Falling in Love with Me

…This post cancer life is so new and different and, in a way, disconnected from a lot of what I once was. It is by all accounts a rebirth.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  In case you were wondering, I haven’t stopped writing, haven’t stopped pouring my soul out on cyber paper.  I’m a writer and that’s what I do and I love it.   But I took a break from the “public” blog while I healed from my recent (and hopefully final) surgery because to be honest, I didn’t know what to say to all of you.  Why? Well, simply put, I was having a hard time understanding myself, my new and cancer-free self!  I needed to put the mental burn time in, a concerted effort to introduce the old me to the new me and try and make some sense of it all.   

But it’s been really hard.  Harder than I thought it would be and that’s been humbling. 

I have a great husband, great kids, great friends, great church, a truly great life, and yet the best way I can describe my life right now is that it is not yet my own.  It’s like it’s a bunch of pieces of jagged glass that do not fit together, that seemingly have no other purpose other than to tease me that my life has always been and will always be on the brink of fragility. 

This post cancer life is so new and different and, in a way, disconnected from a lot of what I once was.  It is by all accounts a rebirth.

Fall dawns in San Diego the end of August and with it, a sort of changing of the guard.  Don’t laugh, I know the calendar says Fall isn’t until mid-September, and yes, it’s true our beaches in August are still packed with plenty of sunburned tourists.   But it’s also true that by the end of August, although the days are still warm, downright hot actually, the nights are rather crisp and cool, dropping a good twenty degrees from the daily highs.  This drop-in temperature somehow serves as a signal to us California natives that it’s perfectly fine to start burning pumpkin spice candles, adding a fleece throw to the back of the sofa and warming our hands around a cup of homemade soup while watching the promos for Hallmark Channels’ Christmas Countdown.  It also signals the beginning of apple picking season, a sort of frenzied time that despite San Diego being a fresh fruit capital, we gather the troops and parade up the mountain tops to pay exorbitant prices for the opportunity to pick our own apples. 

It’s just the kind of kitschy juxtaposition that makes San Diego a great place to live. 

So, it was in the spirit of all things Fall, that my husband, eldest son and I, dressed in shorts and tank tops and oiled with sunscreen, crammed into my Volkswagen convertible and made the two hour trek up to the mountain town of Oak Glen on the 1st day of apple picking season.

It was also an activity I felt would help me cope with the stress of awaiting the final surgery I was having in September to remove my reconstructive implants.  The implants I felt, although there was no medical consensus, were at the root cause of the continued debilitating physical issues I had been having over the past three years.   

It was hot.  Eighty five degrees to be exact and with the top down on our convertible, I could feel the sun baking my skin, burning it as we wound our way up the mountain side.  I began to doubt myself.  “What a stupid idea Anne.”  “It’s freaking August, you should be at the beach.”

I remember silently praying that the trip wouldn’t be a bust.  But God it was so hot.

We pulled up alongside the orchard and the scenery was breathtaking.  Trees of all shapes and sizes and colors.   Scents of pumpkin and apple and something that we discovered was berry, filled the air.  There was the sound of a folk band, voices in harmony blended seamlessly with the strum of guitar and bow fiddle.   The sun was still blazing, but the sky was so blue and the surrounding mountains were still lush and green.  

Is this what heaven is like?

The three of us, my husband, my son and I, walked down a lane lined with blackberry bushes.  Off to the left was a little stand and a friendly man with a careworn face dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt, work boots and a cowboy hat who greeted us.  

“Hello folks, welcome, welcome!”

This must be what heaven is like!

The man with the cowboy hat explained to us the process of how to pick the apples, the trees available for picking would have yellow ribbons on them and there were several varieties.  The man handed us some bags to hold our pickings.   We would pay for what we picked on the way out.  There was a two-bag minimum and the price was steep, but the happiness that filled me was knowing no bounds.

With instructions and our bags, the three of us walked down the trail and around some very cute out buildings that had been carefully restored to look like a western town that had seen better days.   I felt an immediate connection to it. 

Life is like that, somedays shiny, other days broken, but always we push on.

Around the bend we entered the orchard.   It took a bit to find the trees we could pick from and we decided to split up so that we could pick a variety of apples.

One particular apple tree caught my eye.  This tree, one among the hundreds on the mountain side, had been picked clean on the exterior, but the interior branches were bulging with bright, red and green colored apples, and it reminded me of a mother holding her young to her bosom.

I studied the tree.  It seemed to be calling to me.

“Won’t you please come closer and tell me your secrets.  I promise I’ll listen to what is on your heart and then, as my gift to you, I’ll give mine…the fruit of my womb.”

I drew nearer, extended my arm as far as it would into the center of the tree and my hand enclosed around an apple and I gave it a tug.  But it’s stem held on tight, as if it did not want to go with me.  I tried again, tugging and pulling and as I was bracing my leg against the trunk of the tree for more leverage, I looked down and there underneath the canopy of that apple tree were literally hundreds of discarded apples in various stages of decay.  Pitted apples. Pockmarked apples.  Apples with brown holes.  Worms?  I picked several up and I didn’t find any worms.  But the pile of discarded apples was unusual, huge in fact and so out of character for what lay underneath the other apple trees around it.  Out of the blue a thought popped into my head:

“Is this apple tree holding on to its’ final offering because it is afraid to shed its’ old self, to make way for the new.”

What the???   Where did that thought come from? Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I knew the answer to that question.

Because the tree was me. 

The me that had shed so much of what was broken in me physically over the past three years was there on the ground in the form of all of those discarded apples.  But the me that held onto the memory of all that I was pre-cancer, my life before all of the drama, was there in the form of that tree holding on for dear life, afraid to give up the last of all that it was…of all that I am.  

Isaiah 41:10. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

All at once it seemed too much to ponder, too painful, too sad, this me that I once was and this me that I so desperately wanted to figure out, so I quickly joined my husband and son and focused on filling our bags full of apples of every sort.   We laughed and laughed and soon my momentary sadness was forgotten.  Bags full and caught up in the joy of the experience, we decided to also pick some blackberries. 

More money of course, and it was darn hot out and we were all sweating buckets, but something about the whole experience was having a cathartic effect on not only me, but on my husband and son, and in that unity my spirits soared.

It was as if God was saying to me, “I’ve got you Anne, I won’t let you go.”

So, baskets in hand we went off in search of blackberries.  There was one section of the orchard that had a kind of maze-like structure with groomed blackberry bushes, but there was another section, a less structured section, with tall, craggy bushes full of thorny bramble. 

You can guess which ones called to us.

Anyhow, without thinking, I reached in to said bush and instantly my hand was full of juicy berries and equally full of tiny, microscopic thorns.   I won’t lie to you, those tiny thorns hurt! But I couldn’t stop myself from reaching in again.

Further and further and further into the brambles my hand automatically went. 

“Oh, I see you.   I see you hiding your beautiful berries way back there in the dark recesses of all that you are.   Don’t worry, I know you are scared of me, but you know what, I’m scared of you too!   So, let’s be scared together.”

My stinging hands, black from the berry juice filled basket after basket.  Bags of apples lay at my feet. Enough for a pies and syrup and fruit pancakes and…I had to stop before the money ran out!  

Conveniently across from the blackberry bush there was a copse of trees, diverse in their variety, but similar in their leaves, which were all in various stages of color transition.  Some were evergreen, some a sort of mottled green-yellow, a reminder of the dry, desert climate that is Southern California and some were the palate that I most associate with fall: deep brown, burgundy, golden yellow and burnt orange.  It was this latter colored tree that, while casually picking the blackberry thorns out of my fingertips, that seemed to speak to me.   

The trunk of the tree was oddly shaped.   Instead of the typical circular base that begins wide at the bottom and then gradually tapers skyward, this tree’s base was extra wide, distorted in proportion, to the rest of the trunk.   It was as if it had taken a long pause before deciding that yes, it wanted to continue its’ journey skyward as a tree.

Moments of pause and reflection are good in our life journey.  Sometimes they are planned, sometimes they aren’t, but pausing never the less affords us the time and opportunity to access if we are headed in the right direction. 

Cancer for me was like that.   An unplanned pause that pushed me to reflect on all that was my life and what I wanted to carry with me forward in the journey, post cancer.   Now what exactly is that?

I noticed that the skin of the tree trunk was punctuated (every so often) with circular, rough-edged knots.  A few of the knots were superficial, their middles slightly grainy in texture, not much more than a fleshy surface wound.  Others of the knots, were deep, dark and cavernous.  Their center void indeterminant to the naked eye, as if mirroring infinity.      

As humans we share a common guarantee that our lives will be filled with all sorts of knots, anxious moments, that tear at our core, causing us to momentarily bury deep within ourselves to wait out the storm.

But in the past few years I’ve come to recognize that these sorts of troubles, while important and valuable in my personal growth, are more or less equal to butterflies in the tummy.  That quick quiver, that reminds me of just how fragile my life really is. 

