, because it’s the truth, despite any self-criticism she may inflict upon herself. We’ve spoken more than once about the standard headlines that appear on the covers of “women’s” magazines. These include some variation of the following: “Get Your Body Bikini-Ready!” – “The Fool-Proof No-Carbs Diet!” – “Your Perfect Hairstyle” and “Flawless Make-Up, Day to Night!”

As far as my own body goes, I’ve one of those folks whose metabolism makes gaining weight difficult. I also have a low cholesterol level. I can eat the foods I enjoy and not worry about my weight. In fact, there have been times when I’d have welcomed some extra pounds. One of these instances occurred last year, when cancer and its treatment caused my weight to dip to an all-time low. Over the last few months, I’ve been eating three square meals a day and snacking in between, in an effort to reach a healthy weight. During a recently check-up, I was thrilled to learn that I’d reached my goal and then some. That evening, while preparing for a visit home to see family and friends, a new reality set in. With the exception of the sweats I usually wear, none of my pants fit! It took some extra time, but I finally gathered enough clothing for my two week vacation.

While staying at my mother’s home, she encouraged me to buy new clothes and generously gave me some money towards a shopping spree. I drove to the local Marshall’s and dove in. After settling into a fitting room, I was pulling on a pair of jeans when something new happened. I faced myself in the mirror and noticed that I had a belly! Actually, two bellies; one from my C-section and one from too many ice cream sandwiches. Suddenly, there I was, sucking my abdomen in and frowning as I noticed the bulge that stubbornly stayed above my waistband. I was confused and disgusted and heard my inner voice scolding me. And then I was yanked into a new reality: I was guilty of judging myself by the very standards I thought I was immune to. It was quite a moment, and not a very proud one.

I’ve had some time to think about that day and I’ve come to some conclusions. There may always be times when I compare myself to other women, be it someone I know or an image in a magazine. What’s important to me is to separate the expectations I’ve been fed by the media from those that I’ve set for myself. I want to celebrate my body, thanking it for serving me well during my lifetime, especially during the last few challenging years. I want to honor my body by providing it with healthy food and regular exercise. And I want to love my body, no matter what shape it takes, because right this minute, it’s perfect!

Katy Perry Rolling Stone

I Have Survived!

Yesterday, my oncologist said, “You’re much too healthy to be hanging around doctors’ offices. See you in three months.” I shook his hand, hard, as our smiling eyes met. Then he turned and walked out of the office and into the rest of his day.

I pulled on my coat and began walking out of the office, twirling a scarf around my neck as I wove through the maze of rooms. The lab, the infusion room, the glass-walled reception area, all so familiar and now fading into the background. I flung the door open and the bright sun and freezing air stunned me. I jumped into my car and after slamming the door, I let out a joyous yelp. Within a few minutes the Grateful Dead tune, “Touch of Gray” began to play on the radio. I turned it way up, grinning ear-to-ear and sang all the way home, as happy tears bounced off the steering wheel. Sure, people looked at me when a red light stopped us, but I didn’t care. (My bumper sticker reads, “Driver Singing. Use Caution.”)

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! To all my dear friends and family, thank you! To my doctors, nurses, care-givers and EMT’s, thank you! To each and every one of you who – without even knowing – lifted me up, thank you! To God, this magical universe and the warrior that revealed herself within me, thank you! To my beloved angels up above who hovered close and answered my prayers, thank you! I need words bigger than “Thank You,” but for now they’re all I’ve got.

There’s so much I want to say, but I’ve got the rest of my lifetime to do so. So for now, I’ll celebrate and toast my fellow survivors. I’m also praying for the cancer patients who are fighting back right now, with all the bravery and strength they can muster. And I’m remembering those who’ve lost the battle, because all the medicine, treatments, love and fighting spirit weren’t enough. I will say this: Life is a beautiful gift. So please, be grateful and live every precious day like you MEAN IT!

Radio Cancer

As usual, the dawn is breaking when my eyes flutter and open softly, taking in the grid of the window panes before me. I can tell by the shadows and masked objects in the room that it’s time to greet the day. Before that thought is complete, my heart begins to beat faster, begging for my attention. My thoughts start slowly, then begin to race, as the unbidden fear that has become my companion emerges from it’s slumber.

Radio Cancer starts to play in the distance, as if to say “I’m still here…” It’s changed it’s form in the aftermath of treatment; no longer a tumor that can be seen growing inside me, it’s a state of mind that I fight with tightly-fisted hands and all the will I can muster. Or not…I often do the opposite, surrendering to this new reality of hard edges and cold surfaces and the icicles hanging outside that have come to represent me, no longer flowing with life’s rhythm, but frozen in a state of mind that is delicate, brittle and vulnerable.

There is grace in my surrender. I’m not giving up the fight, but allowing a force greater than I am to take over as I let go. There is kindness in my surrender. I stop scolding myself when my feelings paralyze me and I lose hours and days that are so precious to me, especially since I’ve become a survivor. There is hope in my surrender. I know from experience that a challenge can seem impossible, but if I have faith and love myself right now, imperfect as I may be, miracles can occur.

I’m fighting a new battle born from cancer, which dropped a seed into my consciousness before it left. When I wasn’t looking, the seed sprouted into a thought, “I am not safe.” So now, beginning my day includes the ritual of morning meditation, when, for a few minutes I feel peaceful, protected and calm. With practice, I know a new seed will grow and the fear will eventually fade, as time passes and sweet comfort takes root. Radio Cancer may still inhabit a place deep inside me, but someday soon it’s frequency will fade and the music of my spirit will begin to play, stronger and sweeter than ever.

Dedicated to Melanie St. Ours

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