Gratitude: My Favorite Things 2018

Buckle your seatbelts, for this is the time of year when chaos erupts. The Christmas music and decorations fill the space, and Thanksgiving is upon us. Family comes from near and far, meals are prepared and life just speeds up. This time of the year, we begin to look at gift lists and reflect on all we are thankful for. 

I am taking a writing course and have been challenged to think of topics in a new way. This season, I take a different approach and think differently about gratitude.  Ok, bear with me on this one.

I think of what I do for myself to calm me, bring me into the moment and give me the simplest joy.

Oprah has a favorite things list so why shouldn’t we all?

This year I say, let’s take a step back and think of the little things (preferably non-material) which give us a boost each day (or from time to time) we may not even think about. Just for us.

What are our favorite things?

Here are my top 12

1. Curling up in a chair and reading a book I love and one I don’t want to put down.

book

2. My daily walk while listening to my favorite music

 

 

3. Binge watching my favorite Netflix/Amazon show or any chick flick

bingewatch

4. Sitting by a crackling fire

fire

5. Taking a bath

bath.jpeg

6. Walking at night in the snow

snow.jpeg

7. Enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the day

wine

8. Swimming in a lake

lake

9. Taking a Barre class

man in sleeveless wet suit doing some aerobics at the beach

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

10. Stopping by my favorite bakery and buying a really good cupcake

cupcake

11.. Skiing down a freshly groomed ski slope on a warm sunny day

ski

 12. Talking to my dog

melby

Sometimes our gifts are the simplest things in life. When all else may be stripped down these are the things we can hold onto and I know for which I am grateful.

A happy holiday season to all!  If you like this post and don’t want to miss new ones, sign up to follow this blog. And of course, feel free to share with others!

Posted in cancer, life, Resilience | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

What They Don’t Tell You About Becoming An Empty Nester

S u m m e r t i m e ……..

hands-keyboard-music-34583

…and the living is….

….complicated

I have taken a self-imposed sabbatical from my blog and as much as it has affected me not to write for sometime, I just couldn’t. I fell off the wagon of sorts. I had so much going on in my mind, so much going on in my house and my regular life seemed to take a detour. Through the summer I realized that life is about detours, especially when you have children and aging parents or relatives.

federica-giusti-739719-unsplash

Now I can write. Now I can get my life organized. I have officially become an empty nester! 

For the 10th time. 

Spoiler Alert! 

If you are a newly minted empty nester because your youngest child just started college or some new venture after high school, you may not want to read this. It might scare you though if you want to be prepared, you might want to read.

Yes, that is right. I am an empty nester for the 10th time.

Why? Here is the truth.

The nest is empty until they come back.

And they come back.

And not only do your kids come back but you may have other family members that need your help and come to live with you too. This whole empty nester thing is misleading. I watch everyone posting on FB about their new status and I smile to myself and think. Just wait. This isn’t as clear-cut as you think.

I remember the blog I wrote when my youngest went to college. My Baby Is Off To College

My emotions were all over the place. I was sad and reminiscent, feeling out of sorts because my life was about to change drastically. My plan for the immediate future included somewhat lofty goals. I would reinvent myself, complete years and years worth of projects that I hadn’t had the time for. I would take classes, make new friends and engage myself in work that I hadn’t been able to do because I was home raising my boys. We would reconnect as a couple without the distraction of kids in the house. I now wonder if my expectations were a bit unrealistic.

The first few months were invigorating and not as scary as I thought. I felt free and not as tied to a schedule, planning meals, shopping at the market and as each day passed, I adjusted a bit more to a quieter (and cleaner) house and began to embrace the experience. 

eugenia-maximova-704446-unsplash

Here is the good news and the bad news.  

The good news is they come back. 

You miss them so much and this is a transitional time where they are not necessarily out of the home for good. They are in the house, safe and sound and you feel this relief they are under your roof again.

The bad news is they come back. You prepare yourself and them to be independent and away from the home. They embrace their freedom and independence. And then they come back to the place that represents their childhood. Their home offers comfort and includes their parents who have rules and advice and structure and they have been living on their own and not wanting that. Therein lies the struggle. They have changed, you have changed and there is no turning back.

Of course, I miss my boys so much and am always so excited to see them. After the excitement of our reunion wears off, realty sinks in. We must find a way to live together and it isn’t easy for anyone. We all need to adjust. I am pulling so hard to continue in my parental role, to save them from all the dangers of life and the mistakes they might make. They are pushing me away. Pushing me hard. Pushing to make their own choices and their own mistakes. 

In the last 3 years I can honestly say that many of my lofty goals have not been met. I realized my expectations were unrealistic. Between holiday breaks and summer vacations, I was an empty nester about half of the year, each year.

