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Welcome Old Friends & New Friends to the WWGN Community!

This week we've been blessed with many new WWGN members, mostly due to the guest post I wrote for Cure Magazine.

(Right now the iconic Girl Scout song: "Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold," is playing in my head. )

Because not everyone has been here from the very beginning, I though I'd reintroduce a blog post I wrote a while back. This post is about cancer anger and it is the reason I was originally contacted by Cure Magazine and ended up being quoted in an article on anger. It's definitely one of my favorites because it's resonated with so many people:

Coping With Cancer Anger 

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. Maya Angelou

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an emotion as "a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body." Notice there is no value judgment as to the negativity or positivity of our emotions. They are simply reactions to friends, family, medical professionals and cancer itself.

The truth is we often consider anger to be a negative and try to avoid it at all costs. The social message is loud and clear: Don't overreact, don't yell, don't curse, don't scream, and don't ever be impolite. Hold it in at all cost. But how do we cope with cancer anger?

As a cancer survivor, I remember a lot to be angry about. Although I never wondered "why me," I did feel anger about changes to my bodyloneliness, and having to deal with past emotional traumas stirred up by cancer. I was especially angry when a year had passed since my diagnosis and I was not yet "over" cancer. 

I also remember being really angry at the people who wanted to move on and forget about my cancer before I was ready to do the same. I felt alone, abandoned and unheard. As my anger increased, it got too big to share with those same people. The only thing that saved me was being able to voice my anger to my oncology therapist, who encouraged me to curse, yell and be impolite. I know it is only due to her being there for me that I was able to work through my cancer anger and get to a better place in those relationships.

Read more here.

The more I write and speak with you, the more I value our connection. We get each other. Thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.

Survival > Existence, 

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Monday Morning Motivation

Wishing you a week of beautiful Spring sunshine! (and maybe a party or two!!)

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Surviving Cancer Through Coffee, Conversation & Connection

You might have noticed the coffee cups in the WhereWeGoNow logo. When I created WWGN, I visualized a safe, cozy place for cancer survivors to come together. I wanted to evoke the feeling of friends sitting around my kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking.  

Truth be told, I don't drink coffee.

Of course, it was never actually about coffee. It's about a feeling. The same feeling I had when I met and shared with other breast cancer patients at my cancer center. The same feeling I had in the MovingOn rehabilitative exercise class. The same feeling I get every time I come together with the other women of the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. The same feeling I have every time I speak to a room full of survivors. 

The beverage doesn't create the feeling. The feeling is created by CONNECTION.

I've learned from life (and a bit of therapy) that it's the "disconnect" that causes me the most grief. 

When I went through five years of infertility and miscarriages, I had no one to talk to about it besides my husband. We were in it together every step of the way. When one of us was having an especially bad day, the other stepped up. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way when I finished cancer treatment. When he told me "the worst is over" and moved on, I felt abandoned and totally disconnected. There were a few moments I thought it was impossible, but we eventually reconnected when he realized he had to accept me where I was. 

The truth about connection is that you can't have it with everyone. I recently celebrated my fifth cancerversary by going out to dinner with my husband. When the waiter took our drinks order, I asked for champagne. My husband touched my arm and told the waiter we were celebrating a "special occasion." Later, after dinner, the waiter returned with a special dessert sporting a lit birthday candle.

Awkward. The waiter very sweetly said he didn't want to pry, but was it my birthday? I hesitated a split second, said "Yes," and accepted his happy birthday wishes with a smile on my face. (The family sitting next to us chimed in with happy birthday wishes too.) 

I've written a lot about the importance of telling your truth, sharing your story and connecting with others who "get it." But, we're not in denial when we choose not to share. Not everyone needs to know our truth or our story. The kind of connection I need to emotionally survive does not require public nakedness. 

I've learned to focus on connecting with the people I need to connect to - my husband, my family, my friends and you.

Thank you for making WWGN the safe, cozy place I envisioned it to be. Now, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Have you chosen at times to keep your truth to yourself? How do you create connection with others? 

