Pushing Through Survivor’s Guilt

I will never forget that afternoon, standing with my cousins in the church parking lot.  Dressed in our funeral best, we had just said a sad farewell to our cousin, Jeanne, only 49 years old, mother of two.  She had fought an impressive fight, but finally laid her sword down and succumbed to the inevitable end of her time here on earth.  We sat behind the truck with our cooler of honorary beer, (in line with any good Irish funeral) and reminisced about fun childhood experiences we shared, family reunions, our cousin’s laugh and her sparkling personality.  We committed to a vow between the female cousins to be diligent with our mammograms and breast exams.  It’s funny though, I remember my naïve, defiant attitude at that time still being “it will never happen to me“.  But nonetheless, with the clink of our cans and drinks raised to the heavens, we agreed to the pact.

So back home and into my daily routine, I kept to my word and checked myself, just to fulfill my promise to my cousins.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “that feels a little weird.”   There was an area that felt thicker than the rest of the tissue.  Not a lump, like you read about in the folded self breast exam pamphlets you get at the doctor’s office, but different just the same.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” assured my husband.  “You’re just worried because everything is so fresh with your cousin.  But go have it checked out.”

It was two weeks later, at the age of 47, that I received the news I thought “could never happen to me“.   And my journey began.

It was a welcomed update to hear that, although I was positive for cancer on both sides, I was Stage 1 with no lymph nodes involved.  “You caught it early, you are very lucky” was often repeated to me in order to calm my fears.  Hearing that was comforting in a way, but there was a voice in the back of my head asking “Why did I catch it early?  Why couldn’t Jeanne have been as lucky?”  Those questioning thoughts were pushed aside as I began my battle.  All of my focus turned to fighting and surviving.  Through the chemo, radiation, physical therapy, I battled on.

I finished my radiation the following May and with completion of this final treatment it began to become more real that I beat this cancer, at least for now.  I was a survivor –  by my doctors’ definition, and I was very grateful.  But the return of the guilt crept into my daily thoughts and extinguished any celebratory feeling I may been tempted to embrace.

It was at this time I lost my mother to cancer and at her service I was to come face to face again with my Aunt and Uncle who had to bury their daughter just two years prior.  The anxiety I felt seeing them again is one I find hard to explain.   I know they love me and would never wish anything but a full recovery for me, but I could not help but wonder – did they ask the same questions?  Why did I catch it early?  Why am I still here, standing on this earth and their daughter isn’t?

The guilt and the burden of making sure my gift of life is not taken for granted has softened with time.  I spend less time asking why and focusing on how.  How can I make the most of the time I have here with my family and friends?  How can I make my existence more meaningful and honor the life God has given me?

I can tell you that if you are asking the question, “Why am I still here?”, its time for prayer.  I ask God to guide me through this life, so that I am doing what he has intended for me.  Whatever I am here for, tasks great or small, I pray that I can do what He expects from me.

So with this 50th birthday just weeks away, I will approach it with bittersweet gratitude and appreciation.  I plan to celebrate the miracle of continued life God has given me with a humble recognition of all my fellow warriors who have completed their battles with success and those who have ended their battles with their journey to Heaven to watch over the rest of us.

I will never truly understand why I am able to cangelelebrate this 50th year, when my sweet cousin never was able to.   But it is not for me to reason why or question God’s plan.  I will say that on June 1st I will be sending a special prayer of thanks to my Guardian angel, Jeanne Louise, and continue my best to Thrive Through Faith one day at a time.

 

 

 

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Loneliness in Surviving

As another dooming imaging day approaches and my 50th birthday sneaks closer, I have been reflecting on a very personal decision I need to make regarding my treatment.  I have a wonderful support group, including my husband and fellow survivors, but I know this is a decision I have to make on my own.  Well, at least for a moment that is what I thought.  Then, gratefully I was reminded that I was never alone as long as I had prayer.

Navigating through life can be a very scary journey if you feel alone.  Going to a support group can help.  There are so many out there- cancer survivors, grief, substance abuse…wherever your survivor-ship story comes from, there are others out there who are willing to share their stories, offer support and bring hope for the future.

