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life beyond cancer

Want Relaxing Holidays? Less Martha, More Mindfulness

This time of year is a mixed bag for many of us. We look forward to family togetherness, joy, love and celebration. But, too often, expectations outstrip reality and stress is the result.

If you're like me, that doesn't mean you don't chase the fantasy. Earlier in my career, I did my best to create the Norman Rockwell inspired family holiday. I let Martha Stewart, the goddess of all things "perfect," cajole me into impossible, time consuming projects. (I finally quit her when she seriously suggested growing your own grass for Easter baskets.)

Eventually, you learn to lighten up. But the dream of a White Christmas, perfect children, harmonious family celebrations, and all things magical persists.

What's the antidote to holiday stress? Mindful awareness and acceptance of the present moment.

With mindfulness you ratchet down your expectations and enjoy the little things. You're less likely to over plan, overspend and overdo. There is no "should" and "must." There is only "be."

Mindfulness and striving for Martha Stewart-perfect just don't mix. As chef Jacques Pepin summed up "perfectly:" 

"When you are at home, even if the chicken is a little burnt, what's the big deal? Relax." 

Wishing you a mindfully relaxing holiday season!

Survival > Existence,

Related Posts:

Meditation Monday - 5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

10 Little Things to Do with Mindful Awareness

The Survivor's Nest - My Number One Tip This Holiday Season

The Survivor's Nest - Five Tips to Make Your Home Party Ready

The "Solo Journey" of Cancer

This post asked the question, Are You Still Struggling with the Loneliness of Life After Cancer? It ran on October 18, 2011, and sparked a real conversation in the comment section about the "solo journey" of cancer: 

For almost 18 wonderful years, I've had the privilege of building a close relationship with my daughter. Whether in person, or by phone or text, we like to talk about everything and anything. Today she texted me to say how much she missed her friend who just transferred to another school. She was "lonely" and "bored" without her.

My response: "Think relaxing thoughts.

From Multi-Tasking to Mindfulness

My Meditation Monday series (now Mindful Monday) has been popular since I began it. This post, How Cancer is Turning a Multi-Tasker into a Mindful Meditator, is one of my favorites. I won't say I'm there yet, but just being aware of mindfulness has been a huge help:

We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation. Raul Julia

I'm sure we all remember the days of cancer driven single-mindedness. Cancer was our only thought, our only question, our only focus. I went to bed at night and fought for sleep through a barrage of cancer thoughts.

Cancer Warriors Wednesday - MovingOn Rehabilitative Exercise Program

Today I am talking with personal friend and cancer warrior, Lockey Maisonneuve. Lockey is the founder of MovingOn, a rehabilitative exercise class for breast cancer survivors.

Debbie:  I’m a big fan of your MovingOn exercise class, which really helped me heal from my cancer surgeries. Can you tell us how you were inspired to create your program?

Lockey: The concept of MovingOn came to me as a result of my personal breast cancer journey. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was a healthy, active wife and mother of two. Health and fitness were top priorities, given my work as a personal trainer. It was through my struggles recuperating from breast cancer that I realized the power of moving on from diagnosis and treatment through exercise. By rebuilding my body, I took back control over my body and thus took back control over my life.

Debbie:  Why is rehabilitative exercise so important to healing from cancer surgery?

Lockey:  My tumor was 4.5 centimeters when I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. I needed a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, and then I was put on Tamoxifen for five years. There was no negotiating. I just had to deal with it. Of course, all of the surgeries and treatments ravaged my body.  

Before breast cancer, I was physically fit and worked out five days a week. After breast cancer, I was a shell of my former self and needed a nap after taking a shower. Besides the fatigue and infirmity, I was actually scared to work out because I didn’t know if I would hurt my incisions, my radiation-tightened skin, or pop an expander, move my wig or scarf or have the hot flash to end all hot flashes. I remember the first time I tried to do a push up and I felt my chest muscle move. I immediately called my plastic surgeon to find out if I had hurt something.

