25 Life Lessons From a Two-Time #Cancersurvivor

 

life

 

1. Life is short. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to DO or SAY something important to you.

2. Death is not failure. It is part of life and the more we accept that fact the more we can live intentionally and without as much fear.

3. A simple act of kindness can make someone’s day and leave a lasting impression.

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4. You have the ability to make an impact. Leave your mark. Share your experience, your knowledge with others.

 

5.“Hope” is powerful.

hope

 

6. If you don’t know what to say to someone in crisis, try saying “I don’t know what to say. But I want you to know I am thinking of you.”

 

7.You are stronger than you think. Trust me, you are.

 

8. Life is better with a dog

 

9. Trust your gut. Intuition is powerful.

 

10. It is important to take a “time-out”. Walking clears your head.

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11. People will surprise you. In time of crisis there will be those who disappear, and others you might not expect, who will be by your side. People cope differently.

12. There are no guarantees in life. Life isn’t fair. Don’t take things for granted. In a blink of an eye life as you know it can change. None of us are immune to life’s challenges.

13. Cancer sucks.

14. Learn how to say “no”. You don’t actually have to do (certain) things you don’t want to do. You don’t need to please everyone. Be thoughtful on how you want to spend your time.

15. A good friendship goes both ways. Some friendships grow with you, others do not. Nurture the relationships that are most important to you.

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16. You don’t have as much control as you think. As hard as it may be not to worry, it really doesn’t change the outcome. Let go of what you cannot control and focus on what you can control.

17. Every one has a story and a journey. What you see superficially is usually not the full story.

18. In the end it is all about our relationships with each other. Remind yourself what is most important to you, ESPECIALLY on those days when everything seems to be going wrong and personalities and emotions are involved.

19. Get rid of stuff. All the stuff you ever owned may be important to you but probably not to anyone else. Just more to throw out in the end.

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20. It is so important to laugh.

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21. Life is full of curveballs. Expect the unexpected.

 

22. You don’t always have a choice in the cards you are dealt, but you do have a choice in how you will respond.

 

23. Breathe. Slow down. Find your “happy place” that soothes your soul.

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24. Stay true to yourself. Most of the time it doesn’t matter what people think and they don’t always care as much as you think they do.

 

25. Take time to live in the moment. Appreciate what you have today.

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Summer Rituals

Finally! It feels like Summer!! The weather has been unpredictable this year and a bit of a rollercoaster ride especially living on the north shore of Boston. There are days that are “summer …

Source: Summer Rituals

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50 Something. And Still Missing Summer Camp.

birch

It is something about the way the wind rustles through the leaves of a familiar tree that stirs my memories. Sometimes it is a particular song I hear on the radio or simply the voices of children laughing and singing in the neighborhood. It can be the smallest of things and almost everything this time of year, reminds me of my summer camp.

I close my eyes. I am immediately back. There is no effort on my part to remember. My memories of camp are clear as day. I can’t think of many places, experiences in my life that have this power to pull me back.

There have been many articles about the benefits of summer camp. Some people, unfamiliar with the experience, think it is strange that parents would send their children away. I went to camp because my mother went to camp and it was an experience she cherished and wanted to share with her children. She would tell us story after story. They called her “Cricket”, she loved “Color War” and she dated a guy who became a famous author. I couldn’t wait to go.

Camp was a gift I was given that enriched my life in ways unlike other experiences.

A place of growth and self-discovery. A place of firsts. My first kiss. The first time I shaved my legs, crimped my hair, wrote a song, performed in a musical, traveled out of the country. A comfortable environment where I could let loose, overcome my fears and try new things and truly be myself in a “no judgement” zone. I was encouraged to come out of my shell. People believed in me and I began to believe in myself.

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When we hear the words “summer camp” we often think about outdoor activities and learning new skills such as sailing, swimming, archery and arts and crafts.  All part of the experience but for me camp was about much more. It was about building relationships, life long friendships, learning how to set goals for myself and developing a sense of independence.

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Summer camp taught me about life. I learned the world was bigger than myself and began to appreciate different points of view and learn about cultures unlike my own. I developed a sense of social responsibility and most importantly, tolerance. Living in a cabin for a summer with a group of unique individuals who were often very different from me was life changing.

The camp was filled with campers and staff from diverse backgrounds. Different financial situations, religions, races and nationalities were represented and opened my mind to things I may not have been accustomed to. My world became even bigger when I participated in several cultural exchange programs giving me the opportunity to live in a new country and experience a different culture, like a local.

