Forty days of self-isolation due to COVID-19 and I am slowly coming to terms with this redefining of our freedom and I suspect, for many of my fellow Americans, it may turn out to be the one civics lesson that sticks with all of us, that is, once we emerge from hibernation.
For one cannot look away from the terrible pandemic images gracing our televisions, our phones and computer screens night after night, of brave souls putting their lives on the line in hospitals and towns in every corner of this country; bodies lined up in hallways, and empty offices and mass graves awaiting funerals that will be devoid of family and friends; and not feel some sort of gut wrenching horror as to how the hell we got to this place of thinking ourselves, this Great American Experiment, infallible?
For although there is much mystery about this virus, it has wasted no time exposing our naiveté. Our America the Beautiful. A place I love so very much and proudly fly the flag and pray for every day.
But a place, just the same, that has buried it’s collective head in the sand when it comes to fixing what is broken, focused more on Vegas odds and clever memes, than scientific data or just plain common sense, because, well, it’s not as fun to talk about at the dinner table.
1)A nation that assumed freedom was an absolute, defended by our guns, our constitution and our military might, and yet, has been humbly brought to its’ knees by a communicable disease; an invisible, equal opportunity offender, for which statistics are proving that privilege plays a role in whether you live or die.
2)A nation who’s financial markets have thrived on making collective love to power and money and courting the vulnerable into believing the have-nots can play the game equally; the claustrophobic stench of their deception now revealed by unemployment figures that rival the Great Depression.
3)A nation of talented minimum wage workers, tradespersons, and the non-college educated, who modern society has systematically demeaned and relegated to the dustbin of professional choices, and for whom there is now no argument as to the high value they contribute to our very survival.
4)A nation of family, friends and strangers where the word hate would roll freely from lips, as we laughingly chose to social distance because they looked, thought or behaved differently; oh how we long to hug them close, just once, just once more.
5)A nation of teachers, coaches and mentors who we consistently underpaid and undervalued and for whom we now join our children in praying for each night, as we come to recognize just how big a role they have played in raising our children.
6)A nation of wanna be food critics, where our food supply was never gourmet enough for our palates, and for which we now have a new found appreciation of the magic of a seed, the immigrant in the field, and what farm to table truly means.
7)A nation of leaders of all faiths that for the past thirty years, we’ve abandoned in droves, their buildings unappreciated shells, their sermons unappreciated truth, but for whom we now readily turn to for answers that make sense of all this madness.
8)A nation of caregivers of our elderly and infirm, whose names we barely took the time to learn before all of this, but who now act as our stand-ins with our loved ones, their careworn hands a lifeline of hope.
9)A nation who freely polluted the air, trampled the landscape and soiled the seas and now marvels with surprise at the blueness of the sky, the animals emerging from the shadows and the clarity of the oceans.
10)A nation of first responders: doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, whose oath to save lives was something we took for granted, but whose willingness to continue to fight for us,at great risk to their families, has us believing in the possibility that God really has returned to earth in human form.
Its’ humbling isn’t it? All the things we thought we knew about America, about each other. Thought important. Thought we valued. Thought we got right before this pandemic business.
It’s taken a viral pandemic to cause us to look in the mirror and understand that for all of its’ bravado, all of its’ bluster, all of its’ grandeur, America is first and foremost a nation of human beings, human beings that are not all equally blessed. Freedom is not available to all…not yet. And so sometimes, it requires others to give more. To expend more time and talent and energy to get the job done.
And I know that makes some people angry. Some protest because it’s too painful to think about things not going back to the way things were, to a time where we could all ignore what the virus has revealed to us. Some shout the end is near, doom and gloom around the corner. Some could care less about any of it. Give me my normal.
I’m not worried. Messiness has always been a part of the American way and it’s from this diversity of choices, and thinking, that some of our greatest moments as a nation emerge.
But no matter our fears, I encourage you not to focus on the anger and to not look away from what the mirror has revealed. For to look away and not truly see what this virus is teaching us, is a missed opportunity.
For the question being asked of us now is pretty simple:
When all this is over, will I be ready to listen, to change, to do what is needed for the benefit of all of America, this new freedom? Or am I going to go back to the same old, same old and only listen to what I want to hear, what is easiest to hear, and what suits my own selfish narrative?
Because while this virus has revealed an America that has some work to do, it has also revealed an America where there is much to be hopeful. An America where love and kindness, compassion and caring for each define the character of many of it’s citizens. Where leaders and mentors come from all walks of life and step up to help. Where the hero is not always the most obvious person in the room and where the importance of human contact is valued more than the size of our wallets or the size of our egos.
It’s exciting. It’s positive. It’s a new kind of freedom and it’s ours for the taking.
Last Monday began like any other day, except it wasn’t. I woke up achy, a feeling in my sinus and chest like no other. A slight cough. A slight temperature.
Warning bells went off in my head. “Oh, hell no! No…No…No…No…NO!” My mind began to shout, “Haven’t I been through enough? Isn’t breast cancer, infection after infection, surgery after surgery, for 3 plus years, enough?”
But the virus, this strange animal called Covid-19, had other ideas and decided to play games with me. For seven days I let it. I let it invade, I let it mess with my head, I let it run my life.
And then…I decided enough with the doom and gloom. It was time to be grateful.
Not grateful for the virus. Certainly not grateful for the strain it has put on my body and the stress it is causing my family, the pain it is currently causing the collective world. But grateful, that gratitude is not beholden to a virus, but instead a gift that I could give myself and to all who know me, while I battled this microscopic beast.
So here it is, from my heart to yours. Something to change perspective, to wipe the dirt from our weary souls. To remove the fear and doubt and make me believe. You believe.
Things I am grateful for this past week:
I am grateful for a house with creaky floors and the dryer that vibrates the ceiling.
I am grateful for two cats who, despite always finding a clean rug to hack up a hairball, quietly curl up next to me, their deep vibrato purr a balm to this endless restlessness.
I am grateful for a bedroom with a picture widow where, between naps, I can look upon the birds gathered at the fountain for a drink, fighting over the seeds that drip from the feeder onto the pink flowers entangled below it.
I am grateful for my older son who has taken to dressing up in silly costumes for his video conferences with his San Diego State work colleagues. “It’s alright. It’s alright. We may not be able to be together, but we will get through this together!”
I am grateful for teachers who have found new ways to stay connected with their students on line through reading stories, singing songs, and reminding them that each day is a beautiful gift.
I am grateful to the friend from church who messaged me she wanted to bake me something to cheer me up and made me laugh when she prefaced the message by saying, “I promise I’m really not that terrible a baker.”
I am grateful for my husband, a shy man, the love of my life, who quietly rises to the occasion each day to lead with a normalcy that wraps itself around me, “like the feeling of warm blanket on a cold and frosty morning.” Cue Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk! Wink. Wink.
I am grateful for my mom and dad, who know I worry about them and text me often to let me know that the grocery store line was orderly, that they are managing o.k. and that they love me. I can feel their resilience propel me forward across the miles.
I am grateful for my Pastors, who long before this crises, trusted the people in their care to tend and nurture the mustard seeds, so that the church was and is so much more than the sum of it’s walls.
I am grateful for my daughter, whose artistry and vision somehow seem effortless in these troubled times and yet, this mother knows she is struggling to find a way to make sense of it all. I wish I had the answer.
I am grateful for my dear friend who opens her door every week so that the notes of her piano ring out through her complex to all who are lonely and frightened. “I see you. I care” her piano sings.
I am grateful for Clorox wipes, and lavender hand soap and the Bergamot lotion that soothes my chaffed hands and reminds me of Paris.
I am grateful for my brother and his wife and their dogs. Knowing Zeus and Athena are underfoot with their humans somehow brings me comfort.
I am grateful for my younger son, who accepted his sudden return to the nest from college much better than I would have, and figured out how to carve out a semi-normal existence while managing to keep both his school and engineering internship intact. I know he’s suffering privately and it’s hard.
I am grateful for my book club and bible study and my dear friends who have texted and Facebooked and called to check up on me. I love all of you.
I am grateful for my online garden community, once strangers, now friends, connected by the marvel of God’s amazing creation and a belief that we will need it more than ever once this storm passes.
I am grateful for my brother in law and sister in law, that their cruise ship was not one of disease, but one that was able to find a safe port and a plane to carry them home.
I am grateful for all of the medical professionals and first responders and military who answered the call to serve something greater than themselves. I owe you my life.
I am grateful for the bee that buzzes in my orange tree, reminding me that we do not always control our destiny, but we must work at it never the less.
I am grateful for my sponsor child Emmy, in Uganda, that he has a place to rest his head, a warm meal in his tummy, an education, and that he loves Jesus.
I am grateful for water that runs freely from my faucet, and toilet paper to wipe my bottom, and a toilet to flush it in.
I am grateful to the homeless, the impoverished, the less fortunate, who remind me of all that I have to give.
I am grateful to all the caregivers, their masked faces in this new world order embody a strength and sense of purpose that I must learn from and aspire.
I am grateful to the workers in the fields, the grocery and stockroom clerks, the truckers and warehouse helpers, the delivery drivers and all those who never asked to be first responders, but are responding to the call just the same.
I am grateful to the sound of the distant buzz of a lawn mower that reminds me of something normal. I need normal right now.
I am grateful I can still curl up on the couch and find Lucille Ball and Andy Griffith still the same after sixty odd years and remember what life used to be like before all of this.
I am grateful for my God. For in Him I find my rock. My compass, my acceptor of all of my imperfections. The one who time and again is willing to give me another chance to get it right. To appreciate what I have not tomorrow, but today.
Finally, I am grateful for the P that calls to me from the mountain top that positivity is always a choice and well worth the climb. I will keep trying.
So many I want to thank. So many who came before me I wish I could thank. I hope you know, I notice you in the shadows, all of you each and every week, and I am so grateful. Stepping out of your comfort zones, to comfort me and the countless others who need to know, in this time of trial, that the world had not gone mad, but is very much alive with the vibrancy of the human spirit. It isn’t by chance that the Easter story is before us.
We too will rise again.
Let gratitude lift you up and out of this dark place. Practice it. Practice it. Practice it.
Thanks for reading. I am getting better every day and looking forward to new beginnings with all of you.
As a long- time educator and mom of 3, I would like to offer a few words of comfort to parents, grandparents and caregivers in these anxious times of the COvid-19 virus.
Children, even very young children are very astute. They know something big is going on right now and they sense adult anxiety and their first inclination is to want to fix it. They do not like seeing adults unhappy because most children see the world as a very joyful, happy place. So, do not be surprised if during this time of crises, your children are overly clingy, act out, cry or become argumentative and ask you question after question out of frustration that they can’t fix what is going on and bring life quickly back to normal.
In addition, don’t be surprised if your high school and college student is an emotional cyclone. Suddenly their campus schedule that they were finally getting a handle on, has been quickly replaced with on-line learning, housing uncertainty, extra-curricular activities canceled and their friend group suddenly torn apart. This can all be very anxiety producing and it’s very difficult for a young adult to have the rug suddenly pulled out from under them when they have just started being responsible and making most of their own decisions. So prepare yourself for a roller coaster of anger, frustration, protest, and maybe even unreasonable demands that you do something, anything, to put it all back as it was.
My best advice to you is to acknowledge this sucks and give everyone the opportunity to voice their feelings. And dads, this means you too! You can’t very well expect your kids to open up and talk about their feelings if you are unwilling to do so yourself. A child’s anxiety and fear, no matter their age, are often mitigated by a parent being open about their own feelings, so do the bold thing and start the conversation.
But while it’s important to be open to sharing feelings, it’s also important to be mindful that sharing does not mean dumping problems on your kids they have no means to solve. You have to be mindful to have those difficult conversations, regarding things like potential financial loss and job uncertainty, away from the ears of your children. And for goodness sakes, no one, not even you, needs to be parked in front of television pundits 24-7 filling your head full of supposition and unproven facts.
It’s good family lesson that in the immediacy of a crises, what matters is the facts. There will be plenty of time down the road to battle it out over what could have been done better. But the reality is that isn’t your job. Your job is to go about your daily lives as best you can and as safely as you can.
In other words, downsize the problem to what is yours to manage. Your plate is full enough already!
It’s also important that your children know that the facts about this crises might change as our government and the medical community understand more about the virus and what we need to do to prevent it. Details may be sparse and then overwhelming, but ultimately, we will have them and it’s important to remain flexible and not panic.
Our most important roles right now are to keep calm, wash our hands, cover our coughs, wipe our noses with tissues, practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary activities that might compromise your safety or that of others.
With this crises comes a greater emphasis on sanitation and if you think about it, there is an opening now without mom and dad begging, for all children to learn more about the importance of keeping things clean to prevent disease spread. So, let your kiddos participate in the household chores as they are able. Now that you’ve stocked up on sanitizing supplies, you might even encourage them to look through their toy chest, books and comics and old clothes. Figure out what they want to donate and they can sanitize everything, pack it up and it’s ready to be donated when things settle down.