Debbie:  That must have been so frustrating. How did you go from that level of infirmity to becoming a role model for other women?

Lockey: With the support of my team, I pushed past the fear, and continued to strengthen my body. Every day I got closer to my old self, I realized with greater clarity that the gains weren’t just physical. It struck me that, if I felt like a fish out of water during those early days, what must other women who just wanted to get moving feel like? I started talking to the therapists and doctors at the hospital. I was amazed at their enthusiasm to get their patients moving.

I was so encouraged, I got certified to exercise with cancer patients and created the MovingOn program. MovingOn seminars and classes provide information about the benefits of rehabilitative exercise for cancer patients/survivors. They also provide a space of support to let women discover they can move on from diagnosis and treatment. Of all the cancer patients I’ve met, the one thing they all have in common is, at the end of the day, they want to feel comfortable in their own skin again.   

Debbie:  What’s coming up next for you and MovingOn?

Lockey: We've gotten many out of state requests for the MovingOn program. We are in the process of creating videos that can be downloaded from the website to provide the same exercise protocol for folks who can't attend a MovingOn class. So check out the website and like us on Facebook so we can let you know when the videos are uploaded.

Debbie:  Another great resource is the interview we did together with Luci Weston over at the Here We Are blog talk radio show. You shared so much great information about "Life Beyond Breast Cancer: Healing the Mind, Body and Sprit." I was proud to be a part of that interview and thank you so much for joining me here at WWGN!

Lockey's class not only helped me heal physically, it became an on-your-feet support group. It helped get me moving and sharing. Plus, I still do yoga today because of the appreciation I got for exercise and how good it makes my body feel. As Lockey says, exercise is the final phase of treatment after cancer. Have you discovered the gift of exercise after cancer and how has it impacted your healing?

UPDATE: You can be a part of the MovingOn program! Get your MovingOn video today and get $5.00 off. To get your downloadable video, click on the heart and make sure to enter coupon code WWGN in the box. (BE SURE TO CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE STARTING ANY NEW ACTIVITY OR EXERCISE PROGRAM.) 


Did Cancer Burn Down Your Barn? Turn the Negative Into a Positive

The moon is brighter since the barn burned. Matsuo Basho

My yoga teacher Barbara recently shared a New York Times article with me about a doctor who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. In her book, "Red Sunshine," (Amazon Associates link.) Dr. Kimberley Allison, talks about how positive thinking helped her endure her challenging treatments. Barbara circled two paragraphs in the article:

One of the drugs often given to women with breast cancer is Adriamycin, a bright red liquid delivered intravenously. Many patients call it the "red devil" because of its terrible side effects - severe nausea, constipation, mouth sores and serious declines in white blood cells that protect against infections.

But Dr. Allison said she renamed the drug “red sunshine” and chose to regard the therapy “as my ally, not my enemy. I looked forward to getting it every week. Thinking of that drug as ‘red sunshine’ helped me see the positive side of a trying situation.”

At the top of the article, Barbara wrote, "Pratipaksha Bhavanam (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.)" She explained during class that pratipaksha bhavanam is one of the sutras, or words of wisdom, from the Yoga Sutra, the guidebook of yoga written over 1000 years ago. Nowhere in the article is this concept mentioned, but Barbara immediately recognized it in action in the doctor's words.

I've said many times that no cancer patient or survivor should feel compelled to be positive at all times. I think that's an impossible standard, which causes yet another stress. Further, I don't believe for a second that cancer positive thinking alone determines outcome. There is no secret guaranteeing wellness if only we believe strongly enough. I do believe that attitude goes a long way in dealing with stress, which is damaging to our health.

I also believe that ultimately it comes down to healing. By facing cancer's losses and the gifts that arose from them through my Gifts and Losses List, I finally gave myself permission to heal. I didn't know the term at the time, but I was putting the pratipaksha bhavanam concept into action. 