 

Though I am no longer a child or young adult, I think about and miss those days. The lessons learned seem even more impactful today as I live in a modern world filled with judgement, intolerance for views that may differ from one’s own and increasing divisiveness that seems to pervade our world. Camp was magical in many ways. The real world can be tough.

The camp tradition has stayed in the family. I was able to watch my own children, through a new set of eyes, benefit from the camp experience. I remember feedback from my son’s counselor one summer.  He described him as outgoing, a strong leader and was proud he overcame one of his biggest fears; jumping in the freezing cold lake (a fear I also shared with him).  I was blown away and asked him if we were talking about the same kid. The counselor’s feedback was completely different from what we had heard from teachers at school.  Both of my sons transformed, summer after summer, gaining more and more confidence to bring their new self into the real world, when returning home.

The tradition continues with nieces and nephews now immersing themselves in the experience. Today there is so much pressure on kids with social media in particular. An opportunity to disconnect completely (no cell phones, computers, electronics) is more important today than ever before. I fear we have lost our ability to focus on the beauty around us… without a cellphone in hand… ready to record our every move.. to post immediately on Instagram.

I loved reflecting on life in the chapel overlooking the lake. Staring into the flames of the campfire. Walking on the dirt road, kicking rocks and thinking about life. We have so much noise in our lives today. I miss the quiet and the chance to re-charge and re-invent.

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Camp was my home away from home. Friendships have endured through the years. We are all connected in a special and powerful way. The years have passed quickly. My children now have their memories and have moved on. This week camp starts all over again for a younger generation and I will still yearn for those days. I don’t think that will ever change.

magical

 

 

 

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College Boys are Home. Breathe.

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Last fall I wrote about the sadness of sending my youngest off to college, transitioning to a new chapter and accepting the reality of life without my children at home. In the back of my mind, I knew they would be back for an extended period over the following summer and clung onto this fact to help me cope with thoughts of my boys moving out. “I get a little more time before they really move out for good.” I thought.

It is not like I didn’t know what it would be like when they returned. I knew of the challenges of trying to coexist all over again. Having them home is better than not. Or is it?

The time has come. The boys are back. I couldn’t wait to see them, hug them and feel like they are mine again. The first few days were wonderful. And then we all got the cold water splashed in our faces, so to speak, and realized this adjustment was going to take some time, some tweaking and some ups and downs.

From their point of view, they have become (relatively) independent living away from home. They can make their own decisions about daily life. Why should that change now that they are home? Parental comments about where they are going, what they are eating, when they are going to pick up after themselves are just annoying.

Do you remember when you came home from college for the summer? I vividly remember my experience, the struggles and fights. I try to put myself in their shoes for the moment.

It is hard for them to put themselves in our shoes. I don’t think they can relate until they have children of their own. 

From our point of view, we have become accustomed to our new freedom and a tidy, (well semi-tidy) home. For months we did not have to worry about food in the fridge, sharing cars, waiting up for the boys to come home and could focus on our life as a couple.

Writing this blog is a struggle. My emotions are all over the place.

One minute I find myself wanting to write how wonderful it is to have the boys at home and how they are maturing and transitioning from child to adult. Time has gone so fast. They were my babies yesterday and now they are grown men. I am so impressed with the young men they have become.

The next minute I am walking into the house at noon, the boys have just awoken, the house is a mess and the minute I open my mouth we are fighting about everything under the sun. Clothes and shoes are everywhere, the kitchen is a mess and we are arguing about taking responsibility.

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We all agree with this image.  We all drive each other crazy at times.

Breathe…I am not breathing…..

wineOk. Now I am breathing..

Until my boys start drinking my wine.

Wait! Who drank my wine????

Truth is, this is a rollercoaster ride. There are ups and downs and the ride often unpredictable.

There are moments that are so wonderful. The house is buzzing with energy, laughter and joy.

Despite the distractions of a messy house, blaring music and everything else that comes with my boys, what is beginning to emerge is the indication that my sons are growing up. We are moving closer to each other in ways we may not have imagined.

We share music, watch many of the same movies, binge watch similar programs. share books and articles and talk politics, sports, you name it. Discussions about our favorite beers, wines and cocktails frequent the dinner table. My Mother’s Day gift from one son was a set of funky margarita glasses and margarita mix. Times have changed.