The greater task for me is to make peace with the larger knots.  Those that seem ridged and permanently affixed to my story, no matter how hard I struggle to rid myself of them.  Would they disappear if I just “let them fall away?”   

I guess it is true that no matter what our battles some memories and scars are fleeting, parked for a bit waiting out the passage of time, while others remain, glaring, blatant and perfectly comfortable altering our person, our existence.  

My person.  My existence.

So, as I continued to pick out the last of the thorns, I wondered to myself:

What would happen if I just let go of the worry and just let myself fall into my new life?

But I don’t like letting go.  I don’t like falling.

The sporadic clumps of gnarled star-like bouquets affixed to the trees branches that stood before me in shades of orange, gold and brown and burgundy were stunning in the bright August sky, startling actually against the green of what is the norm for much of the California landscape and they should have made me happy.   But it was this difference, this odd combination of brilliance in the face of death that gave me pause.  Something that oddly felt like resentment welled up inside me.

“There you are Anne in all your Fall glory.  Wow, you look so great for all you’ve been through!” Should I look old and haggard?  Is that a choice I can honestly make and still be accepted? Would I accept myself as less than what I think I should be?

“Bright, Bold, Beautiful! What tremendous energy you radiate Anne!” What if I told you there are times that I feel void inside, would you run? What if I told you there are days when I’m barely hanging on? What if I told you that I’m afraid?

“Anne, how have you survived cancer and all of the other health issues you have been through with such a positive attitude?  Well, you know beautiful, I couldn’t do it.  I don’t have the strength you have.” There are days, lots of days that I don’t have strength either, did you know that?  Do you even want to know?  More importantly, do I want to know?

“Anne dear, what you have accomplished is nothing short of an inspiration.” I’m nothing special. I’m not.  I’m just as regular as this old tree. And I didn’t do anything spectacular.  I fought cancer, as do millions of other people each and every day, by putting on my game face and working my ass off to stay in the game.  Simply put, if I had a choice about my place in this world, and I was blessed to be given one, time and time and time again, I wasn’t ready to give up my earthly role, whatever the hell that is.   It isn’t any more complicated than that.

Or is it?     

As I stood staring at that gnarled, old, broken down tree, almost forty months of voices full of compliments and encouragement and every heartfelt sentiment filled my head. 

Sometimes I do not feel worthy of what should be a joyful noise as I get on with my life.  Instead my head is filled with a cacophony of disconnected notes, rising up into the sky to reveal, leaves that, upon closer inspection, are black at the tips, reminding me of myself, my fragility, a falling star, my brilliance slowly being extinguished as it streaks across the nighttime sky.   As I said, I am afraid.  

Hands still blue, and free of thorns, I felt tears well in my eyes as they travelled up to the crown of the tree, I noticed that many of the upper branches were denuded of any leaves, their fate sealed by the wind and their proximity to the heavens.  

There they sit, under the watchful eye of God and man, raw, naked, completely exposed.  As do I.  As do we all.

I suddenly felt a kinship with these stripped branches of this craggy, old tree.   These branches, the once proud harbingers of birds, and bugs and life.  How strange it must feel to hold such vast secrets within the warmth of limb and leaf only to have them stolen by the breeze, and left a barren landscape, void of what was once bright and beautiful and appreciated.   I understand.  

My once normal life has been bowed under the weight of its’ burden.  My limbs snapped under the pressure of accepting something for which I had no root cause.  Nothing I could say, “Well, that’s why I got cancer?” 

I’ve tried to remain colorful and brilliant and to hang on to every thread of what was good about my life prior to cancer, but the true story is that underneath my canopy, where my once bright leaves stood shimmering in all of their glory, they are now withered and crumbled, their dust scattered on the ground, just like those discarded apples and I don’t know what it all means, this transition.

I feel like I am someone I don’t know yet.  And that’s o.k. because God will continue to show me the way.  I understand why it was important for me on this extremely hot day to be standing here in the middle of an orchard with my family, hands stinging from bramble, nature’s bounty at my feet, learning to fall in love with me.  

The new me.

So, I stand here, a tree, naked of its’ leaves, branches askew, trunk soft and swollen under the weight of its’ burden, wondering what to do next. 

I know people will continue to come up to me and tell me how great I look.  What tremendous energy I radiate…

What an inspiration I am.   I love them for it. 

I’m still learning what I feel about this me that is still revealing itself.    

But I promise to keep trying to figure it out.   

It may take a little longer.  And that’s o.k. because I am not alone in my journey.

With God’s help, I’m slowly falling in love with me.  

PositivelyAnne

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TOGETHER WE CAN LIFT EACH OTHER UP!

Mastering the art of “resting”

Heading into my third week of recovery after my bi-lateral explant surgery, I have discovered the truth about myself:

I am an absolute utter and complete failure at the art of forced “resting”.

Now it’s silly because after sixteen prior surgeries, I understand the importance of physical rest in surgical recovery.

Rest equals healing. Healing equals getting back to life sooner than later.

But rest, true rest, is so much more than just closing my eyes.   It’s about shutting off that internal motor that powers my brain around the clock, creating to-do list after to-do list, until it runs out of gas.

In my recovery, I have support and plenty of it.  But I find myself day after day, night after night, pushing my mind at a fever pace to problem solve, to plan, to create, to design, to negotiate. As the lists in my head grow longer and longer, my stress level mounts.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Now you might be thinking I’m talking about not wanting to let go of control of my routine.  I’m am not. 

I truly have no problem letting others take control while I recover from my latest surgery and I am grateful that I have people I can count on to do just that. It is a luxury I know not everyone is blessed with and I do not take it for granted.

But, somewhere in my wiring, I’m not good at shutting off the planning department in my mind: the forward thinking minions racing around in my brain looking ahead.

In other words, I never fully allow myself to live in the moment when I’m just plain ol’ me, with no agenda, nothing to do but rest, physically and mentally.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it?  I mean I know people understand I’m out of commission for a bit and they are doing their very best to help me, expertly in fact.

So why don’t I just let them do their thing and leave the planning department shuttered in my mind while I heal?

Why does my mind race all the time, forever spinning through a growing agenda of imaginary problems and issues and things I should tackle? Why is it so hard for me to accept that shutting down and powering off for a bit isn’t a negative for me?

The other day my husband came home from work and asked if I had rested.  I said, “Yes!  I had a wonderful two hour nap with the cats.” 

I then proceeded to tell him that before that nap with my fur babies, I had scheduled window cleaners, household painters, tree trimmers, sorted through some paperwork my occupational therapist needed, had a friend over, texted with my parents and my brother and one of my kids and worked on my blog. 

He looked at me like I was …Well, let’s just leave it that he looked at me funny, shook his head and began to make dinner for us and a martini for himself! I honestly don’t blame him. What’s wrong with me?

Just as an aside, my husband is rock solid when it comes to housework and cooking and any honey-do projects.  We are a team and when one of the team is down, the other team member steps up to the plate without asking. It’s worked for thirty-one years and so why I felt the need to push through an agenda of projects that would make the Property Brothers on HGTV sweat and my husband need a martini, I have no idea.

Later that evening, as my husband and I finished the absolutely amazing meal he had prepared, suddenly the weight of all I had done during the day began to feel like an anvil on my shoulders. 

Yes, I had physically rested, had napped. But mentally, I hadn’t rested at all.

Uncertainty about whether or not I was going to be able to follow through on all I had scheduled, all I had planned, all of my forward thinking, was like an anchor around my neck, slowly pulling me into the abyss. 

I began to cry. I cried as if a dam were breaking and it hit me that to fully recover from this surgery,  I had to let go of this idea in my head that just because a part of me is on mandated rest, I needed to activate, full throttle, all of my other abilities, specifically my mind,  to compensate.  

No one is asking this of me, so why am I asking this of myself?

My wonderful husband pulled me close and told me not to worry. 

“Everything is going to be o.k.!”

He also reminded me that I’ve been through a lot in the past three years and that it was perfectly fine for me to check out of the “agenda in my mind” while I recover.

Life would go on whether we painted the interior of the house, had dirty windows or an overgrown tree.  He’s right.

I need to figure out a better way to push the pause button in my mind completely.  I need to give myself the gift of healing not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and in all ways that matter. 

Well, I’d like to say that I cancelled all of the honey-do projects, but I didn’t.  The window cleaners have come and gone. The tree trimmer is scheduled to show up on Friday and as I write this, I’ve been sealed in my office by plastic and painter’s tape. The painters assured me they would let me out in five to seven minutes after they get the ceiling outside of my office painted.

It’s now been 45 minutes! 

Damn, I really do need to pull the plug in my mind, power off and embrace my faulty wiring, let life go on for a bit without my input.   Then maybe, I’ll be able to say truthfully that I’ve finally mastered the art of “resting!”

