The power in unseeing

8D915D18-54BD-4211-ACCC-048185FAF448I clearly remember the experience of getting my very first pair of eyeglasses. My parents had finally realized that (at the age of 11 i think), my vision had started to deteriorate enough to need glasses. I went with my dad to get my eyes checked and next thing you know I was looking through magical pieces of glass at what seemed like EVERYTHING! I could read ALL the signs.  It was a moment of re-discovery. On our drive home, I annoyed my dad, unintentionally of course, by reading every single sign, billboard, graffiti, everything.  It was a heady experience, one I thought it would be hard to ever replicate or beat. I guess along the way I had slowly accommodated for my deteriorating vision and didn’t realize just how little I was seeing clearly. I was so grateful for the glasses, for the genius who figured out how to correct myopia, for my dad, for my eye doctor. I brimmed with joy and gratitude.

Fast forward 30 or so years and I had a far more gratifying experience but this time without the gift of sight, yet the experience itself was a gift of unparalleled proportions.  Having gone beyond the small worries of elementary school, moving countries, rearing children, fighting off illnesses and so on, life was feeling a bit more complex than when I was eleven.  My mind was full on this particular day, I felt ragged, overwhelmed. My husband was driving us somewhere and I was wearing glasses. My myopia has steadily worsened many degrees since I was 11 and without glasses I can only see silhouettes, vague colours and shadows where details of people and objects would clearly be visible when looking 7-8 feet out. Sitting in the passenger seat I took of my glasses to rub my tired eyes, closed them to rest a minute and heaved a sigh just to get a proper breath in my lungs. The next thing that happened put a perma-smile on my face, one that a child naturally breaks into when they’ve caught sight of a surprise ice cream cone being handed to them.  With my glasses still in my hands, I opened my eyes and what I beheld was a scenery that I couldn’t make out, it was bright but fuzzy. There were hues of various colours and some darker areas of shadows signalling objects or people in the distance but I couldn’t make out any of it clearly.  When I tell you that visual stimulus produces a reaction in our brain, I’m merely stating a fact I recognized on this particular -otherwise forgettable drive.  I realized in that moment that my joy arose from NOT being able to see clearly what I was looking at head on.  I couldn’t see people frowning or smiling or scowling; I couldn’t see the dirt on the road, the litter on the sides of the street, the long lines at the gas pump, the road raging people fighting over parking spots, red or green lights…the absence of it all in my newfound fuzzy world made it all suddenly bearable. In fact, it made everything joyful.

So much of what we’re feeling in any given moment stems from our reaction to things, people, their expression, society at its business. If there is no stimulus being absorbed, there is no reaction being created.  It leaves our brains with so much more time and space.  With less junk to process, our brains are less occupied and more open to absorb and digest that which we have already consumed in stimulus or experience.  While I had vowed to remember from that moment on to take regular breaks from “seeing”, I have promptly forgotten that because of too much else crowding it out. As empowering as it was to be able to see clearly over 3 decades ago, it was just as freeing to abandon that gift of sight for a short while in my forties. It allowed me to have perspective. It allowed my anxieties to melt away just like that.

You may just have the power to unsee too. See if you get out of it what I did.  You will have found another tool in your toolbox to temporarily gain perspective and feel free. Go ahead and give it a try. What do you have to lose? 😉

It’s time to hit the reset button

Last day of chemo

Last day of chemo

Reset.

This is my state of mind today; like my brain has been reset. It’s been 9 months since I stopped treatment. I met with my oncologist today and he reassured me that he does not see any signs of a recurrence (despite my own apprehensions).  Strangely, I felt slightly lost. Not jubilant- lost!  I asked him what I should do now. I don’t know what he said to that. Isn’t that odd? Cannot even remember when I close my eyes tight and will my mind to remember.  I did reflect on where I stand and what I’ve been through and I finally knew what I needed to do.

I need to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and carry on with the rest of my life.  No matter how positive I’ve been all my life, the past several months have knocked the stuffing out of me; Just because I had to face this difficult predicament does not mean that will be my lot forever.

I need to keep in touch with that fact.

Cancer came, it socked me a heavy punch, I’m still recovering from it, but it hasn’t taken me down and I can still carry on. Bruised-yup, battered-yes, throwing in the towel- Not a chance!

Revisiting the past year, I admit it has been the hardest time of my life but cancer was just one part of it.  I lost a friend to breast cancer last year (quite unexpectedly) and that, coupled with the hardest part of my treatments nearly did me in.  Maybe it was her good will and that of everyone who has loved and cared for me so deeply, that I did not turn into a pile of dust along the way.  She has been very close to my thoughts this past year and giving me courage even when I could no longer see her or speak to her. It’s incredible what we can go through and still survive, thrive even.  While I’m not at the ‘thrive’ stage of my journey just yet, I am definitely surviving.

I’ve heard people answer sometimes to a well-meaning, ‘how are you?’, with, ‘oh, I’m surviving’ followed by a chuckle and while there may be some truth to that, that use of the word, ‘surviving’ may be slightly different than the way I use it here.  I mean to say it in a way you might say, ‘I survived a head-on collision’, for that is what the past year was like- a head-on collision; where you are shocked to your core, where fatalities are expected and if you get away with your life, you survived it. You may be badly banged up, barely holding on to life, but you survived it.  It is beyond the daily exhaustions and frustrations of life.  It leaves you breathless, in a desperate state that you need to recover from, and yes, traumatized.  It’s akin to fighting an enemy loaded with guns, grenades etc. I imagine, but the enemy is camouflaged.  You hide in the trenches, firing your own weapons all the time but you’re not sure you’re getting any of them, until…until you go to your follow up visit and the doc tells you to relax, you got this thing beat (at least so far).