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My boys are now interested in learning more about me. They are curious about what I was like when I was their age. “Were you cool or a nerd?” “Were you a partier?” They want to know if I were someone they would have hung out with. Maybe they are starting to think of me as a person rather than just their mother. We begin to share our professional work experiences as well. Both sons have internships for the summer and will be exposed to the commuting and long hours of a demanding job. We share commuting tips, best lunch spots and after hour hot spots.

My guess is many of you can relate. Our children are back from college and no longer children except sometimes they still act like children. We all tend to fall into old patterns when we return home. They invade our space, fall into old patterns and the house becomes Alpha Sigma whatever. At the same time, we also see them as interesting, intelligent and charismatic people. They are maturing and acting in grown up, responsible ways, which make us so proud.

Life as an “empty nester” is on hold. My boys are back in the house and we are a family again. I see the pendulum swinging back and forth from childhood to adulthood, sometimes on one side more than the other. But it is shifting more towards adulthood little by little. My babies, my flesh and blood are home and I love them dearly. I know in my heart that soon they will graduate, get jobs and move away and I want to enjoy the time we have now. So, I remind myself to breathe and embrace the experience.

We may face some bumps along the road. It is new territory for all of us. In the end, I am blessed to have this experience for good or bad. Life has thrown me curveballs and staying healthy to enjoy my boys has been my blessing.

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I Miss My Mom Today. Everyday.

Today is Mother’s Day. I miss my mom. Today. Everyday.

I close my eyes. I can see her, feel her next to me. I can see her smile, remember her hands holding mine.

It is unimaginable that is has been 12 years since she left us. Far to soon. So unfair. Cancer sucks.

My boys were 7 and 9 when she passed. They are now 19 and 21. They were little boys and now they are men. I imagine each of them talking to my mom now. Sam talking to her about so many different things, as he has this voracious curiosity about people and all kinds of subjects. My mother had so many stories and experiences and they would have talked for hours. And I imagine Josh just ribbing her, like he does to me, and making her laugh and laugh.

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From time to time I think back to different events in my life. I could have sworn she was there and then I realize she wasn’t because she was gone. My memories are faulty. She should have been there. Life has moved on at a fast pace and I lose track.

The pain of loss never goes away. Denial, depression, anger and acceptance are the traditional 4 stages of grief. Years ago I read an article that spoke about adding a 5th to the list, yearning.

Yes, I do find myself yearning for her touch, to hear her voice. I want to pick up the phone and just chat. I find myself after all these years continuing to experience each of these signs of grief from time to time. The intensity, the rawness has mellowed over time but it never goes away. It happens when I least expect it, a song comes on the radio, I’m eating chinese food or just stopped at a traffic light. It can hit you at any time.

The bond that ties us to our mothers is real. It’s strong. It’s complicated.

Mine was no different. Our relationship was a roller coaster ride. It had it’s ups and downs and didn’t always feel good. We fought. We cried. We laughed. We forgave. We talked. And we always shopped.

We both had our battle scars. I understand now how difficult it is to be a parent. I have tried to remember what it felt like when I was growing up as I parented my children. We all have our stories. Through it all, our love endures.

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My mother challenged me to be the best version of myself. Sometimes I didn’t see it that way or understand. Looking back I am incredibly thankful for her influence and for her role in who I have become. I have tried to accomplish the same goal with my children.

Today I would tell my mother how much I miss her. I would tell her that her influence made me in to the person I am today.

My mother taught me anything is possible. She taught me how to write and become a good student in school and in life. She taught me the value of volunteering and giving back to my community. She inspired me to become a good cook and entertain. She taught me the value of family. She taught me how to be a good, caring, empathetic person and a devoted friend. The list goes on and on.

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She was vibrant, beautiful and lived life until her last breath.

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Often we take our close relationships for granted. We don’t always realize what we have until it is gone. I did get a chance to reflect on what we had and let her know how I felt. Even as the years pass , I still wish I could tell her more.

My mother may be physically gone but I see her in my children and myself. She lives on through all of us.

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A Reflection On Mother’s Day

A year later this still rings true….

Life According to Somebody

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Becoming a mother has been one of the most multifaceted experiences of my life. It changes you, challenges you, humbles you, and enriches you like no other.

I always thought I would be a mother but truth be told I was not in a rush when I met my future husband and then married. There were many reasons why.

