Face Life. Choose Life. Live Life.

All you have to do is lean in. All the way in…with a precise and constant gaze at an exact spot in front of you and choose the space you’re in.

And that is what we did. Pancreatic Cancer had arrived. Mom was fighting back with a vengeance and we were simply going to lean in. It seemed like the right thing to do. Actually, it seemed to me it was the only thing to do.

In just a few short months, the precious only ones she was supposed to have, things were looking up. We had the news that tumor markers were way down, the liver cancer was gone and the Pancreatic tumor had shrunk so small it was debated that it might only be dead cells. So it was gone? We wanted so badly to live into that, but learned that PC (as it was named) was never truly gone from ones’ system. Yet it was time to choose something other than the death sentence originally given…it was time to choose LIFE.

And so mom held her fingers to the keyboard and began tapping some positive thoughts to send out to the universe.

Truth be told, I am not brave at all this morning as the idea of a buzz cut and the final haircut has me down.

BUT NOT OUT.  I remind myself that this is another bump. This is another reality check. I have to stop thinking that this is not my life and waiting for my other one to grow back.  Just maybe my inability to accept that this chapter IS my life will be an asset.  It is easier to fight a battle in which you don’t accept that defeat is an option…. despite the diagnosis and bumps.

“Life is for the living,” my dad would say.

And he was right. She was alive and we were all  here to witness her life as well. It was time to start living into life, not the opposite. It was time to ignore that little frightened voice and start making plans. We did have plans. We had them on the calendar and in our hearts. First up…the beach.

Signs of life.
Memorial Day Weekend 2014.
Mom did make it across the causeway. But she didn’t just make it, she drove across it like a rock star. Her tumor markers remained low, tumors still M.I.A., and her ability to eat made a turnaround, even while continuing the weekly treatments. Guess what else turned around?

“Mom,” my sister said quietly while noticing her profile at dinner one night. “Your eyebrows…”

Mom looked into her eyes.

“Your eyebrows are growing back. I can see them!”

Eyebrows were just the beginning. By that summer, she had actual hair that made a cute little style surrounding her beautiful face. It was a true miracle and she was radiating with life. The doctors told us that wouldn’t happen. That as long as she was on chemo, her hair would not grow back. But then again, everything they said was also tainted with “everyone is different.”

blog - Choose Life

15 months after diagnosis, we were leaning in with real intention. Eyes focused on only one thing: life. Surely hair regrown on her perfect little head was a reminder that she was alive.

“The miracle continues,” the doctor would announce with each scan.

The way my mom managed her cancer, was how we began to manage life as we leaned right in to what was coming our way. I mean, we could try and outrun it, but I have personally tried that, and it doesn’t help at all, only prolongs getting to the next step. And our next step was to start fighting back with a pocketful of sunshine and a little hope tucked in as well. From here forward we would interpret ‘everyone is different’ as the possibility that something great could occur.

We are reminded of many things as we watch her in awe.
Every minute, life will come at you. Do not be fooled into thinking you have control on what will come, how it will arrive or the package it will be in. It will just show up. There may be a warning or two, but you will still be surprised. Embrace it. Whatever it is, however it arrives, it is part of your life. So be there. Lean in, be present and find your focus. Even if it leaves you feeling wobbly at first, the confidence to stand in the most present moment will get to the next spot.

Face Life. Choose Life. Live Life.
Lean in…

Shine Your Light.

I don’t like confrontation. My palms sweat at the mere thought of engaging in a conflict with anyone. Any. One. Having said that, I do feel strongly about my beliefs and if you’re going to cast a shadow on me, I am going to tell you how I feel about it. It is in those moments that I don’t much worry about how you will respond, nor how sweaty my palms are. I don’t even think of it as confrontational…just my way of shining my light. Everyone is better off with a little more light, right?

It’s none of my business what you think.
Don’t get me wrong. I do care what you think of me! Of course I do. I have 4 children, and have been a teacher in the district I have lived in for almost 20 years. I have no choice but to care. Yet I am clear that it is none of my business. I mean, you can think what you think. Your thoughts are private to you, which makes it none of my business. My only job is to mind my own thoughts, which is why I am not bogged down with your thoughts, but instead, what I would like you to know.