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to fear. In fact, the more I read, the more I start to tag my fate to those that won’t survive this thing but I’m asking myself, why? Why do I tag my fate to the statistic that says x percentage will recur? Why don’t I follow along the statistic of those who’ve managed to survive? It’s my choice how I think of my chances.  There is nothing my oncologist could find that makes him think I’m relapsing, so why don’t I hook my boxcar to his engine and believe what he’s saying? It leads me to open pastures of possibility.  A place where I might live out my normal expected life expectancy. No reason I should deny myself that possibility unless I am decidedly fatalistic. I don’t want to be. There are too many possibilities, so I’m going to choose to be pro-life in this instance and believe that I need to live out what life I’ve been given and not worry about if and when that other shoe will drop.  I have a clear choice to make and I pick life! Life, with all its’ ups and downs, rewards and challenges, thrills and valleys.

The news is not always good. I’ve had the privilege to stand by those who have not been as lucky as I now find myself. They’ve surprised me with their attitude, willing to look their mortality in the eye and continue with what courage and grace they can muster towards the end of their life.  In those situations I cried for them, I wished them strength, I wished they’d be able to tie all loose ends and continue to the end of their life with dignity and love to carry them through.  I hope when that time comes for me, as it most certainly will, that I’ll make myself worthy to be counted in that class of souls who continue to live, until there is no longer life left in them.

For now, I am choosing to press the reset button and am keeping my mind on all the life I have yet to live.❤️

A love so pure

I remember those late night feedings when everything else receded into the background except the close presence of my little baby girl and the soft noises she made as she nursed. My sleepiness in those moments was quickly replaced by a feeling of love so deep and pure, nothing could equal its unparalleled joy.  I was lucky enough to experience it a second time when my second daughter was born.

Now, many years later, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced it yet again. My daughters are almost 16 and 19 now.  Over the years they’ve lovingly created mother’s day cards and gifted me pictures made with dry macaroni and bracelets made of beads. I’ve been frequently overwhelmed with love whenever I’ve received such gifts but nothing could have prepared me for what they did for me just over a year ago when our family faced one of our biggest challenges. My heart swells with love and my eyes brim with tears as I recount it.

In June last year I was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  We didn’t know what to expect then and well, no one really knows what to expect next either but rewind a year and we really felt like we were standing at the foot of a great big forest with only darkness and a chaos of jumbled branches visible through the woods.

We chose to be honest and transparent with our daughters, who, wise beyond their years were so in need for us to treat them as adults.  I shared with the girls that I was going to need a bone marrow biopsy. They were horrified when I explained to them what that entailed even though I tried not to scare them too much with details.  It was definitely not a pleasant experience but not as bad as I expected either. Let’s just say I’d maybe rather have a tooth extraction? I’ve had to have 2 bone marrow biopsies now and I’ve lived through them…it’s really not as bad as I had conjured it to be in my mind.  The unknown is definitely scarier than the reality in this case. Well I was a little worse for wear when I got home after the first bone marrow biopsy that day. When I went up to my room for the night, a beautiful array of goodies awaited me!

5AB8104D-4419-4B21-8A27-5E9E65E677E8I was thoroughly surprised at this display, of which I had had no prior inkling and nestled in my surprise gifts were what can only be described as two of the most tear jerking notes I have ever read in my entire life!!

Sure my hip still hurt but the love and loving words in those notes dulled the pain and made it bearable.  My self-pity switched tracks and started moving down the path of gratefulness.  In that moment I cried tears of joy, borne out of love, overwhelmed to see such empathy and compassion in my own children…experiencing their love in a whole new way.  I whispered many blessings for them and prayed with all my might that sorrow never darkens their doorstep. It was the first time during this journey that I was grateful; had I not been faced with such a difficult time, I would not have experienced such emotions; joy so deep that it floors you, then takes you to such heights that you feel one with the universe; love so pure that it puts a sparkle on everything you behold and gives a silver lining to every cloud.

A life resplendent with such love can only be a blessing. I’m so  grateful for mine. ❤️

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Kindness and compassion; inspiring words, inspired thought.

Sometimes in a passing moment, we feel inspired, profoundly touched, and close to our one great truth. I experienced such a moment yesterday.

Many years ago, I watched the movie, Seven years in Tibet. I know, thinking back that it was an important movie but like many other things in life, I had forgotten the story line, the details etc.  Yesterday, I felt like watching a movie but wasn’t in the mood for most subjects. I scrolled through many titles on Netflix and not one touched a cord with me.  Seeing the cover of Seven years in Tibet somehow felt right for the mood I was in.

