Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13: A day of cancer

I'm thankful that the sturdy waterproof sandals I ordered arrived in time to use at this weekend's Relay for Life.  I'll spend hours in the rain and puddles, and I'll do it with a grateful heart and a smile on my face.  One of my favorite lines: Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.  I've been looking forward to this year's Relay since last year's.  Relay is the few hours each year I let myself return to my cancer experience.

In this blog I've already shared some of my cancer particulars: salivary gland tumor the size of a lemon; surgery, radiation; altered taste; lost hearing; radiation burns and scars.  I haven't shared the struggle to find a new normal.  I haven't shared what it was like trying to cram the rest of my life into a single minute because I was afraid I wouldn't have a chance to live it.  I haven't shared what it's like to wonder daily whether this sensation or that signals the return of a tumor. I haven't shared what it's like to suddenly not be able to swim because muscles were cut during surgery.  I haven't shared the discomfort of medications, the dizziness of a hole in my ear, the frustration of not being able to lead singing at Mass, of always having to use only my left ear when I use the phone, of using closed captions because I can't understand actors' mumbling on TV.

Nor have I shared my profound life shift: learning that I cramming life & food into me all at once doesn't help: that it's better for me to find the sacred in each moment and to not run myself ragged in some crazy effort to outlive death; that regular exams have shown no return of cancer (and the back of my mind says "yet"; that I am able to swim again, and am strengthening my shoulder in WOW; that I no longer have to take any pills, that I'm learning to manage the dizziness, that I can still sing – though not for anyone but my kids, that I experience changes  in pitch just by blocking one ear or the other, and that there's very little on TV that's more worth watching than my life is worth living.

I was diagnosed when our eldest son was 9 months old.  During the drive home from the doctor's, I had to ask "Did the he just say I have cancer?"  I think I was still in shock.  My next sentence: "I want to live to see my son grow up."  And the flood gates start again.  I finished treatment the day before his 1st birthday.

Relay for Life lets me walk a lap with other cancer survivors.  We'll walk it at 6:00 tonight at Euclid High Stadium.  We walk to celebrate that we're alive, and we walk to show others that there is hope.  There is hope. 

At 10:00 tonight there will be a candlelight ceremony during which names of loved ones lost and of persons diagnosed with cancer will be read.

From 6:00 tonight until noon on Saturday, team members will walk the track – most likely in thunderstorm and pouring rain – in a living metaphor of the long fight against cancer.  It's a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, so there'll plenty of ways to spend money, have fun, and help the cause: a bounce house and kids' movies; music bands and karaoke; karate and jazzercise; raffles and bake sales.

On behalf of Euclid's Relay for Life, I invite you to come, experience, and participate.  On behalf of those who have already been stricken by cancer, and for those who will be, I invite you.

Celebrate.  Remember.  Fight back.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11

Recently I had an encounter with a person whose personality I find challenging.  Even just few weeks ago, the encounter would have kicked my confidence, and I would undoubtedly have numbed myself with the comfort of food.  That didn't happen this time.  This time, without a conscious plan, I mulled over the encounter, picking it apart, and finding the crux of it.  I figured out how to move forward without adding insult to injury on either side.

And as I was exercising in the gym this morning, I thought about how I used to think that people with healthy bodies were strong.  And I thought some more, that not all healthy weight people are strong or even healthy.  And I thought about how I'm changing: recreating and discovering who I am.  And I thought about how emotionally different I am. 

And I thought about how amazing it is that among the most important tools for going another mile or another lap are confidence, determination, and desire.  I don't think I've ever felt those so clearly before.  Academics in school were somewhat easy, and if they weren't, I figured I wasn't good in that subject.  Striking up a conversation with people is usually easy, and when it wasn't, I figured the person had good reason for not talking with me, and I moved on. 

I'm finally learning to break my self-imposed boundaries.  Though I'm still insecure in some ways, I'm learning to not be afraid of failure.  I'm learning to not let the easy way out be an option.  I'm more productive and more thoughtful than ever before.  I'm more focused and confident.  It's kind of exciting.  J



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10 Body bags, etc.

After this morning's workout, I asked myself why I don't just bring a body bag with me to the gym. It'd be so much easier if someone would carry my worn out body home.  I started my workout with a couple sweaty miles on the elliptical machine (have to keep working on that triathlon!), then caught my breath and proceeded to allow David to let me have it.  I've lost track of how much I'm leg pressing: I lift the stack and however many more weights D can find to add to the stack.  By the time WOW was done, my muscles were doing a fine impression of overcooked spaghetti.  And I felt awesome.

Oh – and I've earned all the required stars for my Y Stars t-shirt! J

I'm discovering more changes in my body.  When I scratch my back, it feels less fleshy.  When I caught a glimpse of my forearms in the mirror at the gym, I was surprised to see less fat there, too.  And I'm becoming obnoxious about asking my friends to feel how solid my shoulders are.  That said, I'm still no match for an unopened pickle jar, and my underarm flab is to be completely ignored when admiring my awesome shoulders.

Thankfully all these changes aren't making me complacent.  I've learned that lesson.  Though I see the changes, I'm not losing sight of how much farther I need to go.  I'm letting the changes empower me rather than dull me.  While I was trying not to die during weightlifting today, I thought about how in the past when I've lost weight, I've simply shed water and some fat.  This time around, I'm building muscle and a lot of it.  The other day when my youngest fell asleep in my arms, I was able to hold her and carry all 37 pounds of her for more than half an hour!  My back didn't hurt and my knees didn't ache.

I'm getting strong in so many ways.  So even though I'm still not shedding pounds as quickly as I'd like, I have to be happy and proud.  I also need to keep going.  I need to resist the temptation of "Well, the pounds aren't coming off, so I may as well have some chocolate." 

Healthy eating, healthy eating, healthy eating, with a touch of moderation.  I can't rely on exercise alone to get me where I need to be. 


Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9 Veronica A. Shoffstall

About the time I was in middle school, I read the following poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall in Dear Abby or Ann Landers.  It has stayed with me all these years, with a phrase popping into my mind every now and then.  The part that I'm living these days begins with the line "So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul." 


Whether in the gym or in a doctor's waiting room or a backyard gathering, I'm learning to hold my head up, my eyes ahead.  I'm learning that my successes don't justify petty behavior toward me in others.  I'm learning how my body works and how my mind works.  I'm finding the courage to be quiet, and the situations in which I should speak up.


And this morning when a couple machines at the Y stopped working, it was me who figured out how to get them going again. 


I could spend a week going over this poem, and maybe I'll call some of my friends and ask them to join me in doing so.  But for now, I just want to share it.




After A While, by Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't always mean security.
And you begin to learn
That kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child
And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid flight
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers
And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8 Mother's Day

While walking with my husband and 3 kids in the Metroparks today, I was present enough to realize that it was my best Mother's Day ever.  Even though the cinnamon rolls I made this morning turned into a cinnamon pie, at least I had time in the kitchen to play.  Even though my bike is officially broken, I still got to take my kids swimming. 

Today was about going with the flow, making good choices, and being grateful.

Thank goodness the contest was in The News Herald today – I needed a good reminder that I'm still in a public contest and that the next weigh-in is right around the corner!  So I'm looking forward to every next chance to make a good choice.