Survival > Existence,

Copyright: djapart / 123RF Stock Photo


Comments

Marie's picture

I know the pain and loneliness of infertility only too well and how much we crave the understanding of another. It is the same when cancer treatment finishes, and your support system falls apart. It is so good to know that those who understand what we are going through are only a keystroke away. Thanks for creating this community, which continues to be a nurturing, wise and welcoming online space.

Debbie's picture

Thanks so much Marie for your support and encouraging words. Those of us who have been down the road have so much to share with others who follow. We all need community, caring and nurturing. I'm proud to be part of this amazing community.

Debbie

 

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Monday Morning Motivation

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Monday Morning Motivation

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Honey Bee's picture

Hello Debbie,

I recently read an e-book of interviews with cancer survivors. I found it encouraging to realize that our stories were often similar in many ways, and inspiring to learn how they had faced their situations with hope and courage and strength.

So often we must actively seek the help and the information we need. Just now I am researching P I F, Pelvic Insufficiency Fractures, which occur when the pelvic bones are weakened during radiation. This causes encompassing fatigue, slow and painful walking, and limited mobility. I had wondered why I was having such difficulty moving, in spite of trying so hard. I tried to walk, to get out there and move. I had weekly chiropractic treatments. I had monthly massage appointments. But I got worse, instead of better. It really is a relief to have some clues as to what might be causing the problems. This weakness showed up months after treatments were over.

But what I really wanted to share was the titles of three books that have been pivotal for me in moving forward in my journey toward wellness. They are: When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Mate, MD., The Portable Coach by Thomas Leonard, and The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson. Making some of the changes that these authors recommend has served me very well, in many areas. They all share wonderful insights into living life well. Leonard's book is out of print, and he himself has passed away. But I was able to borrow his book from the library. One day I would love to find a used copy. Both Leonard and Richardson are life coaches, though not dealing specifically with cancer.

Thank you for encouraging us to "tell our story" and to become part of a community. Very valuable. I, too, have found doing those two things to be healing and strengthening and empowering.

Your work to encourage us, wherever we're at in our journey, is noble work, indeed. It fills a need that we, who have faced cancer personally, have to become connected to those who understand our experiences and who care enough to lend a listening ear and a caring heart.

I am so very grateful for all you do.

Blessings,
Honey Bee

Debbie's picture

Honey Bee:

Thank you so much for writing and sharing. I bet the ebook you read is the one put together by Gai Comans which I've been telling people about. Have you read both guides? The first one, Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets - Empower Your Life is what we wish we had known at initial diagnosis, and the second is Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets - Emerge From the Fire about what we wish we had known when treatment was finished. Gai interviewed 20 survivors (I'm one of them) and did an amazing job presenting their stories. You're so right that we have so much in common and so much to learn from one another.

I love your book suggestions and will be checking them out. I'm so glad you're being proactive and taking charge of both your physical and emotional healing. 

Keep telling your story and sharing with other survivors. I have found that it makes all the difference. I wish you all the best and thank you so much for your beautiful words. You made my day!

Much love,

Debbie

 

 

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Reflections on My Five Year Cancerversary

April 15, 2009; the day of my mastectomy and first reconstructive surgery. It's also the day I consider my cancerversary, which makes this April 15th my fifth. 

Why did April 15th become my cancerversary? Why not the day I was diagnosed? Or the day of my second surgery and the end of treatment (except for the taxomifen I continue to take?)

I think April 15th stands out in my mind because it was the day I was forced to show up and fully become a cancer patient and, eventually, a survivor.

For the prior six and a half months, I wasn't even sure I was a breast cancer patient. I didn't have a lump, wasn't rushed into surgery, and had no chemotherapy or radiation. I was free-floating, with no center to my cancer universe.

Finally, I was forced to show up very early in the morning to face what scared me the most: loss, vulnerability, and completely handing my body over to the unknown.

But I also remember the trust, in myself and my doctors, which got me there.   

On April 15, 2009, I laid my body down and submitted to a surgery I didn't want. But that was also the day I entered the cocoon of support I found at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ. That day made possible my keynote speech at the recent Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 5th Annual Blood Conference. As I shared at the conference and in my first book, You Can Thrive After Treatment, showing up to be supported is the first and most important simple secret to creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy, because it made every other healing step I took possible.   

