“Educated” by Tara Westover and My Cancer Education

I’m here now!

I am one of the lucky ones, metastatic melanoma and all. Tomorrow is just that, beyond our reach.  The past is something to learn from and move forward.  Being present, a gift for us all, is part of my cancer education. I’m learning to find peace in this moment.

My yoga class delved into one of the seven chakras this week, the Muladhara chakra or the root chakra. We walked, feeling the earth beneath our feet. We talked, sharing the sense of strength found in our foundation. We sat, finding our sitting spot and bringing motion to that area. We meditated, feeling the support and depth that we call earth. Balance and stability ensued.

Yoga centers me, and as a fairly new student, each pose requires my attention. This week’s class reminded me of a quality that I cherish in myself, a quality of being a realist. In feeling lucky to be here, I also reminded myself to be here now. It’s so easy to get caught in what medical treatment is next, what my health insurance will look like in the future, the fact that some nights sleep is hard to come by, even though fatigue rides my back daily, like the backpack I can’t seem to lose!

Instruction is sensitive to different needs of this restorative/gentle yoga class. Some challenges are physically apparent in this welcoming group, some not obvious. Being the youngest in this group, my clinical trial aches and pains, and other side effects are not evident. Our individual spiritual and emotional challenges find bearing,  find roots as class continues.

I Am Therefore I Exist, I Exist Therefore I Am

This all reminds me that being grounded reaches deeply beyond having our feet on the ground; it reaches into our very being to remind us to be here now, to leave the past and the future to other place markers in our personal timeline. Appreciate what is good, what is right, what is now.

person rolling green gym mat

Being safe in that moment was mentioned in yoga class. Simple enough, right? Not necessarily and touching on that reminded me of those who live in unsafe circumstance. Having just read Educated by Kara Westover,  the book challenged me with the abuse she endured, that being safe is unattainable for some. Disease and suffering comes from many paths.

Education of Little Me

Educated, a difficult book for me, depicts family dysfunction, abuse, and a rise above the squalor. Intended to be inspirational, each reading left a bad taste in my mouth, a sorrow for those who know no safe moment, who carry the burdens of the past. Reading through to the end of this memoir, I felt pride in Tara’s accomplishments BUT a deep sadness for struggles within that will be with her forever, that are with many forever.

What resonates between reading Educated and pushing myself to go to yoga is the feeling. Cancer and all that comes with it is arduous, something that is now part of my life forever. I thought I wanted to read this book and in the process, I learned that healing for me isn’t learning of someone else’s pain and misfortune. Yes, it is a story of rising from the ashes and I admire Tara. The feeling of her story remained one of sadness.

Healing is about finding hope and courage; for me it’s about being here now. I came home from yoga, captured a moment with the wild asters, bees, and monarchs in the garden, feeling the foundation of who I’ve become, in spite of disease. Feeling positive joy in that moment providing me with strength to get to the next moment, and the next moment, and the next….

#melanomatheskin  #cancer #melanoma #naturalskinrocks #Thursdaythoughts #thisonesforlindacherylsusann

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Empty Nest Inspiration

DSC01619 (1)Transitions are common this time of year. Learning to adjust to your youngest going to kindergarten, your oldest packing for college, or feeling quite sure that it all can’t come soon enough or that’s it’s happening too quickly, the bottom line is late summer is a time of transition.

Bye Bye Birdie

Melanoma and clinical trial treatment has changed my life dramatically. Cancer patients know that life as we know it is gone forever; learning to live with the possibility of it’s return and enjoying every moment are what matters.

For me, it’s the literal nests this year; three robin nests, one after the other, neatly tucked in the rafters under the deck gave me ample opportunity to watch life (and death) up close and personal. Advocating for the adults by offering them some peace and a piece of the deck with each family’s similar, yet unique style.

Bird’s Eye View

It may sound silly or remedial, but watching these families afforded me an amazing opportunity, an opportunity to be in the moment. To be aware of all my senses as my almost-daily robin’s nest encounters allowed that, a meditation of sorts. A quick peak through the deck boards to count eggs, watch newborns, consider unhatched eggs, listen for the immature chirps that will someday be a strong pip, pip, pip that the adults vocalized when I grabbed a moment with the youngsters.

 

In addition to my photos, there’s an amazing baby robin video that was taken of nest #2 (along with  robin book suggestions). There were some soul-filling moments this summer, a meditation with nature that I felt privy to, up close and personal. Disappointment over unhatched eggs wasn’t quite sadness, but something near it. Just an egg, for me it reminded me of the fragile balance of life, the sorrow of loss.