Try your best to keep some sort of routine during the hours your children would normally be in school or sports or other activities. While your college age children may be doing some sort of on-line schooling, younger kids may find themselves suddenly with a lot of free time. No more recess with friends. No more afterschool sports, band or dance class. But that doesn’t mean that learning has to stop.
While some kids may view this extended break as a great thing, most kids will eventually long for their old routine, miss their friends, their teachers and the sense of doing their own thing that school and extra-curricular activities away from mom and dad provided.
So, it’s important during this period of transition that you work with your child(ren) to set up a home and school routine with all sorts of educational and fun activities to fill the gap and give kids a sense of ownership over their lives.
Set out Board games and puzzles, word searches, science kits etc… Pull out the old Disney DVD’s, the Star Wars Saga, the old black and white classics and not only watch them, but talk about the life lessons in them. Pull out the dress up box and create a play or tell jokes. Get out photo albums, year books and old home movies and maybe explore your ancestry on-line. Extend the activity by making a favorite family recipe. Put on some records and your favorite 80’s jams and dance your socks off. Dust off that piano or guitar and have a jam session. Write a song and record it. If you don’t have an instrument, then make one out of an upturned bucket or a pan lid or cardboard box. Put out water colors, crayons, paints and paper and let your inner Picasso out. Learn that video game your child is always playing. Let them teach you about twitter and Tic Tok, YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat. Use your phone camera to take funny pictures or make a movie together. Go out into your garden and weed and plant and talk about nurturing God’s creation. Make homemade cards for the military and homebound and look on line for ways to serve in your community, or speak with your Pastor about what is needed in your church family. Groom your pets, make homemade dog and cat treats, visit online sites on nature and brainstorm what you might do as a family to help protect our natural world. Grab a blank journal and write a story and illustrate it together. Turn on an episode of “I Love Lucy” or “Friends” or “American Horror Story” and make fudge and pancakes and popcorn. Write a letter, E-mail friends and family, or better yet, teach your child how to talk, not text, on the phone with their grandparents!
For those in high school and college undergoing an immediate structural change in how they learn is very stressful, so it’s important to keep engaged with their well-being and mindful that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Yes, the younger generation is much more technologically savvy than prior generations, but that doesn’t mean everyone processes information the same way. On-line learning is a whole different ball game then a classroom experience and your student may find they are frustrated with the pace of the course, with the inability to immediately ask a question, with the lack of student interaction and the lack of hands on learning. They may also find their teachers, who they thought knew everything, may not be up to the task of administering an on-line course. So you may have to have conversations with your child about patience and understanding and cutting people slack. And in some cases, you may have to help your child follow up with the appropriate campus entities if the online educational experience is really sub-par.
Also, a lack of extra curricular activities, which is so vital to most high school and college kids, can immediately turn your kind and considerate child into a feral beast. Help them by finding new ways to maintain their physical fitness if they were formally engaged in competitive sports or dance or cheer; explore together on-line courses and websites that might engage them in new and fun ways and do not be afraid to let them take point to help the younger ones in your family. And for gosh sakes, get out of the way and let them talk out what is happening with them with their friends. I know you want to be there savior, but right now, you need to remember that they never asked for any of this. So it’s important to give them the privacy and space they have been used to and allow them the time to work out what is happening in their own mind.
While these things might sound silly and corny in a time of crises, I promise you that if you do these things, several years from now, when you are all gathered as a family and your children are telling their own children about the “Great COvid-19 Virus of 2020”, their conversations will not be a story of tragedy, but a story of hope. A hope that you instilled in them today, right now, in this time of crises. A hope that the promise of a better tomorrow is never at the mercy of a tragedy if we spend our todays positive and productive and always, always moving forward with the gifts God has given us.
Stay safe and well dear readers and feel free to add your own thoughts and comments that might help others during this challenging time.
A new year, a new decade is upon us and you know the drill. Grab a piece of notebook paper, or better yet a brand new journal of blank pages, a few pencils or a favorite pen and jot down all of the things that are wrong with you that need fixing in 2020.
NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS 2020!
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Underlined. O.k. GO! Sounds simple right?
Well, I’m going to share a secret with you all. This year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to make any New Years resolutions. Any lists of what I’m lacking. Why? I’ve discovered that focusing on lists of what I haven’t accomplished, what I am deficient in, blinds me to what is positive about me in the present.
I’m so focused on the negativity in the lists, that I become joyless and miserable.
It’s overwhelming and self-defeating. How am I ever going to accomplish anything on my list this year, if I haven’t accomplished everything on my list last year?
The answer is simple. I’m not. I’m setting myself up for failure on day one of the New Year by acknowledging that I’m a failure on day one of the New Year!
And I’m convinced that lists of what I’m lacking is one messed up way to start a new year, let alone approach life.
I’m mean it’s no stretch of the imagination that most of us can probably recite every single thing that is wrong with us without writing it down. I know I can.
Maybe we are still out of work, or going through a messy divorce, or fumbling through a relationship or we can’t breathe in our size 10 jeans any longer. In fact, some of us are not only fine tuned in the art of making lists as to what is wrong with our own selves, but we can list every single thing wrong with our spouse, our kids, our parents, our jobs, our homes, our community, our churches, our world.
Lists of negative thinking are not in short supply, trust me.
But is this any way to embrace positivity, starting the year off by making lists of all the things that we aren’t doing right, everything we aren’t? Seems to me that is a rather depressing way to accept the gift of another year and at least for me, it’s actually shortchanging what my imperfect self is truly capable of.
I have faced a lot in the past year and come out the other side stronger, better and wiser.
My positive is so much stronger than my negative. I know this with absolute certainty. If only I’d stop making lists that tell me otherwise.
So yesterday, day one of 2020, instead of a litany of negativity, I chose to fill my journal with four reflections on some of the challenges I faced in 2019 by paying less attention to the detail of what went wrong, and instead rejoicing in what went right. I share them here so that you can see the difference in approaching life as a positive reflection:
Anne’s Journal 2020 Day 1
What a blessing it is to be alive another year. A New Year of happiness and joy and love. My heart is full of these things to give, to share, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful for so many things that God and others have provided in my life this past year. New paths, new relationships, a deepening faith and a family whom I treasure. Challenges continue, but so do solutions.
The side effects from surgically induced menopause continue to challenge me. I need to lose more weight and it isn’t easy with my changed metabolism. But I’m down ten pounds from last year and my Fit Bit says I walked 500 miles in 2019. Five hundred miles! That’s no small feat given I had major surgery in April and in September. Hell, that’s no small feat period! I can now hike and swim in the ocean and dance and sing and garden and paint and play the piano with minimal pain and fatigue and best of all the hot flashes that kept me up at night are gone!
Yes, it’s true that I am anxious to get back into the work force outside the home and utilize my skill set with the right employer, and it’s scary and a bit intimidating to be starting over career wise in my mid-50’s. But, I was not complacent in 2019, having begun a side career as a successful blogger, created an on-line following for my photography on a gardening website and completed the final draft of a children’s book with a good friend. I am writing daily and the ideas are over flowing.
Over the summer, I was disappointed that the romantic summer vacation to the North East that I had been looking forward to with my husband had to be postponed due to another surgery. However, in 2019, I enjoyed so many wonderful excursions with my husband to the local mountains, the beach, zoo, new restaurants, theater and plays, movies, art exhibits, street fairs, farmers markets, antiquing, sports events, concerts of all sorts and enjoyed a wonderful mother-daughter trip to Chicago exploring all of my favorite Chi-town haunts. My husband and I still share a love for exploring this great planet and I am so grateful to be able to enjoy so many wonderful adventures with him.
The past year was a bit of an adjustment for me (and my husband) fully stepping into the life of empty nesters and embracing adult children with minds and goals and dreams of their own. At times it can be confusing and there are moments when I miss the sweet faces that idolized my every word without question and I’m still learning when to curtail the parenting. But it has been a relief to watch each of our three children fly from the nest, fully capable of handling whatever life hands them. Each child has sought out positive friends and mentors and relationships that facilitate their possible and all three wanting to remain in the area, not because I, or my husband demand it, but because it is something they want to do, has filled me with so much joy. They genuinely love our little family, want to spend time together and that is about the best gift a parent could ask for.
Till next time journal…
So as you can read, the New Year for me is not without it’s challenges, but I’m not lacking for positive things to focus on and I bet you aren’t either. In fact, when I re-read my journal I was amazed at how much it lifted my spirits to write about all of the positive things. To take the time to let my mind and heart reflect on all of the good. I’m going to lean into that even more in 2020 and I hope you will join me in this journey.
For I can’t think of a better gift we can give ourselves this New Year, then to approach it with a positive outlook and that includes seeing ourselves in a positive light from day one.
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.
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???”
All are Welcome to like and follow PositivelyAnne.
Heading into my second week, post bi-lateral breast implant “explant” surgery, I’ve discovered that recovery, whatever we are recovering from, in my case recovering from yet another major surgery associated with my breast cancer journey, takes an enormous amount of faith in an outcome that is at the mercy of a lot of things beyond our individual control.
For someone like me, who likes their life rather tidy and
orderly, it is a difficult thing to have to ride a roller coaster of pain,
emotions, and uncertainty in yet another surgical recovery, and it becomes even
more complicated when “doubt” creeps in to cast a shadow on what has, in
essence, been a text book recovery for me so far.
I want to talk about my “doubt” because it has little do with recovering from an actual surgical procedure. It’s more complex than that.
My “doubt” has never stemmed from a decision to have a
particular surgery, no matter the complications. Nor has my “doubt” ever been due to a lack of
trust in my surgical team’s competence.
I have been blessed with the best and brightest the medical community
has to offer in every single instance.
Lastly, and most importantly, my “doubt” has never been about a lack of
faith that God will help me or that He will put others in my life to help me. My eyes have been opened to the miracle of
God’s grace time and time again in each of my surgical journeys and in all
aspects of my life, so I don’t for a moment doubt God’s existence in my life.
But I’ve noticed a pattern of “doubt” that manifests within
me during each surgical recovery, that instead of just embracing these things
as my truth, I spend an awful lot of time questioning God as to whether or not
I am worthy of continuing to being blessed with yet another chance at this
crazy life of mine.
Despite my faith in God, I’ve discovered that my “doubt” and
“worthiness” over receipt of God’s amazing grace, time and time again, weighs
on me because I am very aware that there are so many people out there suffering
all sorts of ailments who have not been equally blessed.
And the fact remains, that regardless of being a good person, many people do not have the opportunities that I have had, with access to the best in healthcare, a loving and supportive caregiver in my husband, the best support team in my kids, friends, church and extended family, and all sorts of strangers, who, along the way, have blessed me over and over again and helped me quickly get back on my feet.
So, my “doubt” centers a lot around, “Why me?” What is so special about me that I should be
able to test the surgical hands of fate time and time again and recover in a
way that affords me the opportunity to get back to life rather quickly and
share that story with others, when so many others are not able to do so?
In the quiet of the night, I lie awake and ponder this
question and maybe because this was surgery number seventeen, I’m pondering it now
a bit more. I mean it’s quite reasonable
when you are coming close to running out of fingers and toes to count your
surgeries on, that questioning God about how much longer this gravy train is
going to last is a rather human thing to do, right?
Then again, I wonder if in questioning God, I seem
I am very grateful.
Grateful for each new day and I don’t take for granted anything about
being able to wake up and go to sleep and wake up again. There is a satisfaction and peace that comes
with knowing that’s possible for me and yet, the “doubt” comes.
Although I am grateful, I feel “unworthy” of all that has
been afforded me and my mind races trying to pinpoint the exact moment when God
“Here is Anne, someone worthy of saving, over and over
and over again.”
I have been blessed to live a privileged life and I know it. But I am also keenly aware that I’ve worked hard for it and continue to work hard for it. It hasn’t always been easy and trust me, after seventeen surgeries, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with me saying that I’ve grown weary of hospital gowns and handsome anesthesiologists and even medical miracles.
I’m kind of over the excitement of the operating room,
grateful as I am for it.
As I was pondering what I would say in my blog, a thought
came to me last night that maybe I’m looking at this whole thing the wrong
way. I mean a lot of times when life seems
complex, God points us to the fact that things really aren’t as complicated as
we humans tend to make it, so, maybe that’s the case in this instance as well?
Maybe, my health journey and my role in sharing my journey, including
discovering my possible, is not rooted in the details of my own personal success
Maybe it has nothing to do with my start or my finish. My beginning, my middle, my end.
Could it be that it is as simple as one human planting positive seeds of faith by openly sharing their story of being a broken, vulnerable human with other broken, vulnerable human beings?