And here is the other thing no one tells you. Life happens. Your children leave and your parents or other relatives need your help. We are the sandwich generation. I had no idea what that was. I am caught between caring for my children and my aging parents. It is all a balancing act and continually causing a shift in priorities.

pixzolo-photography-699069-unsplash

I became the guardian of my aging, autistic uncle and my father moved in to my home for months until he settled in a new home. Life is constantly happening and I have learned that uncertainty is certain, if that makes sense. 

Emotions tug at every turn. There were times that were stressful and times that were wonderful. The house is empty again which is bittersweet. I miss my chats with them over breakfast, lunch and dinner and having them close to me, where I know where they physically are.  Now I have to text or use the phone, unsure of their every move. That said, it is less stressful knowing their every move.

This time, I think we are all feeling good about being on our own.

I leave you with a brief summary of life in our house this summer. Maybe you can relate.

The Top 10 Things You Learn When Your Kids Return Home As Adults

10-abstract-art-1061133

 

1. Graduation from college often means you have a new roommate. And the roommate is your son.

AAUUGGHH!

melbyteeth

2. Sleeping through the night….What’s that?

 I sit up in bed, heart racing as I am awoken by a loud sound. It is 3 am. The clanking and banging that wakes me up out a deep sleep turns out to be the boys returning home after a night of partying and they are dropping their phones on the floor above and making egg sandwiches in the kitchen.

3. Your alcohol is not your own. That beer you bought, your favorite vodka, all gone when you go to reach in the fridge or cabinet to make your favorite cocktail.

4. Your grocery bill triples, and if you don’t feel like cooking those nights out at a restaurant nearly bankrupt you with cocktails and food you wouldn’t have ordered for yourself.  “Just so you know, I am really hungry, so I am going to order a lot of food.”

alcoholic-beverages-bar-beverage-605408

5. Self improvement (apparently) becomes a priority for me.  I receive constant feedback on all my flaws and all the ways I could have done something better. 

6. Things are different today and I don’t understand anything. My comments are as annoying as a bug you are trying to constantly swat away.

robert-kresse-4154-unsplash

 

7. I can’t focus. On anything. Routines change, priorities change and I keep hearing “I am not sure why you think us being home should change anything.”

8. Our deck is so wonderful that it is the perfect place to entertain. We find ourselves being asked to leave – find a restaurant to hang in while the kids party on the deck with their friends or dates. Can we come back yet? One night we return as the party is in full swing. Girls are lying on the couch and the floor, phone in hand while the guys are drinking beer leaning on the island. No one looks up as we enter. We are invisible. 

deck

9. The house is in disarray. Shoes are scattered throughout the first floor, and drinking glasses, soda and beer cans become part of the decorI am now 3rd in line for the washer and dryer. Every time I go to use the washer/dryer it is filled with clothes and if they happen to be empty it means the clothes are in piled up like mountains of clothes in the bedrooms.  “What’s the big deal?”

10. In the midst of the chaos, there are also so many great moments. So, many things to be thankful for. I appreciate having the opportunity to see my sons develop into wonderful adults. It is fun hanging out with your adult kids. (It is especially fun for them when we are paying the bill.) We enjoy each others company and can laugh together. In the end, it is clear we each need our own space and our overall relationship seems better apart, living our own lives.

So, for now we get our house back. Until we don’t.

If you liked this blog share with others. I am guessing they can relate!

 

Posted in empty nest, life in your 50's, parenting, Resilience | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

I Miss My Mom Today. Everyday.

Today is Mother’s Day. I miss my mom.

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 15 years since my last Mother’s Day with her. She left us. Far too soon. So unfair. Cancer sucks.

My boys were 7 and 9 when she passed. They are now 23 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.

She would be surprised by them, impressed by them, I think. She would have so loved to have seen just how they have grown into such wonderful men, and I know she would be so proud. “My grandson just got his Masters.”  I can just imagine her bragging to all her friends. “My Joshy was in Rome and this kid traveled all over the place. I remember when I was that age and traveled through Europe with my friend and all the people we met blah blah blah.” She would tell all her stories to Josh and they would both love it.

But only if….

momsamjosh

I would like to think she is looking down with a smile.

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.

momme

 

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 into 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.

momletter

 

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

mom

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.

Posted in cancer, life, Resilience | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Sometimes, We Just Need a Hug

melody-p-378515-unsplash

The Power of Touch and Human Connection

Recently I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw this story from a friend and colleague that read: “Something to warm your heart while waiting for spring to arrive. Watch this video and start your day with a smile.”

How could I resist clicking on this video?? I was certainly in need of a good story to start of my day.