2009 was one of the two worst years of my life. (The other contender is 1984, but that's a story for another day.) As bad as it was, 2009 was also the year I started putting one foot in front of the other to get to today. I see the progress, and the struggles, as I read over the posts I wrote in years two, three and four: 

Happy Anniversary! Today I Celebrate Two Years of Healing from Cancer

Mindful Monday - Reflections On My Third Year Cancerversary

Reflections on My Fourth Year Cancerversary

I wish I had written something on year one, but I wasn't up to it then. Just another indicator of how far I've come. The truth is, however, that cancer isn't a straight-line experience. There are bad days, bad years and traumatic experiences which unleash the holy hell of cancer all over again. I've learned that it really is all about putting one foot in front of the other (when possible) and being kind to yourself when you just want to fall in a heap and have a good cry. And I've also learned, from my own experience and that of my friends that, just because I finally hit five years, this whole cancer thing isn't over by a long shot.

Even so, today is a good day. I'm mindful that five years cancer free is something to celebrate and my husband and I will be doing just that during our yearly dinner out (he didn't have time for lunch this year.)  

Every day, every year, for the rest of my life. It's okay to be wherever you are and it's all part of healing.

Much love and healing to you,


Comments

Marie's picture

The five year mark is a big milestone Debbie. I remember how it felt for me to reach this day too and now I am heading for five more this year. You've come a long way on this journey and it is a joy to watch you blossom and grow.

Debbie's picture

Hello Marie:

Thank you so much and congratulations to you too! Ten years is a huge milestone! I'm so grateful for every new opportunity to grow and surround myself with wonderful cancer sisters like you.

Love,

Debbie 

Claudia Schmidt's picture

Debbie,
Congratulations on 5 years out. It was so wonderful to meet you in person, I can't believe how long we talked! Your site is so inspiring, as is all that you're doing to help others with breast cancer.

I can certainly relate to your comment about cancer not being a straight line experience. It's like a roller coaster ride (without any of the fun). Have a great dinner with your husband!

Debbie's picture

Hi Claudia:

I'm so glad we finally got to meet (now that blizzard season is safely behind us!) I'm amazed too that we sat and talked for three hours - and I enjoyed every minute! Thanks so much for the best wishes and for joining me on this roller coaster ride.

Debbie

AndreaNZ's picture

Debbie, thanks for sharing. I read back through your anniversary posts. I am only 4 months down the track with Stage 3C. I read your year 2 anniversary and smiled. I had a real fight/flight experience before the op as well and thankfully my doctor read the situation perfectly. I just wanted to run...
Here I am now just completed 2nd chemo. 1s was a breeze, 2nd has not been so kind. 2 more to go of AC.
My big lesson I am learning is about managing myself. People said fro the beginning be kind to yourself, be selfish, etc. I had no idea what they were meaning. Slowly I am beginning to understand and it is so foreign to me. Not sure how to handle this bubble I am in. I am sure I am going to learn so many lessons from this experience. Within the last month I have been able to share with another woman who was/is as frightened as me as she begins her 1 st chemo which is empowering, to help someone else - like you are.
Thank you

Debbie's picture

Hello AndreaNZ:

Running was never really an option, was it? As overwhelming as the urge was, you stood your ground. There is a lesson in that too, in that you can trust yourself. You will figure out, day by day, how to be kind to yourself. An amazingly powerful way to do that is to give back and share with others, as you found out this month. The lessons will keep coming and you will rise to meet them and, when you can't because it's just not in you that day, that's okay too.

Thank you for sharing with me and I wish you all the best in the world.

Debbie 

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Monday Morning Motivation

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Available Now! Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets - Emerge From The Fire

I promised I'd let you know when the second edition of the Survivor Secrets guides was out. Well, here it is!
 
The new guide is called "Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets - Emerge From The Fire." I'm one of 20 women who share strategies, tools, secrets and insights to empower your life as a cancer survivor. I'm so proud to join these inspirational, amazing women. They have such grace and so much to share!  
 