Is it plausible that God is using my journey, including my “doubts”,
my wrong turns, my fears of “unworthiness” and lack of value and the sharing of
the crosses that I bear, to somehow allow others to see more clearly through
their own doubts, and fears, giving them the courage to share their own stories
of hope in the face of despair?
“Here is Anne, someone I am using on earth to tell her
story so that others may find happiness and joy in their own journey of
I had a text from a friend this past week that, and the more I think about it, confirmed this theory. She had shared my blog from last week with a family member who was struggling with her own breast implant reconstruction and my friend shared the response text from the family member with me. I will leave the contents of it private except to say that the text was not about the further sharing of details of this person’s health issues, or exchanging medical advice, or about wanting any sort of resolution for this individual. Instead, the text simply shared that my words brought this person comfort. That my words would be shared by this person with other individuals they knew when the time was right and the circle of comfort would continue because I had chosen to share my journey in a public way.
That’s powerful and humbling and huge.
No wonder I feel a bit unworthy of it all!
But there it is. This must be how God is using me. Using my situation, every surgery, every stumble in my recovery, every scary monster that I have faced in the past few years to encourage me to help others to put one foot in front of the other and fight.
I really do need to accept this challenge from God and move
on from my “doubts.”
An image of human hands holding human hands comes to mind. Each individual hand cold, full of doubts, and fears and feelings of unworthiness. But join these hands together and suddenly where once flesh was cold, there is now warmth. The warmth of human kindness. God’s gift to us.
A circle of comfort!
I am excited to share this warmth with my readers, with anyone
in need. I am excited that though I
could have done without seventeen surgeries, if this is what it takes to help
me find my path, my possible, my voice in the world, and in doing so, I help
others, then God has served me
I can only hope I remain a worthy, humble servant. No more doubts!
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.
felt, well, I felt kind of dead inside.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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
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!”
sorry, rare or not, I’d prefer not to get cancer again thank you very
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.
have feeling, instead of numbness, in my chest region for the first time in
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.
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.
crippling pain in my hip, legs, back is gone.
able to move from the floor, to the bed, using my legs and arms, on the first
try, without assistance.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
What an ego! What a self-absorbed narcissist! What a phony!
cares what they think, because you will know the positive truth because you are
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
I AM GLAD!!!
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?
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
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.
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
I love to fight with spontaneity.
dare you trample on my life’s blue print! It’s my life spontaneity, not yours!!!
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.
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,
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
had to think of spontaneity in new and different ways. I had to stop fighting it and do two specific
Spontaneity doesn’t just happen without a lot of hard work
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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
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?
was time to take the boxing gloves off and let spontaneity have its’ way with
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
decided to permanently hang up my boxing gloves and make peace with
spontaneity. It is welcome in my life.
fight is over.
won. You can too!
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.
heard that you died today at the age of 97.
A long life by any stretch of the
say you will be cremated, as you wished, without any fanfare. I’m sorry if I’m intruding on your final
wishes, but I can’t let you go like that.
Day, you were an amazing actress, singer and advocate. You were a complicated woman whose existence deserves
to be more than a footnote gracing the pages of a dust covered history book or an
inaccurate page in Wikipedia. You deserve
more than an annual birthday celebration on Turner Classic Movies, a birthdate
that my daughter proudly shares with you by the way, or the occasional chuckle
I get when I’m in the mood to wear one
of my many hats and remember that it was you who taught me how a silly hat
could take the stuffiness out of a room full of business suits.
we never met, you have been this unwavering role model of positivity in the
recesses of my existence for over half my life.
for one thing, you never let tragedy, heartbreak, or disappointments stop you
from moving forward. You were this picture-perfect screen image of the
all-American woman and yet, your private life was a complicated series of
twists and turns and more than the occasional cliff dive. You
could have shouted from the roof tops how unfair it all was and no one would
have blamed you. Wolves in sheep’s
clothing and all of that. Instead you chose
to see the good in people. Find the
blessings, the positive lessons to be learned and without insulting your fans,
you enlightened them that “perfect” is not at all what we ultimately should
strive for as human beings.
Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
were born Doris Mary Kappelhoff of Cincinatti, but Hollywood changed your name
to “Doris Day” after the song “Day after Day” became a hit. The name Doris Day sounded so much sunnier
and happier, less German (remember we were heading into WWII) than Doris Kappelhoff. I
imagine it might have been a relief for you to discard your heritage, after all
your father discarded his family for another woman and left your mom to care
for you and your brother at a time when divorce was a four-letter word. Then you
had to quickly reinvent yourself to the public after a car accident cut short
your meteoric rise as part of a dancing duo.
Set-backs, always set-backs.
like the song, Que Sera, Sera, and your new name, you took whatever life had to
offer you day by day. The twists and
turns and complications a minor roadblock to all life had in store.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
you had these twinkly blue eyes that ignited with mischief and knowing, above a
spray of freckles that started on one cheekbone, paraded across your nose and
landed on the other side of your face. In
an era of glamorous leading ladies, you stood out like a country girl at a
have always had freckles, I can relate.
movie and television executives didn’t much care for your freckles and would
layer pancake make up on your face to try to hide them. But somehow, some way, those freckles would
make an appearance in each and every movie and television program you made,
blinking brightly as if to say, “Hey America, this is me!” ‘
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
connection to you began when I first heard you sing, “Que Sera Sera.” I think
it was the theme song to your television show, but I might have heard it from
one of your movies. I don’t remember
which, but the lyrics always resonated with me.
I was just a little girl, I ask my mother what will I be?” “Will I be pretty, will I be rich, here’s
what she said to me. Que Sera, Sera,
whatever will be, will be, the futures not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera…what
will be will be.”
read that you didn’t really like the song.
You thought it a children’s song compared to the other songs you were
blessed to sing in your lifetime and figured it would fade quickly if you
ignored it. But over time, the song took
on a life of its own. Representing
women, men, all those seeking acceptance.
You understood the song stood for our need as human beings to be loved
and wanted and appreciated. But more
than that, you understood that despite your own personal dislike of the tune,
the song served as a reminder that the human narrative isn’t necessarily all
our own doing. We can all make a
difference. So, you unselfishly let your
musical legacy be defined by this song.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
Doris, you had this voice that took on a lyric and drew us in. It would start soft as a whisper. Notes melodically floating through air over mind and skin and then building, carefully building until those beautiful notes would be set free to soar magnificently into the great beyond.
it was how you learned to sing that way that impressed me the most. At a time when segregation was common place
in America, you proudly stated to all that your vocal inspiration was the great
African American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald. You said Ella had a keen understanding of how
to master not only the melody, but create clean, relatable connections to the
lyric and that you would practice singing to her over and over to get the
nuances of a song just right.
the time of those comments, it would be thirty years until the Civil Rights
Movement, but here you were a white girl from Ohio openly promoting a person of
color as their singing inspiration.
America didn’t blink because you didn’t.
Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
the movies Doris, you were (and are) one of the few actors, man or woman, to
show that human beings are multi-dimensional and capable of shape shifting
between the silly absurdities of day to day life and corresponding gut punches of
chaotic drama. You also proved that women
could hold their own with a man in a script and on-screen.
once did I think you were miscast in any of the thirty-nine films you made. Some I liked better than others, some I can
quote every line, but you owned every scene you were in.
musical comedies that provided a welcome respite from a war weary nation; satirical
movies that made fun of gender stereotypes and romance in a way that allowed us
to laugh at the absurdity of the mating dance, and powerful dramas that
showcased the physical and emotional abuse of women in a way that shed light on
the complexities of human relationships.
role you played left a footprint on celluloid that resonates today because you got
that life on film wasn’t much different than real life. Your own life. Our lives. My life.
We watched you not so much to escape, as to be reminded that if Doris
Day can handle all the silly, absurd and horrible crap of life, then so can we!
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
You made three iconic movies with Rock Hudson. America believed you as a couple. You even had pet names for each other, Ernie and Eunice. Years after your movie career ended, you invited Rock to be the first guest on your new television show for the Christian Broadcast Network called, “Doris Day’s Friends”. Rock was quietly suffering in silence from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and for which the public had been subjected to endless rumors as to how you could “catch AIDS”. You somehow knew your interview with Rock would be your last time together and on camera, you gave him a big hug and planted a huge kiss on him. A simple and kind gesture friend to friend. But when it became known that Rock had AIDS, the media went nuts.
you afraid of getting AIDS?” the reporters asked. “Did you swap spit?”
my friend is sick and what he needed from me was kindness and empathy. I gave
my dear friend a hug and a kiss, end of story.”
The public response was immediate.
If America’s sweetheart said AIDS was something to fight, not to fear,
then so be it. Funding for research came pouring in, and
compassion became the order of the day for victims.
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
when your small dog was run over by a car, out of your sorrow you were inspired
to create the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL)to reduce pain, suffering and
cruelty to all animals. When the DDAL merged in 2006 with the Humane
Society of the United States it became the single biggest advocate for animal
rights in the nation.
of your first major national initiatives, that continues to this day, was to
create an annual “Spay and Neuter your Pets Day” to prevent shelters filling up
with unwanted animals. You then created
one of the first “pet friendly” inn’s in America in Carmel, California that has
served as a role model for the integration of humans and people in recreational
and entertainment spaces.
wonder if you ever comprehended how your simple act of compassion for your own pet
set a course for this country to appreciate and value all of God’s creatures?
Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.
how you lived your life taught me that every individual has the power to be a
positive role model. We must remember that
the song each of us sings is of value, but is not something everyone
appreciates. We must cultivate that
understanding by modeling empathy and love. We need not fear our different, or
the different in others. It’s ok. to disagree, to fight, even to argue, but in
a way that promotes dialogue, diversity of opinion and not discord.
We must invite others to our table.
For in the end, Doris your legacy is that our journey on this planet is going to be paved with a whole lot of “Que Sera, Sera’s” and it is up to each of us as individuals what we do with it.
you for your positive example of a life well lived.
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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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
was going to be the miracle of all miracles.
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.
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
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.
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.
this woman a nut? Couldn’t she see the
line was getting longer? Hurry it up! Hurry it up!
turned around to look behind me again and now there were at least three more
people in line.
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.”
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.”
blurted out, “I have breast cancer.” The
cashier stood there, a young girl, and she said, “my grandma is doing chemo
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?!”
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!”
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.
hope you try it. What have you got to lose,
except a few pounds of negativity?!
you ever have one of those days where life is cruising along on positive speed and
then for some reason, you feel the pull of negativity and just like that, your
day has gone from milestone to millstone?
have a theory about that. Maybe you
will agree or maybe you won’t, but my theory is that we are supposed to have
days like that, at least until we learn to think differently.
The reason has to do with how we are wired as human beings. We have a hard time unconditionally accepting positive anything without some caveat being attached to it. For us to truly develop an understanding and appreciation of the joy that positivity can bring into our lives, our imperfect human selves need balance and as such we invite good ol’ negativity to the table time and time again.
other words, we need some negative sprinkled into our positive lives in order
to continue our positive journey forward.
seems rather confusing I know and it’s taken me forever to figure it out, but
here is an example that happened to me recently that illustrates what I
couple weeks ago, I had a very good day.
down to write about 730am and continued for the next six hours pretty much
non-stop. My hands were literally flying
over the keyboard, the flow of the ideas in my head perfectly translating into the
words I wanted on the page. For those of
you who write, you know that sometimes the vision of what’s in our head isn’t
exactly what translates to paper. So,
when it happens, it is a very good day.
started to ache from being glued to my desk chair for so many hours and although
I probably could have continued to write, my positive self knew it was time to get
some exercise and keep the positive momentum going. My office window looks
directly down onto our garden below and I spied a few weeds sprouting, a couple
rouge snails encroaching on my newly planted veggies. A
positive opportunity to check off a couple chores, while making my Fitbit
happy. All good things.
hours and a chipped manicure later, I had won the battle of the weeds and
snails and had added another three thousand steps to my Fitbit and decided to
reward my positive achievements with a generous glass of wine (emphasis on the
generous), a little dish of wasabi trail mix and some quality time with my book
club read before my hubby came home from work.
myself on the couch, I dived into Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War, mindlessly
reaching for my wine glass and a few Wasabi nibbles every now and then.
I looked up from my book.
was only me and the cats in the house, but still, I distinctly heard what
sounded like someone trying to get my attention.
looked across the room at the sixty-inch box of doom and gloom affixed to the
girl, heard you had a positive day. That’s good, really, really good, you’ve got your
wine, your wasabi trail mix, your book, but it’s all so positive….”
television set talking to me? Eyes
wide, I grabbed my wine glass and took a big gulp.
you worked hard all day.
Productive. Positive all the way
around. But deep down you are worried things have been
just a little too positive today. Too smooth,
no bumps in the road. That makes you
“I’m not worried things have gone too positive today,” I say out loud to the television, “I AM NOT!”
my hand started to reach for the remote control, hovering.