The Matsuo Bahto quote above stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. It's such a simple and succinct statement of how we can gain gifts through loss. No where is it said that we should be happy that the barn burned. In fact, it's pretty clear to me that the barn is a total loss. But the simple fact is that it is only because of that loss that the moon is now perceived as brighter. 

If you've lived through the diagnostic and treatment phase of cancer and all of its emotional and physical side-effects, it's pretty safe to say that cancer burned down your barn. I'd love to know how you've used the concept of pratipaksha bhavanam, or turning from the negative to the positive, to bring the moon's brightness into your healing.

Survival > Existence,

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The Survivor's Nest - My Number One Tip This Holiday Season

We all know how life goes during the diagnostic and treatment phase of cancer. It's 24/7 cancer and everything else that used to constitute life takes a back seat. For me, once that phase wound down, I returned to my life and new interests, such as creating the WWGN community, writing my blog and speaking to survivor groups. I've kept my head down and forged ahead, but I recently noticed that some of the things I put in the back seat during my early cancer days are still back there. Foremost among them: cleaning my house.

I'm not a Felix Unger fanatic about housekeeping, but do like things clean and organized. Since cancer, however, I spend much less time at it. Surprisingly, I've also developed a higher tolerance level; dust just doesn't bother me as much as it used to before cancer.

If you have been following The Survivor's Nest series you know what I still find important. I am a big proponent of creating a nurturing home - a soft place to land. I've shared tips on seasonalizing for autumn, creating sacred space, making your bedroom your refuge and bringing cheer into your home. I've tried to keep the tips low key, both in time and cost, while encouraging small changes that bring big rewards.

It's a real balancing act, maintaining a home, while at the same time trying to enjoy it. I often call this the "bed and breakfast" dilemma. I'd love to live in a beautifully decorated, immaculate, organized, comfortable house, with a cup of tea and a book always at the ready. I just can't figure out how to create all that prettiness without all the effort. Basically, there's just no way to be a guest at your own bed and breakfast.

 I recently ran across my copy of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, and reread his passage "On Houses:"

And tell me...what have you in these houses? 

...Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scrouge makes puppets of your larger desires.

...Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.  

But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.

Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.

While keeping a comfortable home is important to me, I can't become a slave to it, as if I was running a bed and breakfast. I have to balance my "lust for comfort," with my "larger desires." To do that, I'll have to keep putting more focus on my restlessness than I do on the dust.    

There was a time when I took a "Martha-Stewart-perfect-level-of-orchestration" approach to the holidays. But, as this very busy season approaches, my only tip this week is to be careful not to overdo it.  Balance maintaining your soft place to land with the "passion of your soul."  In doing so, our homes really do become masts and we can sail forward into our dreams.

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Are You Still Struggling With the Loneliness of Life After Cancer?

For almost 18 wonderful years, I've had the privilege of building a close relationship with my daughter. Whether in person, or by phone or text, we like to talk about everything and anything. Today she texted me to say how much she missed her friend who just transferred to another school. She was "lonely" and "bored" without her.

My response: "Think relaxing thoughts. Be your own best friend. You have to be alone sometimes."

Her response: "Yeah, I actually tell myself that a lot cuz of eighth grade when I didn't have friends and that's what you told me."

My response:  "What did I say?"

Her response: "That I have to be okay with being by myself sometimes."

Unlike solitude, which we choose, loneliness is a force we have to work with or risk allowing it to swallow us up. I guess I made a point to teach my daughter about being okay with it once in a while because of experiences in my life.

I grew up in a small Cape Cod house with two parents and eight brothers and sisters. Despite the obvious noise and activity, I often felt alone, especially during my teenage years. I was the oldest, a girl (followed in birth order by four brothers) and my youngest sibling was 14 years younger than me. I often existed in a parallel universe very different from the one inhabited by my siblings.