“Hey Painters, it’s getting hot in here!” 

“Guys…c’mon guys…anyone there???…Hello???”

PositivelyAnne

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Bringing Back Me

Once I was lost…but now I’m found…was blind, but now I see….
-Amazing Grace

It’s a strange thing when life hands you curve balls you think you can handle and then come to find out that no matter the fortress of positivity you have built around yourself; no matter how much you have stacked the deck in favor of hope verses despair, that sometimes, you just have to give in to the fact that you are human and your life story isn’t one hundred percent yours to control.

I’ve been coming to terms with this new narrative since this past April, when after another reconstructive surgery to remove and replace (AGAIN), a contracted breast implant and then a subsequent lymphedema diagnosis, I was still in a whole lot of pain in my chest region and frankly, most of the time I felt like a truck had run over me. In addition, I was emotionally drained and felt the rock of my faith crumbling.

My happy go-lucky self had become a sort of hollow shell. You know, the kind of shell that covers a piece of candy…the chocolate rich and decadent, but the inside is a concoction of everything you hate.

For a positivity blogger, that’s a death nail and something I needed to get my mind around and around pretty quickly, because as I’ve said all along, I do not like to wallow in negative space, not ever!   At first, I focused on working on a children’s book my friend and I are putting together.  But I couldn’t focus on that either.  I felt absolutely zero joy…and that was not acceptable to me, if only for the reason that the book is too damn good and deserves a joyful launch. I also deleted my Instagram where I was posting daily positivity photos.  I felt like a phony pumping positive photos into the internet stratosphere, when I was feeling so negative about life and myself.  My camera lens no longer automatically pointed to magical images of positivity.  Words of wisdom no longer popped automatically in my head. 

I felt, well, I felt kind of dead inside.

So, I decided to take a break from blogging and writing and spent my time instead on a quest to find out what the hell was wrong with me. 

Now a whole lot of people, and I mean a whole lot of experienced medical professionals, had told me over and over again that my body had been through a lot and it was going to take time to recover.   Cancer, the bi-lateral mastectomy, colon resection, gall bladder removal, blocked bile duct repair, hernia repair and hysterectomy, in addition to radiation and reconstruction, not once, twice, but three times, all, were equally capable of taking a major toll on me.   It was normal to feel tired, anxious, impatient, wanting for life to go back to as it once was.   I had things to do, places to go, this was all so inconvenient.

“You need time to heal Anne,” they would say. “Each surgery is like setting the clock back in your recovery process and you aren’t being fair to yourself expecting things to move so quickly.”

But they had moved quickly for me and that was the puzzle.   The physical things that needed fixing I could get my mind around and seriously, those things, while not all easy to recover from, seemed for the most part, at least manageable.    You prep for surgery, you have surgery, you are given a list of things to do and not to do in recovery, you obey the list and poof, in a matter of months, sometimes sooner, you are on your way, to a less dysfunctional body.  I bounced back from each surgery like a rubber ball…over and over I’d take a pounding and I just kept bouncing.

But I had had a lot of surgeries by anyone’s standard, sixteen in 36 months, the process of prep, surgery, recovery was exponentially adding up to a whole lot of body dysfunction for me, so it was very reasonable that I was hitting a wall of sorts in my recovery process.

Depression came to mind and well, I had days when I did personally acknowledge that is how I felt, “Depressed!” But what I was feeling seemed to encompass so many different things…it wasn’t one specific thing…it was a whole jumble of things that had just felt off since June 2016. I’d have good days, truly good days, followed by bad days and none of it, given how quickly I’d recover from each surgery made sense. When I felt sad, I talked about it. I embraced it, acknowledged it and then turned it over to God. I wasn’t walking around feeling sorry for myself. I truly felt like there was something obvious I needed to change and if I could just figure out what it was, it would set me back on the right path.

Maybe I just wasn’t giving myself enough time to heal properly on an emotional and spiritual level?  Maybe I had too quickly jumped into focusing on the blessings, instead of dealing with the real realities of what it takes for a middle-aged woman to recover from so many major surgical procedures?  I mean cancer is a big enough battle alone, and I had tossed stones at Goliath’s forehead time and time again in the surgery room. I mean it was possible that my humble version of David had merely run out of stones to throw at Goliath, right?

Maybe.   Maybe so.   But as I carefully dissected each and every medical procedure I had had over the past 36 months, it seemed that the source of all of my setbacks to complete recovery seemed to have something to do with those two fake orbs resting on my chest. 

I should have recognized how I thought of them from the beginning…they were fake. They were not me.

I thought back to June 16, 2016.  I remember that day so well.  For fifty-three years, I had gone without having a major health mishap.  I had a few diverticulitis attacks that were not fun and once had a bad case of bronchitis, but for the most part, my health was pretty much normal and my hospital stays limited to having babies. In my world,  you get sick, you see the doctor, get an antibiotic and back to life you go.

But a bi-lateral mastectomy was different.  I was going to be losing a physical part of me.  An important part of me that had been with me for over half a century. A part of me that cancer had stolen.

The idea of not having any chest at all was really hard to get my mind around given how overwhelming just coming to terms with having breast cancer is.   I initially scoured the internet looking for articles on what it was like for women who had a bi-lateral mastectomy and no reconstruction.  I had no basis to understand what that meant in real life.    But, out there in internet land, there was pretty much nothing about anyone who chose not to have reconstruction.   I mean, “why would you do that”, when in fact, even the language used on respected sites like breast cancer.org pushed reconstruction as a way for a woman to “get her body back”.    

So, almost as if in a trance, I began to click on reconstruction articles and suddenly ads, tons and tons of ads for Plastic Surgeons scrolled across my screen…fake boobs were everywhere. Whatever I wanted for my chest was at my disposal.  Size, shape, type…you name it…for a fee, I could look like whomever I wanted to.

Cancer, schmancer!  Girl, you are going to be better than before.  No one will know.  No one.    

My eyes were dazzled by the ads.    I remember wondering what my chest, the chest that nursed my three babies, would look like if I didn’t have reconstruction, what would it feel like?  Would I be able to face myself in the mirror without breasts?  Would my husband still find me attractive or repulsed by my flat disfigurement?  Would my kids be embarrassed looking at me?  My friends find me freakish?

Dreams, night terrors really, would plague me with strange faces all laughing and pointing at my missing chest.   I descended rapidly into a world where, for the first time in my life, what strangers thought of my chest, actually mattered to me. 

And it was in this state of mind that I was asked to choose whether or not I wanted reconstruction to be a part of the bi-lateral mastectomy process.   

To back it up a bit, after a couple days of internet scrolling, I chose reconstruction pretty much without hesitation.  Specifically, because I felt it was somehow what was expected of me.   Oh certainly, not by my husband, not by my kids or extended family or by anyone I really knew and to be fair, not by my general surgeon either or the multiple plastic surgeons I interviewed.  Even the plastic surgeon I ultimately selected said over and over again that the choice to reconstruct was up to me.   But as I said, I had no female role models with which to compare to reconstruct or not to reconstruct.  The only thing I had in my wheelhouse was the internet images from various plastic surgeons of successful reconstruction procedures and multiple conversations with my chosen plastic surgeon. And all of this at the same time I was processing actually having breast cancer, leaving a job I loved and figuring out how to keep life as normal for my family as possible.

Wow, who wouldn’t want a chest that looked like the images I saw on the screen. It was a no-brainer, or so I thought.

In fairness to the process, my general surgeon did have me watch a 45-minute video where a cast of mastectomy survivors paraded across the screen, their stories meant to sound comforting and similar to mine, and designed to connect with me, “woman to woman.”  Sitting there watching that video I remember feeling terrified and strangely connected to this cast of characters on the screen for whom were my only source of comparison. 

All of them had chosen reconstruction, but one.   The one who hadn’t reconstructed seemed dowdy, dated, and older than the other, more stylish women, all of whom were proudly wearing clothing that displayed their new chests to their fullest advantage.  They looked tasteful, refined, just like beautiful happy women should look.

I wanted to be them.   Take that Breast Cancer!

Watching the video, I do remember a fleeting thought, “Why is this video so one sided, with women being filmed in full make-up, professional dress and the camera lens filtered to show each woman in all of their gossamer beauty?”  

“Why does it sound like a walk in the park to get a new chest?” 

But overpowering those thoughts, was this imaginary cast of characters I had created in my dreams who would call me a fool for passing up such a wonderful opportunity to have life return to normal for me. 

My new chest might be fake, but hey, it was a chest after all and from that standpoint, everything seemed logical, rational and straightforward as to how to proceed.   I had experienced professionals lined up who had done these reconstruction procedures hundreds, if not a thousand times, and they knew what they were doing.

But here’s the thing.   In my vulnerable state, I DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT I WAS DOING!  

Yes, I had selected a terrific, outstanding plastic surgeon. He is the best! But I was not basing my decision on my candid conversations with him.

