Happy New Year 2013! I know this will be a great year. I can feel it in my heart.
While the passage of time....the turning of the page....the ringing in of the New Year.....brings many an optimist and philosopher to take pen to paper and list their resolutions for the year, I ask, "What is a resolution"?
Some may think they are making New Years resolutions, but, in reality, they're good intentions. Others sit down to think over, or write their good intentions, but, in reality, they're fleeting moments of thought at best. So why do people do them?
Because........and this may be the only reason for some. For others, it helps them get into a positive frame of mind, and set up the new year on a fresh page, for that new start. For a few, it really does help them organize their life. In reality their resolutions are more like affirmations. Going back and reading them over regularly is one way to change your life, and give it more meaning.
I have never been very good at New Year's resolutions. Yes, I used to make them, simply because everyone would ask me what they were. Yes, there was thought put into them, but my spirit was never really there. I needed to follow through with habits that were conducive to seeing them through with success.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I got brave, and decided that I was not going to make any more resolutions. I made a promise to myself....that I was going to win my battle......succeed in my journey, and be around for another year. At year end, I also gave thanks, and felt the gratitude in my heart that I was around and thriving.
This has worked out well for me. Until now.
Yes, I still get that sentimental tug at the heart strings when the ball in Time Square in NYC is about to drop, signaling the start of a New Year. As I get up to hug the friends and loved ones I am celebrating the New Year with, I still look up with moist eyes and set my intention to be around for another year. I am still grateful.
But this year, and I don't know if this is a sign that I have evolved in my cancer thrivorship, I wanted to set out more ambitious intentions for my year.
One of the things I have been working on over the past year is my inner self. I have been thinking more positively and reading many blogs and websites from bloggers such as myself.......there's a really inspiring community out there! My meditation is now well intrenched, and it's intuitive. If I feel my breathing start to quicken, I can slowly centre and bring it back down.
Over the year, I have learned to be grateful for the present. I have blossomed and glowed much more in the minute I am in. I used to be a much more "futuristic" thinker, and it was about time I pulled my head out of that hole, and brought it back to where it should be.
So here I am, at the start of 2013, and suddenly, as a result of all this work, I am feeling that my simple "being here for another year" gesture is not enough. And not that I am snubbing my nose at those going through cancer now, or those new survivours out there..... It's just that I have gratuated to the "much more waiting for me" department!
And so, at the risk of calling them resolutions, in which case, my old self may step in for a moment and force me to fail.....I have some crazy and wild intentions this year. The most important one being that I will FINISH. I will finish a half marathon. I will finish writing that book that I started. I have finished 2012 in a good place, and will close 2013 in an even better one.
So whatever you want to call them....whether it's resolutions, intentions, or just good, old fashioned goals. Be kind to yourself, and don't put any pressure on your shoulders. Just be a better person!
Christmas comes upon us so quickly. There's so much to do, and it doesn't matter how many hours of work and effort go into the preparartion, the actual celebration goes by in the snap of a finger. The weeks prior to Chrismas day are busy and frought with anticipation. We all look forward to a plesant time off, spent peacefully with our friends and family. It is the season of hope. It is a time of promise.
The Christmas season was much different for me this year. My year was taken up with lots of personal work and self improvement. I also had another operation in mid November, which was necessary and related to my reconstruction, but a blessing at the same time. It gave me the time leading up to the holidays to recover, de-stress and relax. It slowed down time for me, and enabled me to focus within. To really savour living in the moment.
In this day and age, there is very little that allows us to do that. We are packing so much into our day, that we hardly have time to breathe, never mind taking the time to smell the roses. My usual routine at Christmas is to work my crazy long workweek until December 21st, if I'm lucky, followed by an angonizing couple of days frantically looking for gifts for my family and loved ones. Then I have another several hours of wrapping. Not exactly what the doctor called for at the start of the busy season.
But this year gave me a break. Or perhaps I have, instead broken the cycle. I am a big fan of practicing what I preach. Regardless of this outlook, I have, at times, probably seemed like somewhat of a hypocrite. I have been the victim of fitting too much into my days, and I have always been the victim of anticipating a happy, stress free and peaceful Christmas with my family. Until now.
This year I put what I have learned through many of the people I look up to, and many of the inspirational bloggers out there into practice. My biggest gesture was to forgive someone from my extended family who had caused me much grief over the past couple of decades. It was something I never thought I would do in this lifetime, and it was not easy. But I suddenly understood that this act was not for her, but for me. It showed me how far I have come from the start of my journey through cancer to my new and improved life now. More importantly, it demonstrates that through the changes I have made in my life......the running, the healthy eating and the spiritual journey......I have also grown to respect and love myself, first and foremost!
And there was much rejoicing!
I also took the opportunity of my pre-Christmas recovery time to enjoy where I was and what I was doing. Instead of stressing out about the famiy getting together, the cooking and preparation for the big day and the hope that everyone would have a good time, and that peace would reign in my house, I lived in the moment. I didn't set myself up for disappointment with thought of hypothetical happenings in the future. I decided that I would enjoy the holidays and the people that would sit around my table, when the time came. I organized myself.... I made the menu ahead of time, and knew how many people would be coming to my house. I had my shopping done earlier, and took the time everyday to savour the holiday moment. I actually loved listening to the Christmas carols on the radio! Who would have thought?.....
Much of all this personal growth stems from gratitude. The number of times I stop and give thanks in the day has increased with the passage of time. And this is the key. So at the risk of sounding cheesy in this time of peace and good will towards man, I can be an example of how there really is truth to this. For it is not a secret that the more things you find to be grateful for in a day the less time there is for those negative self depreciating thoughts to come into your head. So as I sit here looking at the heavy snow from a nor'easter blow around my house, I am again thankful, for I can stay in my pyjamas and write this blog!
