When I was about 8 or 9, my family saw both Jaws and Piranha one night at an outdoor theater. I spent the next week or two deathly afraid of the bathtub. Or any puddle of water deeper than an inch. I always had a rather active imagination, and as a child, my imagination regularly worked against me. My dad, who was an engineer, finally sat me down one day and forced me to consider in detail the error of my thinking. How could something as large as a shark make its way through small pipes and into our tub? Staring into the light of logic, I had to admit that it couldn’t.
I’ve always had a comfortable relationship with my body. For a modicum of effort on my part, I expected it to get me through every day as I saw fit. If I wanted to spontaneously dance, I would. If I wanted to run through the snow with the pups, I would. If I wanted to push a piece of furniture from one room into another, I would. But when the call came that the biopsy of my left breast showed cancer, I immediately felt like my body turned against me. I lay in bed at night and inched my arm away from my side. I wanted my turncoat breast to stay away from other parts of me. How dare it defect? I did nothing but support it since it showed up 40 years ago. In some weird way, I felt like I didn’t know myself anymore. Where else was the cancer? Every issue I’ve had in the last 5 years became suspect. Every otherwise normal ache and pain became related. I felt like dead woman walking. It’s then that I heard my dad’s voice from so many years ago telling me, Melissa, you are your own worst enemy.
It’s funny how our minds can control us in such powerful ways. I’ve always loved being imaginative. Being creative brings me joy. However, I’ve been reminded regularly throughout my life that being stuck in my head can work against me. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Focusing too much on a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it. Sometimes it just makes it worse. While I believe that I’m intelligent and resourceful and a problem solver, I also know that sometimes I need to stop listening to my own voice and instead listen to others who can maybe see something differently than I.
I started this blog again as a way for me to look out. To get outside my head and look for the moments in my day that are more worthy of my attention. I asked others to join me in this gratitude journey as a way of sharing what I was going through and maybe helping someone else along the way look for their own moments. I didn’t expect to hear so many, many words of encouragement, support, and strength. Today I’m so very grateful for all of your voices. They helped drown out my own.
Wow, last year was a long one, wasn’t it? I think most of us will agree that it’s going down in history as one to forget. All that quarantining. All the social distancing. Like most folks, we started our hunker-down by taking up new hobbies (puzzles or bread making, anyone?) and thought all the home time would be fun and cozy. We finally remodeled our main bathroom, doing almost all of the work ourselves, putting in a walk-in shower to make it easier to bathe the dogs. Priorities. Patrick expanded his garden. I taught a couple of online classes. We were both able to work from home and continue to do so.
Of course, like everyone else experienced, the novelty of being homebound quickly faded and the reality of what was happening in our world was sobering. We were constantly grateful to avoid getting sick and avoid losing people we love like those highlighted in the news. We missed our interactions with family and friends and still do. Although we are typically homebodies, being forced apart has taken its toll. There have been some long and lonely days. I miss my kids. I was able to see them only briefly for a few days during the early summer. I likely won’t get to see them in person for many more months. I miss our families, whom we’ve really mostly seen online all year. I miss a lot of things.
I turned 50 in November. Patrick, who hates large gatherings, was actually hoping to throw a surprise party, but that didn’t happen. We celebrated the milestone like most of our days, home with the dogs, eating some good home-cooked food. Patrick has become quite the gourmet chef. I got a couple new power tools and some fantastic gifts from my friends and family. Fancy wine glasses and flowers and candy. And then the day after my birthday, I found out I have breast cancer.
Needless to say, it’s been an extra difficult ending to an already difficult year. The last six weeks has been a tornado of doctor’s appointments and an overload of information I never wanted to know. Unfortunately, my cancer is the uncommon type that is difficult to spot. That meant that the initial finding of about 1/2 inch spot showed up just larger than 2 inches on an MRI. That also changed treatment options and the timing of them. This past Monday I had surgery to remove lymph nodes and put in a chemo port. It was harder than I anticipated. The reality of this has set in and I’m now afraid in a way I wasn’t before. I worry about what’s coming and I worry I’m not strong enough.
This is why I begin this blog again. I need to refocus. I need the hope and optimism that I know is out there. 2021 isn’t going to be a lot better for us. The chemo I’ll begin next week will compromise my immune system and make it even more necessary to quarantine. Even quick shopping trips will disappear. It’s going to be tough. So what am I thankful for today? That I’m alive. That breast cancer is treatable. That so far, it looks like it hasn’t spread any further and I won’t have surgery again for months. That I have someone by my side who makes me stronger. That I have family and friends who have been amazingly supportive since they heard the news. It’s a new year and if 2020 taught us anything, there is still so much good can still be present amidst the rotten. I’ll be looking for it.