Ladies, note to self: If you don’t ask the questions of your surgeon, you can’t expect them to read your mind.

Instead, I was basing important decisions about my body on a half hour video, sliced and diced to promote reconstruction in a positive light.  I was basing important decisions about my body on page after page of Plastic Surgeon ads, all targeting vulnerable women like “me”.   

I had zero conversations with real bi-lateral mastectomy survivors who chose not to have reconstruction, although I met many after I had already gone through with it.   I’m sure if I had asked my plastic surgeon to connect me, he would have, but I didn’t. So I didn’t really know or understand what questions to ask. I was dazzled by the images I had seen on the screen.

Better than Before…BYE BYE BREAST CANCER! VA VA VOOM ANNE!

I didn’t know enough to ask myself why it suddenly mattered what the stranger on the street thought about my chest? I didn’t know enough to ask what it would be like to have a reconstructed chest that while normal to the outside world, on the inside, felt null and void and strangely foreign? 

I didn’t know enough to understand that after reconstruction my chest region would no longer feel warm and natural, but cold, sterile, as if my breasts spent all day encased in a freezer.    I didn’t know enough to understand that my muscles would no longer work the same way with the implant under the chest muscle and that my range of motion would forever feel like I was a marionette on a string.   I didn’t know enough to understand that I would no longer be able to sleep on my stomach and that sleeping on my side would cause pain and discomfort as the implants became increasingly hard and inflexible.   I didn’t know enough to understand that implants move and shift when you are active as I am, and that I would not be able to do a lot of the things I love, without having to pause mid-motion to acknowledge the limitations the implants created.   I didn’t know enough to understand that I would be in pain every single day and every single night, in my hips, my upper chest, under my arm because my body didn’t like silicone.    I didn’t know enough to understand I would feel foggy, almost dysfunctional, day in and day out because I was not ever getting a good night sleep.  I didn’t know enough to explant sooner, after the first implant shifted into my left arm pit and was replaced, and again, after the right painfully contracted due to radiation, and then contracted again almost immediately after it was replaced for the second time.   

I didn’t know enough to understand that despite outward appearances, I would be a physical and emotional wreck for going on three years, as day in and day out, what was going on with my chest dominated my daily landscape. 

I didn’t know enough to understand that my faith was being tested, as while God was busy answering blessing after blessing and I certainly was blogging about all of them, the one thing that didn’t seem to change was that privately I was forever dealing with my chest. 

“God, you have been with me every step of the way…I know it, but what is going on here?” 

“Is it so wrong to want to wake up in the morning and just be me and not have to deal with my stupid chest day in and day out?”   I felt a deep loss, as if God didn’t understand and guilt because I knew I had been blessed time and time again and I should just shut up and deal with my lot in life.

There are so many people who are worse off than me and my stupid fake boobs, right?

I began to withdraw from my family, friends, life in general, and sort of hermited myself away in the house all day.  I tried my best to engage at church and with my book club and some close friends and of course, my husband and kids, but more often than not, I felt as if my writing was my only friend.   And then at some point, as I said, even that stopped being important to me.    I was in pain.  Literally yes, but more figuratively, because I had done everything right and yet, my life wasn’t right.  I felt empty.

You see, I did what most women of means do when confronted with breast cancer.  I found one of the best plastic surgeons in the business, a breast cancer reconstruction specialist who would work in tandem with my general surgeon and out would come the cancer tissue and in would go tissue expanders that would prepare my chest for new breasts.   I would wake up from the anesthetic still with some form of a chest and yes, it would be painful for a moment, maybe a long moment, but it would be worth the pain in a few months, when my new chest was healed and new implants in place,   and life would go right back to where it was June 2016. 

Only, it didn’t go back.  Not at all and I was really feeling pretty lost.  Like I had made this terrible decision to do this reconstruction thing and it hadn’t worked out so great, but so many people looked up to me as a role model and I had set myself up for that with my positivity blog.  I wanted to be a great example not only them, but my mom was now battling breast cancer for a second time.  Although she would never ask it of me, I wanted to be strong for her as well.  A pillar of strength.  A beacon of hope.   But I was miserable.  

Although, I couldn’t quite articulate what was happening to me, I felt everything: the physical pain, the emotional scars, the loss of interest in my faith, all seemed somehow tied to the problems with my chest. I had some friends who had had reconstruction and everything was fine with them. What was it about me that made me different from them?

Now, I believe God works his blessings in our lives in ways we never expect.

Mine came in the form of getting lymphedema after my April implant replacement surgery and a recall notice from Allergen about my implants possible link to lymphoma.      

Huh?   Lymphedema and recalled implants a blessing…WHAT?

Yep, because when I got lymphedema, God put in my path three amazing women, lymphedema occupational and physical therapists, who turned out to be my angels.     I was to meet with them twice a week.

My very first session, the first therapist took a look at my chest and said, “Hmmm…yeah I can see the fluid build-up, but seriously I think you have contracture again and that’s probably why your chest hurts and implants sometimes don’t work for certain women despite their surgeons best efforts.”

Another therapist said, “Anne, I have had clients who have had all sorts of pain, tissue dysfunction and emotional issues from breast implants and removing them did the trick.”

My third therapist said, “Radiated tissue causes contracture. It’s a given. It’s really difficult to get implants to react normally once you’ve had radiation.”

I do recall my plastic surgeon telling me how much he hates a radiated chest…what a battle it will be and oh, yeah, I do recall him telling me this would take a long time to get right.   

“If only you hadn’t had radiation, things might not be so difficult for you…chest radiation always, always affects implant success.”

As I said, I have tremendous respect for my plastic surgeon.  He has given it his best shot to help me every single time. But I had no control over the fact that no one raised a red flag and I mean a huge red flag when I chose to have reconstruction as a part of the cancer tumor removal process before it was known whether or not I would need radiation. Not my general surgeon, not my plastic surgeon, not my radiation oncologist, my general oncologist, my primary care physician, the video I had watched about reconstruction, or anywhere obvious on-line.  

No one said, “Anne, you seriously need to think about this and I mean THINK ABOUT IT because the risk of implant failure with radiation is almost certain!”

I mean, I’m reasonably intelligent and I think a simple, “You know Anne, if the surgeon doesn’t get all the cancer (as was my case with an unclear margin), you will need radiation and that will definitely impact the success of an implant.”  I’d like to think I would have said, “Well o.k. then, lets get this cancer out first and see what happens.” In fact, I know damn well that’s what I would have said.

So why wasn’t it said and said over and over and over again?

I came to understand some of the reasons why in conversations during the twelve sessions, 360 minutes in total, I had with my lymphedema therapists as they massaged and prodded and poked at my rock hard chest to get the fluid to move. Let me be clear, they were extremely professional at all times. They never crossed the line with information out of their realm or scope, however, during my time with them I felt like for the first time someone understood what I was going through. They understood that I didn’t like how I was feeling, that it wasn’t o.k. for this feeling not myself to be my new normal and in turn I came to understand a lot about my body and that other women they treated had similar issues, that I was not alone in my suffering.

I came to understand that the push to attach foreign bodies to a woman’s chest has virtually zero to do with her making a quick recovery from breast cancer and everything to do with the fact that breasts sell. Breasts sell magazines, television shows, movies, clothing, and that means advertising dollars up the wazoo. There is a reason why there is not a lot of information out there on choosing to remain flat. Who’s going to push the media algorithm to not reconstruct if the money is in the reconstruction?

It’s like going flat is a secret society and we’ve been conditioned to say it under our breath or apologize if that’s our choice, as if it’s a bad thing.

I came to understand that my body, for whatever reason, just didn’t like being invaded by blobs of silicone and that it was a lot more common than the medical community wants us to know.  In fact, 25 percent of women who get breast implants have them removed and 46 percent undergo a revision operation within the first 3 years , another 6 percent have them removed due a variety of issues ranging from contracture to chronic pain and all sorts of other physical and emotional issues.   Ding, ding, ding!!!

I came to understand that the choices women are pushed towards when facing a mastectomy, are not focused on quickly enabling her to live her life cancer free, but about making sure that a woman is restored to her previous “expected” appearance aka, with boobs.    The video I watched prior to making my reconstruction decision was proof of that.   The literally thousands of plastic surgeons and images of reconstruction on the internet is also proof.  But trust me, there are loads of women, more than you know, who quietly live their lives without a chest and you know what, life goes on. They are beautiful, they are worthy and they are just as sexy.

I came to understand that literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of women who have undergone reconstruction after a mastectomy are suffering in silence with a whole host of symptoms like constant nerve pain, fatigue, depression and an overall lack of well being.    That there is an actual name for it called, “ Breast Implant Illness” and while it is now considered a real thing as there has been an FDA identified link between implants and a rare form of lymphoma, leading to an implant recall, the actually spectrum of Breast Implant Illness covered every symptom I had been experiencing since June 2016.   Every symptom!   My gut instinct was correct!