Despite my nonchalance, we were faced with decisions about having a family immediately after our honeymoon when I was diagnosed with cancer. Certain drug protocols affected my fertility and I had choices about treatments. Honestly, my mind was just not focused at that time on anything other than my survival. Thankfully, I had people in the room that could think a bit more objectively and help me make a choice that would give me the best chance of having a family when I was ready.

It wasn’t until 5 years after…

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“Mom? What’s Our Netflix Password”?

“Mom, what type of cheese do I like on my sandwich” is a running joke in our family. It refers to a time years ago when my oldest son was ordering a sandwich in a restaurant. The waitress asked him what type of cheese he wanted on his sandwich and it was like she had asked him a complex nuclear physics question. He had no idea (as I always made his lunch) and looked at me pleadingly and asked me the question. “What kind of cheese do I like? “Swiss, Cheddar, American? “Do I like ham or turkey”? Since then the tale has grown bigger and bigger and will probably be told until the end of time.

Both my boys are now grown and in college. My work has been done, the foundation has been laid and now they are adults in the world. My job for 18 plus years was nurturing them, grooming them, developing them, instilling values and from my point of view I did my best to set them up to go off into the world.

They will leave home and I will sail off into the sunset. …Aaahh.

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Ahhhh.

But WAIT.

I feel a jolt and wake up from my sunset fantasy as my phone rings and the texts start rolling in.

 

cellHow do you put the quarters into the washing machine? Why isn’t it working? Look at this picture I sent and tell me what you think.

cellDoes this rash look weird?

cellWhat is our HBO password, Netflix, Verizon? Did you change it? It’s not working…

cellWhat time is my flight and when should I leave for the airport?

cellI have a flat tire. What do I do? Wait call AAA? Send me a picture of my card.

cellWhat do you think of these shoes? Which ones should I buy?

cellI am sick. What should I take? A series of pictures roll in. Should I buy this one or that one?

At one point, my son was so sick at school that I starting rattling off all these different medications to buy at the drug store. “Just write it all down and text to me” was his response. I started writing and sent a lengthy document, I am sure he never read because when he got to the drug store he just started texting me again. As a side note, I almost started a business selling medical kits with instructions to college students after going through the exercise.

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Typically these texts roll in with urgency and I drop everything, wherever I may be and start responding.

WAIT. STOP. WHAT IS HAPPENING?

I often wonder. Have we coddled our children too much or is it changing technology that has created this situation? Has it become so easy to text, that our children have stopped problem solving and keeping track of things because they know we will always be their backup?

I have a love hate relationship with the whole situation. I tend to react immediately, drop everything I am doing and start to feel pressure of the solving the problem. Not good. On the other hand, I like to feel needed. They are still my babies. They need me. Ok, I will respond. I enjoy the connection and want it to last forever.

This is my take on it all. After sharing stories with others it appears what I am describing is typical behavior. The kids admit to it and the parents seem to have the same experiences. Rather than fight it at this point I look at it as the new way of life. At first I thought maybe I had done something wrong. My plan teach my kids to be self-sufficient backfired. Then as I told stories to my friends it seemed they had the same stories. Even blogs have been started by “millennials” discussing this behavior in a comical and “here to stay” way. Just check out this link to see how the joke is on us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVPUnh8weKU&sns=em

What will become of this new generation? I have a few other thoughts but I will have to get back to them later. I just got a text from my son.

 

 

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Don’t Get Stuck in the Muck. You Do Have Choices.

Lets face it. Truth be told. Life is not easy.

Life throws us things at the most inopportune times. When we aren’t prepared and don’t have the time or the patience to deal with it. That is how it always works.

Sometimes we are paralyzed by our circumstance. We get upset, angry and take out our frustrations on those closest to us. We feel trapped and get “stuck in the muck”. We let the event take control of us, define us and believe we have few choices. But we do. We all have choices.

The cards have been dealt, that part we may not have a choice about. What we do have control over his how we choose to proceed.

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I have had my own share of challenges and certainly inopportune moments. A cancer diagnosis 3 days after returning from my honeymoon and at the same time starting a new job. A second cancer diagnosis, 8 years later after moving on and starting a family (now two toddlers in tow) and starting another new job. Through the years there were many other examples of when things did not go as I had envisioned. My time was not always my own. Situations arose that were unexpected and caused stress. I am sure we can all relate.