In my adult life, the most lonely experiences accompanied birth and cancer. The day my daughter was born, I was ill all day and ended up in the hospital severely dehydrated. Dehydration led to labor and she was born at 11:46 p.m. Although I was probably food poisoned, my doctor couldn't rule out infection. To protect my newborn, I wasn't allowed to touch or hold her. Instead, I spent the night in a room, alone, without my new baby or my husband (who I encouraged to go home to rest.) To this day, almost 18 years later, I remember laying there and thinking, "This certainly didn't go as planned." I expected to meet my daughter and have her with me. Instead, my new family was separated and I was alone. 

The second experience came after my mastectomy for breast cancer. After six and a half months of diagnostic tests, doctors visits, and finally my surgery, I was bowled over by the emotional impact of it all. My family, so very relieved that I was alive, was happy to move on and put the whole cancer thing behind them. I found myself again living in a parallel universe very much apart from my family. It was a horribly lonely place to be. 

The cancer-induced loneliness lasted an entire summer. My wonderful oncology therapist helped me tremendously by letting me express my sadness and building anger. With her help, I was eventually able to make my family understand that I needed them to be where I was - that cancer was not yet over for me. 

Life teaches us that we have to handle being by ourselves sometimes. It's an important lesson to learn, but cancer-induced loneliness is bigger than that and not something we should accept as another loss of cancer. If you are finding yourself still struggling after cancer treatment, while others around you are only too happy to put your cancer behind them, get support anywhere you can. Seek out others who understand how you feel and with whom you can share your feelings. My therapist helped me carry the overwhelming weight of my loneliness that summer. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been forced to carry it alone.  

Have you or are you still dealing with the loneliness of life after cancer? What has helped you deal with it?

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Cancer Warrior Wednesday - Send a Heart of Hope Program

Back in June I posted a little love letter to an organization which is close to my heart. The mission of Interregnum, Inc., a grief support organization, is to help people learn to find life after loss. This month, in support of breast cancer awareness, Interregnum, Inc., is launching its Send a Heart of Hope program. 

The new program features beautiful, hand-painted ceramic hearts with a variety of inspirational messages. You can choose from the Breast Cancer Ribbon of Hope heart, or the Reflection, Hope Blooms, Hope Takes Flight, Soar or Inspiration hearts. Choose the design that speaks to you, fill in your personal card, and Interregnum will send your ribboned and gift-wrapped heart on its way. The cost of sending a heart is $25.00. All net funds raised are used to help fund Interregnum’s programs, including its successful Hearts of Hope community outreach program.

The devastation one can experience when receiving a diagnosis of cancer--or any life limiting illness--is a form of loss that often goes unacknowledged. Judith Pedersen, founder and executive director of Interregnum Inc., developed programs of support, education, and compassion for those facing life altering challenges.

It was through the Hearts of Hope program that I came to know Interregnum, Inc. The program engages community groups in the painting of ceramic hearts that are delivered free-of-charge to people transitioning through difficult times in their lives. Recipients have included patients in hospitals, cancer centers and hospices, the bereaved, and men and women in the military. More than 25,000 people have received these beautiful reminders of caring. I have two of these hearts and treasure the message they gave me during difficult times.

For the new Send a Heart of Hope initiative, artists from around the country graciously donated their painting talents to this worthwhile cause. Sue Macheska, Program Director of Hearts of Hope, is "hopeful that people will look forward to sending our hearts, knowing that they are supporting a great cause while bringing a spark of joy and beauty to someone who needs a lift!" 

To order a heart and learn more about Interregnum, Inc., visit the website and click on the Send a Heart of Hope button. This Cancer Warrior Wednesday, I'm so happy to feature the Send a Heart of Hope program because of my gratitude for the Hearts of Hope I received. If you have an organization you are particularly fond of, please share it with me and let me know what makes it special to you.

