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

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

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

Lymphedema is one of those things.

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

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

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

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

The God I love could not be that cruel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I needn’t have worried.

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

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

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

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

Four simple words…

“I Can Do It!” 

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s not all our fault tho.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds like a pretty wonderful way to live, right?

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

“I CAN DO IT!”

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

“I CAN DO IT!”

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

“I CAN DO IT!”

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

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

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

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

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

PositivelyAnne

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“Que Sera, Sera, what will be, will be!”

Dear Doris Day,

I heard that you died today at the age of 97.   A long life by any stretch of the imagination.   

They 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.

Doris 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.

Although we never met, you have been this unwavering role model of positivity in the recesses of my existence for over half my life. 

Why? 

Well, 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.

Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.

You 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.

But just 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.

Doris, 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 picnic.  

I have always had freckles, I can relate.

The 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.

My 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.

“When 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.”

I 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.

But 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.

At 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.   

Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.

In 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.

Never 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.  

Silly 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. 

Each 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.

“Aren’t you afraid of getting AIDS?” the reporters asked.  “Did you swap spit?”

“No, 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.

Doris, 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.

One 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.

I 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.

Doris, 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.

Thank you for your positive example of a life well lived.

PositivelyAnne

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Getting Lost in the Blessings

Snow in May. Idyllwild, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was going to be the miracle of all miracles. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I do. I need the blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PositivelyAnne

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