I watched the entire film and felt moved by one scene in particular, so much so that it made me feel like I suddenly changed tracks on the path of life.  In this scene, the Dalai Lama asks Brad Pitt’s character what he loves about mountain climbing. Brad Pitt says he loves the absolute simplicity, how the mind is freed from all confusion, becomes clear and is in focus, the light becomes sharper, the sounds are richer and you are filled with the deep powerful presence of life; “I’ve only felt that way one other time”, he says. The Dalai Lama asks, “when” and Brad replies, “in your presence Kungo.”, he says referring to the young Dalai Lama. That exchange touched me to my core. Everything else became buoyant in that moment, light filled and somehow explicable. The struggles we feel in life and how we are always looking for the meaning of the struggles (the why) and how we are looking for the solutions to those struggles ( the how), suddenly felt resolvable. It is what I needed to look to. A presence in which all other voices quieten…

I finished out the movie, then looked for the teachings of the Dalai Lama on the web and came upon the 25 teachings of the 14th Dalai Lama http://influence.techmazic.com/peaceful-teachings-of-dalai-lama/.  I read through those simple statements of wisdom and read over some of them again and again. They spoke to me, simply, effectively, and with great emphasis. All other voices quietened. Two words resonated with me at a deeper level than all others: kindness and compassion. Below are some of the teachings found at the aforementioned website that embody the feeling And essence I hope to thread through my being. Clearly, the concepts are simple and perhaps even ones we are familiar with and we feel we know, but to inhabit your being within these words, such that they flow through us in our actions, ceaselessly circulate through our minds, in our hearts and with every movement or thought towards all human beings, that is what I hope to work towards and some day hope to achieve, in my remaining time.

It is a tall order but one can always hope and one can try. ❤️

2. “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive”

~14th Dalai Lama

3. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

~14th Dalai Lama

4. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible”

~14th Dalai Lama

12. “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace”

~14th Dalai Lama

22. “A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you”

~14th Dalai Lama

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The state of affairs- where is humanity headed?

IMG_2163I’ve always avoided watching the news. The negative, disturbing events that most often get vast and obsessive media coverage tend to haunt me for days after I’ve let them seep into my psyche. It cannot be undone, I can’t hit the rewind button and jump over the messy, demoralizing parts.  Yet lately, having found myself with time on my hands, I have been reading the news on Flipboard. Initially, I was just skipping over the sad news stories but a couple of days in a row now, I found myself opening the story and reading about it.  It’s left me feeling like a guitar string that was pulled too hard and let go. The feelings of despair are reverberating through me and around me. I can’t shake it.

Here are some of the stories I read about:

  • The President of the United States encouraging police brutality.
  • A teenager who encouraged her boyfriend, also a teenager, to commit suicide.
  • Increasing number of child deaths from being left in over-heated cars.
  • Alarming number of deaths in Toronto from Fentanyl overdosages

I recognize that these are not new, that is, this sampling of inhumane, dumb as anything, despicable human behaviour has existed for as long as we’ve been around, only the accessibility to the news is heightened; however, that in itself is appalling! Should we not be making progress, rather than repeating, watching our race continue to repeat such abominable acts?

For one thing, we have come through decades of human rights demonstrations time and time again, achieved high ground, declared all humans to be equal, only to go back to square one where the man incharge of a nation is goading the people whose goal is to serve and protect, to rather do harm?! It’s unthinkable, alarming, and unconscionable!

Then we have a teenager, who encouraged her boyfriend to complete his suicide attempt, which he did, upon her insistence. A young man, on the brink of the rest of his life, was taken away from his parents, sister, friends…I cannot begin to imagine the horror for this poor family- it is permanent. The girlfriend too, if she realizes now her mistake and regrets it, there is no turning back. This life she encouraged to its end, cannot be returned. It’s gone. The permanence of death is not to be misunderstood.

I don’t even know how to begin understanding the phenomenon where 29 children have been lost to overheated vehicles, this year alone. In one instance the mother left a toddler and an infant in the car as punishment and both succumbed to the heat. It makes me scream inside, so loud that my soul feels hoarse. How is this possible? How can we allow this to go on?

Life, the greatest gift of all, has become a cheap, dispensable thing.  How did this happen and how can we undo it?  Human life is taken in a fit of rage, under the influence of drugs, on the grounds of war (religious, territorial, racial, etc.), to satisfy ones ego, due to irresponsibility, to get money, and so many other such insane and completely unnecessary reasons. How is it that in the last century, or two or longer we have become immune to such atrocities and unable to come up with a solution? We have found a way to transport oil in pipelines, thousands of miles from where it was found, send our race to the moon, work out a way to send information anywhere in a matter of moments, beat diseases that were unbeatable, change the gender of a person but somehow, all this collective brainpower has not manifested itself into a solution to prevent unnecessary death and reverse motion on high ground gained in human rights.

I am not myself so bright that I could cause such a solution or set of solutions to appear, but I could contribute. I do hope though, with all my might, that we start thinking about and each of us join our voices in a chorus to affect a change, where solutions are created and put into motion, so that lives are not unnecessarily lost and are instead respected, for this highly regarded gift is only here to stay so long before it turns to dust. Collectively, we can affect a change. If each person, everywhere, joined their voice together, there is no knowing what could happen. We could overcome all the tragedies of our times and times past, to truly make progress, as one race, the human race.

No matter where we are from, where we end up, we all started with with a body made of the same materials and we are all going to end in the same dust that covers this earth. The differences that cause us despair, are immaterial. Some day I hope we achieve oneness of thought on that. I hope humanity is headed towards all that is good and peaceful, I hope we cause that to happen. ❤️IMG_2414

Insights from my 1st chemo treatment…

IMG_3375Never, in all the time that I cared for my patients receiving ablative chemotherapy, was I so attuned to their particular misery, as I have just had the opportunity  to acquaint myself with in the last several days. Today started on a high note. I felt great when I woke up this morning. In fact, the first time I was aware of myself after I closed my eyes last night, was when I woke this morning. I have a need to explain the pleasure I derived from this amazing experience last night.