I came to understand that the lymphedema that I had experienced was most likely, in their expert opinion, caused by the implant contracture blocking the fluid from moving freely in my body and I had a terrific chance, if the implant was removed, of putting lymphedema, at least for the most part, in the rear view mirror.

I seriously can’t thank my lymphedema team enough for opening my eyes to the realities of what I was putting my body through with implants. They helped me in so many ways and I will always regard them as my angels. But, they never said my immune system was rejecting the implants outright, they were all too professional for that, my blood work was fine, I was the bouncing ball remember? I was the role model, the poster child for surgical recovery.

Still, I needed more substantial proof that the implants were the source of my problems. I prayed and God answered my prayer almost immediately and it came in the form of a letter.

My implants were recalled. EVERY SINGLE ONE. The recall letter from Allergen, the manufacturer of the textured implants I had,  listed over 40 recalled implants, plus a bonus surprise, the tissue expanders I had had initially were also on the recall  list, along with 13 others tissue expanders.   France and Canada had pulled these products off the market in 2015-16, prior to my first surgery and yet, here I was a United States guinea pig for a product that had already been deemed a known cancer-causing harborer by two world superpowers, not once, not twice, but three times, not including the expanders which were in my body a whole three months.

“Anne, you shouldn’t worry, you only have a 1 in 30,000 chance of getting this rare form of lymphoma from the implants!”

Um, sorry, rare or not, I’d prefer not to get cancer again thank you very much!   

So, I had the information I needed. Some was speculative, some proof positive and I had explant surgery last week.  

Prior to this decision, I met with my plastic surgeon.  He obviously was a bit disappointed.  I get that, he’s earned his medical stripes diligently trying to salvage my chest and like I said, he’s the consumate professional.    He offered me some options like implant exchange or on the radiated side, having a muscle removed from my back.  The latimus dorsi muscle, the one that I use to swim, to paddle board, to push and pull and lift…but hey, who needs a latimus dorsi muscle when it can be a foundation for yet another implant, all be it smaller, but still another implant.  But it would be soft.  No more contracture.

I didn’t have to think twice.  I said, “I know you have tried to help me, and I value that more than you will ever know, but I want them out!”

So here I am 6 days into explant recovery.  It hurts like hell and it doesn’t look pretty at the moment.  I have drain lines in, so sleeping is a bit of a challenge, but I saw the plastic surgeon today and he’s very pleased with the healing and said the drains can come out in about 10 days. All in all good news and I know it wasn’t my imagination that he seemed to be as relieved as I am to be moving on from this reconstruction nightmare.

I didn’t share with him that I’ve already been blessed by so many miracles in just six days.

I have feeling, instead of numbness, in my chest region for the first time in three years. 

My skin on my chest feels warm to the touch, instead of cold and icy.

I had to adjust the temperature on the shower to cooler as I could actually feel the hotness of the water on my chest region.

My arm range of motion, while a bit limited due to the stiches and soreness, is greater than it was pre-surgery.  I don’t feel like a marionette. 

The lymphedema in my chest is limited and doesn’t appear to be much of an issue now.

The crippling pain in my hip, legs, back is gone.   Completely gone!

I am able to move from the floor, to the bed, using my legs and arms, on the first try, without assistance.

While I am tired, the brain fog, the depression, the lack of motivation, the complete lack of energy is gone.   

I am back to believing in blessings and miracles and God’s amazing power to comfort and heal.

I am happy.

I am joyful.

I am me again. 

This is my story and my story alone. 

Lots of women have different, more positive reconstruction experiences, and I am truly grateful that they are not experiencing the issues that I have faced. I know some of these women and so my candor here is in no way designed to diminish their happiness. They have survived breast cancer and their reconstruction has been successful for them. Praise God!

However, my journey has been different and I felt it important to share with all of you who have been on this positivity journey with me, my struggles and my solutions, especially women in breast cancer recovery, those who have chosen reconstruction and those who haven’t and all who care for those with breast cancer.

Do not be afraid to make a bold choice and put “you” first when it comes to your health on all fronts.   Ask the questions, demand the answers and if it doesn’t feel right, then go with your gut.

Instinct sometimes is all we have to go on when it comes to our health issues, especially when it comes to our breasts, cancer and reconstruction and it is important that a women trusts hers.

You have survived cancer, you are survivor and you will, as I have, survive this too.

I am here to support you.  To pray for you and lift you up. 

PositivelyAnne

Moving your life story from “I Can’t” to “I Can Do It!”

I sat in the car for a few moments before starting the engine, gathering my thoughts. I could literally feel my mind racing, like it actually had a heart beat and I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed. I must have looked like a loon to anyone driving by.

You see I was laughing at the fact that despite my intentional focus on positivity, it remains my truth that there are going to be things in my life that are beyond my control to change. Things I’m not necessarily meant to understand fully because, well, it’s pretty simple, I’m not meant to.

Lymphedema is one of those things.

Lymphedema has been on my radar since I underwent a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer and was informed that there was a risk, a life-long risk, of my lymphatic system becoming painfully blocked in my arm, breast and/or hand due to the removal of lymph nodes from my under arm to test for rogue cancer cells.  When and if, that happened, I would face the possibility of an unknown level of swelling, pain and risk of infection for the rest of my life. Whoopee! 😦

Last week my hubby and I were looking forward to packing our bags for a much needed New England getaway when I began to notice that my right breast hurt, was red and was very swollen. I knew exactly what it was. Lymphedema had arrived in my life.

I’d like to say I took immediate action, but I didn’t. I waited.

You see this trip to New England was a celebration of the completion of three years of surgeries, a delayed 30th anniversary trip and birthday celebrations for my hubby and I all rolled into one. Nothing, nothing was going to get in the way of our special time together, least of all lymphedema.

The God I love could not be that cruel.

But, as I said there are things that are beyond my control. Things I am not meant to fully understand and I knew deep down that God was in no way responsible for this latest health issue, so I set aside my pride, my need to control things and made the phone call to my surgeon.

He took one look at me and I just knew. No words needed to be exchanged.

After a moment of awkward silence I said, “Um, so my husband and I have a plane to catch and a romantic adventure awaiting, so I’ll deal with this little lymphedema issue when I get back, o.k.?”

“Sorry, no flying…not until you get fitted for a compression sleeve and see a physical therapist who specializes in lymphatic drainage. Oh, and by the way, it looks like you have an infection in the lymphatic fluid surrounding your new implant, thus the reason you are not feeling well, so we need to put you on strong antibiotics, remind me what you are allergic to again?”

“Allergic, me? How well do you know the good folks at the Center for Disease Control, cause they pretty much have me on speed dial!”

So, instead of cycling around Long Island with my favorite guy; or cheering on the Red Sox at Fenway while drinking one too many beers; or learning how to make cheese in Vermont, I sat there in the parking lot of my doctors office laughing like a loon and thinking how in the hell was I going to make this wonderful new game plan sound as fun and exciting to my husband as the vacation we had planned.

But I needn’t have worried.

Oh, I’m not going to lie to you.  A few tears were shed, a few choice curse words, some I’m ashamed to say aimed directly at God and my husband was sad. I was sad. Everyone in my family was sad.

Yet in this moment of sadness, I’m choosing to see this whole lymphedema thing through a positive lens. This set back is no different than every other hiccup I have been through health wise and I know it to be true that blessings are often not what we have planned, but what is revealed to us in our journey.

I have discovered that God has provided me with an amazing opportunity to define my life not by all the things I can’t do, all the things, for example, that lymphedema will temporarily impact, like travel plans. Instead my life can be powered into infinity by the “I Can Do It!” moments.

And there is so much comfort and joy in that revelation.

Four simple words…

“I Can Do It!” 

Words that are considered high frequency use words and are a part of the first 100 words we learn as young children.  Words that young children are quick to embrace and use often, without prompting and adults quickly forget.   

“I can do it myself mommy!”  “Let me try that daddy, I can do it!”  

You see the older we get, we lose sight of the value and power those words “I Can Do It!” can have in propelling us forward through all the negative trials we face in our adult lives because we are constantly taken aback that adult hood doesn’t include morphing into a super-hero capable of keeping the “I Can’t” in our lives at bay.

Thus the reason I sat in my car, after my doctors appointment, laughing at the irony of being a positivity blogger and yet, this one stupid thing, this lymphedema thing, I couldn’t fix even with all of my positivity efforts.

I know it’s wrong to beat myself up, but I guess the older we get, the more seasoned we become at choosing the “I Can’t!” in our lives first, until it is on autopilot.   I’m a grown-up damn it, this all should be so simple!

Maybe it’s not all our fault tho.

You only have to turn on the television, radio, your computer and promoting “I Can’t!” is nothing short of a global phenomenon, with billions and billions of dollars changing hands each day at the expense of our vulnerabilites.