“Turn me on. You know you want to! Aren’t you the least bit curious if the Hallmark channel will bring back “When Calls the Heart?” I mean who would have thought a goodie-goodie like Aunt Becky (aka Lori Loughlin from Full House days) would be capable of buying her daughers way into USC? C’mon, you know there are probably four or five channels green screened with Ex-Justice Department officials discussing all the days political dirt. Oooh, how about one of those home improvement channels where you can listen to people whine about not having an open floor plan? I think one of those commercials for the Humane Society is on…you know the ones that show abused pets as Sarah McLaughlin sings “Arms of the Angel?”
that juicy negativity!
took another huge gulp of wine and choked.
up the remote…pick up the remote…c’mon you know you want to!”
“I’m reading my book! I’ve got my wine and my wasabi nuts, why do I need to turn on the television set?”
I didn’t need to. I had a good day. A completely positive day! However, despite the positive vibes still reverberating through my body the pull of negativity was calling me and I pressed the remote button.
Like some mindless idiot, I began flipping, flipping, flipping, between multiple cable news channels looking for some nasty gossip of Aunt Becky and Hallmark; waded through five stations of unemployed justice department officials talking about how everyone hates everyone and was sobbing my eyes out watching a commercial featuring a dog with mange, eyes pleading at me to save it, when my husband walked in the front door.
this type of thing ever happened to you?
There you are, ready to immerse yourself in a little “me” time to celebrate the fact that you’ve had a perfectly good day. Maybe it’s not in your top ten of good days, but on the positivity scale, you have no complaints. You are all set to keep the positivity party going when for some reason you feel the pull to seek the dark side calling.
Sometimes it’s completely understandable. Your life is cruising along great and then like a trip wire, you get news you have cancer or heart disease, your favorite aunt is dying or your job is being eliminated and just like that, you find yourself stumbling and tumbling into negative territory.
We’ve all been there and if you haven’t, you might want to think about an Ancestry test to determine if you are a Vulcan, emotionless and related to Spock.
But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), most of us feel and that means we are vulnerable to the negative in these types of situations.
being said, what about the times when there is no trip wire, no obvious stumbling
block for you to overcome in your positive day? Just like the pretty great day
I was having before my remote-control trigger finger went in search of everything
do we constantly do this to our positive selves? Why did I do it to myself?
One possible reason is that our human selves seek out negativity in response to positivity as a result of guilt.
“Maybe I don’t deserve all of this positivity!”
know in my own life, I can recall many times I have talked myself into thinking
my positive experiences were not all that positive by intentionally picking
them apart, looking for the loopholes.
also know I’ve gone through phases where I thought that embracing my positive self
would somehow makes me less relatable to my family and friends. That somehow, someway, if I gave all the
power to positive thinking, positive behavior and positive living, I’d lose
sight of the negative and become self-absorbed and unable to feel empathy
towards those going through rough times.
“Oh, there SHE goes again, everything’s perfect in her world all the time!”
an introvert, the idea of people thinking this about me literally tore me apart
inside. Even though no one has ever said
this to me or implied it of me.
I’ve basically done is unconsciously instituted a sort of cover for both of
these issues by reinforcing my daily positives with negative
reinforcements. In other words, I go searching
for something negative to remind me how truly blessed I really am. That’s why I picked up the remote the other
day to seek out something negative.
negative capstone to my day.
How messed up is that? It’s pretty messed up. BUT I guess it just proves I’m human and not Vulcan.
But you know something, the more I delve into this positivity thing, the more I feel like maybe it’s o.k. if the teeter totter of life isn’t quite balanced. Maybe I don’t have to go in search of something negative to balance out the good. Maybe life can just be good, period!
Why do Positivity and Negativity have to share the ride? Up and Down they go. Up and Down. Up and Down.
Sometimes I’d like to just go up, up, up and stay there. How about you?
It’s something I’m planning on really working on this summer by developing my level of trust and acceptance that if life is going great, then it’s o.k. to be positive and leave it at that. Total acceptance of the positive. Well at least half acceptance of the positive is a good start. I’ll try!
But until that time, I’ll placate my negative side with a few moments of cable nastiness about Aunt Becky and her demise and then I’ll get back to appreciating my very positive life by drinking my wine, reading my book and …
crap, I think the cat just hacked up a wasabi nut on my carpet. UGGGH!!!!
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I am convinced that quickest way to slide down the rabbit hole of negativity is to allow yourself to become a complacent participant in life by cutting off your connectivity with others.
Look, I get it, maybe you are going through cancer treatment or other health issues, or you are dealing with an unexpected financial burden, or maybe a break-up, death of a loved one, loss of a job. All of that sucks! It does. It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s not joyful, so it’s understandable if you have some days where getting out of bed and facing the world isn’t exactly something you want to do.
So, give yourself permission to take a day or two to pay homage to the stress of your situation.
The reality of negative situations is that they rarely resolve in a half hour like a television sitcom. Anyone ever waited weeks for their cancer test results to come back? I know I have. What about watching your bank account dwindle and the bills pile up, or sitting in your staff meeting at work and being told that the company is being sold and your job is well, hmmm, sort of secure for now. I can imagine a sea of hands are being raised right now.
Stress from negative situations is real, you feel it, so it’s important that you acknowledge it.
Wallow in bed all day, watch some rom coms, eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and let yourself cry. Whatever stress reliever works for you, as long as it’s safe and not causing you or anyone else harm, you are doing yourself a big positivity favor.
You are giving your mind and body the gift of time by acknowledging the truth that your situation is real, painful, uncomfortable and not at all what you had planned for your life.You are acknowledging that the road ahead may be challenging and uncertain and that you are scared.
You are giving yourself a few valuable days to come to terms with the fact that you are human and the way forward out of the negative abyss is to make peace with your vulnerability, by acknowledging it and then allowing positivity to propel you forward.
But don’t let yourself wallow too long. Say to yourself,
“ENOUGH! IT’S NOW TIME TO GET MYSELF UP,
PUT MYSELF BACK OUT THERE
AND LIVE MY LIFE!”
And my friends, that is a hard, hard thing. Why? Because we humans seem to be hardwired to handle stressful situations not by walking head first into the storm, but by sitting around and analyzing the “what if’s” and the “why me” until the negative of our situation becomes our security blanket.
The funny thing is negativity isn’t a warm and fuzzy thing. Negativity is sterile and cold and lonely.
Kind of like concrete. That’s why we feel so weighted down by negative thinking. The tighter we pull the negativity blanket around ourselves, the more we find ourselves feeling isolated, angry, frozen. Heavy!
So, what can you do to stop being complacent, to feel confident that you can drop the negativity blanket and let positivity do its thing?
First, it’s important to find good listeners.
You’ve allowed yourself to wallow in your misery for a day or so and now it’s time to get back out there. But you have a lot on your mind. A lot that needs sorted out. A lot you have to say. A lot you need help working through. So, it’s time to find a good listener.
That person might be your spouse or partner or another loved one, a teacher, a counselor, a Pastor, a neighbor, a work colleague. Approach them first with the fact that you are scared and feeling stressed and just need someone to listen. Be honest, that you aren’t looking for them to solve your situation, only that you need to connect with another human being and share your thoughts.
If your negative journey is more than a quick fix, be prepared to be spend time cultivating multiple listeners.
Look, it’s natural that you may automatically think nothing of purging your soul to your husband, roommate, best friend. They know you the best, have been with you through thick and thin and always seem a willing ear. But, it’s important not to let your negative situation blind you to the fact that what you are about to share with your trusted companion, may impact them in an emotionally negative way. Compassionate people tend to blame themselves for things they can’t control. Gee, if I had only seen the signs, maybe I could have helped prevent my child’s divorce. Maybe if I had cooked healthier meals my spouse wouldn’t have gotten cancer. If I hadn’t insisted on renting that beach house this summer, we would have had a little extra cash to cover my husband’s job loss.
So, as you are purging your soul to your trusted listener, look for the signs that maybe, just maybe, it’s more than they can handle. Ask them if it’s too much and do not be offended if they tell you it is. Just thank them for listening and work on cultivating other listeners.
Around the time I got cancer, my husband, my “go to listener” had to deal with not only my situation, but with the rapidly declining health of his father, who lived 90 miles away. One of the best decisions I made was to ask others: my older children, my church family and some wonderful women in my friendship circle to help me through my cancer journey so that my husband didn’t have to be the “ears” all the time. I found these people to be gracious listeners and in fact once that door was open, it was their warmth, support and kindness that not only energized me, but seemed to bring us all closer together, empowering us to listen to each other. The wonderful thing is the lasting impact of that experience has made me a better listener as well.
I am convinced that there is tremendous holistic healing power in being a good listener, so seek them out and make it a point to be one yourself.
Second, it’s important to share your vulnerability.
When negativity strikes, it is so easy to pull the blinds closed and hide. Don’t tell me you haven’t done it, because I won’t believe you. We all have.
No one wants to see me like this, I’m imperfect!”
But if we are honest, curling up with that negativity blanket and squirreling ourselves away from human interaction doesn’t make us feel any better. In fact, I know when I have done this, I find myself feeling really lonely and more depressed than ever.
The truth is, that old devil negativity would like nothing more than to have us all to themselves, alone, and miserable. To be able to toy with our vulnerable self, day in and day out so that our problems take center stage and push positivity to the back burner. So, it’s critical that you must cast aside those tendencies and put yourselves out there in all your vulnerable glory.
Now before you go and argue that you are an introvert and that sharing your negative side with others is impossible, let me share a secret with you. I’m an introvert too! I am so much more at ease with the written word than the spoken one, so opening myself up to people, especially when I’m going through something negative, isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I have to tamp down the jitters and just go for it. But it pays off.
One day I was killing a bit of time browsing the aisles at Marshall’s before a doctor’s appointment that I was dreading. I was standing there absently looking at a display of hand lotions and thinking,
“God, I am so tired of all of this health business. Why does my life have to be so hard?”
Suddenly this woman materialized by my side. She looked wide eyed and she had two small children’s books in her hands that she held out to me. She said in a rather frazzled voice, “I have never, ever approached a stranger like this before, but can you please help me?”
I have to admit my first thought wasn’t about helping her, but that maybe she was up to something no good. But there was something about the anxiety in her eyes that resonated with me and I said, “I see you have two children’s books?”
The woman sighed heavily and said, “Yes, I do and I do not know what to do. We have a new grandchild, our first and I want to send her a book, but I don’t know what to send her. I am so worried I will make a mistake and disappoint my daughter. You looked like someone who might be able to help me, so I took a chance on asking you.”
What? I certainly wasn’t wearing a label that identified me as a mom of three, a former preschool teacher, former preschool director, former Sunday school program coordinator, former youth director. Although I am all of those things.
So how did she know I could help her? Truth be told, she didn’t.
What she did do was take a chance on being vulnerable with a stranger. And in doing so, I had my answer to my question of God.
Life is hard because it’s hard. But when we share our vulnerability with others, our burden lightens and positivity takes hold.
In the scheme of things, the vulnerability this woman was feeling about picking out the perfect children’s book for her first grandchild, was equal to the vulnerability I was feeling about my doctor’s appointment.
I remember looking at both books and one was clearly for a child much older than a newborn. I said, “Choose this one…it’s perfect.” That’s literally all I said. I didn’t tell her my back story as an educator, I didn’t share anything about me. I said, “Your grandchild is so lucky to have you” and her face lit up and she said “Thank you, I can breathe again!” and she gave me the biggest hug.
Then without another word, she walked away.
On the way to my doctor’s appointment, that hug kept playing over and over in my mind. I felt happy, light, joyful. I could breathe again too.
Whatever your negative burdens right now, make sure to take a little time to acknowledge them. Find yourself some good listeners who can provide support and comfort and open yourself up to letting others help you through your vulnerable moments.
Oh, not in a way that I ever wanted to pursue any sort of career with it. No, I’ll gladly leave that pursuit to my very talented brother and sister-in-law who have spent decades mastering not only a variety of camera lens and filters to achieve a perfect shot, but also possess a level of chill and patience in waiting for that perfect image, that frankly God didn’t gift to me.
But thanks to some creative folks at Apple, photography novices, like me, can be pretty successful with an I-Phone. Point, click, edit a bit and post. Yep, that suits my purposes just fine. Because photography for me is strictly about appreciating photographic images for their ability to capture a moment that at once appears stagnant, but who’s meaning is a free-flowing, ever-changing story. A story that can evoke all sorts of emotions in humanity, and can sometimes be powerful enough to change the course of minds, even history. Including my own.
I’m going to tell you a story of one such photographic image. It’s an image I took in 2017 on a lonely stretch of beach in Santa Cruz, California called, “Natural Bridges.”