Good sleep is a singular treasure, one which you deeply and truly appreciate only after you’ve had the misfortune of sleeping fitfully or not at all for long enough that you shout, “enough already!”.  I suddenly have a better appreciation for people who are constantly distressed due to insomnia.  In the last few years, I’ve rarely slept well and in fact don’t remember feeling refreshed in the mornings for many months now, but being on steroids, gives sleeplessness new meaning. Frequently, I’m reminded that we only appreciate something when there is a lack of it (light and darkness, for example). I feel like I’ve just been involved in a brutal experiment to allow me to see this fact more clearly.  For the first 5 days of the chemo cycle, I was taking massive doses of steroids, which made me restless, grouchy, emotional, and incapable of sleep.  In addition to that, the cocktail of toxins that I consumed were playing all kinds of havoc on me. Trying to sleep these last few days was like trying to sleep on a heavy metal concert stage where the audience hated the music and pummelled the stage with anything they could get their hands on. It was tortuous. I could feel my husband softly breathing beside me, deep in restful sleep but all was chaos and misery just inches away on my side of the bed. I tried to pace the floor but I felt too weak; I tried calming myself down by breathing but my heart was racing and pounding so that I ended up constantly measuring my pulse, I read lengthy journal articles about steroids, played 2048 on my phone, under the covers, went to the washroom a gazillion times, cried quiet tears of anguish and pain, slept fitfully for 30 min at a time and finally…It was morning and I was exhausted from the effort of trying to sleep! ( I feel like we are missing a grammatical exclamation mark in the English language that expresses anguish and despair. The ‘!’ is so ill equipped to end the sentence in a statement such as the one I just made. 💡Note to self, to work on this at some point). Clearly, after 7 days of this unfolding of sleep time events, 6 hrs of sleep, where I didn’t know I even existed, was the highest gift I could have had bestowed upon me. Now you see why I woke up on a high note this morning!

Sleeplessness was one part of a mini-series of battles I fought over the last several days.  5 days in, I was sure what I felt was exactly as if a bomb had been dropped and detonated inside my body, in the area of maximum impact and reach. The day of the bombing (chemo cocktail) was mostly uneventful. I had some heart rhythm problems from the medication given to avoid a reaction to one of the cocktial of drugs I was going to get, got super sleepy, had a headache and fleeting congestion, felt exhausted from the long day, but that was it- uneventful. Slept fitfully when I got home and the next day it felt like my system was too full-overloaded. My little old heart pounded in my chest as if  someone was after it, threatening its existence and it was shaking the prison bars to get free fast!  My weight shot up 4 lbs from the previous day and to my knowledge I’d consumed no more than 500 cal the previous day! I had a headache to match the pounding of my heart and I was ready for fight or flight. Then late in the afternoon all dams suddenly broke loose and after the nth visit to the ladies room that evening, I had rid myself of 4lbs of fluid that had built up inside me. What a relief! The headache loosened its grip slightly and the heart finally lost its grip on the delusion that someone was after its life.

Just as I was starting to think the worst had passed me by, my mental faculties suddenly decided to take a vacay. This is the part where steroids suck any lexicon of rational thought you may have, right out of you, in case you try to be yourself while consuming tragic amounts of the stuff. I had a M-A-J-O-R emotional breakdown over something my husband said, which on any normal day would not even have caught my attention. It was as if he had been secretly nudged and queued by the dark steroid invaders to say something, anything, that would push me over the edge. I cried like a baby, quite literally and loudly, with a feeling of despair so great that I thought I was literally going to break in half or at the very least, dissolve into this great misery that was absolutely trying to swallow me up. In that moment (or collection of moments) I felt like life was over and this thing was going to swallow me up; there was no escaping it and no one understood how I felt. I was so far down in that dark well that no light approached me. No amount of hugging and loving it better, made it better. I was gone from the real world. I kept feeling this rage bubble up inside me, wanting to throw things at the wall, alternating with deep despair. I just couldn’t climb out of these feelings and to make matters worse, I was doubled over in pain that felt like someone drove a sharp object through my abdomen and clear through my back. It was so intense that I was crying at once from both the physical pain and the emotional well I had fallen into. I had to ask my daughter to bring me some food so I could buffer the pains I was feeling from the steroids attacking my belly.  That did improve pain long enough for nausea to take over. I felt like someone maliciously threw me onto an old rickety roller coaster, which made me pass through the valley of depression, the whirlpool of nausea, and then jerked around on its old joints so hard that it made everything in my body ache from my head, down to my toes.