Tell us whats wrong with us enough and we begin to believe it and we will pay to hear it over and over and over again.

Seriously, have you ever stopped to think just flipping through the cable channels how much messaging is geared to the “I Can’t” in us, then the “I Can?” Multiply that exponentially over the course of a life time and well, that’s a lot of “I Can’t!” At some point, we stop trying to think positively and focus on all the bad because it’s what we are conditioned to believe is of value. We promote it in our selves, we promote it in each other.

The irony is we are all banging the same drum.  “I can’t!” “You can’t” “We can’t” and the song is so stale and old and tired we’ve become numb to it.

I get it.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve embraced the negative more times in my fifty six years than I can count. Honestly, the past three years it has been so tempting to just bathe in all of that negative vibe.   I’m tired, I’m broken and done with all of the chaos my health issues have caused me and damn it, I wanted to go to New England with my husband, is that too much to ask?

There seems to be an unspoken kinship in us grown-ups, wrapping ourselves in that blanket of pain and sorrow and all that is lost?   We take one for the team of “I Can’t!” time and time again because frankly it’s pretty easy to explain all that we can’t do and so damn hard to explain our possible, especially, if we haven’t a freakin clue what it all means.

But I’m discovering that if I/we wallow in our own pool of what is wrong with us, we totally miss out on the joys of what we are truly capable of.

We all have within us the ability to move the needle from “I Can’t!” to “I Can Do It!” and all we need to do is stop complicating it and remember the child in us.

When my children were small and the years I spent as an early childhood educator, I discovered that, “I Can Do It!” flowed freely from the lips of young children, but not so much from adults.  

You see the difference between young children and adults when it comes to the eight simple letters of “I-C-A-N-D-O-I-T” is that young children don’t automatically reach for the “I Can’t” when things get tough.  They haven’t been tainted by advertisers and media and the collective security blanket of negative images and thinking.

When they face a physical or mental challenge, you will hear words like, “I want to try again”, “I would like another turn to try”, “I want another chance.”  All implying their possible.  

When they don’t feel well, once recovered, they have little recollection that they were ever sick and instead quickly get back to all they can do.

Thinking back to when I was a kid, I remember I got a bad case of chicken pox and learned to tie my shoes and ride a bike in the backyard while I was recovering. What the heck happened to that drive and motivation of that little girl? What happened to that kid, who despite being covered in itchy chicken pox, saw only her possible?

When did what I am incapable of become of greater value in my life than what I am capable of?

It’s interesting that failure is an every day thing in the life of a young child and yet, it just isn’t innate in them to automatically go to the dark side.

In fact, it is often during those really difficult moments when their “I Can’t!” seems to be the only possible outcome, that young children rally around each other, lifting each other up.  

“I can do it” becomes “We can do it” and it’s a marvel to witness.

You see, what we adults interpret as loss: of our health, our person, our God given right to control our destiny in every aspect; young children see as a forever opportunity to GET IT RIGHT! Whether that is by themselves or in a group, there is no negative drum beat, only:

“I can do it!”   “You can do!”  “We can do it!”   

Sounds like a pretty wonderful way to live, right?

Imagine a world where adults are no longer fearful of the inevitable obstacles, forks in the road, and jaw dropping cliff dives of life for which we have no control.

“I CAN DO IT!”

Imagine a world where adults are no longer vulnerable to the advertisers and media and the “I Can’t” of their reality and instead dream, imagine, cultivate all of their possible in themselves and in each other.

“I CAN DO IT!”

Imagine a world where we no longer table our child like wonder and the blanket we wrap around ourselves is warm with love, hope and all of the possibilities of our together.

“I CAN DO IT!”

We don’t have to wait. We have the tools in each of us to make it so and we only have to look to our childhood for a reminder.

I am going to work hard in the coming months to make that my reality. I know with the help of God, my family and friends, medical team and yes, even you, my fellow positivity seekers, that I do not have to give lymphedema any more of an audience in my life story then it needs to be. 

I truly am looking forward to discovering all of the “I Can Do It’s!” that have yet to be revealed in my life and share those wonderful stories with you.

I am excited.  I am hopeful.  I am blessed.

And I’m going to New England with my favorite guy as soon as I’m cleared to do so. My bags are still packed!

PositivelyAnne

I hope you will Like and Follow me as we journey together to figure this positivity thing out. PositivelyAnne.com on WP and FB and PositivelyAnne on Instagram and Linked In.

Rejoice and be Glad!

Willis Tower 103 stories above Chicago

One of my favorite verses from the bible is from Psalm 118:24

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In my humble opinion, the implications of this verse are powerful, less in the literally interpretation of creation and more in the subtext of opportunity…human opportunity.

As the sun rises and sets, we are given another chance to get it right.  To appreciate ourselves, our lives and to be joyful and glad for who and what we are.   

Now I’d like to ask you two simple questions and I am going to guess how you might answer them.

Are you glad, You, are you?   YES OR NO?    Do you rejoice in the You that is?  YES or NO?

  • “What do you mean by glad exactly?”  “I mean there are so many levels of gladness from extreme happiness to mild contentment and everything in between, so, can you further define the word “glad” for me?”
  • “What is there to be glad about, my life is in turmoil, period! “
  • “Of course, I’m glad! BUT there are hundreds of things I’m working on, so um, it’s hard to let others see the real me.  I’d rather envision the images of the “me” I want to be.  The perfect “me” I imagine myself to be.  The “me”, I’d be glad to know, not this mess of a person that I see in the mirror before me.  I can’t rejoice until I’m that person.”
  • “It’s selfish to be glad for ourselves when so many others are hurting.”
  • “People who are glad, are fake.  No one is glad.  Everyone is just going through the motions of life.  Anyone who posts “glad” things about themselves, happy pictures, happy stories, IS just catering to the fakeness that is life on this planet.     
  • If we say we are “glad” with ourselves, then we ignore all that is possible for us to be. We become stagnate, unable to move forward, past our own self-importance.

You may find my answers surprising, a bit bold, maybe even brash. Maybe you are even uncomfortable with my cynicism.   Isn’t this a positivity blog????

Well, if any or all of the above answers resonates with you, then I’m doing my job as a positivity blogger because we can’t move forward in our positivity journey until we accept the fact that we live in a world that makes money off the fact that we don’t like ourselves.   Lots and lots of money.  And we are being conditioned to think this way about gladness, about joy, about life because it lines the pockets of the few who don’t care whether we are glad or not as long as the money keeps rolling in.   

We’ve been led to believe that joy and gladness are counter culture to what the world wants for us.   So instead of rejoicing in the day the Lord hath made, we spend our days “oohing and ahhing” over our foibles to the degree that we give power to our own degradation.

We strip ourselves bare of any chance at happiness because it’s cooler to keep our happiness hidden, and more profitable if we are downright miserable.  

Hate of ourselves is a profitable business, it has been for a long time and we, the people, are its’ willing fuel. 

Countless advertising dollars are spent pumping our brains full of round the clock negativity.   Social media sites programmed to “push” our vulnerability to the forefront.   

Seriously, I can tell you it is nothing short of an uphill battle to be a positivity blogger in a world where likes and follows are freely given for negative content and positivity has become a pay per view proposition.

Those of us attempting to stoke the fires of glad tidings are left with the crumbs.  Crumbs that are readily available to multiply, but for which we are conditioned to think ourselves unworthy of the fight.  

Life’s algorithm seems to favor an economy where gladness is a four- letter word.  We are constantly looking in the mirror, both literally and figuratively, impressed not by what is good about ourselves, but by what is flawed. 

Now before I lose you to the doom and gloom, I have a quick fix for all of this.  The answer is simple. 

WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.   I repeat.   WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.   For those of you who do not like contractions, here it is again:

WE DO NOT HAVE TO LIVE THIS WAY.

Nope, WE DO NOT.   We can choose to be glad for ourselves.  We can choose to post our gladness.  We can choose to promote positivity, in all its forms.  We can choose to say “HELL NO!” to the negativity machine.

But to do that we have to arm ourselves with a new attitude.  An attitude that stops expecting the world to change for us and instead we change ourselves.   

As I stated, we do live in a world where we are rewarded for being negative and that world encourages us to push gladness, true gladness in our human selves, to the back burner.   Now the way this succeeds is it plays into our vulnerability that true gladness in ourselves is all about perfection. 

And guess what people.  None of us is perfect.  Nope, not me, not you, not anyone.  

So, first things first.  Say to yourself: 

I AM NOT PERFECT and THAT IS 100 PERCENT OK.

Simply put, Let Perfection Go!  

O.k., so none of us is perfect. What’s next?

Well now we need to open our eyes to what we like about ourselves internally.   Notice, I’m not talking about physical beauty.  