Just like the first guide, each woman answers one question: "What do you wish you had known when you were finished treatment for breast cancer?"
 
Our answers touch on all areas of survivorship, including: 
 
Strategies For Renewed Intimacy After Breast Cancer 
Vitality Comes From Your Lifestyle Choices 
Living Mindfully Helps You Let Go Of Who You Were, So That You Can Embrace Who You Are 
A Peer Can Support You In Those Moments When You Feel Most Alone 
Survivorship Is Hard Too 
Integrating Connection Through A Personalized Game Plan For A Healthy Life 
 
My chapter is entitled: One-on-One Support Can Help You Reclaim Your Life Effectively. Ironically, it was that very one-on-one support that helped me create the community I have today. Make sure to check it out.
 
Download your free copy of the guide here. If you missed the first eGuide, make sure to pick up your free copy here.
 
Once again, I am amazed at how the simple act of sharing our stories helps heal ourselves and our fellow cancer survivors. How would you answer the question: "What do you wish you had known when you were finished treatment for breast cancer?" Let me know below in the comments.
 
Survival > Existence,
 


Comments

Emma Mottram's picture

Hi, I have watched my best friend from the day she found her breast cancer lump (stage 3 triple negative) to the day she was declared cancer free. She took a different path to the usual and went to Ecuador for treatment with essential oil injections, vitamin c IV, spiritual and emotional healing, extreme diet changes, massive amounts of fresh juicing and other alternative therapy. When she came home, her tumour was huge, almost busting out of her skin - BUT whatever she had done - it was 2/3 necrosis (dead). She decided to have chemo to finish it off. She then had a double mastectomy and I think 3 or 4 lymph nodes taken. She was then declared cancer free - but also had 2 weeks of radiation to make sure. She is an EXTREMELY positive person and now she wants to spread the story of her journey to help empower others diagnosed in some way. She wants to start a foundation, write a book, do a blog, get information to newly diagnosed people about what they can do - as soon as they leave the doctors after their diagnosis - to start getting well and healing (more with natural or complementary therapy than going straight down the western medical road). My question is, I am worried she is going thru some sort of emotional high (as she has beaten the cancer) and will put all her energy into "saving the world" and it might be because of the fact that she DID survive? I know many people who are cured want to give back, but I am concerned she is going over the top too fast and too soon... Do some "survivors" head down this path? Should I be telling her to slow down and not try to save everyone tomorrow??? I don't want her to overdo it!!!!!! She is a real go-getter though... How can I help her get thru this next part of her journey? Thanks so much for all this info!!!

Debbie's picture

Hi Emma:

I'm so glad your friend is doing well and you are supporting her. She has an amazing story and has every right to be thrilled with her progress. I can tell you that I felt the same way she does. I wanted to give back in gratitude for all of the support and help I found when I needed it. It's an overwhelming feeling. 

I applaud you for looking out for her welfare, but must suggest that you step very gingerly. None of us can ever know entirely what is right for someone else. We have to accept that our opinion is just that, our opinion. Only your friend can decide what is right for her. That being said, you may find that she does have a change of heart and slows down a bit after the euphoria fades. Just be there for her and support her decisions. Hopefully, she also has the support of medical professionals who can advise her, as I did. 

Right now, your friend is trying to figure out how to live the rest of her life as a cancer survivor. It's a process, with many bumps and highs along the way. Things will change and flow. Just be there for her, supporting her and loving her, without judgment. That's the very best you can do, and it truly means the world.

Good luck and all the best to you and your friend.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

 

Emma Mottram's picture

Hi Debbie, thank you so much for that advice! Regards, Emma.

Debbie's picture

You're very welcome, Emma. All the best.

Debbie

 

Elaine's picture

In a way I was one of the lucky ones as I actually finished my treatment with just a mastectomy 2 plus years ago, I was Stage I with no node involvement so I did no have to endure radiation or chemotherapy. It was a short lived grand hurrah. First, the drainage would not slow down to the recommended minimum so it stayed din for 3 weeks with excruciating pain and the proofed feeling of coldness. It finally was taken out for fear of infection. Chest edema became massive with a long treatment of message, I received lymphedema message for 6 months and had the displeasure of wearing a chest compression garnet for months. It took 7 months to resolve.