25 years ago, I learned, at a much earlier point in my life than most, about uncertainty. It is not that my life was necessarily more uncertain than any one elses. It was that I was now fully aware of it.

Uncertainty

 

Over the last few months, a handful of people close to me have been struggling with their own challenging situations. Facing the type of events that can “stop you in your tracks”. It has run the gamut from employment challenges, early and late stage cancer diagnoses, changes in family situations, elder issues, child rearing challenges, drug and alcohol problems, you name it, I know someone going through difficult times.

We all cope differently but I do believe we each have the strength, whether we know it or not to handle what we face. It is a matter of whether and how we tap into that strength. I have met and been inspired by some amazing people in my life. Many who I would describe as “warriors” because they have taken such bad situations and forged ahead in such positive and inspiring ways. Exploring every avenue for themselves and those around them. When you have been faced with a life threatening illness you understand the fragility of life and quickly understand how to make the best and most of each day and that you do have choices about how you do that.

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How do want to live your day, despite your circumstances, illness, disability? What is important to you? What are the things in life that make you most happy? What do you need to do to achieve this? How do you make changes so your circumstances do not consume you?

Here are some things I have learned:

imagesIt is ok to feel what you are feeling. Be angry.  Grieve what you have lost. It is normal to feel resentment that this has happened to you, your spouse, child, parent. There is a time and a place for those feelings. Give yourself permission to feel but not let it consume you.

imagesWe always hear “you must have a positive attitude.” What does that really mean? To me, a positive attitude is not about smiling all the time and acting like nothing is wrong. It is not about denial and pretending your problem doesn’t exist. It is about your overall mental state regarding how you approach your situation and you move forward in a constructive way.

imagesMany people play the waiting game. I am miserable now and I am going to stay this way until my situation changes. “I hate my job and I am going to be miserable until I get another one”.  “I’ll relax when I retire.” “I’ll go on vacation when my kids move out on their own.” I’ll ______ when I _____. The list goes on and on.

You have two choices. One, you stay miserable and make everyone around you miserable for some indefinite amount of time. Or two, you can accept the fact that your job or whatever situation is awful, you are going to take some specific actions to find a new job or change your situation and in the meantime, find ways to make the days more tolerable.

What will you change to make your interactions with your family and friends more pleasurable? How can you carve out time in your day to make it more gratifying for you?  Big or small you can make changes that improve the quality of your life. Try scheduling time outside of work where you can enjoy a sport, a hobby, take a yoga or exercise class, listen to music, read a book. Do something that gives you pleasure outside of your challenging situation.

Actions don’t have to be big. They don’t have to be time consuming. Whatever works for you to help you gain your strength and set a better mindset.

Waiting until everything is perfect may let you down. Not one of us knows what lies ahead tomorrow. Life is uncertain and not always fair. There are no guarantees. Our time on this earth is often beyond our control no matter how hard we try to control it. That is why it is so important to focus how we choose to live today. Make decisions that you will look back on without regrets.

Enjoy-the-little-things-in-life-quote

 

The longer we live, the more we see. As we move into our later years we deal with our own health issues and those around us. At the prime of our lives we are faced with our parents and relatives aging and are faced with supporting our loved ones in many areas. At the same time maybe things aren’t going well at work or we have financial pressures or relationships are breaking down. But still we need to survive. How we do it is the true test of our character. It is what truly defines us. It is what we are made of.

 

 

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A Visit to Florida Seinfeld Style. Revised.

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Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom “Seinfeld” was a wonderful show because it found the humor in ordinary every day life situations we all experience. I always laugh when I think of the Seinfeld episodes of Jerry going to visit his parents in Florida. Just to kick it off here is a video to give you context.

This week I spent time in Florida with my Dad and his significant other of 12 years as well as my in-laws who recently moved to Florida. I have visited almost every year, early on with both my sons and then in later years either by myself or with one of my sons. Each time I visit I feel like I am in the middle of my own Seinfeld episode.

There is always that adjustment when you spend time living in the same house as your parents after leaving the nest so long ago. We have our own schedules and ways of doing things like when we eat, wake up, go to bed and how we approach our day. And in my case, my mother passed away and there was a “getting to know you” period with a new person in the picture. It can take a while on both sides and after all these years, I feel good that we have a very nice, warm and special relationship. What I have learned to do is find humor in it all and that hasn’t been hard to do. And so, the Seinfeld adventure begins.