I hate to burst your ego, but physical beauty is truly subjective and it’s virtually impossible to get consensus on what is physically beautiful and it’s the reason companies and their advertisers, since time immortal, have spent billions of dollars trying to convince us that physical beauty is important because no one can agree on exactly what that benchmark is.   

So, forget your outside and focus on your inner beauty.  Most everyone has something they like about themselves internally.   Are you kind, considerate, compassionate, a quick study, a good listener, a good speaker, a motivator, focused, driven, energetic, positive, creative, romantic, resourceful, thoughtful, gentle, quiet, reserved, introvert, extrovert, comedic, entertaining…you get the idea!

Pick something, one thing.   My inner beauty is my intuition.   I can read a situation, a room, pretty quickly.   I wasn’t always aware I had this skill or aware of how valuable it would be in my life.   When I was an intern in my first job after college, a colleague of mine pointed out the importance of learning how to read the dynamics of a situation before jumping in with both feet to resolve it.  She told me intuition was an important skill.  I quickly realized it was a skill that came naturally to me, intuitively, and it is a skill that has served me well in every aspect of my life.

My intuition has enabled me to see the blessings in almost every situation.  I quickly understand that “drama” in my life can also be the stepping stone to something even better.  Be it tools to help me manage the situation or critical information that keeps me moving forward.   So, I’m less reactive to change and more proactive about looking for the blessings.

So, let your inner beauty have a voice and rejoice in it!

Third, we live in a world where we have access to “the world” in real time.  Anything we want to see and anywhere we want to experience is pretty much at our fingertips.  But, as I stated before, life’s algorithms push us to seek out the negative and feel guilty when we don’t.  

A couple examples:  How many of you spend time looking at all the negative comments about a movie, a concert, a place you want to visit or eat at before you decide to go there?  How many of you stress about all the negative things that can happen when visiting family and friends, instead of focusing on all the joyful possibilities?

Again, the push for us to choose the negative has us automatically second guessing everything.  Maybe the restaurant isn’t as good as we imagine.  Maybe travelling to Europe isn’t as safe as we hope it would be.  Maybe my dream job isn’t going to be so dreamy if what I’m reading on-line is true. Maybe my grandma will be crabby or my cousins boring.

And…maybe you will get cancer or divorced or struck by lightning.   Yep, bad stuff happens to all of us.  That is a fact.   So, rewire yourself to seek out the positive without hesitation.  Don’t let the advertisers, the influencers, the negativity peddlers rob you of your joy.  And forget the guilt.  We can’t predict every negative thing in life.  And to be honest, if we could, life would be boring. 

I recently planned a trip to Chicago with my daughter and when planning for the trip, instead of just entering into the internet search engine, “Things to do in Chicago”, where I was guaranteed to see a plethora of negative feedback, I instead input the following:

“Fun and Positive Only” things to Do in Chicago.

Sounds silly I know, but…

Over 100 different activities popped up, all FUN and AFFORDABLE and there was not a single negative comment on any of the activities! The exciting thing was that these activities led us to discover other positive experiences (impromptu salsa dancing in Millennium Park comes to mind) and all told, it was one of the best vacations I have ever had.

So, my point is this, you can be glad.  You really can.  You can ignore the negative and seek out the positive EVERY SINGLE TIME!    See that movie you want.  Enjoy new restaurants.  Visit family and friends without worry.  

Let the world see the real you…your inner gladness.

Do not hesitate to post to your Facebook or Instagram the fun you are having.  So, what if someone thinks:  

What an ego!  What a self-absorbed narcissist!  What a phony!

Who cares what they think, because you will know the positive truth because you are living it!!!

You are the living embodiment of gladness and what Psalm 118:24 is all about.   

REJOICE.  OWN IT. SHARE IT.  Life is too short not to SHOUT IT TO THE WORLD!

I AM GLAD!!!

PositivelyAnne.com

This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

All are welcome to like and follow PositivelyAnne. Let me know what brings you joy and gladness? How do you push back on the negative in life?

The Spontaneity Fight

I’ve worked so hard to build a beautiful life for my husband and kids, dedicating myself to creating a home environment that is warm and inviting and welcoming to all. 

I’ve spent years crafting a career that I felt was worthy and purposeful, going above and beyond in my education so that I modeled for my children the benefits of a lifetime invested in continuous learning and self-improvement.  For thirty years, I have been a dedicated volunteer in my church and community, devoted to sharing Jesus message of shalom and inclusion and helping all those in need.    I have cultivated friendships I treasure and enjoyed travel, dining and cultural and sporting experiences with my husband, family and friends.  

It has been a good life, a happy life, a positive life by all accounts that I’ve had a large hand in creating.

But a small, barely detectible, cancer tumor in my right breast forced me to reckon with the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am never going to be 100 percent the architect of my own destiny.

Why?  Because life, by its’ very nature is spontaneous, and we humans spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out ways to sabotage that spontaneity.  Without thinking, we all work tirelessly to reign spontaneity in, so that we can control it, manipulate it for our own purposes, and get angry at it for disrupting our plans.   I am a master at it.

I love to fight with spontaneity.

How dare you trample on my life’s blue print!  It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!

In my own defense, it is not that I am closed to spontaneity.  Far from it.  A lot of people tell me I adapt well to changes and can catch a curve ball better than most.  I like “different” and enjoy the mix of planned and unplanned in my life so spontaneity isn’t such a foreign concept.

But that being said, going off-script can still bring on a case of the tummy butterflies.  It sometimes seems unnatural, against the grain of how I was conditioned by this world to view a well-planned, orderly life.

I guess it would be understandable if that logic was applicable only to something as serious as cancer.  But truth be told, despite wanting to embrace the “idea” of spontaneity, I can only take impromptu “go with the flow” for so long before I am rounding up the cattle and putting them back in the pen.   Spontaneity scares the hell out of me because the world doesn’t like it.    No wandering little doggies running roughshod over our master plan.

I am wired by this world to take all of the loose ends of life and create some semblance of order and balance I can comfortably live with.  When the pendulum swings too far out of the norm, I’m anxious.  When the pendulum stops swinging, I’m anxious.  It’s hard to find a happy medium in the spontaneity game when all we do is fight it.

I am not alone in this. Embracing spontaneity sounds great and all, but if social media has anything to say about it, spontaneity is just a buzz word for flaky, unmotivated, undisciplined chaos?

At least that’s what we are force fed to believe.   Oh, not necessarily by our parents or even by anyone related to us, but everything from schools, to employers, to just about every aspect of marketing in this world leads us to believe that success is akin to having our lives planned out, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed, and failure is akin to leaving life up to chance. 

We pack our lives so full of “must do’s” that there is no time for discovery, possibilities, opportunities.  We have forgotten that while spontaneity can bring on such things as cancer, it can also bring the cure, in the form of unexpected blessings, things we never imagined.

Cancer showed up spontaneously one February in my life and I discovered that my constant mapping and remapping of my life plan was not a match for good ol’ spontaneous cancer.  If I was going to beat this disease, oh not physically beat it, the medical professionals were on top of that, but emotionally beat it, I was going to have to rewire my mind to think differently about what it means to be absorbed with controlling my life path and leaving nothing to chance.   

I had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways.  I had to stop fighting it and do two specific things:

Accept that Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work

While I was going through a boatload of pencil lead crafting my life plan, I never once thought about how spontaneity would fit into my narrative.  The blanks on my calendar made me nervous, less self-important, less everything.  So, I filled them in.  That is why spontaneity requires a lot of hard work.  Hard work because we are hard wired to over plan, over schedule.    Open spaces on a calendar equals vulnerability.  Vulnerability equals the possibility of failure and well, as I said earlier, failure isn’t a popular choice these days.   But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The reality is that spontaneity isn’t calendar driven.  It doesn’t wait around for those days when we have nothing to do.  In fact, more often than not, it shows up when we are at our busiest.

Because the funny thing about spontaneity is that when it doesn’t work out, somehow, someone or something comes into our lives spontaneously to help us through it.    You and I both know it’s true.  The internet knows it’s true and it’s why we all scour and search for those feel good stories everyday where we can click “like” because deep- down we really want to believe.  Maybe that’s a God thing, some sort of divine intervention or better yet, maybe it doesn’t need a label.  But I can tell you people keep coming into my life spontaneously over and over again that make a difference and I’m betting it’s happening to you too!

Getting Real with Spontaneity

I didn’t have to do anything to “get cancer.”  One day I didn’t have it and the next day I did.  It was the reality of my world.  A spontaneous blotch and initially I fought it.

I fought it with everything I had emotionally.  I had unrealistic expectations about spontaneity being only good things, and suddenly waking up one day with cancer fueled my anger and frustration and disappointment in all things impromptu.  For those initial first months, it was like being on a never-ending emotional treadmill and I was losing steam.

Fighting spontaneity took over my life.  I closed myself off from everyone.  Went internal, self- absorbed with my own importance and control.  My behavior was stifling my ability to move forward, to take new paths, and caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time wallowing in my problems and in a lot of ways, gaslighting new opportunities.   