In the face of darkness, shine brighter.
Sometimes though, someone’s darkness is so twisted up and dark that even my enlightening shine, will not be welcomed. You know the darkness I am talking about. The people that spread poison everywhere. The victims, the scorned ex-wife/husband, the disgruntled worker, the one who is always sick, or tired, or overworked, underemployed, underpaid…you get my point and you know just who I am talking about. They are the ones that no matter what your past has been with them, no matter what niceties you share, they only hear their own negative voice from their past and respond with more toxins.

Shine Your Light

When faced with this kind of darkness, all of your words seem to come right back around as some twisted up poison as well, leaving you feeling drained.

Dim their darkness.
This is the real opportunity for you, though. It is during these interactions that you have to dig deeper than deep. So deep that you are able to block out the fact that darkness is casting a shadow on you. So deep that all you are truly aware of is your ability to shine.

Imagine it is the middle of the winter and you have taken a short trip to an island to catch up on some overdue sunshine and warmth. As you gaze at the blue skies, the suns reflection on the water, the comforting warm air, you find it difficult to even recall how cold you were just hours before in the airport. That is exactly how deep you need to go.

Happiness is an inside job.
Once you are there, remember that happiness is an inside job and only you can control it. So who cares about that shadow upon you? One large step to the right and all you will see is sunshine again. So shine on! Say something uplifting, something positive, and something totally unexpected. You will be amazed that if you look right into someone’s darkness and say, “I hope you have a great day”, they will grow silent as you walk away. Not only will you feel better, but it will dim their darkness as well and make you shine even brighter.

Waiting on a Miracle

OCTOBER 2013
We had the facts: Pancreatic Cancer. Stage 4. At the time I didn’t have a clue about how many stages there even were, nor what it meant that we skipped Stage 1, 2 and 3 and were now up to 4 but I knew it was not good. The kind of not good I had never seen in my life, only in movies.

That is, until my mom met a doctor who believed he was going to find the cure. As a matter of fact, he was so confident about it that he held my mother’s hand and said, “I just need you to hang on until I find the cure.” Seemed fair enough. Who wouldn’t hold on with all their might if they knew they could be cured?

We believed in miracles
I mean, we had to. Mom found this doctor by simply standing besides the water’s edge, hoping for a miracle. And then she appeared. The woman who listened to my mom’s story about her cancer and then handed her this doctor’s phone number. It could not have been a coincidence. And so, if not that, then it had to be a miracle.

It was a mere 2 days later that she met this doctor, aka the miracle-worker, and decided to begin his pre-clinical trials. It was then that she again began sharing her story through email to everyone she knew.

Her first email sent to her favorite group of Culture Club woman was pretty ironic, given how the rest of the story began to unfold.

Dear Friends,
I am praying for a miracle.  If you know any way to conjure up a miracle, please do. The future (my future) is impossible to predict, even in the short run and I hope and plan to see you all again real soon.  

This glimmer of hopeful thinking, that she would be able to rally for her group of friends again real soon for dinner, was actually all part of our calling out to the universe for a miracle. We could not ask for a miracle and then lie down and wait to die. That’s not how miracles arrive. They would only arrive if you believed…and like I said, we believed. We HAD to believe.

With our new-found acceptance, the family rallied for a Pancreatic Fundraiser Walk. It was time to look this cancer right in the face, and walk towards it. My mom, an avid marathon runner, walked right along side her family…brave face on. And so came her next email:

Oct. 20, 2013pancreatic walk
The Pancreatic Walk
I am not running on this day, not that anyone else is either.  Somehow that makes me feel better since I am not only not running this day but very few days since my diagnosis 9 weeks ago…a true lifetime ago.  So since I’ve brought this up, 9 weeks is 3/4 of what I thought was going to be my lifetime.  But I am not counting down…I am counting up!  I am not down and I am not out either!   How do I know?  Because I say so…”

 

And then we wait. And wait. And wait.
November.
I am sitting beside my mom in bed who feels fine…just exhausted in a way that marathon woman can’t quite grip. She tells me that she had a dream and wasn’t sure if it was a dream or perhaps a feeling, but she couldn’t shake it.

“Each night as I close my eyes, I experience this darkness like I never have. Not the kind of dark you notice as the lights go out, but complete darkness. It’s so dark that it scares me. But there was one night that I closed my eyes and just as I saw the darkness, a little light flashed, and then went out. “ Then she looked at me. “I think my liver cancer is gone,” she said. “I think that was the light.”