Because every survivor’s story is unique and individual, however, sometimes even in a room full of survivors you can still feel very alone.

I am here to tell you –  you’re not alone. God understands every emotion, every need and every struggle you face. Turn to him when you feel no one else understands. You will find the peace no other person can bring to you.

I remember a hymn I heard as a young teen and the words stayed with me through out my life.  I heard it again two years ago at my Mom’s funeral.  I was feeling so broken and lost, wondering how I was going to make it through the rest of my treatment and continue to fight without her by my side.  As this hymn played, it was a welcomed benotafraidreminder of the almighty source of unwavering support of God in my life. I knew I could always get by as long as I relied on my faith.

    You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.
    You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way.
    You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand.
    You shall see the face of God and live.  

    Be not afraid, I go before you always.  Come follow me, and I will bring you rest.

When you turn to prayer, you will find the only place where you can find unfailing support.  Be grateful for the people God brings to you in your journey and keep them close in your life.  However, when those blessings just aren’t enough to get you through, count on your faith to help you carry on.  I believe that this is truly the only way to continue to thrive in life.

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Hushing the Inner Critic

It was a group project with my dad, my husband and me.  A wooden sign for the local VFW Easter Egg Hupaint-brush-290529nt, and it was my role to paint the sign and complete the lettering. When I finally put the last brush stroke on, feeling like I had put all the effort I could into the project, I stood back and looked at my work.  A lump developed in my throat and my heart dropped just a bit.  Three days I spent on this project, each day leaving me drained and exhausted.  I hated the final result.  It was not my best work.

“Three years ago you would have had this done in one evening and it would have been so much better!” That is what The Inner Critic was screaming.

My husband, of course, could see my disappointment. “It’s good,” he said. “So much better than I could ever do.”

These are the exact words I have said to my dad, my kids, and my husband when they have put all their effort into a project. And when I said it, I meant it.  I truly and honestly meant it.  Why couldn’t I hear those words and believe them today?

“You should be better than this. You were better before.  You need to step it up and be who you were before your treatment, before you were on this medication.  You’re letting people down! You need to be who you were when you were strong,” insisted The Inner Critic.

With tears in my eyes I resolved to hide in my room and contemplate my failure. I repeated my husband’s kind, supportive words in my mind… it didn’t help.  I tried to hear my Mom’s voice, her gentle encouragement… it wasn’t there.  I sent a text to my Dad, receiving a lighthearted response….it didn’t help.  Then it came to me.  All of these people are there for my support, but only one person was going to truly be able help me accept who I am. Only one person could make me accept that what I do now and how I am going to be in the future is good enough.  I had to do this myself, and I would only be able to do it with God’s help. He is the One who can touch my heart, my mind and my soul and bring peace and acceptance.  He is the One who can hush that cruel, unforgiving Inner Critic.

Accepting a new “you” is not an easy task. If you have been through an experience that has impacted you mentally or physically, part of moving through it is to accept the impact it has on your life now and moving forward.  Something that is much easier said than done.

Accepting, however, doesn’t mean you can’t continue to strive for better. If your event left you weak, it’s okay to work on rebuilding your strength.  If your event left you confused, it’s okay to work on clearing your mind.  If your event left you frightened, it’s okay to push towards facing your fears.  The key is that it is not mandated, there is no timeline and you don’t have to get back to the exact place you were before.  Better yourself, but remember that accepting where you are as “okay” is the only way to be able to thrive.

It’s definitely a work in progress for me. I am not going to sit here and pretend “I’ve got this”, because I don’t.  But I have hope.  I have a way.  Through prayer and listening to my family, knowing they love me for who I was, who I am and who I am going to be, I can learn to accept the new “me”.

If you are struggling with self-acceptance, never lose hope. Turn to God, your family and your close friends.  Pray that you may truly hear and feel their encouragement and comfort.  God doesn’t make you who you are without purpose.  He has put you where you are for a reason, though we may not understand the true meaning.  Trusting in Him and yourself will make it easier to Thrive Through Faith.