I always refer to my destination as “Del Boca Vista” which is the fictional condominium complex where Jerry’s parents reside. It doesn’t matter which place my father rents as they all seem to have a similar flavor. The stories, the different characters, all present themselves like a sitcom.

Each time, no lack of stories.

The stories my father tells seem funnier and funnier. Most stories start with the person’s medical profile: blood pressure, cholesterol, past surgeries or illnesses, and then we move into the story.

Stories about the person you must avoid at all cost because he/she talks so much you can’t get away from him/her. And of course the more you try, the more you run into him/her.  A story about the man at the airport who was creating a scene because they had lost his luggage. At one point officials called in security to control him. It was all about the fact that he needed his luggage ASAP and he wasn’t leaving without it. It turns out he had 6 pounds of frozen chicken inside his bag. I guess the price per pound was better at home.

Every visit,  each time a helicopter would fly by I could always expect my father to say “There goes Tiger Woods”  (Tiger lives close by.) This visit the Tiger Woods reference changed to “There goes Donald Trump.” (Mar a Lago, Trump’s estate is not far away.)

How many of you have noticed that our parents like to give us detailed directions of how to get to the store? ” Take a left at the stop sign, then a right, then drive up the road to the gas station and take a right, another left and then a sharp right. Hmmm. Scrap the map, I can’t read it anyway without my glasses and they have this new thing called GPS.

The best part of each visit is the “Who’s on First?” exchanges on a variety of topics like where we are going to go to dinner. The question comes up in the elevator and the conversation goes back and forth, side to side and every other direction. We get to the first floor and walk out of the elevator and my Dad says “So where do you want to go to dinner tonight?” as if we never even had the conversation.

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Humor is good for your soul. We should all laugh a little bit more. We can all find humor in the parts of life that are not always so laughable. Sure there are ailments and  people are losing their hearing and may repeat stories but the stories are good, and the chaos of “who’s on first” moments manageable and laughable.

All joking aside, what inspires me most is the way my father and his significant other approach their time in Florida. They are incredibly active, social,  intellectually engaged and “hip”.

For years, the highlight of their trip has been taking classes at Florida Atlantic University. FAU offers programs as part of their life long learning society.  Last visit to Florida, my son and I attended a “sell out” political science class called “Brazil in Metamorphosis”. The large lecture hall was completely filled. This visit I attended a music class exploring the works of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber which was interesting and fun. The professor was a throw back from the 60’s with his wild, curly gray hair, hawaiian shirt and sandals. During the “restroom break” he pulled out his guitar and started singing his own, slightly off tune version of “Bring in the Clowns.”

Though I love the Seinfeld clip at the beginning, I must say is becoming outdated. This trip I noticed something different. Demographics are changing. Baby boomers who are in their 50’s are retiring early and filling the condo communities. Early bird dinners are the thing of the past and are replaced by Happy Hours from 4-6. You walk into restaurants and the crowd is diverse with people in their 20’s thru 80’s or even 90’s. There is a vibe and energy which I love.

Aging is not so easy. There are physical and emotional challenges for sure. I think it is all about the approach. My father seems to have it right. Keeping active, intellectually stimulated and socially active is the key to it all. And a “Happy Hour” or two thrown in the mix doesn’t hurt either.

Happy-hour

 

Laughter is good for the soul and there was no lack of it on this trip. Special times for all of us and lasting memories as well.

 

 

 

Maybe I should replace the Seinfeld clip with this version of aging.

 

Resources:

I read and recommend a wonderful book by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge M.D. called Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy- Until You’re 80 and Beyond. http://amzn.to/1EsQV91. It is a great read for yourself or to give to someone you know.

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Medical Marijuana. Is There Really Something to It?

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I have to admit it. I still feel the stigma. I rack my brain to figure out why this thing tugs at me. Where does that stigma come from and is it doing more harm by preventing me, all of us, from looking at the topic of marijuana objectively?

Today I am coming clean and telling you something I don’t typically share and honestly have kept private until recently.

I smoked pot when I had breast cancer in 1998.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like earth shattering news. To me it felt like a dirty little secret. I was a wife, mother of two toddlers, Human Resources professional in a financial services firm and didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a pot smoker.

It was illegal. There was a stigma around marijuana use. And guess what? When I smoked it, I felt great. The nausea disappeared, my appetite came back and I slept like a baby.