It was February and my husband and I had taken a drive up to Santa Cruz to spend the week-end with our oldest son. It had been nine months since my bi-lateral mastectomy for breast cancer, two months since I had completed radiation, ten days since I had surgery to control uterine bleeding and one month before my world would once again be turned on its’ end with five consecutive major surgeries having everything to do with my survival, yet little or nothing to do with breast cancer. It was a pretty scary time.
But on this day, I was feeling happy. The rain had been pretty fierce the day before, but today the sun peaked through the clouds in fits and starts. Drizzling one moment and then seeming to lift so that the gulls and other sea birds could forage in the surf crashing on the rocks of the beach below. My son thought it would be fun to show us his favorite spots around Santa Cruz and it was pretty spectacular, despite the drizzle. Everywhere I looked, the light seemed to change from greys to reds to pink to yellows and back to grey. Through my phone camera I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery. It was as if every shot spoke to me somehow.
Our son told us about this special place where the water had worn a hole through a rock outcropping called “Natural Bridges.”
“Mom, it’s pretty darn cool, a natural bridge, you just have to see this!”, he said.
To view the bridge, we had a short drive, and then were going to have to walk a little bit through some brush and pretty deep sand and make our way to the floor of the beach below. It was low tide, so access wasn’t an issue, but my husband and son were worried the trek down to the shore might be a little much for me, given I was still recovering from surgery. Maybe so, but I knew my boy and if he said something was special, it was special, and not to be missed. So without another thought I said I’d be fine and off we went.
And I was fine. I was totally fine…physically. But emotionally was something else.
As I picked my way through the brush and sand, I could see this amazing rock outcropping in the distance about 300 yards off shore. It was about the size of a football field and rose several hundred feet into the air. Birds of all sorts were perched atop its’ smooth surface, almost like a football team lining up for the kick off. The ocean was lapping against it’s surface, swirling and whirling, forming foamy bubbles that took on the hues of the changing sky.
About three-quarters of the way through the outcropping an arched shaped hole had been worn through the rock by the water and the ocean was flowing in and out of it. It reminded me of the natural bridges I had seen in Lake Powell, Arizona or a kind of imperfect Arc de Triomphe, that is, if water were to flow through it.
It was like someone just plopped a bridge in the middle of the sea with this really cool water feature.
Excited, I picked up the pace and forgetting my recent surgery, I ran down a steep incline of sand so that I could take pictures. Reaching into my pocket for my phone camera, I looked up and then I froze.
The rock was huge this close up. Huge. But all I could see was the hole in its’ center.
A giant gaping hole!
The hole, that reminded me of my mastectomy! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of finding out I had breast cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of telling my family and friends I had cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain of having to leave a job I loved because of cancer! The hole, that reminded me of the pain, both physical and emotional, that I tried so very hard to hide from everyone before, during and after my cancer surgeries and treatment.
The hole, that reminded me that cancer took a piece of me. Left a hole, where now I had some silicone, some fake body parts that for all outward appearances made me look normal, but would never be the real me.
My new normal was a hole. Just like the one I was staring at in that rock outcropping and it frightened me.
Here I was this sturdy rock of positivity for my family and everyone around me and I had a hole in me…a big, ugly, negative hole that no amount of plastic surgery, no amount of anything could fill up.
I felt empty. I grieved.
“Mom, come look at the driftwood over here,” my son said.
“Just a second,” I replied, and raised my phone. I pushed the button for the camera and aimed the lens at the rock outcropping.
Once…Click. Twice…Click! Three times…Click!
Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…
With each click, I could feel the grief rolling through me.
In and Out!
In and Out!
In and Out!
Just like the ocean rushing in and out through the hole in that rock.
I’m not sure how many pictures I would have taken of the “Natural Bridge” if my phone battery hadn’t chosen that moment to die. I’d like to think it was God’s divine intervention, but whomever or whatever forces were at work in that moment, a dead battery was enough to snap me out of my grief and go in search of my son and the drift wood.
And except for that one, brief, moment in time at the “Natural Bridge”, everything else about that week-end was amazing and upon returning home, I was anxious to make a photo collage so that I could post to my personal Facebook page a memory of our trip for my husband and for our family and friends to see.
The shot of the rock outcropping, (there were over 40 photos on my phone of that hole in the rock to choose from), was hard to include. To look at it made me sad, uncomfortable, and lonely for the me that used to be. But I put those feelings away and mindlessly popped the photo into an insignificant square of the photo collage, no more powerful or important than any other memory of that trip.
And there that photo stayed until a few weeks ago.
I was looking through my on-line photo albums in search of photos of the ocean I could use for my daily Instagram and there it was, sitting there in cyber space, waiting for me, in all of its “holy” glory. That “Natural Bridge” in Santa Cruz where I came face to face with all that I had lost, with the hole in my person.
I expected to feel a rush of negative emotions looking at that photo. But they didn’t come. In fact, when I looked at that rock, at the hole in it, at the ocean rushing in and out of it, I felt…well, I guess you could say, I felt happy. It reminded me of a fun day with my son, but it also reminded me of how far I have come in the past couple of years.
The photos story had changed, because I had changed.
I mentioned before that soon after our visit to Santa Cruz, I had several unplanned health setbacks. Five major ones to be exact, with a myriad of other health issues as a result of those five surgeries. While these setbacks were not pleasant, with each one I made it a point to be more open to the positive, to remember to focus on not what set me back, but what propelled me forward. The more I did that, I seemed to grow stronger emotionally and fear less all that lay ahead of me.
It was true that my body was broken, bruised, battered, my energy depleted. But somehow, someway, no matter how many holes in my person, deep down I felt a burning light, a strength that I didn’t know was possible because time and again the blessings flowed to me, through me, no matter how large the hole in my body.
In and Out.
In and Out.
In and Out.
And the more I opened myself up to the possibilities of the “new me”, to the fact that I was always going to have some “holes” in my life, the more positivity flowed into my darkest recesses, planting seeds of faith and hope and blessing.
The most amazing thing is that many of these blessings have come from strangers. People I would never have met or opened up to, if not for the fact that I had cancer or any of the other health issues. My life is so much richer for each conversation and there is a gratitude in my heart that kindness is alive and well and abundant in the world. Do not let anyone tell you different!
It’s as if this hole in me has become a welcoming portal to all that is possible for my life and I want to shout from the roof tops, “I AM BLESSED!”
The photo I took of the “Natural Bridge” in 2017 told a story of a woman who was uncertain of her future, feared her destiny and felt she had to battle her demons alone.
This same photo, viewed in 2019, reveals the story of a woman who has accepted her vulnerability, embraced her imperfectness and is working to conquer her fears one day at a time with a whole lotta help from the world.
It is now a photo that tells a story of me.
I hope you like and follow me here and on Facebook. I also have an Instagram where I post daily positivity boosts. Together we can change the world, one positive step at a time! God bless you all!
I truly believe in the healing power of positivity not only to heal us physically and emotionally, but to inspire us to live our lives seeking not what is wrong, but what is right!
That’s challenging because humans are curious creatures and it is our curiosity that pushes us into negative territory time and time again.
Now I’m not saying human curiosity isn’t a good thing. If curious humans hadn’t questioned things since the beginning of time, we probably would have been extinct a long time ago.
But when curiosity becomes synonymous with distrusting everything and everyone we come in contact with, that’s when we need to push our positivity button and say, “Enough!”
A month ago, after a major rain deluge in San Diego, my daughter texted me that the rain had caused a super bloom of neon yellow flowers to cover the slopes surrounding her home.
“Mom, you have to see this, it’s like the hillside is covered in sunshine,” and then she added, “…of course, they are just weeds, but pretty spectacular weeds at that!”
A few years ago, my reaction to my daughters joy probably would have been to chuckle and remind her that weeds after a bloom look like the kiss of death!
But I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I trusted the joy in my daughter’s text and I arranged to meet her the next day to photograph the hillside, hoping to use a photo for my blog.
Her property is up a steep hill. Natural terrain on one side, older, aging homes on the other and most with unmanicured yards…or yards in a natural state, depending on your perspective.
I can state emphatically that a few years ago, my curious mind would have wondered into negative territory worrying about unsavory characters lurking somewhere in all that imperfectness.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity had changed me.
The minute I pulled into the driveway I could see the yellow blooms. They were everywhere. My daughter was there too, her face radiant. “Mom, isn’t it great?!!!”
Reaching up the slopes to the palm nursery above her house, where little yellow blooms, dancing in the breeze and dappled sunlight. The greenery below the blooms was thick, yet delicate, and I could imagine fairies and elves living amidst their canopy.
I had brought my camera and some props for my blog post, my old tap shoes, Moe and Joe, and some other things. I started to set out all the props, but thru my camera lens I saw clearly that Moe and Joe would be just fine among the blooming weeds without the addition of any fanfare.
They were protected. Safe. Loved. Bathed in light.
There was another area of my daughter’s property, where the blooms were reaching down the slope through a chain link fence to an old shed on the adjacent property.
My old curious self would have immediately conjured all sorts of unsavory images about who lived on the property below and I probably would have blown the moment of happiness with my daughter with some negative comment about her safety.
But as I said, I’m not the same person. Positivity has changed me.
I began to photograph the shed and a thought came to mind that the old shed, sitting in a field of blooms, reminded me of the Wizard of Oz and my old, negative self.
An old house dropped from the sky into a field of yellow. And there I am, under the house, my negative-self withering in anger and fear, begging to be let out.
Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!
But positivity takes over and the image changes.
Faded boards and rusty nails, aged and imperfect like me, welcoming the sunlight of the blooms creeping towards them. The yellow of the flowers speaking to my soul in all ways positive: happiness, joy, hope. Representing all that is good in the past, all that is good now and all that will be good. Welcoming positivity.
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!
It’s not easy to think differently. To train our curious minds to choose positivity first, especially among the weeds of life. But I can tell you personally that the reward for doing so is worth every second of the struggle.
For when we are able to see the good in the weeds, we are able to see the good in ourselves and in others.
Our human curiosity becomes not a tool for divide and conquer, but about a shared love for what is right in our world. We are empowered by a curiosity that seeks to squeeze out every ounce of value in this short time we have on this planet and that curiosity propels us forward into a land of positive change.
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It was Palm Sunday 2004, and my husband and I and our three children were on a tour of Paris, France. Our tour guide asked us if we would like to see the Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the Branches”) at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, a Holy week celebration of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem. Our kids, being huge Quasimodo fans, thanks to the 1996 Disney version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, were thrilled. My husband and I, while extremely excited, were still a bit unsure about putting our family in the middle of such a large gathering, only because the pain of 9/11 was still very fresh and we had already experienced a massive French military presence near our hotel and along the Champs-Elysees due to the state visit between Queen Elizabeth and French President Jacques Chirac. But children have a way of putting things in perspective and my little boys request, “I want to see QUAAAASIIMOOOO” sealed the deal.
Safety concerns aside, I silently hoped and prayed that some elfin creature would materialize from the bell tower of Notre Dame singing “Out There” or we were going to have some very disappointed children. I wondered if Jesus would help me out here.
Palm Sunday itself had started off in typical April in Paris fashion: gray and drizzly! But as our driver approached Notre Dame, the clouds broke to reveal a powder blue sky. The sun’s rays bouncing off the rose windows in the Cathedral tower reflected a kaleidoscope of colors onto the white robes of the clergy gathered on the steps below.
Our driver, could not find a place to park, dashing any hopes of us joining in palm procession, but he quickly zipped into a red curbed driveway and rolled down the windows.
“Prenez vite vos photos!” (Quick, take your pictures!).
I didn’t think twice and just started snapping pictures. Through my camera lens, I could see thousands of people, old and young, and somewhere in-between, locked arm in arm, standing in the shadow of this towering testament to gothic architecture and human survival. Palm branches were waving everywhere. I mean everywhere. With my ears, I could hear a cacophony of voices: some angelic sopranos, some altos, tenors and bass, some off-key, literally hundreds of languages singing what I later learned was a hymn called, “The Palm.” There were people who were not singing on the periphery of the crowds, but they were no less engaged. Most of them were smiling, their teeth white against a myriad of skin tones, their eyes raised to the heavens in joy, to admire the bell towers or possibly the spire atop, or maybe in hope that the wafting clouds might part further to reveal the Christ they had come to praise. Some were taking pictures like me. Others were silently holding hands with a loved one, or cuddling a small child.
I looked at my children, at my husband and gone were any thoughts of spying a Disney cartoon character. For, here was “faith”, not as a label, not even as a building as magnificent as Notre Dame, not as a theological doctrine or a set of rules that I struggled to follow, but rather “faith” in its’ purest form:
Raw, human interaction. Diversity in all its’ splendor. A celebration of the human spirit, of all we can be together. No barriers, no boundaries.
My three-year old son who was hanging out the window, turned to look at me, his tiny hands clapping, “Happy mommy, it’s happy.”
Quasimodo was forgotten. “Faith” had taken root instead!