Last night while on my computer I stumbled upon a twitter discussion regarding a blog post written by a breast cancer survivour. The topic was regarding cancer.....seen as a gift. The writer was of the opinion that cancer was not a gift, and that she'd much rather kick it in the ass than view it in any other way. It was plain as day that it was not considered a gift to her.
This got me thinking. I wrote back to her on Twitter, and mentioned that I, too, was a breast cancer survivour, and a blogger. I mentioned that I had written blog posts saying how much I had considered cancer a gift. Now I'm not inferring, by any stretch of the imagination, that I consider myself fortunate to have been hit with the big "C". Nor would I want anyone else to be fortunate enough to receive this gift.
I also wrote in my answer that I would have much rathered been bopped on the head to be awakened, than to have experienced cancer, but that the result of having cancer changed my life.....and this is why...
If I hadn't been through cancer and the subsequent treatments, I wouldn't know who my true friends were. The ones who stuck around, and were by my side because they truly wanted to be there. Now there are other ways besides cancer that can weed out the sunny day friends from the field....maybe something easier, like losing your job, getting a divorce or running into financial trouble; but cancer brings its own stigma with it. The ones who hold your hand while red toxic substances are streaming into your arm, hold you while you are throwing up, and just call you to remind you that they're there, are worth their weight in gold.
If I had been bopped in the head instead, I wouldn't see with the same vision today. My eyes were always open, but I couldn't see in front of me. There is so much out there that is beautiful beyond description. The water as you cross the bridge on a bright and calm day. The beautiful rainbow that appears after a torrential downpour offering tidings of joy and bright colours of promise. I may have been been able to see, but I was sleep walking through life. Going through my day to day routine with conveyor belt efficiency and with an end of day purpose.
If I hadn't had cancer, I would be living in quite the rich future. Dreaming of the things I would have, the places I would see, and the job with the corner office. Thing is, as good as it is to dream (and I have quite the fertile imagination that fuels them), you will pass over what is right in front of your eyes. This "gift" enabled me to slow down and savour the moment. And there is so much to see and enjoy. Instead of living in anticipation, I live in adoration.
Living post cancer has brought with it other riches. The enjoyment of cooking and learning to eat food that is nutritious. The need to meditate and centre myself at the beginning of the day. The awareness of my breath, and of my surroundings. All have been blessings in my life as a cancer survivour. Would I have discovered these things having been bopped over the head?....possibly yes, but not very likely. Even the continued love of running has more meaning since I've been through cancer, as I am so much more aware of the importance of exercise to my health.
Going through my cancer experience enabled me to understand the health care system and how it really works. It showed me how important it is to be your own health advocate, and to be on top of your own case. And in the times that it was all just too much for me, it taught me humility....that I didn't always have to do everything on my own. There were times where I had to bring loved ones to medical appointments with me....to take notes, or simply to hold my hand.
Although I have always loved my family, cancer made them more clear and brilliant. They were there for me all the way. How lucky is that? It could have been different.....just like those rainy day friends.
Most importantly, cancer gave me the gift of strength. Where I was not always strong (or didn't think I was), being hit with this showed me just how resilient I am. It gave me the tremendous opportunity to be that all important example to my girls, who were much too young to see their mother going through something like this. I showed them what it was like to get up after being kicked down. How to do it with grace and dignity, and with mountains of love. That is the gift I passed to my daughters, and I hope they will remember as they go through their trials and tribulations of life. They may have learnt something if I had been bopped in the head instead, but something tells me it wouldn't have been the same.
This is the time of year when life starts to slow down. Yes....the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, and getting ready for the holidays could be an Olympic sport in itself, but our mind has focused in; to family to being grateful, to peace and to love.....tis the season.
For some people the stress levels go up, though. There's the prospect of having so much to do and prepare prior to the holidays, or perhaps the impending arrival of family members. You have much anticipation, and hope for fun and stress free times. At the same time, sometimes just the jingle of a Christmas carol on the radio is enough to send you around the bend.
For cancer patients and survivours this time of year can be stressful as well. Five years ago I was a breast cancer patient who was in my third month of chemotherapy. I had three daughters between the ages of seven and thirteen years old. I was lucky. I had been running through my treatment, and was in good shape, considering the circumstances, and had enough energy. I had also decided to keep working full time. But with Christmas on the horizon, I had this self imposed additional burden to do what I had always done in the past. With the difficulty of my cancer diagnosis, surgeries and chemotherapy, I wanted the girls to experience normalcy. I wanted us to be like we were prior to the "c" word happening and disrupting our lives.
We did have a nice Christmas that year, but the years that have gone by since then.....along with the newfound wisdom as a cancer survivour have shed the light on a little secret. We don't have to do all that work. I'm sure my family would have been just as happy to stay home, be less busy, and receive fewer presents. I am also certain that all they really wanted was for me to be there....alive....with them.
So what did I learn? I learned that it was more important to spend the time with the people who count. I learned that it was just as important to take care of myself and spend some time in peaceful reflection during this season where work winds down, and we turn towards our loved ones. I learned that whatever stresses we have in our lives...including the struggle in the lives of cancer patients and survivours......should be pushed aside.
This is a time where we give thanks. For whomever you are, and whatever your circumstances of life, there is always something to be grateful for. And the surprising thing is that the more you are grateful, and give thanks, the more at peace your life will be. So take your worry hat off.....if only for awhile. Slow down and enjoy your holiday. Spend time with the ones who love and support you. Take in the awesome smells around you, and really taste the food you are offered. Meditate on your improving health and positive outlook. Walk your dogs. Feed your soul. This is just as much your time. Savour the magic.