Meditation Monday - "Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life." Steve Jobs

Although I try to focus on the gifts of cancer, its losses are eternally present. The death of Steve Jobs is a momentous loss from cancer – to his family and to the world. We have lost a genius, innovator, and leader. As a fellow cancer survivor, I am stricken by the reminder of how much cancer has taken and how at risk we all are.

While I grieve his death (most likely) from pancreatic cancer, it's important to be mindful of the inspirational lessons he left us. I'll let Steve Jobs speak for himself about how to live your life fully beyond cancer, as he so eloquently did, and I will be quiet and listen:

The Survivor's Nest - It's Autumn & Time to Seasonalize the Nest

The weather is finally turning cooler, and the air is crisp and clear. It's finally autumn! Although the calendar introduced the season two weeks ago, it was in name only. Summer refused to exit on cue and took its time winding down to its inevitable end. Now autumn is finally here and it's time to seasonalize the nest!

Seasonalize is a word you won't find in the dictionary, but decorators use it a lot. It means to bring your indoor environment in synch with the outdoor environment to reflect the season outdoors within your home. Seasonalizing goes to the core of nesting by fostering snuggling in the fall/winter and lightening up in the spring/summer. I love October and celebrate it every year by seasonalizing my home. By doing so I am acting as a creature of nature and am present within it.

How do you start? It's really easy! Here are a few tips to get you on your way:

1.  When:  I seasonalize twice a year, in the fall and the spring. In the fall, I'm happy to begin the process of hunkering down in the warmth of my home during the cold winter months. In the spring, I'm looking to bring nature in and be part of the outdoors. Like other animals, we are impacted upon by the seasons. When we acknowledge our primal need to be one with the seasons, we are much more comfortable in our indoor environment.

2.  Put Summer in Storage:  Clear out anything that reminds you of summer. Put away beach towels, bathing suits, flip flops, shells, summer-themed placemats, lacy pillows or sheer curtains, summer-weight area rugs, cotton and silk sheets and anything else that is too light and summery to warm you up as the weather gets colder.  

3.  Layer on the Warmth:  Get out the flannel sheets, heavier blankets, and a luxurious throw for the bed. In the living room, put throws on the sofa and change up the accent pillows from lighter summer-themed ones, to fall-inspired hues. Go for jewel tones. Anything that mimics the colors of fallen leaves will work beautifully. If possible, put up heavier drapes at the windows to visually and literally keep cold air out. Replace summery area rugs or cover bare floors with heavy, plush wool rugs. Your toes will thank you. 

4.  Make the Fireplace a Focal Point:  If you're lucky enough to have one, a fireplace can be the star of your fall/winter nest. Make it stand out by bringing the fireplace tools out of storage, rearrange the mantel to feature fall/winter themes (candles, gourds, jewel colored vases, etc.), and make sure there's a stack of firewood ready for use.

4.  Create Seasonal Vignettes:  Just because we want to keep the cold weather outside, doesn't mean we want to be cut off from nature. Put apples and pinecones in a bowl. Gather pumpkins, squash and other gourds from the farmers' market and display them like treasures. Take a hike, collecting interesting leaves, acorns, and rocks along the way, and bring them home to display. 

5.  Set a Seasonal Table:  The richness of fall and harvest time comes alive at the family table. Bring out placemats woven of natural fibers, such as rattan or water hyacinth. Rustic dishes, napkins and heavier trays and serving pieces complete the look. Put a bowl of pears, pomegranates and pinecones in the center of the table. Fall/winter decorating is all about warm, nubby and interesting textures. The table is the perfect place to bring those textures alive. 

The seasons of nature create an ebb and a flow that cycles with perfect balance. When we plug back into that flow and honor the seasons, we resonate and reconnect with life itself.  As cancer survivors, we should take every opportunity to nurture ourselves and return our body, soul and mind to balance. There is no better place to do that than in our own homes. Nesting and taking the time to seasonalize your home honors our place in the world. Let me know if you come up with ideas of your own to bring your nest in synch with the colder seasons.

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