The video was about a longtime volunteer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital who is part of the “cuddler” program in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  She holds and cuddles the smallest babies to give them comfort and love when their parents are not around. Not only does she touch them but she talks to them, sings to them and emotionally connects with them. My friend was right, this story did warm my heart and put a smile on my face.

This video will make you smile

But it also got me thinking…..

If we know there is power in simple touch, as research has shown, then why is touch so lost on us as we move into adulthood. If we know there is power in feeling connected to another which results in helping people relax, decrease anxiety/stress and potentially lessen pain, then why do focus more on babies than on adults in healthcare?

Is it that adults grow out of the need for touch and human connection?

diego-ph-254975-unsplash

I know for me, connection is important. I told a story in my last blog about my interaction with the person sitting next to me on the airplane on a flight back from Europe. What I didn’t mention is I can often be a nervous flyer. Our conversation, our connection reduced my anxiety about flying, significantly. As we talked to each other,  we often tapped each other on the arm as we were talking. I believe that simple tap on the arm built a type of trust and safe feeling and lessened my anxiety. 

Research has also demonstrated the effect pets have on their owners and their health. We cuddle with them, we hold them and in turn we feel really good. Pets have been shown to calm anxiety and stress and I have already told my husband “I need a dog for my health (and possibly a second one to double the effect).” I really believe my dog calms me. All I have to do is touch her, pet her and I can feel much of my stress melt away.  She always makes me smile.

 

 

 

 

So back to my point. I do work in healthcare and specifically in the area of improving the overall healthcare experience for patients. Recently, I attended and presented at the The Beryl Institute Patient Experience Conference. The meeting brought 1100 patient experience professionals and patients from 20 countries around the world to talk about how to make the patient experience in healthcare better than it is today.

What I know to be true is healthcare is complicated for patients and hospital staff alike and the human connection is often lost, on both sides, which can lead to a negative experiences and increased stress. How many times have you gone to the doctor, a clinic or hospital and felt that things could have gone better?

When we are sick, we are often frightened and vulnerable. I know the feeling all to well, remembering so many instances in my own healthcare journey. Being told that I had cancer, while I sat in the chair all alone, not once but twice. Both times my heart was beating out of my chest and the distress I felt seemed insurmountable in the moment. I wonder if someone had taken my hand, a simple calming touch, if that would have helped relax me in the moment?

I remember countless times, lying on a stretcher waiting to be wheeled into a scan that would determine the extent of my disease and I was scared out my mind, again, alone in the moment. Just a squeeze of a hand may have melted some of the that anxiety away.

holdinghands

I have been a long-term patient for almost 29 years and have had both good and bad experiences. What I know for sure is I remember how I felt in both the good and the bad. I remember telling my chemotherapy nurse, who I spent the majority of my time with, as treatments can be long and quite grueling, how I would always remember her, she would always be embedded in my life.  She laughed it off and said “Oh, you won’t remember me years later when you are back to your busy life.” She was so wrong. We had spent hours talking about our lives (hers and mine) and our hopes, dreams and fears.  We had these chats when I was most vulnerable and afraid. You don’t forget that, ever.

My oncologist connected with me as well on a personal level and 29 years later, I still remember his touch on my shoulder, melting my fears and giving me the courage and focus to do all I had to do to get better.

larry2

People often don’t realize the impact they make on our lives. It can be the smallest interaction, the smallest thing that we can remember for years.

Ive-learned-that-people

In life, our personal connections can inspire us, energize us, comfort us and help us to forge on. This is not just about healthcare. It is about understanding that outcomes and our own mental health can often be influenced by human connection.

I am worried because in this #MeToo world, we may lose some of the human touch for fear of inappropriateness. I think that is unfortunate.

Have-you-been-hugged

I truly believe from experience that emotional connection with our caregivers is so important to our health and recovery. Today, there are many demands placed on physicians, nurses and staff. I do believe that patients are often more understanding of those demands than staff may believe. What we do want is that human connection, to be treated as a whole person. We want our families/caregivers to matter too.  We want to be listened to connected to on a personal level.

We need that connection the same way a baby needs to be held and nurtured.

holdingbaby.jpeg

No matter our age we need nurturing and attention. A simple smile, a tap on the shoulder a short interaction can make the biggest impact on our lives and our wellbeing.

I would also argue that human touch doesn’t have to be actual touch, it can be sharing ourselves with each other, breaking down the walls between patient and caregiver and creating an experience a connection that both sides can embrace and enjoy.

David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins writes, “from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience. The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral—from womb into old age. It’s no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful, ways.”

Life moves so fast these days and technology helps us move even faster. It is so easy to lose our most basic skill, that of touching one another (whether an actual physical touch or touching each other in a non physical way). We are never to old for a hug and understanding how the most simple gesture can be so powerful.