It was at about this time, when my immune system decided it had been out of this exciting adventure far too long and jumped in head first to again make it’s motives known- enter joint pain. Not everyone is aware that I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for over 10 years now and have been on injectible biologic agents and a low dose chemotherapy drug for 10 or so years. For the most part, I’ve been lucky with my RA, it’s been well controlled and my joints have been spared any damage in all those years. That the RA itself or the drugs to control it, may have had some hand in developing lymphoma and putting me in my current predicament, is another story, one which I may have to eventually put down to paper. For now, it suffices to say, the ugly face of RA decided to rear its head, now that it found itself overshadowed by the lymphoma mafia. Every joint hurt to a debilitating degree and no amount of pain medication popping and ointment rubbing was going to make it stop. In the end, I spent 2+ days in excruciating pain, while I passed through the valley of depression and the whirlpool of nausea… not fun at all. It took the daring right out of me, if it wasn’t already gone many years ago when I decided the thought of roller coasters produced the opposite of ‘thrill ‘ in me.

Then, just as I thought I was at my worst, the toxic sludge decided to shake up my insides, just to make sure it had done its job at the point of touch down and I started running to the ladies room for a whole other reason than before. After I emerged, I was so spent that I thought I was going to pass out in the space of time it took me to wash my hands! I had discovered the next phase of the roller coaster ride, the one where you go through the dark tunnel, where life like skeletal appendages reach out to touch you and for a quick second you see their red lit eyes in the darkness, then everything goes dark, and suddenly you are through the tunnel and light is here again, only to face some other horror on the ride.  Twice, I had the blackness come over me and luckily, I got to a sitting position before it knocked me off my feet. I am so grateful for that, I cannot even form words to express it. I would be horrified if I actually passed out because I know just how awfully upsetting it would be for whomever in my family had the misfortune of finding me in that state.

Here I want to take a pause and reflect on a phenomenon my patients always told me about but I never truly understood: chemo brain. So, there is this foggy quality to your brain, when you experience chemo and initially (1st couple days out) it was just misplacing words and using the wrong word for things, calling Netflix, Pinterest and so forth, then I descended into stranger territory. My mind was no longer minding itself, I wasn’t just not connecting dots, there were no dots left to connect! I was not thinking about why I was having certain symptoms and how I might counteract or ease them. Normally my oncology nurse brain is in full swing, but here when I needed it for myself, it was suddenly out on leave! What I would have known on auto pilot (that I needed to hydrate, get electrolytes stabilized and eat bland foods to soothe my worn out gut) was suddenly a fact that I had complete amnesia on. I was shocked when I finally found this knowledge suddenly appear to me in a moment of clarity. Shocked, that I hadn’t thought of it over 2+ days of feeling rotten and nearly blacking out twice. But this was a manifestation of the brain fog induced by chemotherapy and I finally understood it.

Now, a week after my first chemo infusion, I finally feel a little like myself; weak, fatigued, a little light-headed, slightly nauseated, with lingering joint pains and a pain in the joint of my jaw that won’t quit, but myself. I am hopeful, the remaining 2 weeks till my next chemo infusion will be uneventful and the cycle will not repeat itself with quite the same intensity as this one.  I expect there will be other adventures and insights to be gained in coming months. I’m content with the knowledge that through this past week I got to feel a little closer to the experience my patients were having. Though I empathized with them, I never walked in their shoes before but now I understand it just a little more from the insider’s view point…In case I forget to say it later, I’m grateful for everything that is to come. I know there is a good reason and a grand scheme. I believe it with all my heart.

I’ve got my sleeves rolled up and I’m ready to catch what comes my way (as best as I can) 😉

Spring; a new lease on life

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I know I said I was going to write at least once a month but who truly keeps their new year resolutions? Kind of like those gym memberships…ahem! We won’t go there. After all I did want to write about spring, not New Years resolutions 🙂

You know that moment when you open the front door and smell that distinct flowery fragrance? Well it happened a few days ago; strangely, at night. I opened the front door to get a whiff of fresh air and I smelled that beautiful lightly fragrant air that reminded me that somewhere downstream from my house the spring blooms had cropped up.  That one whiff breathed new life into my soul.  The way the fresh little tender green bleeding heart plants did at my back porch all these years at my last house. I miss them, that first sign of the thaw, a reminder that it won’t always be frigid.

The sun has been shining its good graces upon us lately and I am so grateful for it. Something happens over the course of the winter. I think I know why bears hibernate in the winter, beyond the biological reason… They want to avoid the cold that settles over your heart and soul during the winter months, when the landscape goes gray and white. Gary and white is beautiful, sure but it cannot compare to the vibrant flourishes of colour in the spring! The beautifully crisp blue skies, the gorgeous green grass against the newly budding trees and shrubs. The tender, bright green leaves popping out of the dark earth, the beautiful purple flowers close to the green grass, the lovely robins and chickadees, no, winter’s got nothing on spring.

Then there are the heart warming sounds…birds chirping at your window in the morning, calling out to their kin; instead of a shovel scraping the ground or a snow plough backing up (you know I’m right!)  Then there are the sounds of the kids playing, running through the streets. I don’t know about you but that’s not a sound I hear over the winter. I might hear the rushed footsteps of people walking, trying to get indoors as soon as they can make it. It just does not compare to the ringing laughter of kids having fun in the streets.

Over the winter, I frequently find myself yearning for freedom that warmth affords. We’ve found a way to make things comfortable indoors of course. We have a furnace that keeps us warm and for added comfort we flick on the fireplace and roast our buns (there’s no place like home) but we’re confined ( those of us who have the bears’ personality).   We’re confined to our however many comfortable square feet.

………….

This post was written and left unintentionally but decidedly unfinished due to technical difficulties of the mind. 1 May 2016.