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Stay Hand In Hand

As my son marries his soul mate… this poem is for them…. Their union is a true testament of God’s love and gifts for us, just when we need them.  I wish them all the strength, power and happiness that my husband and I have been blessed with through our marriage.

Stay Hand In Hand

Hand in hand, you will make it through

Hand in hand, down the road you go

Hand in hand, you may stumble and fall

Hand in hand, you will prosper and growholding-hands-1[1]

 

When the storms come and the path is washed

Cling to the safety of your love

Together you will raise your heads

Hand in hand, you will rise above

 

When the crowds are pushing your way

When the critics raise their voices

Sing your song to drown out their rants

Hand in hand, defend your choices

 

When fear sneaks in to shake your ground

When sadness enters your heart

Grab hold of the hand next to you

Let nothing tear you apart

 

When the sun is shining bright

And you can hardly stand the rays

Together you will rejoice

Hand in hand, enjoy your days

 

The world is now yours, together

Explore the mountains and streams

This is just the beginning

To a lifetime of beautiful dreams

 

Hand in hand, you will make it through

Hand in hand, down the road you go

Hand in hand, you may stumble and fall

Hand in hand, you will prosper and grow

 

Love, Mom

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Create A New Restore Point (for your soul)

laptopI was determined to bring my old laptop back to life.  There was really nothing wrong with it, at least in my mind.   After all, I am closing in on 50, and wouldn’t want anyone to think I can’t stay updated- didn’t my 15-year-old HP deserve the same respect?  So I flipped open the top and began to try to rejuvenate my old friend with all the available updates and upgrades offered on the internet. (Yes, I can picture all you IT techs just shaking your heads as you read this!)

Needless to say, this effort resulted multiple inevitable lock ups of my entire operating system. It was as if the stress of the updates was just too much for my old-timer, leaving him broken and confused. Exhaling a frustrated sigh, I decided it was time to restore the system.  The instructions said to choose a restore point when things were “running properly”.  A pretty simple philosophy… a basic, reasonable practice that could restore more than just my computer.  A practice, I determined, that could also benefit my own spirit and well-being.

Like our computer systems, the updates in life can put a strain on our own operating systems.  The stress of keeping up with the world, staying up to date with the latest trends, expectations, and general pace of our society can wreak havoc on our internal hard drives.  Some days it can just be too much.  The trick is to set a restore point from our past and remember to return there when our systems are in need of a reboot!

We all have a time, a memory, a song….something that just brings us back to a calm state.  A place in your psyche that slows down your breathing, brings the corners of your mouth up just a pinch. A point in your life when the outside world didn’t seem so loud and you can focus on the blessings and positive aspects of the smaller, yet most important aspects of your life. It’s so important to mark those restore points in your memory.  Make a conscious effort to  bookmark these points in your mind and tell yourself.. “that’s the place to go when my operating system is in crisis”.

The need to reboot can vary.  It can be anywhere from a mild bad day and need for an attitude adjustment… all the way to the recognition of the beginning of a deep depression looming at your souls door, taunting you with negative thoughts and beckoning bad habits and self-doubt.

My most significant point, the place I need to go when I really feel the negative voices screaming in my mind, would be taking myself back to the time I was in treatment for my breast cancer.  You might think that would be a troubling place to go when I am feeling overwhelmed and teetering on the brink of a depressive episode.  But the truth is, that was a time that I found myself to be stronger than I ever expected to be.  It was a time when I didn’t know my fate for the next year and I was forced to do some reflection on my past, and I liked what I saw.  The true treasures in my life came into focus and I was reminded of how blessed I truly was.   My husband and I had deep conversations about where our lives have taken us and where we want to be in our future, no matter how long God’s plan allows that future to be.  When I need a full reboot – a true restart, that is my restore point.

Of course not all reboots need to be that drastic.  Sometimes we just need a little boost to get us back on track.  We all have our bad days.  Days when, for no clear reason, we feel down, or angry or depressed.  For me, I have found the key is to not let the negativity take root.  Push it out as quickly as it appeared.  Restore points are great tools to exterminate those feelings.  Some days all I need is to see a picture of my grandbabies… that is a quick restore point for me.