I wanted so badly to get out of the car and walk with my family, arm in arm, towards those crowds outside Notre Dame and all of that “faith, but alas, our driver said we needed to move on and off we went in search of Montmartre and Sacre-Couer and all the other wonders of Paris.
But after we returned to the states, I thought about that moment at Notre Dame. The cynic in me argued that I was romanticizing things. Being a Christian and a regular church attendee, it’s natural that I would be excited to see such a diverse group of religious faithful joyously celebrating one of the most sacred aspects of Holy Week, at one of the most famous churches in the world.
But deep in my heart I knew I had been blessed by what I had seen in a different way.
And I began to wonder why I had couldn’t live out my life with a “faith” that simple and pure. No labels, no barriers, no ridiculous expectations or judgements, just pure happiness.
I knew how to do it. In fact, I think we all know how to do it.
Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the death of a child…almost any tragedy, we move together without thinking as one “faith”. Oh, not the “faith” of a specific religion, but a “faith” that lives and breathes in each other, in humanity and in our very human desire to be the light in the face of darkness.
Yesterday, as the world watched Notre Dame burn, I once again saw the people gather, this time in the shadow of the flames engulfing their beloved treasure Their tear stained faces, reflecting the sorrow of what was lost, but in their eyes was a determination and hope that immediately took me back to that Palm Sunday fifteen years ago.
It mattered not where they came from. It mattered not their theology or lack thereof. It mattered not their income, their gender, their skin color, or any other label we humans assign other humans.
What mattered were the images of strangers, standing arm in arm, voices raised in song, defiant of the flames, reminding us that even in the face of darkness, happiness is just around the corner.
I need to make it a priority to not lose “faith” in my fellow human beings. There is much good there…SO MUCH GOOD!
Hope is alive. Positivity is stronger than Negativity. Let it in. Let it flow.
That’s what Jesus would want us to do. That’s what we should do!
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Have you ever thought about what your “mission” in life is?
I’m not talking about the lists of errands and forgotten “To Do’s”. I’m talking about if you could focus on something that would bring you happiness, joy, purpose, and encompass all that “You” represent to yourself and the world, what would your “mission” be?
My journey to uncover my own “mission” has by no means been an easy one. In fact, it’s actually pretty fluid and right now, I guess you could say that in this particular moment my “mission” is to spread “POSITIVITY” through my blog on PositivelyAnne.
As my life ebbs and flows though, so does my “mission”, but it might help you to understand how to define your own “mission”, if I share with you a little back story on how I have been able to find and define mine.
My journey to find my “mission” began when one afternoon, at the age of eight, I happened to hear these powerful words spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (actor: William Shatner)of the starship Enterprise in the opening credits of Star Trek: The Original Series:
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year “mission”: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
I imagine you are laughing now, but I am totally serious. Totally!
You see I grew up at a time when space was on the minds of all of Americans. Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon in 1969, those grainy images on our television set of subsequent Apollo missions and the nightly commentary from broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, sent my imagination soaring. The nursery rhyme of my childhood that talked of a cow jumping over the moon, was now replaced by real people traversing the “cheese” planet with lunar landers. It all seemed so big and grand, a “mission” of the utmost importance.
In addition, my father was an aerospace executive and one of my earliest memories is standing with him and my brother in front of a rocket as it was intentionally blown apart on a launch pad as part of its’ “mission” testing. I have never heard a bang as loud as that since then. It was truly awesome to witness, but more importantly it etched the word “mission” into my subconscious. The idea of something powerful, something important, something BIG, really, really BIG!
I was too little to watch the original Star Trek series when it premiered on NBC in 1966, and if not for the growing interest in space after the moon landings, the show probably would have faded into obscurity, written off as a novelty, as were most of the shows in the early days of television. But the moon landings happened and after it’s 3 -year run, Star Trek was blasted into syndication riding high on the possibility that the secrets of space were now within our reach. I watched it as often as I could.
Now being so young, I had no real concept of the deeper meaning of Star Trek. I didn’t understand the lasting implications of the diversity of its’ cast. I didn’t understand its’ ground breaking storylines addressing differences, and inclusion and compromise I guess you could say I didn’t understand much, if anything, of the historic context of the television I was watching.
But, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care about any of that. I didn’t watch the show for its’ story lines, my little girls heart was captivated by the opening credits and Captain James T. Kirk’s hypnotic voice inviting us to be a part of his “mission.”
“Space, the final frontier…”
I was rapt with curiosity. I wanted to be a part of the “mission” of this crew. To explore, to seek, to go where I had never gone before.
It sounded so important. I wanted to be important. To do important work like the men on the moon and my father. I wasn’t sure that my calling would be space flight…math was not my favorite subject, but I knew that whatever I did, I wanted my “mission” to matter, to my family, to strangers, to the world.
As I entered high school, America had long ago stopped going to the moon, both in real life and on television. We discovered the moon was not everything the Gumby cartoons had portrayed it to be, let alone Star Trek. My father now worked on a new space program, a space shuttle that would be able to return to earth…a sort of “space truck”, if you will. While its’ initial missions seemed endlessly exciting to me and my heart soared along with my fathers at each successful flight, I was watching television both times the shuttle exploded. First the Challenger, then several years later, the Columbia.
I felt the horror, along with thousands of other students across America, as our disbelieving eyes tracked the sky for the glittering remains of lives lost and dreams shattered. Something in me decided that day that it was no longer practical to reach for the stars and the moon. Keeping my feet grounded here at home, where I knew it was safe, seemed the best course of action. At this point in my life, my “mission” was to get my head out of the clouds and remain rooted in practical tasks and goals here on earth, at least for the next several years. Sometimes my “mission” seemed very trivial.
I’m on a “mission” to finish my homework so that I can go out with my boyfriend.
I’m on a “mission” to pass my geometry class.
I’m on a “mission” to get my college applications completed before the deadline.
I’m on a “mission” to get my laundry done.
I’m on a “mission” to go to the grocery store.
I’m on a “mission” to finish this book I’ve been wanting to finish.
I ‘m on a “mission” to lose 5 pounds.
I’m on a “mission” to not have tan lines.
I really like those Mission Tortilla Chips!!!
Yes, the grandeur of Captain Kirk’s “mission”, the same “mission” that made landing on the moon possible and sent the shuttle into outer space, was now reduced to nothing more than making sure I had a decent tortilla chip to dip into my salsa.
So much for the final frontier!
But trivialities aside, I did accomplish quite a bit after high school. I graduated with degrees in Liberal Studies-Journalism and Business and launched a successful career, first in hotel management and then in higher education. I met the love of my life in the dorms and got married and within a few years we were expecting our first child.
One day, in the first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on the floor of the bathroom wrapped around the toilet battling a terrible case of morning sickness. I had pretty much memorized “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” and realized I needed to do something to take my mind off of the nausea. Laying down seemed to make it worse, so bed was out, but I decided I could probably prop myself up on the couch and watch a television program as a distraction.
I crawled out of the bathroom and over to the couch and turned on the television. I had no idea what was on. I heard the opening notes of Star Trek and Captain Kirk’s comforting voice:
“Space, the final frontier…” I relaxed. The nausea left me. I closed my eyes and I began to dream about all the “missions” that had come before me and were to follow.
I dreamed about those men who braved the odds to fly millions of miles above our earth to place their footprints and our flag in the dust, only to travel home to crickets chirping once we knew that aliens were not a part of the equation. They never gave up on their “mission”, even as America lost interest in them.
I dreamed of my dad and how tirelessly he and his team worked to make space flight look as easy as driving a truck and the sadness he must have carried inside him when all that was possible for space exploration, suddenly seemed impossible. He never gave up on his “mission” of searching and seeking answers to mans quest to explore space.
I dreamed of my unborn child, the bean inside me that soon would become our son or daughter and how much I wanted them to know that whatever their “mission” in life, their father and I would never give up on them, ever!
Lastly, but most important, I dreamed of my own “mission” and how I didn’t need to let life’s twists and turns stop me from progressing. At times, I move forward at warp speed. Other times, I sit quietly in the shadows taking it all in. Sometimes, I am a great success. Other times a great failure. But, I am always, always compelled to keep trying, not only for myself, but to honor all of those who have come before me and risk it all.
I have a “mission” and it’s ever changing, like me. But I’m all in. I’m ready for the challenge and in doing so, I truly think I have a damn good shot at this whole live long and prosper thing.
Thirty years of marriage, three kids, and four careers later, I’m still trying, one positive step forward at a time. Won’t you join me? PositivelyAnne
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I entered the waiting area of the radiation oncology department a half hour early, anxiousness after all of my pre-appointments with the oncology team, and ready to get the actual radiation started. The receptionist area was still closed, a sign taped to the wire cage that the office opened at 8am, but I was surprised to see three women already seated, their heads huddled together around what appeared to be a large puzzle.
One woman was definitely in her eighties. She had a walker perched to one side of her, a cup of coffee in her hand and she was wearing a bulky, ill- fitting cable knit sweater that dwarfed her petite frame. Around her neck was a patterned wool scarf that literally swallowed her chin, and on her head of silver, was a knit cap of the same pattern. Her ensemble struck me as really odd given it was mid-October in San Diego, our Indian summer, and despite the air- conditioned waiting room, once outside it was hovering in the low 90’s. Her face was deeply lined and her skin, an ashen shade of grey.
“Wow, she must really have cancer pretty bad”, I thought.
The woman to the left of her was probably in her fifties and she was wearing a pastel pink headscarf with a beautiful jewel pin on the front. In contrast to the woman in the bulky sweater, this woman looked very elegant in a tailored crème pantsuit with a silky blouse of jade and matching jade pumps. She was leaning forward over the puzzle, a piece of it in her hand, and her face registered intense concentration.
Seated next to her was another woman, she was much younger, maybe mid-twenties. She had on yoga pants and an off the shoulder sweatshirt that said, “#cancersucks”, her hair was little nubs like grass seed that is just beginning to sprout. She greeted me with a big smile and said, “Welcome to the Club” and motioned me to come sit next to her.
I looked at her confused, what club? “Well, um, I need to check in, I’m starting my radiation treatments today.”
The elderly woman with the walker said, “Yes, we know that honey, the gal opens up at 8am, come and sit with us and help us figure out this damn puzzle!”
I was taken aback. I just stared at them. Puzzle? What in the world, are they nuts? I’m here for radiation. This is serious you idiots. I HAVE CANCER! I have no time for the trivialities of a puzzle!
I turned towards the registration counter, and read the sign again. “Open at 8am!” I turned back towards the waiting area and the elegant woman, puzzle piece in hand, motioned towards the open seat next to her. “C’mon over here and help me find where this sucker goes!
Again, I just stared.
This time my voice was a little firmer.
“Um, thanks, but I’m here for my first radiation treatment today, I don’t think I could work on a puzzle.”
The elderly woman said, “We’ve all been there honey, but trust us, together is how we beat this thing. I’m back for the fourth time, not much left to radiate, but I’m going to beat it like I’ve beaten cancer all the other times. My friend here (pointing to the elegant woman) is almost finished with her radiation treatments for breast cancer, she gets to ring the bell tomorrow. And the youngster there (pointing at the woman in the yoga pants) is a newbie, like you, but she started a couple weeks ago.”
I’ve blanked out what happened next because I certainly don’t remember the elderly woman getting up and coming to stand beside me. But suddenly she was just there, walker and all, right next to me gripping my hand. I have a fuzzy memory of her saying something like, “C’mon, it’s ok, come join us!”
I remember her hand was like ice. Cold… so very, very cold. The bones of her fingers had a gnarled appearance, blue veins standing out like cracked porcelain against the grey of her skin. Two of her fingernails were black. I tried to recoil my hand, but she held on tighter. “C’mon, we need you!
Despite her cold hand, I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back. Fear???
The elderly woman drew me over to the puzzle area, “Sweetie, fighting cancer is like this puzzle. It takes us apart and we have to put ourselves back together one piece at a time. Sometimes we need help to complete our puzzle…lots of help. C’mon and sit a minute with us while you wait for your radiation appointment and help put “US” back together.”
Did I hear her right? Did she just say, “Help put “US” back together?”
What is this “US” business? Poor thing, she must be delusional. I’ve never seen her or the other two women before in my life. I’m here for my radiation treatment, not to work on a puzzle. Again, I tried to pull away, but the elderly woman patted my hand and softly said, “Help us.”
Something about this elderly woman fascinated me, but also scared me. It was silly. I was towering over her and she looked as if a gust of wind could topple her without the security of her walker. Something about what she said made me want to run, to hide. The sweat was now rolling down my back. She tugged on my hand harder.
I took a seat next to her like she had asked me to. I was too afraid not to.