Fly The Nest

I miss my robin time. Siting those that fly past, I am quite sure they are “mine” and like my grown children that have lives of their own, I miss them and wish them health and happiness. For now, the empty nests are reminders of the beauty I shared with these robins. Look at the flora starting to grow in their nests now…and so life goes!

Tomorrow is too far off for me as I have learned from nature to live in this very moment.  My empty nests sit on the deck stairs yet, I find hope and inspiration for next year when my robins will build again. Healing comes in the belief of a tomorrow.   Please do sign up for my blog and let me know where you find your courage and inspiration in the comments! #melanomatheskin #cancer #melanoma #myhusbandwantsthedeckback #wecan-cervive

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Birds of a Feather

Cancer patients or is that cancer patience? Ah, I’ve learned a lot about patience as I plod along hoping that each day on this clinical trial brings me closer to healing. Rather than live in fear, I have the belief that in being patient with the immunotherapy drug that potentially treats melanoma and kicks my butt, that I have a chance.

robin 3.jpg

Hope and inspiration might just come from odd places as we fight cancer and look for balance in our lives. I find that living in the moment is a good place for me to reside! Simple pleasures come and go, as do the trickier moments of scans, tests, and infusions. The natural world bestows the greatest moments of a-ha and reminds me of what really matters.

Life on the Wing

And so it is with the birds. Living where nature abounds, panoramic views gives ample opportunity for viewing. A plethora of shore birds arrive seasonally, while the hardier sparrows, blue jays, and gulls will tough it out with the rest of us year rounders.

Reading Round Robin by Jack Kent is a fun picture book and always a reading rite of Spring  bringing lots of laughs! Three robins nests in the rafters at our house this year and I’ve learned a lot from the National Audubon about the American Robin! What better way to be reminded of the hope of tomorrow than with watching life unfold.

Rule the Roost

Nest #1 appeared in May, and we barely noticed it nicely tucked in to the far end of the deck…not sure how many eggs there were, but if you look closely at the pictures above you will see two young birds. Flights ensued the day after this picture and they were on their own shortly thereafter.

Nest #2
Nest #2

Nest #2 came immediately after #1 on the busy, walkway under our deck. Long strands of grass and nest making material had me keen to this busy pair of robins. Four blue eggs later, we waited. With a 12-14 day incubation that felt far longer, we finally had one robin. I’ve been told that 50% hatch is normal. My grand-girl caught this baby bird on video early on, and I’ve watched this video several times. Life is amazing, right?

To Every Season

Nest #3 is in the middle rafters and contains 3 eggs. It’s another high traffic area so we put a flower planter over it to provide a privacy screen. One robin hatched the other day, one egg is cracked, and one looks to be losing its robin’s egg blue.

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This will be the last of the robins for this year. The weather will cool, the birds will leave, the landscape will change. I’ve taken the time to watch life, to have the patience to let it unfold. Meditation comes in many forms and be sure to take a moment to pause, find courage in your good moments, and let those positive thoughts take flight.

Thank you for signing up for my blog and let me know what you do to find those cancer-free moments. Stay tuned to learn about the empty nests!

#myhusbandwantsthedeckback #melanoma #cancer #Thursdaythoughts #melanomatheskin

We can-cer vive!

Janis

 

Matters of Life and Death…and Books, Of Course!

Immortality is not something I seek. How about you? Life is so amazing, and so challenging, too. It’s that balance thing which we live with every day. Live beyond fear and just live!

Sudden Death

My grandfather was run over and died, a best friend died far too young and wrongfully, a child died in a terrible accident. Unexpected death is tragic, shocking, and contorts the mind to make sense of it. Emotions are exposed, raw and beyond painful. Pieces never quite fit together again. Trauma and tragedy envelope the unexpected loss.

The one thing we know is that there is only one way out of this life. Is death more palatable for those who know they have only so much time? Would my grandfather have played his hand differently if he knew when his last day was? Would you?

A Fate Worse Than Death

Cancer patients live with the fragility of it all; diagnosis, stages, treatments, and even, survival rates. With my melanoma biopsies, options in life changed: is this deadly?, what is the prognosis?, and projects like getting my “things in order” floated through my mind. Some days, meeting an untimely death might sound easier, but then, you still have today!

time travel.jpg

I recently read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. My husband has loved this book for some time; I have at last read it. The beginning was a bit slow and confusing, but I always like to give a book 50-100 pages to develop. And develop it does as Niffenegger creates a story, both intricate and believable. This title offers deep possibilities for discussion.Would I want to know what is ahead?  Would you? Is it better that we don’t know?

In reading this book, it reminded me of Natalie Babbit’s  Tuck Everlasting, a riveting children’s book that explores the idea of living forever. A town wide read for our small Vermont community many years ago, concepts of eternal life, the benefits of NOT living forever, and avoiding the process of aging were exposed with prolific conversation for all ages.  Read it with your child or on your own; maybe it is okay that we have an end to this journey we call life!