If you liked this article or others I have written, share with others and remember to sign up to follow so you never miss a post!

 

Posted in cancer, patient centered care, Resilience | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Man I Met On A Plane

glider-glide-landing-thermals-163289.jpeg

I will admit these things tend to happen to me more than others. It could be because I like to talk.

My conversation may seem to be “all over the place” at times filled with constant zigs and zags. I often find myself saying, “Wait, what was I trying to say when I started out?”  I would argue there is an advantage to this sometimes frenetic, seemingly unfocused conversation. I find out things, connections that I would never have known. And in the end, I benefit from the experience because I am truly interested and fascinated by people.

I find it amazing that we often pass by people everyday without an awareness of the connections we share. Interestingly, we sometimes encounter people because circumstances have put us together at a particular moment in time.  Little shifts in events could have actually prevented the interaction all together.

Finding-connection-with

Recently, I experienced one of these types of events. I was traveling back home from London after a week long vacation. The journey to the airport was stressful with train diversions and delays and to add insult to injury, when I arrived at the airport and tried to check in, I was told the flight was oversold, I had been “bumped” and did not have a seat.

As you can imagine, I was less than pleased and after “freaking out” (just a little) and staring down the attendant, I was assigned the last available seat. I hurried through security to get to the gate in time to start boarding when an announcement came over the intercom that there would be a significant delay in boarding. The joys of traveling.

After an hour and half we finally boarded the plane and when I got to my seat, there was already someone sitting in it. The airline had put us both in the same seat.

I was imagining having to get off the plane at this point; nothing had gone right. Once everyone had boarded this very large plane, I had just about given up hope and the flight attendant came to me and gave me a new seat, and not just any seat but one in Business Class. This was better than I had ever expected. A nice roomy seat, with a pull up leg rest, premium earphones, an actual wine glass and a menu listing my choices for dinner. I had envisioned myself in a middle seat unable to sleep on this late night flight and now lucky me. I can actually try to fall asleep.

clique-images-547969-unsplash

I shuffled along with my stuff in tow and arrived at the seat (it was in a row of 2 seats) and my seat companion looked at me struggling to lift my bag and began to help me. He saw I was clearly stressed and I began to tell him my travel saga. He was traveling from Germany and wasn’t even supposed to be on this flight as his earlier flight had been cancelled.

We engaged in pretty typical small talk you make with a stranger who you just met. Except it didn’t stop there. We surprisingly just kept talking and talking, despite the late hour.

The more we talked the more our conversation expanded. We began talking about the world today, millennials and social media and before we knew it had moved into more personal parts of our lives. We talked about marriage, children and our parents. Our philosophy about life began to sound similar as we talked about living our lives intentionally and in a way that stays true to who we are. As we shared our stories, we began to notice many “eerie” similarities. The more we talked, the more similarities we found, and what I thought were coincidences, surfaced. Every story we told seemed to have one.

We both had cancer. My second cancer was breast cancer and his wife had the same. He understood very well what I had been through as he had been through the ordeal as well. Our mothers both had trouble getting pregnant (both tried to get pregnant for exactly 4 years) and we both lost them to awful diseases. Our fathers are still alive. He has a large scar from kidney surgery and my dad has the same scar from similar kidney surgery. Coincidentally, we both talked with our hands and would occasionally tap each other on the arm, the same way.

It became almost comical to me each time we told a story because there was some type of similarity. He found it less comical and more intentional. He was clearly trying to understand why this had happened. How and why did we end up sitting together on this plane?

He shook his head “yes” each time we found something similar, as if to say “of course,” as if he had expected it.

“Have you heard of…how do I say this in English? It is like a family meeting.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. He tried to explain this therapy in Germany where strangers will come together and explore their family histories.  For Germans today it is important to come to terms with their past and that helps them move forward. He explained some Germans make peace with their dead, and with past tragedies by learning more about their family histories. It helps them to understand themselves better by understanding their family’s information.

We were having a mini session of sorts, in his mind.

3 hours into our conversation we knew each other better than many of our personal acquaintances and he believed none of this was a coincidence. “What are your ties to Germany?” he asked.

I looked at him. It was in that moment that I realized that even though we were close to the same age and neither of us alive during the Holocaust that I was feeling a bit uncomfortable for some reason.

“Do you have family from Germany?”

I still didn’t answer.

“What is your connection to Germany? I feel there is a reason we met and you have to have some connection.”

“I have a good friend who is from Germany.” I answered.

“No, no that isn’t it,” he said.

“Where are your grandparents from? Is there anyone from Germany?”