I believed in miracles.
December. First scan.
I am at the gym killing time because I don’t know what else to do while we wait for the results. When my cell lights up I literally sprint to a spot that seems quiet. The pounding in my chest is really all I hear. One giant deep breathe as I slide the little green button and then remind myself that miracles do actually happen. Please god…now would be good.

“The liver cancer is gone,” my mom says in a way that sounds surreal. “And the pancreatic tumor has gone from 4cm to 1cm and they are not sure, but it could be just dead cells…”

My body crumbles beneath me as I begin to sob. I feel like I am gasping for air, as if finally coming above the water. All that we had prayed for swarmed in circles around me. Life. The precious gift of more life…

We now had new facts:
1 – The treatments were working.
2 – Miracles can happen.

What we didn’t know was that this was just the beginning.

Getting Comfortable in the Uncomfortable

Here is the truth, I am a born and raised optimist. I can find the upside of most anything and clearly see the glass as half full. Yet some how, after just a few weeks in the depths of New Jersey’s winter wonderland, I struggle to stay positive and become fixated with being warm and want…well, out of here!

I do not like the cold. At all. I understand and relate to those that say they need more light. That they feel depressed and unmotivated in the cold weather. That they don’t want to get up in the morning, get dressed for work, go to the gym once it is dark…and really just want to eat. Well, yeah, anything to find comfort, right? As I near the age of 50, squeezed into a body of a 30-something, I become acutely aware of my bones and the feeling of my clothes. Wearing double layers to keep warm makes me feel confined and stuffed, like after Thanksgiving dinner and that moment you realize you have eaten too much. I wear layered shirts, a long coat, scarf, gloves and a hat…and yet still feel cold. Unfortunately, once bundled, a hot flash will join me just long enough for me to unravel the layers, and ultimately feel cold again.

You can see how this is a challenge. Having said that, even feeling constantly irritated and stuck in this icy state of being, I have the ability to reset hourly if necessary and search for the light. The one thing that will make me feel warm and happy. I know that if I can just get past the cold wood floor beneath my cozy bed, that coffee is a mere half hour away and my friends at work, just an hour behind that. It’s a little mental game, but it does help get me to the next warm spot. Some days are harder than others.

Like when it snows and that sinking feeling comes over me. I feel trapped. Mostly trapped in my thoughts. How long will we be stuck? Will we lose power? Will we lose our water? How long will I have to shovel while unable to feel my toes? Will I ever be warm again?

While those questions run amok, there is a moment of bliss knowing I won’t have to work (since I am a teacher). Add to that the fact that I have 4 children at home cheering about the snow, and it becomes a balancing act of comfort vs. uncomfortable.

Which is when snow fun begins, for the kids. We spend some 30 minutes finding all the winter gear for the kids, get them zipped in and all laced up, and as I begin to sweat, I try to stand in their happy. They are SO happy! It’s hard, but I keep inhaling deeply in hopes of it being contagious. When they are finally dressed and are sufficiently moving slowly due to the layers of clothing, I reach for my camera. My lens. My one friend in life that allows me to slow my life down, giving me the space to watch moments repeatedly in order to savor each one. Cold or not, I do not questions how grateful I am for these precious moments.

I watch as the kids roll in it, throw it at each other, make snow angels, snowmen and laugh delightfully, not seeming to notice the cold at all. I snap shot after shot, finding comfort in the clicking and their little faces, and lose myself in their so-called warmth and happy. And then, my lens falls upon something that stops my wishing-to- be-somewhere-else thoughts altogether.

blog- birdhouse pic

Through the lens I am drawn to our beautiful birds nest. Covered with a gentle dusting of snow, and no birds to be seen, I am reminded that spring will arrive as quickly as winter did. And that summer will quickly follow, taking my 18 year old out of my arms as his mamma and into the independent world of college days. Suddenly I feel my weight and warmth in my shoes again.

I bring my lens back to the little ones running and laughing in the snow again and remain still. Not because I am frozen, but because I am aware that life moves as quickly as our seasons and that if we cringe too much in any one spot, we will surely miss it. The warmth, that is. After all, watching the kids through my lens warms my heart, and creates a comfort right in the center of my uncomfortable. I can’t ask for much more than that.

What about you? Are you going to continue to complain about the discomfort or can you work to find a spot that is comfortable, right in the center of uncomfortable?