Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Daisypath Anniversary tickers

Monday, May 23, 2011

Creating the Symphony for my Happy Dance

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich;
to study hard, think quietly,
talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds,
to babes and sages,
with open heart;
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasions, hurry never;
in a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common--this
is to be my symphony.
William Henry Channing
I love this quote.  What a beautiful credo for living.  How easy it is to confuse fashion with refinement; luxury with elegance; richness with wealth.  How wonderful to listen quietly and with an open heart, and to be gentle and kind. 

And how grateful I am to be here to continue to compose my own symphony, chose the instruments and melodies of my life, even when I weave new and unexpected melodies into that symphony. 
I had yet another six-month mammogram last week.  To those who've never had cancer, a mammogram can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience (or worse or better, depending on your inclinations to anxiety); to those who've been through any level of treatment for breast cancer, you know that no matter how sure you are that everything is OK, and how much you know in your head and your heart that it will be fine, and how calm you feel going into the exam room... there is a bubble of fear that sits there and expands until the technician comes out and tells you everything is OK.* 

I actually thought I was doing well leading up to this mammogram -- my third since treatment ended.  But as I walked into the exam room that bubble of fear expanded and I had to fight to not cry.  I knew with all my heart I was OK -- but the fear was there anyway.  It's impossible to describe, and I don't have the words -- at least at this moment -- to explain how impossible it is to control the nerves and the anxiety.  The only people I know who get it are those who've been through breast cancer.   No amount of meditation, belief, prayer, yoga, running, denial, whatever, makes it go away.  There's an extra layer of anxiety, a few notes of suspense, that are added to my symphony that day.  A Twilight Zone variation creeps in quietly in the background -- or even, at times, a jarring bit of "da dumph, da dumph" from Jaws.

We all know there is no cure for breast cancer (and if you don't know that, please, educate yourself).  We all know that no one who's had it has any guarantee that it will or won't come back -- only statistics -- and no matter how much the statistics are tipped in your favor, none of us are numbers, we're people.  I've seen a woman with stage 1 breast cancer with incredibly good survival odds find out a year later she's stage IV; she quickly passed away, despite a hard fight to survive, leaving daughters ages 2 and 14.  I know stage IV people who've lived with cancer for years.  We're people, not numbers.  We're people who've been through an experience that forever changes us and who live with a change in our melodies.  Our symphony is rearranged in a heartbeat, by our own hands, by our own emotions, by our own choices, and carries themes and variations that can't be written by anyone else but are recognized by others for what they are;  beautiful, sad, sometimes full of fear, sometimes joyous.  Notes written with a depth and complexity that is new.

And yet, those notes are only one small movement in a much larger symphony, with any luck at all. 

I have today to continue to write my symphony, and I try to write themes of gratitude and joy.  Of quiet, and gentleness.  And as I move forward, after 6 more months of NED, I add another variation, a light movement... a happy dance. 

*for those who don't know, after you've had breast cancer, every mammogram is a diagnostic mammogram.  That means two things:  one, you get the results before you leave; and two, if there are any anomalies, they immediately follow up with more testing.  It's good to not have to wait for results, but a bit unnerving to know that extra time is scheduled for you to do more testing in case of a problem.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


The most authentic thing about us 
is our capacity 
to create, 
to overcome, 
to endure, 
to transform, 
to love, and 
to be greater than our suffering.
Ben Okri

When I was in my mid-forties, a friend of mine found out she had pancreatic cancer.  The word "cancer" strikes fear into almost anyone's heart, but couple it with "pancreatic" and for the most part there's not much room for hope.  Lee was given "maybe a year" and that's about what she got -- eleven months.  I was really blessed to be part of her last eleven months; we not only became extremely close friends, but I was also a primary caregiver.   It was one of the most difficult, painful times of my life, and also one of the best. It's truly an honor and a gift to share time like that with someone.