I explained my grandparents were not from Germany but from various parts of Russia. He wouldn’t let up looking for some type of connection.

“I am Jewish.” I said.

“You are Jewish?” he said, in a state of disbelief.

“Yes.”

“You are Jewish?

This time he said it differently, more accepting and understanding.

He shook his head like in some way it all made sense for him.

There was this unspoken something that made us both feel better. That maybe changed us in some way. I don’t know. It is hard to explain.

We were strangers 3 hours before. Neither of us should have been in those two Business Class seats on that same flight.

I-do-not-believe-in

We laughed and had some wine and talked about some big stuff. You kind of had to be there to understand. But I can’t help thinking about it.

You-cannot-meet-someone (1)

At the end of the flight we said our goodbyes and as I walked out of the airport I realized I didn’t even know his name. And he didn’t know mine. No addresses or emails exchanged or really any firm details to track each other down. It is highly unlikely our paths will ever cross again. But I can guarantee neither us will ever forgot the night I met this man on the plane.

New Yorker Article. Where Germans Make Peace With Their Dead. Familienaufstellung

If you liked this article share with others by using the sharing buttons. Hit the follow button and never miss a post!

Posted in cancer, life, Resilience | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The 5 Things I Learned About My Mid-Winter Slump

1.Acknowledge and Accept It

It’s official. I have fallen into my annual mid-winter slump. I don’t think in the past I named it as such or even realized it was a slump but I know it is and it happens like clockwork. 

The definition of a slump in this case is more about mood, lack of energy and motivation.

fullsizeoutput_55ab

 My husband says I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and I should get a lamp. 

Admittedly the light does affect my mood. I am always hungry around 5:00 pm. “Why isn’t my husband home yet for dinner?!!!” I look at the clock. Only another 2 hours to go.

jiyeon-park-224073

Hmmm. It’s dark. It’s cold. I could easily eat and slip in bed before 8 (though I don’t).

 

 

 

2. Talking about it helps. Knowing others feel the same way, helps.

I find myself unmotivated. It’s cold out, or it’s snowing or worse it’s rain and ice. Easier to just stay inside.

jeffrey-blum-399705.jpg

I surf the web. On and off throughout the day. “It’s research,” I tell myself and research sounds important, right? Right.

I have notes all over the place with ideas for the future, ideas for blogs and other projects I might do. I am generating the ideas but lacking in execution.

I overwhelm myself to the point I don’t do anything on my list.

The brainless stuff that needs to be done around the house gets done, because it doesn’t take a lot of thought or real effort and I am just going through the motions.

Maybe it is a little bit like a crash and burn scenario.

ricardo-gomez-angel-282325.jpg

The Fall is so busy after the kids go back to school and I go into overdrive. There are social engagements, activities and just a lot of catching up to do. Before I know it, Thanksgiving is around the corner. There is the planning for the boys to come back home and cooking for the big meal. Christmas and New Years are next and there is this flurry of activity that lasts for quite a while. January comes, the boys go back to school and all of a sudden it is quieter, darker, colder. The slump slowly sets in.

3. Learn something from it.

People talk about setting New Years Resolutions and I think maybe February is a good time to really think about what to do next. Why set lofty goals in the frenzy of all the activity only to fall off the wagon when the slump hits?

Last year, I had an especially brutal slump. I was executing part of my new plan for the year, which resulted in being alone often. It wasn’t that the plan wasn’t good but it was the unplanned “side effects” of the plan that caused me distress.

cameron-stow-91861

What I came to realize is that I need activity; the more activity, the better. I also need to be around people. My slight emotional breakdown led me to making a new and better plan.  I thought long and hard about what type of change would make me happier. I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing a list (yes, another list) of pros and cons of my current situation. This was my first step to making a big, big change.

4. Change it Up

If you embrace your slump, it might help you think about why you feel the way you do. What works for you and what doesn’t? How might you change your situation.? As I started to evaluate my life (in last year’s slump), I realized that unless I made some adjustments, my situation would not change. I decided to work through all my fear and make a life change that was emotional and scary but would lead to a happier existence. This change would involve packing up my life (and my house) and moving from the suburbs where I had lived half of my adult life to the big city. A city would provide me with a new energy, a shot of excitement and a new outlook. My change has given me what I hoped for. But it is still a work in progress, as I have found myself again in a mid-winter slump so will need to continue to make adjustments.

alex-iby-213440 (1)

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

5. Be Grateful

Slumps are tough. We get stuck and often in our own way. It is easy to feel sorry for ourselves or just be plain cranky. We are human and those feelings are normal. I try to  acknowledge my feelings and then remind myself of all the good in my life.

Many people I have loved are no longer here to ponder a mid-winter “slump”.