In the meantime, I was started on Tamoxifen but within a week had symptoms of toxicity. It was every symptom on the list except a pulmonary embolus. It was a desperate experience as I could not function mentally and could hardly move physically. The oncologist stopped it saying that my mastectomy was the best treatment anyway. That was a relief until about 10 minutes later, he said that I didn't try hard enough!

And on it goes with multiple intense hot flashes only controlled with frequent acupuncture therapy and a chest tightness that severely compromised my lifestyle. Finally after a year and a half it was diagnosed as Post Mastectomy Pain Syndrome that is poorly controlled due to medication intolerance and only partially effective radio frequency ablation. Obviously my anger/frustration is still evident but I think it is what keeps me trying.

The gist is I wasn't told much about the recovery period except "have the surgery and with in four months, you will be back doing everything you did before". That was not true! I am a ICU nurse with over 25 years of experience so I understand in depth much more. I wasn't adequately prepared beyond "watch for infection and fever". Although I was at one of the top 100 hospitals in America, education was poor and I often heard "Oh, you poor thing. You have been through so much". I find that women with breast cancer want to know and want their questions answered without being treated as the "whining female.

I am grateful that I have been able to stay so strong, my PT therapist, my trainer, my Tai Chi instructor, my PCP, great friends, some family, and you. Thank you for listening! This is way to long and the first time I have written my experience publicly. There is a long way for medical personnel to go for improved treatment of women with breast cancer.

Debbie's picture

Dear Elaine:

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your experience, especially as an ICU nurse needs to be told. After my surgery, I had a horrible bladder infection. A year after my reconstructive surgery, I was still dealing with intense abdominal pain caused by scar tissue. Only after I finally complained did anyone mention that scar massage might help. (It helped immensely.) 

I can't believe anyone would have the nerve to say that you didn't try hard enough. What's missing here is real empathy and a professional commitment to healing the entire patient - not just dealing with the cancer.  

I am willing to listen anytime and hope to hear from you again. Thank you again so much for speaking up and telling your truth.

All the best,

Debbie

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6 Tips to Help You Find Comfort After Cancer

It's a Sunday afternoon and you'd give anything to curl up under a blanket with a book and hide from the world.
 
But there are lots of things to do that make that impossible. 
 
You'll rest later.
 
Except you never do.
 
Let me ask you this: Do you remember when cancer forced you to stop? 
 
Do you remember when rest was a pivotal part of your healing?
 
Do you remember taking care of yourself first, because you had no choice?
 
Stop. Take a breath and look around you. Will it really all fall down if you take the afternoon off?
 
Sometimes we resist seeking comfort after cancer. We want to throw ourselves back into living, push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and make big changes. 
 
But, life is always going to require healing. And healing is always going to require comfort. 
 
You need comfort. Here's how to go about creating more of it in your world:
 
1.  Concentrate on the little things that make you happy: Whether it's a favorite sweater, dog, yoga class, or driving with the top down, if it makes you happy, make sure to enjoy it more often. To get that done, start paying attention to what makes you smile. And then make the effort to bring those things into your life. You deserve it.
 
2.  Rest: Give in to fatigue. Initially, it speaks to you in whispers, but tends to scream like a banshee when ignored. To keep it from getting to that point, learn to shut down at a reasonable hour at the end of the day. Put a premium on rest and getting to sleep and you will be more productive in the long run.
 
3. Make home a haven of comfort:  Every autumn, I seasonalize my home for the colder months. I put out comfy throws in the family room, including a faux fur one I got from Pottery Barn. Sitting under that throw is one of my sweetest comforts when the wind is howling outside and I hate to see it go in the spring.
 
4. Stay in touch: Keep communicating and sharing with your cancer sisters. While I was treating, I was immersed in support groups, therapy and events that put me in weekly contact with other patients/survivors. Eventually, that came to an end. To this day, however, I still meet up with other survivors by working with the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. And, of course, I stay in touch with the very close friends I made along the way. Their inclusion in my life is a constant comfort and source of support. 
 