I wasn't a saint.  I never felt like I was sacrificing something, or doing something special.  It was like it was given to me to be part of her life and I simply never questioned it, even though it became an overriding  part of my life, while she was alive and for some time after, as I worked through my grief.  It was something I was supposed to do and so I did.

She died when she was 50.  I was 46.  She was young, but I realized there are no guarantees, and I swore that for every year I lived past 50, I would be grateful, and know that I got something my friend never had. 

That's the kind of vow you make when you're in the midst of emotions, and I knew even then that I might start to take my life for granted after some time and distance from my experiences with her.


I've never forgotten, and never not been grateful.  And this year, when I woke up on the morning of my 59th birthday, I didn't think, "Ugh, I'm one year older!  Ugh, I'm one year away from the big 6-0!  Ugh, I'm getting old!"

Almost the very first thought I had was, "Wow, I'm 59!  That's nine years more than Lee got, and I'm really happy to be here."  My own cancer has, of course, strengthened this outlook, but much of what I went through with my own cancer wasn't new -- it was simply reinforcement of something I already knew and felt.

I can't even take credit for having such a good attitude.  Like my time with Lee, the gratitude has been a gift, and another thing to be grateful for.  Every day isn't a cake walk, nor am I at my best every day.  But I know every day is a gift, and when I hear the red-winged blackbirds sing as they return for another year, my heart sings to be here to share that year with them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Every new year people make resolutions to change aspects of themselves they believe are negative.  
A majority of people revert back to how there were before and feel like failures.  
This year I challenge you to a new resolution.  
I challenge you to just be yourself.
Aisha Elderwyn

It's easy to find flaws in one's self, and in others.  I've certainly never had a shortage of things about myself I was unhappy with, things that needed "fixing." And of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to be better.  But I'm not sure that focusing on flaws is always the best approach.

There's reason to look for the good, too -- to appreciate and be yourself.  To look for the uniqueness, the skills, the talents that make up you, and develop those.   

I think back on how much my life has changed in the last few years, and it gives me touchstones, where I was and where I am now. I like to see those changes; it helps me realize how far I've come.  Even more than looking back, though, I like the joy of each day, and of looking forward. 

Still, I'll never entirely leave breast cancer behind, even if I die with no recurrence; ask anyone who's been through it.  It becomes a part of who you are.  Only a part, but still, a part.   It will never be a friend or a gift (I just can't call cancer a gift. Really?  It's something you would wrap up and give to a loved one?  I don't think so.).  But it has introduced me to a sisterhood of women who know what it's like to stare at our own mortality and cry, and then show up anyway, and walk through the fear. It's given me an ever-deepening appreciation for the spirit and courage of people, and for the things that make each person uniquely themselves.

Most of all, it's a part of my life I can embrace instead of deny.  Every day I see the scars.   They remind me of my cancer, yes; and some days they bring back memories of treatment.  Only as I gain distance am I getting an appreciation for just how difficult and horrible that time was.  But most days  I don't dwell on cancer; it gets little more attention than the passing glance at my scars in the shower.  I'm reminded that cancer and that experience is part of me. Like all experiences, it has impacted me.  And I've chosen to take that experience to focus on what is best in my life and shed much of what isn't. 

And I'm reminded of my strength.  I'm reminded of my faith, my belief in my ability to get through things -- even cancer -- and come out on the other side.  Scarred, perhaps, but also stronger and hopefully a little better, a little more compassionate, a little more understanding, a little more patient.  Hopefully also a little more myself:  a little more appreciation for the parts of me that are unique and mine to develop and cherish, and a little more appreciation for the parts of me that I have in common with others, and with the universe.

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, 
room by room,
drawing up a list of work to be done, 
cracks to be patched.  
Maybe this year, to balance the list, 
we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... 
not looking for flaws, but for potential.
Ellen Goodman

I can't imagine I will ever stop looking for flaws in the rooms of my life, but I hope I can focus at least as much on the potential and the good.

Here's to a year of health, joy, and potential for us all!