But after a bit, I grew sick of my own self-importance.  I became curious if the pendulum of my life only swung one way. Negative!  My calendar was full, but my life was not.

What if, I opened myself up to being blessed spontaneously in a positive way?  What if, I had no idea in what form or from whom those blessings would come, but I would remain open to it?

It was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with my life.

As a start, I focused my energy and attention on people, places and things that brought me joy.   I made a conscious effort to not make plans, but be open to plans, spontaneous plans.  I had to push aside the fear that something would go wrong.   I had a lot of blanks on my calendar.

Literally, over-night, so many doors opened for me.   Invitations to do all sorts of things just materialized.  Impromptu fun with friends, trying new restaurants with my hubby, opening the front door to a neighbor with an extra loaf of the best fresh baked bread I’ve ever had.     

On impulse I booked a vacation to Texas, a place my husband and I had never been, to attend HGTV’s, Chip and Joanna Gaines, “Silobration” in Waco.  It turned out to be one of the best unscripted vacations my husband and I have ever had and was a beautiful reminder that one of the things that drew us to each other back in college was our mutual love for unplanned adventure.  Without much thought, I agreed to visit an Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma with an acquaintance from church and this morphed into a beautiful friendship between us that I will always treasure and a new opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of children half way across the country.

Again, and again, I challenged myself to see both sides of the spontaneity coin.  Bad stuff was going to happen, but good stuff was happening too…a whole lotta good stuff.  I had to keep my heart open and stay out of the boxing ring.

I began to meet people, almost daily, in my cancer journey that inspired me.  People who helped me see the best in me and who seemed overjoyed that I was in their life.  I wrote a poem to my radiation team as a thank you for their kindness and it now hangs on the wall of the radiation center.  I opened up about my cancer with family, friends, my church, not in a Debbie Downer kind of way, but in sharing all of the positive, unplanned things that kept happening to me spontaneously despite my health issues.

It was as if spontaneity was a fuel that was propelling me forward.  Past all of the angst of surgery after surgery.  Past all of the negative side effects and uncomfortable days.  Opportunity after opportunity to be blessed.   

Sunday, Father’s Day, was my three- year anniversary of my bi-lateral mastectomy.  It could have been a depressing day, a reminder of all I had spontaneously lost.   Instead, I went out and played an impromptu game of frisbee golf with my family and damn, my muscles are sore as hell, but I didn’t suck at it.  Not at all.

So, I’ve decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with spontaneity.  It is welcome in my life.

Fribee Golf Fun

The fight is over. 

I have won. You can too!

PositivelyAnne

All Are Welcome to like and follow my blog either here or on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positive photo reminders.

Getting Lost in the Blessings

Snow in May. Idyllwild, CA

Have you ever spent an entire day analyzing the one thing that went wrong, instead of praising the hundreds of little things that went right?   Do you feel like positivity is always something you are constantly chasing, instead of embracing?  

If you answered, “Yes”, then let me reassure you, first and foremost, I’m right there with you and second, you are one hundred percent normal!

This pattern of negative self-absorption we are inclined to embrace seems as natural as breathing, but I am convinced that with dedicated mindfulness to think differently, it doesn’t have to be. For almost three years now, I have been training myself to get lost in the blessings and while it’s been one tough go, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

The journey to recognize I needed to do this was not an easy one and in fact, a bit humbling, because it involved deflating an ego, I didn’t even know I had.

I began to see this aspect of my personality reveal itself during the first few weeks after my cancer diagnosis in early 2016.   I’m a solution minded person.  I don’t like unsolved problems. Resolution without solution, in my world, leaves too many carrots dangling.  It didn’t take long after I started talking to cancer specialists to realize that cancer was not going to be a quick fix and no one, absolutely no one, was going to give me any guarantees.  

Well my solution-oriented mind just wouldn’t accept that.  So before work, after work and into the wee hours of the morning, I would click and scroll my way through negative LALA land (aka, the internet) to find a solution to my health issues that would prove all the experts wrong.   My world didn’t have to change.  Cancer did.  That was all there was to it, period, end of story!

I was going to be the miracle of all miracles. 

I began to feel resentful waiting around for test results.  Didn’t the labs know I had cancer?  Why were my doctors making me wait for things when I could be dying?   How inconsiderate everyone was to keep acting like everything was normal, when my world was crumbling and falling apart.

For weeks, I aggressively gave the front page of my world over to negative thinking.  My outward face to the public was a frozen mask of happiness, but inside I was truly frozen in a wasteland of negative thinking. 

That is until one day, about a week before my surgery to remove my cancer tumor, I had an encounter with a woman standing in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store that would change my life.

This woman was hard not to notice.  She was very pale, completely bald and her cheeks were distorted like a chipmunk, the rest of her face completely round like the moon. 

She was slowly loading all of her purchases onto the grocery conveyor.  Each peach, one at a time.  Each tomato, one at a time.   The line behind me was two people long.  The look of impatience on their faces was evident.  The woman continued, one potato, two potato, three potato, four.  I’m not trying to be funny, but I literally remember that children’s game popping into my head as she methodically stacked potatoes on the conveyor.   

Was this woman a nut?   Couldn’t she see the line was getting longer?   Hurry it up!  Hurry it up!

I turned around to look behind me again and now there were at least three more people in line.   

I started to ask her if I could help her.   She wobbly loaded a jug of ice tea onto the conveyor, turned to look at me and said:

“Before cancer, I would never have understood the blessing in a peach or a tomato or a banana.   I would come to the grocery store and rush to load my cart, rush home and put it all away and I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes I would forget about the things I had bought, things I absolutely had to have in the moment, until I would find them rotting on the kitchen counter or spoiled in the refrigerator.  You know how it is? But I don’t do that anymore.  Each peach, each tomato, each banana is a blessing to me.   I am lucky I can enjoy these things.  Their different tastes and the smells (I remember she held a peach out for me to sniff), the ability to afford them and share them with my family.  Before cancer I never understood the blessings in being able to pick up a jug of ice tea.   I have bone cancer and the chemo makes me a little loopy, so I count out my fruit and veggies to make sure I have what I need and I am grateful for each thing.  I hate that it makes you and all the others in line uncomfortable.  But I decided it was time to let my ego go…the part of me that had to control everything and just accept the blessings.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say to her.  How did she know what I was feeling inside, what I needed to hear that day, in that very moment?  Was she psychic?  I remember turning and looking at the man behind me and he had tears in his eyes.  He reached over and squeezed my elbow and in almost a whisper he said, “My wife died last year of bone cancer.”  

I blurted out, “I have breast cancer.”   The cashier stood there, a young girl, and she said, “my grandma is doing chemo now.”

The woman reached over to grab my hand.   “Train yourself to look for the blessings.  It’s not easy, but maybe we were all meant to meet today so that we could bless each other.  How cool is that?!”  

It sounds so dramatic, but it really was just a conversation.   Over in a matter of a couple minutes.  But it was a couple minutes of clarity that was life changing for me.

I had to deflate my ego, the thing that was so huge it was blocking my ability to see the blessings in the every day and had been letting my cancer diagnosis control my life.    My ego that had such a tight grip on my happiness that it was pushing negativity to the forefront.   My ego that thought it knew best, knew better, knew more than the doctors and specialists and trained medical professionals who were charged with saving my life.   My ego who sought out internet sites to verify my negativity and verify that “I was right!” 

I had to deflate my ego that said I can fix all things.  I can do it alone.  I don’t need anyone.

But I do. I need the blessings.

My wonderful husband who understands my rollercoaster of emotions better than anyone, and still loves me going on thirty-five years together.   

My two sons and my daughter who get my sense of humor, my quirky love of collecting chicken art and my drive to create, motivate and be the best I can be.  They make me proud to be their mama every day of my life.

My parents, brother, brother and sisters in-law, aunts and uncles and cousins, niece and nephew whose love and support have touched my heart and who have made me hungry and curious to know more about my ancestry.

My diverse group of friends who challenge me to think, to ponder, to wonder, to laugh and have fun.

My animals who have shown me the face of unconditional love.

My Pastors and church family who have inspired me to move my faith from something I practice to something I live.    

My medical team who believe in me, even when I do not believe in myself.

And especially the thousands of strangers I have met along the way, in person and in cyber-space, especially in the last three years, who’s kind words, wisdom, laughter and strength have sustained me in my darkest hours.  Some have become dear friends and I am so very grateful for how they continue to bless my life.

Although I still have my negative days and still carry around a few pounds I’d like to get rid of, both literally and emotionally, the weight of negativity on my shoulders has been lightened. 

The more I train myself to look for the blessings, my burden is less and less each day.   I am happier, grateful and much more positive.   

I hope you try it.   What have you got to lose, except a few pounds of negativity?!

PositivelyAnne

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