Life in the fast lane, for now…

I don’t recall what I thought my life would be like when I grew up but I never imagined this. Not that it’s bad and I am not complaining, just observing my life from a little distance.

Even for a big city, my life was slow paced as a kid. Sure I had to wake up at a torturous hour to head to school but it was easy going. My parents didn’t force me to get good grades nor did they instill competitiveness or pining for wealth in my psyche.  No, they allowed me to float, as long as I stayed out of trouble and didn’t fail anything, they were ok with it.  I remember coming home in the afternoons and laying on the stone floor to beat the heat.  I’d spread my arms out, lay spreadeagle, face cheek down on the cold stone floor so the maximum surface area of my body could absorb the coolness from the ground.  When I felt cool enough, I’d run outside and shout out for my best friend who was also my next door neighbour. I would call up to her rented first floor house next door till she came out to talk to me. We would make plans to hang out (sometimes our plans were dashed by her mom who wanted her to study hard) but most times, we would hang out, talk silly kiddish stories until it was dinner time, then we’d each head home, eat dinner, and go to bed.

There was no google in your back pocket, no snapchat conversations being had while you hung out with your best friend, no one was snapping pictures and there was no pressure to look good for selfies that your 2000 followers could see and instantly comment on. Life was easy, uncomplicated, with no microchips attached.  I remember asking my dad if I could get a job when I was in high school and he said you don’t need a job, just volunteer your time. So I volunteered to teach tuitions to kids slightly younger than me. It felt good and since I wasn’t getting paid, no expectations and therefore no stress.  The kids I taught, did well anyway but it was most likely due to their own motivation to do well.

Then at 19, I moved across the globe. I got a part time job in a child care centre and for the first time, saw the real world. One where people could be petty and childish ( I’m talking about the adults😯). I was astounded. I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

The kids were awesome. I enjoyed every minute of my time with them. I was usually with the toddlers. Oh my goodness! What an amazing time I had playing and singing with them, watching them be lulled to sleep at nap time as soon as the lullabies were played on the old tape recorder ( I know, remember those? Nostalgia…) and of course all the while getting an education in the real world.  That wasn’t my favourite part but it was necessary.  Life was still fairly sane.  Then I decided I was ready to finish my education. I started nursing school and after a while when the day care became difficult to juggle with the assignments and exams, I finally said a tearful goodbye to the toddlers. They clung to me and gave me special cards and momentos to hang on to.  The affection they left me with, is palpable even now. It was a beautiful time in my life. I didn’t have much to call my own, except love and affection. I felt rich in love and affection, poor in wealth, but still sane.

Then 3 years later, I was lucky enough to call myself a nurse.  I got a job as a nurse and started a new life. It was righteous, sincere, honest, and I felt extreme responsibility descend on me every time I took report.  I was literally taking on the duty to nurture and protect some of the most vulnerable people and a misstep could cause them their life. I worked hard. When I slept I had nightmares about forgetting to give a patient his medication or sleeping through the entire shift. Of course none of those things ever happened and I learnt that other nurses suffered similar side effects.  It eased my mind a bit.

In those days a degree was not required to become a nurse in the province.  So after my diploma and certification exams were done, I was able to start practicing but my heart yearned for more. I am academically inclined and I thought I should finish my degree, maybe even apply to med school. My husband was supportive, so while working at the hospital, I enrolled at university and started the road to my BScN. I was excited. Shortly into my first semester, I learnt I was expecting. I was thrilled.  It also meant that some decisions had to be made. I couldn’t very well work, finish a degree and have a child all at the same time. There are people, superhumans, who are capable of such feats but there was nothing super about me. I needed to focus on this important guest who was soon going to dictate every breathing moment of my life. I decided to put my degree on hold while I tended to the most precious little bundle who was only going to be a newborn once.  It was an important decision, a good one at that. Instead of the six month leave allowed back then, I took nine months, to really soak in the pleasures of being a mom, of having a child with a heart of gold. Her every smile put me over the moon.  I was enamoured with this little creature who could set my heart aflutter with a little giggle.

Six months into this new journey, I learnt my dad had terminal cancer. I took My baby and headed across the globe to see my parents. It was a difficult trip. Coming to terms with your parents’ illness and mortality is hard. Especially if all your life you thought your dad was superhuman and immortal.  Six months later my dad passed away. The feelings I endured on the flight home were some of my deepest, most painful and despairing ones. I wonder when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly if she endures the same feelings. It is, it was a metamorphosis. I don’t remember ever before that time, being so deeply sad that I thought I would never smile again, nor did I feel life could ever be the same again. A part of me was numb, yet another was feeling so deeply, I thought I would break in half; like immersing a freezing cold glass into boiling hot water. It was torture.  I did emerge out of those feelings eventually but it was a heavy heart that I tagged along.

As they say, time is an incredible healer (funny that it should also cause us to age and succumb to our vulnerabilities, on the other hand). Time did dull the pain of my wounded heart. I emerged on the other side, still believing that everything happens for a good reason and we just have to believe. Just believe. I believe. I have faith in a higher power. It saved me, allowed me to go on.