Find yourself a restore point, or two.  Avoid the viruses that loom out there.  Make a conscious effort to reboot your system when you start to feel the stress and overload of the world’s updates.  Prayer and Restore Points are great tools to keep your spirit’s operating system running smoothly and allowing you to Thrive Through Faith One Day At A Time.

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When Contagious Is A Good Thing

As I waited at the left turn light this morning on my way to work, I leisurely watched the traffic around me. It was a very windy morning, causing more motion around me than the normal routine of the Tuesday morning traffic.  Among the waving electrical wires and an occasional flying grocery bag, a man in the car making a right turn next to me caught my eye.  He was alone in the car, no passengers beside him or in his back seat.  Probably just another “Joe” making his way to his job to spend his day “working for a living”. But what caught my attention was his smile.  He was grinning ear to ear, looking as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.  Perhaps he was listening to a funny news broadcast or enjoying a favorite song on the radio.  He could have been having an entertaining conversation on a Bluetooth phone device.  Whatever was going on in that car, it was making him happy.  He was starting his day with a smile.  The interesting thing is, I found now, I was smiling, too.

It’s curious how contagious a smile can be. We have all observed a “yawn chain”.  One person in the room yawns, and it seems everyone who witnesses it falls victim to the yawn effect.  So, is it crazy to expect the same with a smile, a laugh, a positive attitude in general? I don’t think so.

Today’s contagious smile reminded me to surround myself with the Positive. Unfortunately, the Negative can be just as contagious and is more plentiful in the world today.  Seek out the smiles, the positive attitudes, the compliments and the random acts of kindness.  Your prognosis is bound to be excellent and rewarding!

My hope is to be a carrier of this contagious condition and spread it among each person I come into contact with.  Reality is, of course, we can’t all be positive all of the time.  But if we reach out to each other, our friends as well as the strangers we meet on our journeys, perhaps we can cause an epidemic!

Maybe you’re smiling right now…. I hope it’s contagious!!th[2]

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Sleeping With My Door Unlocked

My Mom visited me last night in my dream. She was dressed in a beautiful white, pleated dress, which was incredibly soft when I hugged her.  She appeared younger than when she passed two years ago.  She seemed happy and rested.  I was pleased to see her dancing with friends and to be able to tell her how beautiful she looked.

My mom visits me often. I also get visits from my grandparents, my father-in-law and most recently a friend’s mom, who I did not know very well.  I don’t know why I am prone to visits from my loved ones who have passed, but I am deeply grateful.

I know there are some out there that would say my dreams are just a way for my brain to handle the loss. A mere figment, you might say, of my active imagination.  Well, I won’t argue anyone about it.  I can understand skepticism, especially from people who haven’t been honored with such visits.  I am convinced, however, that it is so much more than a coping mechanism in my brain.  The visits are much too real, too poignant and too memorable to be simple dreams.

I recognize that some people never receive visits through dreams. I can only assume that maybe it’s because I sleep with my door unlocked.  Not my front door, of course, that gets bolted tight!  Rather, the door to my mind, my soul, and my heart.  I leave that door open to be able to hear from my loved ones and to hear God’s messages for me.

Perhaps you can try sleeping with your spiritual door unlocked. It may allow the gentle visits from your loved ones who rest in heaven now.  You never know who you might hear from if you are open to their conversations.  Ask God to help you.  He makes amazing things happen!

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Today Is A Good Day

70 degrees and the sun is shining throughout this February weekend in Illinois!! Some might call that a miracle! Well, it certainly is a gift.  Discussing this amazing winter weather treat with others has been interesting.  Rather than just enjoying the awe, I have heard grumbles of “it’s still February… this can’t last!”  It’s true… it won’t last, but neither do many of the special treats we get to experience in our crazy world.

During treatment, the expression “today is a good day” is often used to describe days that aren’t full of pain or sickness; for a day when you receive a special visitor or a day when you just feel lucky to be alive.  “Today is a good day” comes when you can put the past behind you and put the future in God’s hands.  So many times we worry so much about the “whys” and the “what ifs” that we miss out on truly appreciating our good days.