I was 52 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom had breast cancer in her 50’s and so the possibility that I might someday have it was always lurking in the shadows of my mind. But my mom had beaten the disease for over twenty years and in all honesty, I really didn’t spend any measurable time worrying about cancer or any other sort of life altering disease. If I got cancer, or any of the millions of other illnesses that were possible to ravage the human body, I’d deal with it as I’ve dealt with every other drama in my life.
On my own terms, head up, and with my usual can-do spirit.
But here it was, this cancer demon not only on my doorstep, but taking over my entire house. Every room.
It was overwhelming. The neat and tidy box I imagined my cancer journey to be, was not so neat and tidy in real life. I had complications, lots and lots of complications. I felt torn apart, like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be put back together.
It was unsettling, disconcerting, humbling and frankly, the scariest thing I had ever dealt with in my entire life.
I stared down at the puzzle in front of me and back up at the women.
The elegant woman said, “We were just saying to each other that figuring out the puzzle of life is hard enough, add cancer or any other major trauma and sometimes things don’t fit like they used to because cancer changes us, not only physically, but in all ways.” She talked a bit about how she had to rethink her life priorities, particularly when her cancer returned in a new, more aggressive way.
I found myself opening up. I told these strangers about my breast cancer, the complications, the surgery I was facing after radiation to fix my colon and after that a very probable hysterectomy. I told them I was so scared.
The elegant woman handed me the puzzle piece that was in her hand. “Honey, sometimes we need a little teamwork to get us through the darkness.”
I looked down at the puzzle before me. It was one of those thousand-piece deals, of a very famous Thomas Kinkade painting. A cobble stone street stood in the foreground of a white cottage. Yellow lights winked happily from the cottage windows and the street lanterns along the cobble stone street showcased an abundant garden, flora of every color, wrapping itself around the sides of the cottage like a hug. It was a happy looking picture and I smiled, until I looked down at the puzzle piece in my hand.
The piece was not pristine white, or cheery yellow, or even red or green or blue, no, it was midnight black.
The reality of the entire puzzle came into focus then. All that was left to finish of the happy scene was one corner, one dark corner. Every piece that was left to place was midnight black and indistinguishable from each other except for the individual intricacies of their jagged edges.
Why these women wanted me to help them because this is the hardest part of the puzzle!
A solid field of darkness that requires a keen eye, patience and sheer determination in order to solve. I didn’t think I had any of that left in me.
I held up the puzzle piece to the light above me. It was unremarkable. One of those typical puzzle pieces that look like two hands sticking out from a horseshoe. Common, except one of the hands was a little longer than the other.
The woman in the yoga pants said, “These two ladies come a half hour early for radiation to work on the puzzle together.” “I thought that was ridiculous! Why would anyone come early to radiation? Then I went home that first night after treatment and the fear crept in and ever since that day, I am here early, with these amazing ladies and one of these crazy, silly puzzles.”
“We are often surprised when we arrive each day that all that is left to finish of the puzzle is the darker, solid pieces”, said the elegant woman.
“We often need the assistance of a new person to help us solve where those darker pieces go, “said the elderly woman, that’s how we met our friend here”, she said pointing to the woman in the yoga pants. “In fact, she finished this tricky corner over here yesterday.”
I looked back down at the puzzle. The dark space that was yet to be completed. Suddenly, the puzzle dissolved before my eyes and in its place I imagined myself prostrate on the table with these three women hovering over me.
“I think it might go here,” the elderly woman said trying to put a piece of me back together. “No, can’t you see that edge there is a bit jagged?”, the elegant woman said. “Keep trying”, the younger woman said, “Together we can do this!”
“Help me”, I said. “Help me to be whole again.”
I was suddenly back in front of the puzzle, the three women at my side, their eyes on me with a clarity and a knowing that was palpable. I took the puzzle piece in my hand and pressed it in place.
“You did it!”, the elderly woman said. “We needed you and you did it.”
My name was called for my appointment and I got up and hugged each of them. The radiation tech smiled and as she walked me to the back area she said, “It’s funny how a silly puzzle has a way of helping us see just what we need.”
I lay on the radiation table, bare from the waist up, hands above my head, while the radiation tech maneuvered my body into place. I was told not to move as gears began to grind and my body slowly, very slowly was placed inside a large tube.
“Are you ready”, the radiation tech said. For a split second I felt a pang of fear.
Then a warmth enveloped me and I was laying there, my three new friends hovering over me in my mind, reassuring me that they would pick me up and put me back together, no matter how hard the puzzle.
“Life is a Puzzle, We are the Pieces”
Cancer is indeed a part of my life puzzle and it has certainly changed the physical me. However, cancer also gave me the opportunity to understand that the puzzle of my life is not mine alone to solve. When it comes to the hard parts of my puzzle, the pieces that don’t seem to fit, the dark spaces where it’s almost impossible to see the light, I can rely on the kindness of my family, my friends and yes, even strangers, to bless me, to put me back together in a way that is better and stronger than anything I could do on my own.
I hope I can be that for you too! PositivelyAnne
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To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you
-Lewis B. Smedes (Ethicist and Theologian)
It seems I’m always asking for forgiveness
again, and again and again!
My request is almost always met with confusion.
And yet, I keep asking,
“Do you forgive me?”
“Do you forgive me?”
“FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!!!”
Then one day I hear you say
“Do you forgive me?”
and clarity blooms.
For forgiveness is not about the
question, nor the answer, but about trusting the action.
Copyright 2019 PositivelyAnne.com
I remember the minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to crawl in a hole. I could literally see the light go out of my husband’s eyes; those two brilliant green orbs that had welcomed me to the breakfast table just a few moments before, now blinked at me dull and hooded. As we ate breakfast, my husband had made some forgettable joke about some HGTV show we always watched together. I was nursing a cold and had awoke with a terrible headache and my initial reaction to his joke was not to go along with the fun or respond in kind as I usually would, but to bite his head off. And when I say bite, I mean “CHOMP!” To be honest, my reaction caught me off guard as much as it did him. Damn that Nyquil is some scary stuff! When the heck did I turn into Godzilla? But my own disbelief aside, I knew what I had said. I owned it. I was an adult. I had to fix things, make it right.
“I’m sorry honey, that was pretty crazy.” I mumbled something about not feeling well and then with a question in my voice I said those four timeless words:
“Do You Forgive Me?”
At first he said jokingly, “No”…then seeing my crestfallen face, he broke out into a big smile, those green eyes twinkling and said, “What do you think?”
I said I honestly didn’t know. I mean I thought I did, but I needed to hear the word.
“Yes” he said and went back to his eggs and casual conversation. All be it, any and all discussion of HGTV was unspokenly off the table lest Godzilla rear her ugly head again.
Now after over thirty years of marriage I can attest to the fact that my husband and I pretty much read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. It is quite funny sometimes and actually catches us off guard at other times.
“Oh my gosh, I was just going to tell you about that…you must have been reading my mind.” “I can’t believe we both were thinking the same thing about that person!” “I just read that article and was sending it to you!” Happens all the time with us. We are simpatico. Soul mates and instant best friends since our first date in 1984.
So, it might surprise you to know that despite our deep connection and my sorrow at spoiling our beautiful morning with my Godzilla impression, I didn’t put a lot of stock in his simple one-word response of “Yes!” I guess you could say I didn’t trust it.
Which is odd because my husband is truly one of the good guys. The most genuinely honest and decent person I have ever met. So there is absolutely no excuse for questioning his forgiveness. I mean this is a guy who makes his living working fourteen hour days as a contractor and yet at the end of the day, he still finds the energy to cook a wonderful gourmet meal for us and give a damn about my day. This is the guy that got up early on his day off to make me fluffy eggs and oranges with sugared rims and I just bit his freakin head off. I’m blessed, more than blessed.
But something in me just wasn’t buying that I had done enough to earn his forgiveness. So again I told him I was sorry for my words. His response was to say that it was o.k. and that he was going to clean up the breakfast dishes and go outside to do a little gardening. He truly seemed unaffected. But not me. No inside me, I was a bubbling caldron of guilt. OMG, he’s washing the dishes after what I said to him! Why aren’t we rehashing all I said so I can really apologize? Really earn his forgiveness.
My head was throbbing now. My tummy gurgling despite just having had breakfast. I felt like I was going to throw up. How the heck can he garden after what I said to him? Maybe he’s still mad at me and just needs to clear his head? Yeah, that must be it.
I told him to go on outside to the garden while I finished up the dishes and I would join him when I was done.
Working in our yard has always been one of those things my husband and I enjoy doing together. Immersing our hands in the soil, pruning and sculpting our trees and bushes, coaxing fruit and veggies from seeds, fussing and putzing till whatever troubles we have on our minds are long forgotten.
Did he have me on his mind? Was he angry at me? Did he really forgive me?
I found him in the garden shed getting his tools.
Me: “Um, did you mean it when you said you forgive me?”
My Husband: “Yes!” It was a casual, almost flippant response.
Me: “Well what kind of a “Yes” is that?”
My husband: “It’s a Yes kind of Yes!” A slightly irritated, but still pretty casual response.
Me: “Well are you sure?”
My Husband: “Yes!” His tone was definitely a little annoyed now.
Me: “Well, I think we should talk about it, because you still seem upset!” I don’t remember if he walked past me or ran past me, but he definitely walked away. He looked completely perplexed.
But that did matter, I wanted to talk about it and talk about it I did … ALL AFTERNOON!
I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
While I babbled on about how I didn’t mean this when I said that or how I was cranky because I wasn’t feeling well, my husband stood in our yard carefully and methodically pruning our lemon tree.
I didn’t catch a clue that he was over it. Moved on. That he knew I wasn’t feeling well and had given me a huge pass on my behavior the moment the words were out of my mouth that morning. That he couldn’t even remember what he had said about the goofs on HGTV, let alone anything I had said.
I wasn’t ready to accept the trust implicit in the words “I forgive” that he had given to me. I was too consumed with blaming myself, with not forgiving myself.
It was all so silly given the triviality of how the whole thing started. But I was determined to get to the bottom of this whole forgiveness deal. So I dug in and morphed into a self-appointed private investigator, invisible note pad at the ready, British accent, pipe in mouth, on a quest to dig and analyze and probe the sincerity of my husband’s forgiveness of my words.
In my head I heard a little voice that sounded an awful lot like Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Now sir, when you told your wife this morning that you forgave her, what was the context of that conversation? Did you say “I forgive you” with clarity of thought, no malace or conjecture, or did you say it with just a hint of snark?”
Huh? What the heck am I doing? Why is Benedict Cumberbatch vocalizing in my head?
I came back to reality long enough to look at my husband, still pruning the lemon tree, a look of peace and contentment on his face despite my Sherlockian attempts at interrogation. Ah gardening….
Suddenly another voice popped into my head…but it was my own. “Are you so caught up in the idea of forgiveness that you have forgotten what it actually means to forgive and the joy that comes from accepting the simplicity of the gift that it is?
I had a feeling I knew what the answer would be.
The word “forgiveness” is a noun, a label that categorizes all the steps, processes, things we do to rectify an offense. It’s a label in which we strategize, question, ponder, mull, what it’s going to take to fix our misdeeds. Sometimes when I talk about forgiveness, I convolute it’s meaning with all of the other things I want out of those two simple words, “I forgive.” Yes, it’s admirable I want people not to hurt anymore. But I tend to take it a step further and I want people to forget what I did, to immediately let go their anger, frustration at my actions and I want them to like me. I become “The Forgiver!” and boy am I demanding as hell of the humans I hurt. I need proof I’m forgiven. And I can’t provide that for my own misdeeds, so I go round and round in a circle complicating all that it means to forgive.
Because the word “forgive” is an action, a verb. It’s simple, uncomplicated, a little gem of a word, without caveat. It is to be taken at face value as simply, “I stop”. Now you can fill in the blank after I stop to anything you want. “I stop feeling resentful or angry or frustrated or sad or hurt!” It is one of those words where it means what it means and that is all there is to it. And I might add that what it means is up to the individual and their timetable, but it has a heck of a lot to do with trust.
Ah there’s the rub. My husbands ability to forgive and the parameters he places on it are his and not mine to control or manipulate or worry about. His simple response of “Yes” when I asked if he forgave me, was absolutely the best and most appropriate response for him.
His “Yes” meant “Yes” and it was my job to trust in it, not to question it’s sincerity.
To forgive is simply to stop and trust. Trust in love, trust in kindness, trust in faith and hope and all of the things that help us to heal when we wake up cranky and spout nonsense. To trust in the goodness in each other. To trust in the goodness in ourselves.
Life can really can be that simple sometimes, if we humans stop complicating it.
On a journey to live life more positively…come join me!
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As you go about your daily life, you will encounter many lemons. Sour expressions, sour attitudes, sour auras! The good thing is that if you don’t want to be a lemon, you don’t have to be! Just don’t let those lemons rub themselves all over you! And you don’t even have to save them! Just let lemons be lemons! -C. Joybell C.
photo: Morning Accomplishments by PositivelyAnne
As the morning sun was just peaking over the hill behind our house, I sat in my favorite chair, enjoying my first cup of coffee, when through the window I spotted a pair of doves who had begun the process of building a nest in our lemon tree.