5.  Maintain a soul practice: Whether you are part of a religious community, pray, meditate, or commune with nature, spend some time developing a soul practice. Take your practice one step further by creating a sacred space of peacefulness and healing at home, where you can take a moment to stop, breathe and find comfort anytime you need it.
 
6.  Finish this sentence: I find comfort in ------.  Write down whatever you think of without censoring yourself. When you're finished writing, review what you've written and think about how to bring those things into your life today. 
 
It's been said many times that life begins outside our comfort zone. I don't believe it. Life requires comfort because comfort fortifies and heals. How do you do comfort? Let me know and I'd love to hear how you finished the sentence in tip number six. Make sure to tell me in the comments below.
 
Wishing you much comfort & peace,
 


Comments

Marie's picture

You know Debbie, just reading your post today gave me a delicious sense of comfort and relaxation - thank you for the reminders to slow down a little more.

Debbie's picture

Hi Marie:

I'm so glad my post had that effect on you. Have a beautiful, comforting weekend. We really need to remember to slow down and enjoy the quiet moments. That's what gets us through all of the more trying moments.

Debbie

 

 

Michele Visco's picture

Lovely post to read this morning, Debbie! Nice reminders to taking care of ourselves EVERY day in oftentimes small and important ways! Thanks for the lovely read over my coffee today :-)

Debbie's picture

Hi Michele!

I'm so happy to be a part of your Sunday coffee! Have a beautiful day and make sure it includes lots of comfort!! You deserve it!

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Ranetta's picture

Thank you Debbie for a timely article. I won't ever get away from my cancer - Multiple Myeloma - and I have been working on establishing habits to fortify and enhance my life every day lately. I had to start another round of chemotherapy because the second round didn't work...but I think the new drug is helping now.
I find comfort in: listening to my quiet inner voice that tells me what is right for me. It gives me a sense of peace that I haven't had in a long time...

Debbie's picture

Ranetta:

I'm so happy that you are finding comfort in new habits. You're going through so much, so it's imperative to fortify and enhance your life every day! You're definitely on the right track listening to your quiet inner voice. That sense of peace, which I've found myself, is priceless.

All the best and much comfort to you always,

Debbie

Pam's picture

Just a simple, short message. Thank you, Debbie!!

Debbie's picture

You're so very welcome, Pam! Thank you, and much love and comfort to you!

Debbie

 

Honey Bee's picture

Hello Debbie,

Somehow this message really resonated with me.

I loved all the thoughts, especially the idea that "comfort fortifies and heals". All the more reason to include it.

I take comfort in little getaways and little adventures. For example, last week, one little adventure was to find a little French Patisserie which had "melt in your mouth" croissants and macaroons to tempt a discerning palate. I think I need to go back there!!!

I like to visit a neighbourhood coffee shop, work on my Gratitude Journal (one of my daily comforts), and see familiar faces of staff and regulars.

Just sitting in my favourite corner at home and reading a delicious book, like a travel book on Tuscany, that has delightful words of wisdom scattered like jewels.

I love enchanting conversations with dear friends, new friends, some of my "health team", (some of whom give hugs and fantastic support) and even strangers.

For me, comfort often looks like adventure, making connections, discovering wisdom, time spent in a beautiful garden, just leisure time with no responsibilities, a Swedish massage, an evening at a live play, a delicious meal, something fun to look forward to, an evening of stellar music, time with a friend, my wonderful cancer support group, even some new clothes that make me feel "like a million bucks". I do celebrate in my own little way every chance I get.

And, of course, learning. As I do from your very special blog. I appreciate all you share that enriches and informs our journey to wellness and thriving.

Thank you for sharing with the rest of us. We appreciate you.

Love and sunshine,
Honey Bee

Debbie's picture

Hello Honey Bee:

You are a comfort connoisseur! I'm going to take some tips from you. Thank you for your beautiful comment and good for you for taking such good care of yourself. I'm sure you bring a ray of sunshine to your cancer support group and health professionals too!

All the best and thanks so much for writing.

Debbie

 

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