I think back to my tough times and it helps me put things in perspective. There is always much to be grateful for. I let my thoughts help guide me into a better state of mind.

toa-heftiba-274947

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

It might be nice to be in a warmer climate during the dark, cold days of a northeast winter and maybe some day that will be part of the plan, or maybe it won’t. If not, I will make some adjustments to lessen the effects of the inevitable slump.  

I haven’t been able to write for weeks. Actually, I have written but it has all ended up as many crumpled pieces of paper in the trash. Today maybe this is step one of helping me out of the slump. This article made it to the publish pile.

If you like this blog, share with others. Also, sign up to follow and never miss a post!

Posted in life, motivation, Resilience, roadblocks, writers block | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Top 5 Blog Posts 2017

fullsizeoutput_5526

A big thank you to all those who have followed and read my blogs this year. I never expected to get the reception that I have and it means so much to know my writing has connected with and touched you in some way.

This year I had over 16,000 hits with over 4,000 readers from 73 different countries. It always amazes me to see readers from countries such as Bulgaria, Taiwan, Romania and Saudi Arabia to just name a few. My most read blog posts have been because of you, sharing with others. The more you share, the more reach for my blog and the addition of new followers. The Dana Farber Cancer Institute lists my blog on their website and undoubtedly the majority of reads outside of the U.S. come from their sharing. Others this year have shared on their sites as well. My blog post called “25 Life Lessons From a Cancer Survivor” was written in 2016 and then shared by other sites in 2017, which resulted in it becoming the #2 most read post of 2017 and the most read post of all time.

Here are the top 5 posts for 2017

#5 Ladybugs, Trucks and College Graduation, Oh My!

#4 The Big Move. Saying Goodbye to Our Childhood Home

#3 I Outlived My Doctor. Now What?

#2 25 Life Lessons From a Cancer Survivor

TOP POST 2017

charles-deluvio-456802

#1 Dear Superman

Once again a sincere thank you for all your support and I wish you and your families a happy and healthy 2018!

nordwood-themes-467442

You can easily sign up to follow lifeaccordingtosomebody so you don’t miss a post. And share, share, share if you like what you read.

 

Posted in Resilience, year in review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Dog Murray & What He Taught Me

The phone call was the one I didn’t want to make. The tears started streaming down my face as I hung up the phone. I knew it was the right choice, as hard as it was. In an unexpected way, it was my gift to him, sparing him any chance of suffering. He deserved it. He was the best, a real trooper, a member of the family. Honestly, we all deserve the chance to not suffer in the end. I can’t do this for my closest friends or family members but I can do this for Murray. I try to not selfishly keep things going for my sake as hard as it is to say goodbye. The decision was gut-wrenching at times, doubting myself but trying to remember to put Murray first.

Over the last few years, I have been watching Murray turn into a senior dog and I have often wondered how different experience of life would be if I lived it as he did. What got me thinking was watching him age and watching how he handled it all, quite differently from how we might handle. What if we approached life and even aging a little more like dogs do?

Live in the Moment. Enjoy the Journey

Murray loved to just take in the world. He learned to open the car window on his own and take in the world.

 

 

 

Exercise is the key to good health and longer years

Walk, walk and then walk some more. Up until age 15, Murray walked every day. Twice a day. Long walks. 45 minutes was the average and if he wasn’t ready to go home he would put on the brakes and let you know. He was in great shape (and it didn’t hurt me either). He was muscular and strong.

From now on, every time we walk our favorite route we will think of Murray by our side.

 

 

 

Play and be social 

Murray loved to play. From early on he played daily with his best buddy Zeke. I remember them running through the yard together. Murray wasn’t that fast but he was agile. He would duck through the bushes in this way that he always won the race. When Zeke moved away, Murray became more sedentary and that just wouldn’t do so we brought home a new playmate for Murray. We introduced little Melby into the family and a new energy took over. At first, Murray like most big brothers was waiting for her to leave, go back to where she came from. Eventually, he realized that wasn’t going to happen and he began to let her grab his long ears in her mouth and he would drag her around. He let her know he was the boss at all times and she was ok with that. The two of them in tow is something I will miss.

 

 

summer08 003

 

Have confidence in yourself, always

Murray was one of the dogs that never let his size or looks define him. He was 20 pounds but lived his life as if he was the biggest and strongest dog on the block. Once, he took down a Bernese mountain dog and dared any big dog to take him on. Nothing rattled him.

 

 

Don’t hold grudges. Move on.

Despite two major attacks by a neighborhood dog that injured Murray, he shook if off and moved on. For the record, I didn’t.

All those times I stepped on his foot, others pulled his tail or the times in recent months that I dropped him while carrying him outside, he would shake it off and wag his tail and show affection like nothing ever happened.