The nest was being built in the apex of two branches towards the back of the tree. These branches were covered with dark green leaves and laden with bright yellow citrus fruit. One of the doves appeared to be in charge of gathering the twigs to make the nest and I watched it as it scoured the ground underneath a nearby pepper tree, where it would bring back to the waiting dove a single twig of the exact same size as all the others lining the nest. The other dove would take that twig and maneuver it in place using their beak, head and breast. One layer of twigs laid vertically and then another layer laid horizontally on top of that layer and then all layers compressed to form a sphere.
I got up from my chair, face pressed against the window, and I marveled at the architectural, construction and engineering skills of these two birds. I’m supposedly smarter than doves and yet, I can’t cut a piece of lumber without measuring and remeasuring and here each twig this bird gathered was somehow proportionate to the previous twig. How could that be? And that spherical shape…what’s up with that? I certainly couldn’t build anything spherical without…well, I can’t build anything spherical period!!!
What really caused me to pause was the fact that the doves were building this amazing creation completely surrounded by dozens and dozens of really large lemons. Some of the lemons appeared to be heavier, and larger, than their tiny bodies, and many of the lemons were hanging directly, ominously, over their handiwork. All it would take is quick snap of a stem, a wayward fruit dropping and all that these two industrious creatures had worked so hard to create would be destroyed. Yet, the doves seemed completely unphased by the lemons and just diligently went about the work they had set out to do.
Maybe the birds weren’t too smart after all. I mean I wouldn’t build my house with a potential disaster looming overhead like that.
A thought crossed my mind:
“Not all lemons make lemonade.”
photo: Lemon Reflections by PositivelyAnne
Practicing positivity requires a certain level of “intentional awareness” of life’s lemons: the people, the places and the things, that bring one down and impact a person in a negative way. A few years back, I made a list of the lemons in my life and it was a bit humbling to discover that even positive folks like me can get caught up in some pretty sour situations, with some pretty sour people.
But being “aware” of life’s lemons is a totally different proposition then feeling compelled to try and make lemonade out of ALL OF THEM!
Is that even possible to do? To make lemonade out of all of the people, places and things that bring us down. Or were the doves onto something? Is it possible to be your positive self, do your thing, surrounded, just as these doves are, by life’s lemons?
When I was a little girl, I remember being very sensitive to anyone in my life, be it family, friend or stranger, who had a sour disposition or approached life in a negative way. Although I didn’t have much life experience, I had a keen awareness that there were some people in the world, who preferred to stay sour lemons. The folks who had no interest in making lemonade and made it their mission to make life difficult for others. I didn’t understand that. I wasn’t wired that way.
Now this did not include the folks I knew with horrible childhoods or who were poor, suffering from depression, mental illness or addiction issues. As complex as those issues were for a little girl to process, I somehow understood that there was a difference between being a victim of your circumstances and “consciously choosing” to be a lemon in life by permanently wallowing in anger, nastiness and hate.
As I got older, my concern for doing something about these individuals who checked off “lemon” as a lifestyle turned into a compulsion to where I felt I had to turn these lemons into lemonade any time I encountered one!
And that meant lots of sleep lost and lots of disappointment for me.
Life, in case you aren’t as attune to it as me, is sure full of a lot of lemons!
Families! Friends! Communities! Workplaces! Schools! Churches! Grocery Stores! Banks! Airplanes! The list is endless…
LEMONS! LEMONS! LEMONS!
Literally, I’m drowning in lemons…a heavy, depressive pile of lemons! What happened to positivity in this world? What happened to light and hope and peace?
Social Media is the worst of it. The divide and conquer mentality, the focus on all things that tear us apart, all the things that don’t matter in the end. I’m a cancer survivor so I know how futile it is to spend one precious moment of life focused on negativity. It’s a big reason I started a positivity blog. A happy place in cyber-space.
“Why does the world have to be so focused on the lemons, when it could be focused on making the lemonade?”
I remember one night recently, I unloaded on my husband (I owe him one!) my concern that the world was being taken over by negativity, a bunch of lemons with no interest in making lemonade. He said something along the lines of “Maybe, but they are not stopping you from doing what you do best. Be your positive self, which everyone appreciates and it’s natural for you. No matter what you do, there will always be some negative folks,” aka, some LEMONS!
I won’t tell you how I reacted. It wasn’t pretty. My poor hubby. Gosh I do love him so for putting up with me. I think I argued something to the effect that it was a cop out for me to just give those negative folks a pass without even trying to make lemonade.
But in the end, not looking forward to another sleepless night, I had to agree my hubby was right. My way wasn’t working. I was worn to a nub worrying about all of the lemons I couldn’t fix, when I was doing so much good with those who were open to positivity.
And truth be told, not a one of the stubborn lemons I had come across, either in my past nor in my present, was permanently stopping me from doing anything I wanted to do, least of all creating a successful positivity blog, talking about positivity, BEING POSITIVE!
It was me that was stopping me! Me that was so focused on bringing all of the lemons over to my side that I lost sight of the fact that I didn’t have to do that.
“Not all lemons make lemonade.”
I finished my morning coffee and looked out at the lone dove, work complete, sitting quietly on her nest, trusting life in the face of all of those lemons above and below and all around it. In fact, the more I looked at the bird nest, I began to notice the beauty in the lemons surrounding it. Their brightness of color, their different shapes and weights. Their importance in providing a cover and safety for the doves and at the same time a reminder of their vulnerability.
Maybe the doves are a little smarter than me after all. We all encounter lemons in life. Some will make lemonade sweeter than we’ve ever known, but many, and in some cases most, will only serve to remind us that we need to stay focused on our goals, on what makes us happy and positive.
photo: Lemon After Storm by PositivelyAnne
Sometimes, we just have to let the lemons be and build our nest the best way we know how. One positive step at a time.
You, Me, Us. Together.
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At some point you grow out of being attracted to that flame
that burns you over and over and over again.
In 2016, my remarkably stellar health decided to make up for 52 years of an otherwise perfect track record. I spent fifteen consecutive months floating in and out of stark operating rooms; their interiors filled with all sorts of monitors and robotic machinery sporting lobster like claws and dozens of masked strangers, whose eyes reflected the seriousness of my condition and yet, were somehow comforting.
After so many consecutive surgeries, it often times felt like I was dropped into the middle of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. But unlike the television drama, my encounters with Mr. McDreamy and company were a little strange to say the least, as each and every time before the surgical anesthetic took me under, a fleeting thought crossed my mind:
“Turn off the Stove!”
Given everything I could possibly consider as my last conscious thought: gratitude for my life, love for my family, thankfulness that the doctor hovering over me with that long needle was pretty good looking…concern for “turning off the stove” didn’t even register.
Definitely not an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy!”
“Maybe it’s just some crazy side effect of the anesthetic!” My family and close friends knew how often I fell into the “only one percent of the population gets this side effect” column, so the possibility that this was just some sort of reoccurring hallucination (brought on by some very powerful drugs) wasn’t unreasonable.
“Maybe it’s just one of those random things we humans worry about, like turning off the lights or locking the front door, when we are going somewhere for an extended period of time.” Possible, but…the fact that this idea of “turning off the stove” kept happening, surgery, after surgery, I had to think there was something more to it.
“Turn off the Stove!”
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my family was already dealing with my father-in-law’s declining health due to dementia and so I was determined not to let a little thing like “cancer” rock my world any more than it had to. My prognosis was better than good and I had no concerns that life wouldn’t soon return to normal once I took care of this little blip on my radar.
But as time passed, and complications arose for me and other surgeries were required to treat those complications, it became a daily chore for me to keep up the positive veneer.
On the inside, I was angry. A seething, burning flame! A stove perpetually lit!
Seething with anger that I didn’t have any control over getting cancer or the other issues that ravaged my body. Seething that my perfect life plan was no longer perfect. Seething, just to seethe because, well, just because!!!
One could argue that it’s perfectly normal to be angry at the cancer demon. I mean we are trained from the cradle to light a fire in our bellies to beat life’s demons, right?
But what if that that fire is always on, not only to produce the energy and passion needed to conquer life’s demons, but to fuel perpetual anger and negativity?
“Turn off the Stove!”
A stove doesn’t turn on unless you light it, and when you light it, it breathes flames. Flames that can only be controlled by a knob. Turn the knob to high and the flames rise like a beacon in the night. Turn the knob down low and the flames simmer, barely visible, but always there, just under the surface.
Now, it matters not if the stove is turned up high or turned down low… as long as a stoves flames are left on, they can burn, scorch and destroy everything they touch UNTIL THE STOVE IS TURNED OFF!
My personal stove had been lit for fifteen months straight!
On the morning of my 15th surgery, I was handed a clipboard by a nurse with the usual paperwork attached and I began to fill it out with my usual nonchalance until I got to the line, “I understand that complications may arise that result in permanent injury, disfigurement, even death.” I had signed my name to that line fourteen times before without giving it second thought, but today I paused, and the magnitude of those words hit me. I felt the flames of my stove rise, higher and higher. I COULD DIE!
And if those words came true, then would my husband, my kids, my friends remember a woman who had given life the best she had to offer or, would they, instead, remember a woman drowning in the flames and ash of her own imperfections?
No, NO, NOOOO! I couldn’t let the latter be my epitaph.
So, I turned down the flames of my stove to simmering and I signed my name on the line, put the clipboard aside and cheerfully asked my husband to pass me my purse. In my purse, I found my makeup bag and I pulled out my trusty tube of cherry lipstick. My “happy” color always made me smile. I painted my lips (without a mirror) and put the tube back in my bag. I asked my husband if I looked o.k. and he said, “Great.”
But as I said, I had left the flames of doubt on my stove still simmering, just there under the surface. So I pulled out my compact and took a look at myself in the mirror:
WHO ARE YOU KIDDING GIRL? A little cherry lipstick can’t hide the fact that YOU ARE TERRIFIED! Yes, you’ve beaten the odds time and again…but, c’mon, it’s only a matter of time!
My stoves flames licked higher and higher beckoning me towards negativity.
My anesthesiologist walked into the room at that moment, and I looked up from my compact, cherry lipstick smile quivering, our eyes met,
“Look at you,” he said cheerfully. “Wow, I needed to see a bright face this morning.”
“Bright face…me?”, I thought. I’m dying inside. Burning up. Searing. Tears came to my eyes and I just stared up at him. Everything in my heart, my soul, my entire being was in my eyes at that moment. I could feel the flames of anger and sorrow that I had been carrying around with me for the past fifteen months rise up to the surface of my body. My skin, like the flames within me, felt so very hot. Could he feel it too? Could he see the flames? Something in my eyes must have registered with him because at that moment he came closer, pulled up a chair and grabbed my hand.
“I will tell you a secret”, he said. “It’s fine for you to be scared, I get scared too…I do, but keeping you alive is also what I do and I’m good at it. I need you to trust me, but more importantly, I need you to trust in yourself. No doubts! You’ve made it through fourteen other surgeries just fine and this is just another one. We’ve got this!”
I’d like to tell you that I had some profound words in response and we hugged and it was a true “Grey’s Anatomy” moment, but all I did was lightly squeeze his hand. Two quick pulses of my fingertips against his palm. A fleeting gesture of confidence in his words that I have no idea if he even felt. But I’d like to think he did.
photo: “Joy” Carlsbad Flower Fields by PositivelyAnne
But it doesn’t matter. I felt it. I felt the sincerity in his words. His willingness, like so many others before him, to take on my lifes complications and face the fires of hell for me. I closed my eyes and imagined my hand reaching, slowly, slowly for my stoves knob. I quickly turned it all the way off. The flames winked out and unbelieving of what I had done, I reached out and touched the grate…it was cool to the touch.
Soothing. Calm. Comforting. A balm to my weary soul.
It was then that I came to understand the immense value of what the words, “Turn off the Stove” meant the past fifteen months and for my life going forward.
In times of stress, I had to let go of my ego, my pride, my fear that I, and I alone, could handle all of drama life was handing me. God and a whole host of family and friends and medical professionals had been whispering in my ear each and every time I went into surgery and all along the road of my life, that I did not have to go it alone. I didn’t have to fear things. I had help…help to stay positive.
I had to “Turn off the Stove” and trust others to light my way.
As you sort through your own laundry list of challenges: health problems, difficult family dynamics, financial worries and all sorts of unresolved situations that raise your flame quotient higher and higher, just remember to keep your eyes, ears and heart open to those helpers, both familiar and stranger, who are there to whisper a reminder:
“Turn off the Stove!”
And then turn it off and go live your best life. I can tell you it works!
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,
This must be what heaven is
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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…
inspiration I am. I love them for
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.
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