Treatment, for me, taught me to worry less about tomorrow and focus my energy on embracing the good days.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have some “worry wart” tendencies; for old habits are truly hard to break.  However, through reading and prayer, my attention to the present has become so much more fine tuned.  The quality of the good days intensify and aren’t lost in the noise of negativity and uncertainty of the future.

Take pause.. soak it in and enjoy each gift that has been be-stowed upon you.  Because its true, it might not last, but there are so many more to come!  You don’t want to miss them!

I hope Today Is A Good Day for you!

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The Trouble With Blessings

Blessings are our gifts from God.  Lucky are we who receive these blessings.   However, with these gifts we inherit both responsibility and vulnerability.

We have the responsibility to acknowledge our blessings, both large and small; ones we asked for and ones that were unexpected.  We must sincerely and humbly give thanks for our blessings.

We should also realize that with these treasured blessings, we become vulnerable in our knowledge of how wonderful our lives can be, how important people around us are.

I have been truly blessed with friends and family in my life.  I have had people reach out and make a difference in my life in the most unexpected ways during times of turmoil and in times of celebration.  I am truly blessed.  The trouble with these blessings is that I have become venerable to the emotional ties that comes with these relationships.

A dear friend, one of my blessings, recently endured a tragedy in her life.  When I heard about it, it took my breath away.  My body and soul were pained by the news I heard.  Had this been another person, a stranger, a casual acquaintance, I would have felt sadness for them, perhaps said a gentle prayer for them.  This instance, however, goes much deeper than a feeling of empathy or sympathy.  When one of your blessings is facing a dark season of their own, the pain and emotion goes so much deeper and your reaction and dire desire to help them is almost overwhelming.  You can’t simply close the e-mail, turn off the TV or end the conversation and go on with your life.  When one of your blessings is in trouble, it is carried in your soul, sits in your heart and on your mind long after the news is over.

This is the trouble with blessings.  The terrible, wonderful trouble with blessings.  For without each other to be there for one another through the dark seasons and be each other’s blessings through our struggles and our celebrations, our world would be dull and without purpose.  We cannot experience the high without the responsibility of handling the lows.

So now I pray  and thank God again for bringing this blessing into my life.  I ask that He will carry her through this difficult time.  That He will guide me to say or do whatever she needs from me.  And ask that He, in His amazing grace, will bring her back to a place where she can thrive through faith.

 

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Surviving vs. Thriving

 

I believe thriving in life by its own nature must look very different for each individual person.  Like your fingerprint, your destiny is unique to only you and no one can define what it should look like.  I do believe, however, that God wants us to not only survive in this life on earth, but thrive.  And this can only be done with God’s help.  We only need to ask.

We all are survivors.  We survive struggles throughout our lives, and if we are still here to tell our tales, well then, we are survivors.  These struggles, these challenges, although at times are thrown at us against our will or our own understanding, these experiences are what makes us grow and mature.  I don’t mean in the earthly way, although that may happen as well.  I’m referring to our growth and maturity in our Faith.  The one thing that is bound to raise us up from simply surviving life to thriving in our existence here on earth.

When I reflect on my latest challenge of fighting breast cancer, I am consistently amazed at where I am now in my faith and my quality of life.  If you had asked me two years ago what I needed in my life to make it better, I guarantee you that I would not have replied, “Well, I wish I would get diagnosed with breast cancer, suffer through treatment and fight my way to a normal routine again.  That would make my life so much better!”  However, as cliché as it may sound, now that I have experienced that battle and felt the strength God gave me and my family throughout that journey, I can honestly say I see the world in a different light.  The sunsets are more beautiful.  The music is sweeter.  My patience and tolerance are stronger.  Forgiveness comes easier. And to the greatest extent, my ability to love and feel loved has deepened.  For me, at this time in my life, this is thriving.

What does thriving look like to you?  Where in your life can you move from surviving to thriving?  Put a plan in place and ask God to move you to your goal.  He is amazing and almighty and wants you, too, to thrive through faith!

 

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