My mom accompanied me back to my home here. It was wonderful to have her here so my daughter could stay at home in the loving comfort of her arms. I went back to work but my heart wasn’t still. The changes that took place on the floor I worked on, were strange. The unit went from being an interesting mix of acute cardiology and general medicine, to part day surgery and part general medicine. My heart wasn’t in it. I told my best friend and she immediately asked me to consider a move to the oncology unit she was working on. She said I would love it. I agreed to interview and before I could say goodbye, I was working at an oncology hospital, looking after complex patients afflicted with cancer. I will forever be grateful to my best friend and for fate to get me over there. It changed my life, quite literally. I found my passion.  The gratification it brought me remains indescribable. While I spent myself in each twelve hour shift so fully, that by the time I got on the subway to head home, I could barely keep my eyes open, I was at peace.  On the commute home, I absorbed all that happened that day and my insides glowed with a strange satisfaction. I was happy,

Two years later, I had my second daughter, a little bundle of peaceful joy. As much a joy as the first time around, I decided to throw myself into caring for her full time. I stayed home with her for a full year, loving the days of pure joy, a second opportunity to love so wholly and deeply that your heart feels full to the brim. I never imagined how one could love someone so much, yet have so much more to give, to your other child and your partner. It’s one of life’s great mysteries.  What a pleasure that year was, focusing on this little miracle and then having the unique pleasure of watching the two interact. I felt I had won the lottery.

At the end of that year after my second daughter was born, I did go back to work but it was a difficult transition. Daily, I tore myself away,from the girls to go work at the hospital, cried half the way to work. Though I was fully composed most of the time, any signs,of a child (a car seat, a soother, a stroller) would send me into a tearful meltdown on my drives to and from work for a while.  That too eventually passed.

I was working in outpatient clinical trials by that time. I did spend a lot of time at work and slowly got pulled into a part time position on top of it at the hospital next door to help out an oncologist in a rare, and difficult position. It was a great opportunity and one that I learned from immensely but the full time day job and the part time evenings and weekends job, coupled with responsibilities of raising a family may have started to put strain on my otherwise easygoing style.

In time, I decided the commute and the emotional strain from my involvement in my primary job were too much to allow me to continue.  I took a pay cut and a job in the industry, into what I thought would be more manageable work. Boy, was I wrong. My chronicles as a CRA could easily fill the pages of a memoir but we don’t have that kind of space here🙃

I continued in that job and allowed it to get the better of me, till I could not deny that it was harming my physical health. I resigned from the position and soon discovered I had rheumatoid arthritis.

I attempted to get a hold of life, right my sailboat and focused on my family and health. For a while things were difficult but eventually with my health steadily improving, my confidence was restored and I felt I had prevented a bad downturn. Soon opportunity came knocking and I went back to work for a major pharmaceutical company. It was a busy but good time with fair balance. Managing my health, work, and home was a challenge but one I thought I was managing well. Then a change in the company’s business model coincided with an offer from another company. I moved to the other company and while for the most part I worked from home, I literally never left work.

Striking a work/life balance is tough but never tougher when you’re trying to balance it from your ‘work from home job’!!

…….

Life was clearly getting ahead of me, stress was getting a hold of me, in more ways than one for a long time  now and I’ve just ignored the signs too long.

I started to write this post in February this year but never had a chance to finish it. I started having odd symptoms at the end of February, which have culminated into a cancer diagnosis. I wish I stopped a little sooner to truly take notice of how much stress my body and mind have been under, over a sustained period of time. I have not loved myself enough and it’s time to take the next exit and even take the path less traveled.

I’ll see you on my journey through Part II of my life.❤

A new opportunity

It is debateable which part of my life can be called insane; the one where I was travelling at warp speed, not able to appreciate the view or the one where it has come to a complete and sudden halt with a shudder!
On June 5th, I was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B cell Lymphoma.
As soon as the words left the doctor’s mouth, they embossed themselves harshly on the reality of my life and that of my family and close friends.
As harsh as the reality is, there are countless blessings I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for a great team of clinicians and diagnosticians who can break down the complexity of this disease and make it beatable. I’m grateful for my employer and colleagues, who have allowed me to step away and focus on regaining health. I’m supremely grateful for my husband, my girls, my friends, and family, without whom,this would be undoable, the journey untenable. Aside from all these, there are countless other blessings for which I cannot help but be thankful. The higher power has a ‘grand scheme’ for us all, I always say and now more than ever, I believe that to be the case.

I hear life is all about balance, so I need to keep in mind all the sweetness with the sour reality that’s come to visit me for a while 🙂
Frequently when I finished cleaning the kitchen after dinner and was finally rewarded with a satisfyingly shiny kitchen, fit for a morning coffee, I’d raise my arms up in a winning pose and shout, ‘ and she does it again!’. The kids always smile at my silliness.  Now I cannot wait to be able to say that at the end of treatment when they tell me it’s    been successfully beat!

I don’t imagine it will be possible to be 100% positive, 100% of the time, so I will leave room for some moping in my life and the occasional pity party but I do hope I can face this with strength and courage so that others around me who gaze deeply at me each morning to see what the days’ forecast looks like for me, can feel hopeful and strengthened by my own resolve.

It’s a great opportunity for me to practice my faith in the higher power,  spend meaningful time with those nearest and dearest to me, learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses, indulge in lost hobbies and generally ‘live’ rather than ‘get through’ each day.

The last many years have been full of busyness, the daily run around, with its forgetful reality, where you forget…forget why you are doing what you are doing, forget why you started what you started, forget what’s important, who’s important, forget all the important meaningful pieces of you that make your life, make sense. I’m looking forward to understanding what makes me tick, what makes me dance with joy and having the time to dance with joy. Hopefully, I will be so fortunate to see it through; ‘the dancing with joy’, part.