My two biggest regrets are that I didn’t use it more consistently during my illness and that I didn’t use it the first time I had cancer eight years prior. It worked that well.

Chemotherapy and radiation can be very difficult. Back in 1989 when diagnosed with my first cancer there were rumblings that marijuana could help with nausea but no real discussion. At the time there was a new pill called Marinol, a “pot pill” and because of what I had heard about cannabis and nausea I asked if I could try it. I was discouraged from using it because the nurses said other drugs were more effective. So, I used the typically prescribed anti nausea drug but I still felt continually queasy and hated the overall feeling of it. I was lethargic, restless and anxious all at the same time. Basically, I wanted to jump out of my skin.

Eight years later, I was diagnosed with a second cancer. This time there was a newer, very expensive anti nausea drug for me to try. It felt slightly more effective with the nausea but I still had that feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin.

Despite the stigma around cannabis and feeling guilty about potentially using it, I decided to accept a joint from a friend, and give it a try.

I only smoked a few times because I was worried about the inhalation of the smoke given my health history. At that time there were not vaporizers or other forms (edibles, oils, etc) of cannabis available. Suprisingly, it was far more effective, with less side effects than the medication I had been prescribed. The nausea, anxiety and restless feeling went away and I felt good. It stimulated my appetite. I was hungry and sat down  and ate a full dinner. Progress.

Today, 23 states (including Massachusetts where I live) have legalized medicinal marijuana and because of my personal experience, I support the initiative.

My point of view is patients should have choice and access to treatments that are best for them.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Why then do I still feel the stigma of using it?

The truth is this is a very complicated and misunderstood subject.

Images of “tie dye” and “clouds of smoke” fill our heads. I mention it to a friend, a few family members and they roll their eyes and say it is just an excuse for people to use drugs. I hear stories of doctors who won’t prescribe it to patients, under any circumstances, even though it is considered legal in the state.

So, what is the deal?

The law passed in Massachusetts over 3 years ago, yet there are less than a handful of dispensaries that are open. It has been slow going. The slower the process, the less available cannabis is to patients and the less education people receive about it.

Typically a drug goes through an approval process, patient trials and then we are given the scientific evidence that not only makes the case for the drug but also the dosages, chemical formulation and applicationsIn the case of cannabis, this has not and will not happen any time soon.

What makes this situation unique is that patients rather than science are driving the cause. Patients have seen benefit in many areas including cancer, chronic pain, MS, epilepsy, and post traumatic stress disorder to name a few.

So why don’t we have the scientific proof? We all seem to be asking for it.

It is because the government has prevented research on the benefits of marijuana.

Marijuana is still one of the tightest-controlled substances under federal law. The U.S. government considers it a Schedule I drug, meaning the Drug Enforcement Administration considers it to have no medical value. It’s right up there with heroin and LSD. To do research on marijuana, scientists need approval from several federal departments. And that approval is rare. Researchers are submitting proposals and are regularly turned away.

In order to do the much-desired research, marijuana’s classification must change. Until that time, we will not have the facts we need to form our best opinion and treat people most effectively.

So what we have is a case of the patients and the public voting for states to legalize the medical use of marijuana all based on testimonials of those using it.

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The challenge?

imagesTestimonials are not research and we don’t have the data we are craving. Without the data many physicians are reluctant to support.

imagesUntil they change the classification, the research we need cannot be done and cannabis will not be looked at in the same way as a drug that has been approved by the FDA.

imagesMy state says I can use medical marijuana but federal law says I can’t.

imagesPatients will self medicate with marijuana with little guidance. There is no consistent formula for strains and dosages most effective for patients.

No wonder we are all confused.

Bottom line. Patients should have choice and access to treatments that may benefit them. Cannabis is a viable alternative to managing the negative side effects of various conditions. Opiates are prescribed too frequently and are not without side effects, potential for addiction and may not be the most effective way to treat symptoms.

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We need the government to reclassify marijuana so we can do the research and provide data to support its’ benefits.

I know only what I know. And that is that marijuana helped me tremendously get through my rigorous treatment. The more I open up and share my experience, the more I learn of people I know, who I would least expect, who also were in the shadows using marijuana secretly the same as me.

Resources:

Check out this video series with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. There are two videos that proceed – Weed 1 and Weed 2. Here is the latest. I found the series to be fascinating.

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