What would life be like if we could all forgive and move on, I wonder.

Compassion

Murray had this sense when someone wasn’t feeling well. He was only a year old when my mother passed away. She never showed that much affection toward Murray but during her last days he lay next to her on her bed, with her. He did the same for everyone in our family when any of us were feeling sick. He was there. He gave us all comfort.

joshsick

Love unconditionally

Murray loved his family and friends. He especially loved those people who were not dog people who would come into my home and keep their distance. The more they did that the more he would great them and wag his tail. He wanted to win everyone over.

DCP_0812

 

Find a sunbeam, take a nap, wherever

IMG_0054mainejan 020

 

 

IMG_3816

 

Age Gracefully 

What would we feel like if we didn’t count the years and let them define us?  Humans often get weighed down with the number. “I am this age and so I can’t do this or that.” Murray didn’t care because he didn’t know. He went full speed ahead. Not always the best idea especially when attempting inappropriate things, as Murray often did. He was convinced he could go down a flight of 13 stairs, which never went well. Attempting to climb the stairs could also be disasterous. But he didn’t let anything hold him back. He was amazing. He would fall in the most horrific way and as I stared down at the bottom of the stairs in shock. I watched him stand up, shake himself off and move on about his day. When we moved into Boston and Murray was losing his sight, he would regularly fall off  the sidewalk or walk straight into a light post (ok some of this is on me) and just shake it off. Every time. He was so resilient.

Sometimes, he accepted help and let us carry him up to bed, in his bed.

fullsizeoutput_5c9

 

Life is better with a dog and with a family

Murray was with us for a long time, 16 1/2 years. We were so blessed to share so much of our lives with him and it is hard to remember a time without him. Our boys were 5 and 7 when we took Murray into our home. He was so little. They were so little.

DCP_0477

Murray was with the boys through elementary, middle, high school and college.  He grew as we grew. We enjoyed having him in our lives so very much. He always put a smile on our faces, day after day. He was the boy, the man, our friend.

fall08 009

 

fullsizeoutput_5508

FullSizeRender-38

My arms wrapped around him, I watched him take his last breath. He was at peace. Murray will always have a piece of my (our) heart.

Posted in Resilience | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments

Dear Superman,

Dear Jack,

I don’t think I have ever met anyone like you. Sure I have met strong, inspirational people but they broke the mold with you. I wish there were more people out there like you. You exhibited incredible strength, compassion, spirit and love.

I liked you the day I met you. There was just something about you. You had this presence and I could tell you were a doer.  I also liked that full head of hair, red shirt and the stylish shoes and socks you were wearing.

I think the turning point for our friendship was when we met for lunch.We had sushi and we talked about you getting involved as a co-chair for a patient family advisory council. We connected on this level only cancer survivors can understand. We talked about our treatments, our families and our fears that we often don’t even talk about with friends or family. You asked me if I thought about when it might be my turn again, when I might succumb to a cancer that could come back. You shared your own fears but it all felt a long way off. I knew as we shared our lunch, we were in it for the long haul and would always be friends.

You told me about your incurable cancer and how you became your own advocate in your fight which had extended your life. Patients need to take control, need to be educated and empowered to manage their care. You were damn sure you were going to get the word out and help patients navigate the often scary and confusing process.

I respected you for your determination and unwavering passion to make things better for patients. Many people would have given up when the going got tough but you never did. Even when people told you to step back, you stayed the course. I was amazed and inspired by your spirit. It was just non negotiable with you. You never gave up.

You taught me that if you want to make a difference, make change, it isn’t easy, it takes a lot of grit and determination and little by little people will start to listen.

You were relentless in your fight, continually looking cancer in the face and saying “I dare you. You don’t know who you are messing with.” It did work for a while, actually more than a while, you defying the odds for 10 years. And then as things seemed to be stable, cancer threw you the biggest curveball of all, a new virulent cancer, totally unexpected and unrelated to your daily fight. You took it on and we all started to get lulled into that place where you actually think mind over matter will work. Hope is so powerful and Jack you were the king of optimism, hope and persistence. You became our Superman. Even as you were regularly undergoing treatment that would give you all kinds of horrible side effects, I would often forget how hard it was physically because you always had a smile on your face. You would push through and would hop on a plane to fly across the world to give a speech to ensure that the patient voice was heard. You were racing against time to fix all these problems you faced and many other patients faced.

Image 11-19-17 at 7.57 PM.jpg

 

Several times over the last year I told you in many of our conversations that it was ok to not be Superman, even just for a little while. Not to put so much pressure on yourself to be that role model. You didn’t always have to act to tough, so strong, it could be exhausting. We would understand if you took a break.