Hopeful and grateful.❤

Small talk

imageCan you remember all the summers you’ve had? How about all the hurtful moments or all the happy moments? Even with a good memory, only a few of us remember our lives like a storybook. The sequence, the details of every moment are just too hard to store in our limited memories.  I bet though, most of us can remember the ‘defining moments’….like the ones where you were embarrassed, you secretly wished you didn’t exist or that it was a dream?  You’ll remember the regrets too, most likely. The ones that make us wish we could turn back time, just so we could go back and re- do it.  Then there are the moments of deep and sustained joy or sadness. Funny how, being the polar opposites they can sit side by side in that statement.  Deep joys and deep sadnesses have just that kind of impact.  That’s why I think tears are like the unifying symbol. When you are sad you cry, when you are deeply happy- you cry. How does it happen? Something touches us to our core so deeply, that though the emotion may be different, it produces the same result…tears. It’s brilliant actually. I don’t think it’s about the ‘type’ of emotion actually. I think it’s about the depth of emotion.

Those are the things we remember.

That is why I think a lot of us are averse to creating moments that create neither; nor lasting sadness that touches us to our core, nor sustained happiness that puts the fear of God in us, lest it be taken away.  We avoid small talk. Oh we can manage it well enough but each time we indulge in it, we are distinctly aware of the time we are losing. It frustrates us but if you are a congenial person, which I think I am, you just go along with it, all the while, wondering WHY can’t we just move on, end the conversation, be rude, avoid further discourse….

Small talk is unappealing to me at best but those who know me probably think I’m pretty good at it because I do go on. I can entertain and smile even when I feel like life is ending and I’ll never be happy again. Weird, isn’t it? I think it’s just the way I thought I was supposed to behave, so often I am caught up in between feeling like I should just be myself and that feeling that makes me just go along with the way of the world, well because there is no need to propecize how you’re feeling. Besides everyone is so busy in their own lives, who wants to start a deep discussion about how I am ‘ truly’ feeling on a given day.

Years of rearing rituals have ensured most people answer the same way when asked, ‘how are you?’. Most people say, ‘great’, ‘good’, ‘fantastic!’, when in reality most of us are farthest from that feeling. How do we break this bubble we’ve created around us that cannot be broken? I mean, if the dry cleaner asks you ‘how are you?’ He’s not really asking for the story of your life, he’s just being polite, using this question as a way to greet you. We really should consider if this is the most appropriate greeting. Do we ‘really’ have time to hear how everyone we meet in a given day is doing? So imagine this day for a second.  For the purpose of this exercise I’ll remind you that the family we live with asks us how we are doing, fully expecting and prepared for an honest answer. With them we do express (usually) our honest feelings, unless you are in a fight, then all expressions and their ‘true’ meaning goes out the window! Ever heard of the discourse between a husband and wife, who are thawing out from a disagreement and the husband says ,’how are you?’ And the wife says, ‘fine’. We are not going to go into those types of conversations.  For the purpose of the philosophical discussion at hand we will stick to scenarios that skirt this kind of expression(for obvious reasons! That would be a different post entirely!)

Ok,,so to go back to pretending…you start your day, everyone has gone off to their respective stations (work, school, etc. things that can’t be avoided).  You get a knock at the door. The Fed Ex delivery guy is at your door. You say ‘hello’ and the guy says ”hello’. You say ‘how are you?’. Remember now, this is the cursory greeting we use, like an extension to a file name.  It is in no way an invitation to spill your guts.  Now imagine that the Fed Ex guy is not well versed in social mores and starts taking your question at face value! Next thing you know, it’s 2 hours later, you’re growing roots into the spot near your door and the Fed Ex guy is still telling you what an unsuccessful day it’s been so far because he woke up to an apartment full of cat poop because his cat has gone senile and in controlling the situation he was late to work, his boss yelled at him despite his perfect record of being prompt on the job and how he was late starting and… Well you get the idea. If you are me, you’re just standing there being polite and trying to figure out a sure fire way of getting this guy back to his truck! Now imagine that you had this exchange with everyone you saw that day. I think you’re starting to get the picture 🙂

In short, it is a ridiculous way to greet people. If you don’t want to hear the true answer to, ‘how are you?’, please don’t ask the question?  I’m tempted sometimes to throw people off, think I got the idea from my husband, to say something like ‘oh I feel like crap’ and get off onto a rant about why, just to mess with the dry cleaner or the Shoppers’ clerk or whoever.  I think it would be quite funny actually.

So going back to my original train of thought, why involve ourselves in all these moments of small talk and non essential banter if we’re bound to forget about it just as soon as the door shuts on the Fed Ex guy and we rip into the contents of the package? What is the point of wasting ALL that precious time just to be one with our societal mores?

I guess the pleasantries and small talk can have its place as long as we play by the rules; say, ‘fine, thank you’ to the Fed Ex guy and move on to the bigger fish that’s waiting to be fried.

Afterall, more than likely, that moment isn’t going to have the lasting effect that makes it part of your permanent etched memory.

Go on, have your small talk  and forget it too, like you are bound to. The good stuff will come in its own good time. Until then, we’ll let the small talk bridge the gap between ‘how are you’ and the real answer one of your family members gives you.

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