“Now Is Eternity;

Now is The Immortal Life” (Richard Jefferies). Find courage in the day that you have; be present now!  Human nature seeks hope:  in life and in living, in treatments and cures, in one day or one year. Courage lies in the belief of a tomorrow. Find your inspiration to keep moving forward and balance that with what you have right now.  Cancer steals time-give yourself what quality you can through meditation, creating positive moments, and making the best of this day. Easier said than done, but make the most of this instant.

On  my reading list- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. Yikes! Another book about living and dying. What if we did know what day we would die? Fascinating to consider, how would you live knowing your exact moment of passing?  This is one of the titles that made Jimmy Fallon’s summer reading list suggestions and subsequent vote. It’s had rave reviews and will offer another window on life/death debates.

Windows into our future may not be the best idea.  These 3 titles glimpse into what “might” be, given that crystal ball. For me, it’s intriguing to play with the possibilities, but I’m a realist. I’m definitely going to read The Immortalists but for now, I intend to pause from ideas of time travel, death, and immortality. It’s not about fear today, it’s just about today, this moment, and about what is. #whatareyoureading #melanomatheskin #melanoma #Tuesdaythoughts #cancer #reading

We can-cer vive!

Janis

Flag Day and Looking for My Delete Button

sky flags usa blue sky

Old Glory

We all know Betsy Ross may have made the first American flag, and that the current flag represents the 13 original colonies in its blue and white stripes with 50 stars symbolizing the states. Proudly display the American flag on#flagday June 14th.

So Where Is That Delete Button?

But…how many of you know that the U.S. Flag Day is also Julie Petrowski’s birthday? I met Julie the year we moved back to Minnesota. I was in 6th grade and honestly,  I don’t know if she was in my grade, what she looked like, or anything much.  We were neighbors and friends; my first ever snowmobile ride was with Julie and her Dad, she was in my Girl Scout troop. That’s the full sum of what I remember about Julie Petrowski, in part because being a military family we again transferred after a 9 month stint in the Midwest.

Julie is a brief snapshot of my past and non-essential information. So, tell me why can’t I purge Julie from my database of useless information? No offense, Julie, but you probably don’t even remember me at all! I don’t have #bigdata space in my brain and there seems to be a lot of stuff that could go.

The Mystery of History

Sure, we remember our global history, our medical history, our career history, our family history.  I try not to dwell on the cancer “stuff”, but often need to retrieve it for medical professionals.  Again, this is a great time to refer to my medical notebook.  I have the ability to put some of the important stuff in the back of my mind.  It seems like a great storage closet until I need it again and then, whoa, where is that?

Thoughts can be wonderful, thoughts can be detrimental. Like I don’t need to ponder my melanoma history, that exact moment that the sun niched out a few facial cells to wait, in hiding.  Consideration of whether this happened as a child, a teen, or an adult is irrelevant.  More importantly, what am I doing to be present, right now? Scurry the counter-productive thoughts away!

The Evils of Retrieval

Working with family literacy initiatives for most of my adult life, I’ve got a fascination with how brains work, what we keep and why.  How amazing is it that young children understand so much vocabulary long before they are developmentally ready to speak?  Or that teens have all these brain connections made in their short lives, of which many will be un-wired because they are not needed or used. And Alzheimer’s -what happens to people with that tragic, memory depriving disease?

A-Maze!

Exercise that brain! Stimulate your mind. Work if you are able. Play scrabble or cribbage, listen to music and sing along, discuss current events and issues that matter to you, write a note to an old friend or fellow cancer patient. Meditation brings mindfulness! Between those moments of cancer-related fatigue, pain, treatment, or whatever cancer brings your way, be open to mind exercise and positive thoughts.  Cancer tips (life tips) are quite simple cues to jog your memory. Leave yourself notes, set the oven timer, put a reminder in your phone -do what you need to for information retrieval and be patient with yourself.  Give yourself the gift of inspiration…you can only go up from there!

How do you clear out the cobwebs?

Julie Petroski seems to be with me for life, and like my cancer thoughts, I incorporate her into life and move forward. I’d still love to better understand how to do a bit of brain housekeeping, clean out the cobwebs and useless information. Maybe then I might remember where I left my eyeglasses or that bit of important information that is quietly, tiptoeing though my head, but not forthcoming…until the middle of the night!

Friendly reminder – put out your American flag on June 14th! #melanoma  #melanomatheskinwerein  #oldglory #deletebutton #Thursdaythoughts #mindfulness

Happy Flag Day, America! And please wish Julie a Happy Birthday if you see her!

We can-cer vive!

Janis