I was invited to a four year old’s birthday party last night. She got the scooter she had been wanting for the last several months and her reaction was just what you’d expect. That’s just what I wanted she said several times. And as she opened her other gifts, she was smart enough to show some enthusiasm, even commenting on one of the board games that my boyfriend and I gave her that it, too, was something she had always wanted. But the scooter was a definite highlight. She wanted to ride it immediately after gift opening, going in circles inside a few times until finally getting to go outside with it. But what was sweet is that she didn’t want to ride it alone. She asked if I’d walk with her. So we went up and down the driveway a few times until she decided she was done with the scooter. Then we played with other toys for a while and then raced a few times up and down the driveway. She pointed out where her mom had written happy birthday in chalk on the sidewalk. She explained why she loved a Wisconsin postcard she was given. We made faces in a plastic mirror that she found in the garage and sat outside and ate birthday cake. And that was pretty much it. Complete excitement. She got the scooter she wanted, rode it for about 10 minutes and was perfectly happy with her birthday celebration. What a great reminder to appreciate the small stuff. I think sometimes our expectations for things, especially things we have been anticipating or waiting for, are too big. Adults sometimes expect the things we desire to fill more than what they’re designed to…we expect the attainment of “things” to somehow drastically change our lives, whether those things are objects (new car, nice clothes, new house) or people or jobs. But really, a scooter is just a scooter. Good for about 10 minutes of fun. Getting the things we desire won’t change anything unless we are somehow content already. At least reasonably content. Because if we aren’t, then we simply start looking for the next thing on the list that we think will make us happy. And the next thing. I’m thankful to have been reminded by a four year old that the things I yearn for will only be gifts (realistically or metaphorically) when I see them as additions to my life, not panaceas for any discontent. Once again, gratitude is key.
I’m thankful for my journaling because it reminds me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I wrote this poem back in late October on a particularly rough day. Thankfully, I’m no longer stuck there.
there’s a hole in my future
where all the meaning should be
piece by piece robbed by those
I trusted most
my little light smoked
I’m carried away by the darkness
I had an excellent evening with some lovely women. A good friend of mine had a get-together that she dubbed Love Your Life…Get Inspired. She asked everyone to bring something that inspired them personally, a poem, a book, a quote, a recipe…whatever. The idea was to share inspirational tidbits with others. She’s the type of person who wants to lift people up and help them grow and become the best version of themselves. A great person to have in your corner.
I have to admit to something, though, and I didn’t tell her this. I was a little hesitant to go. Not because I didn’t want to be part of the inspiration, but because she had invited a lot of people–and many people I didn’t know. And not just people, but all women. I was intimidated by that. While I think I am more extroverted than introverted, I really shy away from groups. Anything more than 6 people, and my introvert comes out. And if those people are women, I will clam up. It’s not that I don’t get along with women, but a group of women can be a tough crowd to navigate. There’s a reason women have a reputation for drama. Because there’s usually drama. I’m not trying to perpetuate stereotypes by saying that. From my experience, I think a lot of women worry about what’s not being said as much as what is being said in a conversation…and that can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. To protect myself, I’ve learned from a rather young age to either listen more and talk less, or avoid groups of women all together.
So, back to my evening. I love my friend and want to support her whenever I can. She would and has done the same for me. Therefore, I put on my big girl panties and went to her party, ready to share some things that inspire me. As it would turn out, several women had other obligations/parties/whatever, and it ended up being a smaller group than expected. Rather than be disappointed, my friend was thrilled that those of us who came embraced the whole idea of sharing. We ended up having some very real, open conversations with each other. In fact, we touched on the disappointment that as women, it is sometimes hard to connect in ways that are honest. We also talked about how it’s easier to embrace the notion that as we age, it’s necessary to cull through the relationships we have and let go of the ones that are damaging or toxic. I felt I learned something and contributed something and left feeling better about myself somehow. Certainly something to be thankful for. Not bad for a girls night out.
Every year during the winter I end up with bronchitis at least a couple of times. My mom is convinced she and my dad are at fault because of the years they spent subjecting me and my sisters to their second-hand smoke. They were both heavy smokers for most of my childhood, but thankfully, kicked the habit many years ago. Because I know that it really worries her, I tell her that of course that can’t be true. (Although it may be true.)
Whatever the cause, I’ve spent almost every year of my adult life dreading head colds because I know at any point, they could turn into days of barely breathing and nights coughing myself awake. One winter a few years back I was one of the lucky ones who contracted the bird flu, or swine flu, or whatever horrible version was going around at the time. It truly was horrible. When I watched the Infection episode of The Walking Dead, I could relate. Well, not entirely, but you get my point.
At any rate, I’ve gotten to Jan 3rd without bronchitis. Or even a head cold. Seriously, I’m knocking on wood and throwing salt over my shoulder. The only difference I can attribute this to is that several months ago I got on an exercise routine. I started going to the gym 3-4 times a week and even took up running. I’ve not noticed much difference to my physique, but apparently my lungs are in better shape thanks to all the huffing and puffing. For that, I’m grateful.