You agreed but it just wasn’t you.

You never stopped moving.

You lived your days, intentionally. Despite all the noise. You reminded me to try to block out the chaos around me. The twists and turns that are not planned and try to throw me off my game. To stand my ground. Fight for what I believe is right, no matter what. To take in each day and remember how lucky I am to be alive. To live and die gracefully and with courage and resolve.

fullsizeoutput_5380

Cancer survivors are often inpatient, in a rush to do things, before our time ultimately comes. We stare our mortality in the face. In typical fashion, you worried as your health deteriorated that you would miss the biggest gathering of your friends and family. “Everyone will be there except for me” you said, and so you made sure that party happened while you were still here. The night was a beautiful testament to a wonderful man and a wonderful family. You looked your dapper self and tried to hide your physical pain. I didn’t want to believe that our farewell hug and kiss at the end of the night might be the last.

Here I am again, staring out into the sea of clouds thinking about someone I lost. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you. I have no better words.

fullsizeoutput_537a

We lost one of the hardest working, most compassionate and driven patient advocates. We lost a loving friend.

Jack, it is our turn to take over. Your work should only inspire us to work harder, in your name, in our name. I will miss our conversations though I can still hear your voice and I believe I will always hear you cheering me on to continue the work you were so passionate about.

You inspired me every day that I knew you and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my days. Your warmth and love shined through and will continue to shine through your family and friends.

I am heartbroken yet inspired to move on with intention. Until we meet again, my Superman, our Superman.

Jack Whelan

normal_07820843606da2f2bffdbc1dad929c7e

Jack wins PVI Lifetime Achievement Award

Jack Whelan Obituary

Cancer Today Article Jack Whelan

Posted in cancer, Resilience | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I Outlived My Doctor. Now What?

hush-naidoo-382152

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I feel like I was just punched in the stomach. It was his job to make sure I was ok, survived my cancer and lived a long life. He researched all the late effects of my treatments, enrolled me in studies, informed me at every turn what I should watch for and how to be pro-active in my long term care. I never thought I would outlive him.

Recently, I found out that my radiation oncologist who I have known for 28 years passed away. He had metastatic cancer which apparently ravaged his body quickly. It didn’t matter how educated he was, who he knew or the fact he had access to the most innovative and state of art treatments in the world. Nothing worked and he is gone. And way to soon.

When I first met him, I have to be honest, I was a bit nervous. He was quirky, often didn’t make eye contact and was flipping through all my files seemingly looking for something. He was renowned in the field of Lymphoma and in my case, Hodgkin’s disease.  Patients came from all over the world to see him.

Shaking his head he told me my situation was serious and the odds he gave were not what I wanted to hear. I kept thinking “How do I break through with this guy, will he ever warm up?” What I didn’t know was he would be one of the most compassionate doctors I would ever come across. He was practicing patient centered care decades before it was even a term.

My doctor spent hours getting to know me and even interviewed me in my home for the afternoon when he was writing a book. We ate brownies and drank tea and talked about life. I saw him at the tennis club and years later he was the one who sat with me and my husband when I was diagnosed with breast cancer though we didn’t have an appointment . He walked me into a conference room and we talked about what we had been through and our fears for the future. The guy who seemed a bit frosty and unapproachable when we first met was taking time out of his schedule just to talk. He gave me his number so I could page him when my scans (determining the extent of the disease) were over so he could give me my results immediately after the tests (that another doctor ordered) because he knew I would worry. He truly loved and respected his patients.

Throughout the years I have had appointments with him and also seen him in professional settings as I engaged in patient experience work. Last year I was supposed to have an appointment with him and his secretary called to say he was no longer seeing patients though he would be in the hospital continuing his mentoring of residents and continuing his research but just a day or two a week. I assumed he was making time to do other things as he had young children despite his older years. I thought of sending a quick email but got distracted and figured at some point I would just reach back out. I had no idea he was sick. I took time for granted. And now I am sad, so sad. He was my protector and also my friend.

jeremy-bishop-195926

 

We all take things for granted and life moves quickly. I didn’t take my own advice and reach out when I was thinking about him. When you have had cancer twice you sometimes feel like you are racing against time which causes an urgency to do things while you can. And I fell into the trap of letting life pass me by. I just wish I could have told him how much his warmth, compassion and friendship meant to me and how he made such a scary time in my life just a little bit easier. He made me feel safe. We should all have a doctor like him.

On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.

Henry David Thoreau

And so I will. I will never stop talking about his compassionate approach to caregiving and using his story to influence others to do the same.

In Memoriam: Dr. Peter Mauch

Posted in cancer, patient centered care | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments