Monday, 30 December 2013

How to have a fantastic Christmas with cancer


“...I decided that since last year's Christmas season kinda sucked, 
this year's will be fantastic!”
~ Facebook status, November 22 2013


I wrote that status for my Facebook profile on the morning that Mom went into hospital. Before we knew she needed surgery. Before we knew she needed further treatment. Before it was clear that Christmas might look and feel different this year.

Last year at Christmas time I was depressed and stressed out. I avoided the carols I used to love; I didn't decorate my own apartment; I rushed home from work rather than enjoying the lights on near-by houses; and the only cookies I indulged in were at my parents' house.

This year I had wanted to re-discover all those things and more!
But that was before cancer entered my family... Because how do you have a fantastic Christmas with cancer?

After the initial shock wore off, and Mom began to recover and gain strength after that first surgery, I decided cancer was not going to get me down this Christmas! This Christmas perhaps more than any other needed to be fantastic!

The secret I found? Surround yourself with the people and things you love.

I baked 5 different batches of cookies. I sang in my choir's Christmas concert. I played my Christmas CDs, and watched some of my favourite holiday movies. I toasted to holiday cheer and exchanged small meaningful gifts with some of my closest friends. I sang O Holy Night and Silent Night (in German!) for the Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in. I played with my nieces and nephews. I laughed, hugged, and cried with near-by family and friends; and texted and e-mailed with those at a distance. I took lots of pictures, and ate tremendous amounts of food... including too many cookies!

And for a few brief moments, I forgot about cancer and just had Christmas!

There are still lots of cookies left over and some turkey for sandwiches. The last bits of wrapping paper have been cleaned up. Younger Brother and his family are packing up to begin their drive home. I'll follow soon after. And life will resume as we begin to create a new normal for our family that includes cancer. There will be moments that are hard; moments that it is impossible to forget – if only for a second.

But I will always have the memory of this fantastic Christmas, surrounded by the things and people I love!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Second of Carefreeness

“You know what I miss most? Being carefree”

~ Katy A. (diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago)

I was having a hard time deciding what to write about this week. Already having posted 3 blogs about my Mom's recent health issues, I wished for a different, unrelated topic to distract me if only for a short time. But the truth is, it consumes much of my conscious thought and energy in one way or another.  

Because, when something like cancer comes into your life in a real way, it's interesting how much more you notice it around you. The number of related buzzfeed posts and articles that have been linked by friends on a Facebook newsfeed (one inspiring a friend to “selflessly” offer to be the photographer if I decided to gallivant around the world half-naked wearing a pink tutu!). The stories from survivors; from those who know someone who has or is currently fighting it; and from those who have lost someone to it. You hold on to the nuggets of hope, swallow the reality of the threat, and share emotions deeper then before you were connected the way you are now.

Today, I came across this video:

which, though about cancer, spoke to my wish for a different topic for this week's blog. The truth is, we all have those things that occupy much of our thought and energy; that we wish we could distract or escape from – if only for a second.

This is easier for some than others. It's easier for me, living at a distance, than for my Mom who lives with this new reality every single moment. But still, I believe it's important that we allow ourselves those moments. To escape into a space of gut-deep laughter; of future dreaming and planning; of connecting with friends, doing the things you used to do before; of forgetting – if only for a second

I do look for these moments – with my friends, watching a favourite TV show, playing my guitar. And I hope to be able to help my Mom and family find some during the upcoming holidays.

So in the spirit of finding a second of carefreeness, tell me: What do you do, either for yourself or others, to escape – if only for a second – from the thoughts and worries that threaten to consume you/us?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

In the Waiting Room

There were 17 of us between the ages of 1year and 81 years old crammed into the small waiting room during Mom's surgery 3 weeks ago. We cried, we laughed, we hugged, we ordered pizza for supper, we entertained the children and alternated between appreciation for their beautiful innocence which helped ease our own discomfort and a sense of how unfair it was that their Nana was in surgery.

And we waited.

A million things were running through my head. About how long I would stay at my parents after the surgery. And if I would be able to adjust my work schedule to return again soon. About whether or not I should move back, depending on what happened after the surgery. And if I really was strong enough to continue to pursue a career as a counsellor, supporting people through their life struggles while coping with my own Mom's illness. And of course the worst kind of “what ifs...”, the ones I don't even want to say out loud for fear they would become true.

Three hours later Surgeon came to tell us that all had gone well with this surgery. But then he started using other words. Scary words. Words I don't want to type out. Words that, though official confirmation was still needed, meant this really was only the beginning of a process requiring further treatment.

We cried and hugged some more, trying to process the vast amounts of developing information we had learned in a mere 2 days.

A young woman came into the room during this time and took a seat among us. I felt annoyed at this violation of our privacy. But quickly realized she must have a loved one in surgery. And this was the waiting room. Really, it was us who was invading her privacy. It was her turn to wait.

Dad was the first to formally acknowledge her presence, asking who was in surgery. Her Mom. We asked her name and invited her to join our prayer. Leave it to my family to reach out to someone else during our own time of crisis!

We asked if she had someone coming to wait with her. With her response of “later, after work” I immediately knew, if she would allow me to, I could not leave this woman alone to wait.

It was somewhat of a profound moment for me for a couple of reasons. One was a reminder of how blessed I and my family are to have each other. Not only the 17 of us in the room that day, but the countless members of our extended family and friends who have offered support in as many different ways. I cannot imagine sitting in that room alone, waiting. No one should ever have to.

The other was a realization that waiting with this woman, reaching out and offering support in that way was never a question in my mind. It is part of who I am and something I must continue to pursue, supporting people through their life struggles. It is in part what gives me strength and inspiration to face and cope with my own.

Since that night there are times when I feel like we haven't fully left the waiting room. We waited for test results that confirmed what Surgeon had told us. And now we wait for a treatment plan and treatment itself. During which time we will wait for results, for healing.

I often think back to that woman who walked into the waiting room on her own. I admire her strength. I really don't know if I would have been strong enough to do so. And I am glad that I don't have to find out.

Because we wait,

Thursday, 5 December 2013

When it's your Mom

I remember thinking it was weird that middle Brother was texting and calling me in the morning, since we don't connect that often and we had just texted the night before.
I sat bolt upright in bed when he said, “Aunt called...”, knowing immediately something was wrong.

Mom had been taken to the hospital.

That was a day I was thankful for text messaging! Keeping in touch all day with Brothers, updating with the little news we could.

I remember noticing and thinking small things: that my overnight toiletries bag was still mostly packed; that I'd already made plans to do laundry that day so had something to occupy my mind and would have clean clothes if I needed to travel; that I should try to switch that night's shift to work longer in case I needed to take a few days off.

All the while thinking, hoping it would be a short visit to the hospital; simple test with an easy diagnosis and quick fix. Home again by the time Dad returned from work at a distance. This became less likely as the day wore on.

And Dad wasn't home yet.

I wished I was close enough to relieve oldest Brother at the hospital when he needed to go to work for a few hours. It's times like this that it is difficult to live further away.

Because common is only common until it's your Mom. Routine is only routine until it's your Mom. 
Then your Mom becomes someone other than the rock you've turned to. She becomes the most important person in the world for an entirely different reason. 

It's times like this that I think maybe I should move closer.
It's times like this that I think what if I lived further away?
What if I had moved to England?
What if I had taken that job in BC?

What if... I moved home again?

Later that night oldest Brother shared the news that it would be a longer stay and more invasive fix. I literally shrank into a crouch when he said the doctor suggested it would be a good idea for me and younger Brother to come home. That though unexpected, there are risks with any surgery.

Common and routine then takes a turn. And in that moment, it feels like the whole world is changing. Because it is. Because it's your Mom.

In these moments the true nature of friends and support shines:
Manger at work was great, saying not to worry; to do what I needed to do.
Friend was amazing, I can't even describe how much her words meant: “Please keep in touch this weekend; I want to be the person you call and I'll take time away to talk to you when you need.” 
Amazing, because she had family visiting from out of town.

Because who do you call when the people you'd normally call are going through it with you.

Sitting with friends that night, after plans were made to go to the hospital and my parents' place in the morning, Philip Philips song Home came on. And I smiled – it's become my Peterborough song! The song that helped me realize I felt like standing still for awhile. In a place where I don't feel so alone.

But it also reminded me that Home is never far away, because it can be in many places and in one place all at the same time. Home is where there are people who care about you and who you care about. 

And when it's your Mom, that becomes all that is important! 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Patch of Blue

Driving home from work on Tues night in the first real snow-fall of the year, I couldn't help but notice how beautiful and simple it was.

This past weekend was a reminder of many things. Including: to enjoy the little things; to notice what matters most in life; to slow down and pay attention. And so I enjoyed the bright, white, innocent beauty of freshly fallen snow at midnight. And allowed myself to smile.

I'm still processing and will likely reflect more on the past weekend and the weeks to come, but wanted to share this brief bit at least today. A family member sent out a message of support about finding “a patch of blue” among the clouds that sometimes darken our lives. Tuesday's snow fall was one for me.

I hope you have found at least one this week too!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Solution-Focused Supposing

"Most people see what is, and never see what can be."
~ Albert Einstein
Suppose that change you wish to make has already been achieved.
How will you know? What would be different/better?
What will others notice?

Two weekends ago I attended a conference for the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Association (SFBTA). During the final discussion panel, the moderator extended some of the questions to all participants and encouraged us to share our answers with someone sitting near-by. Which highlights one of the things I noticed and appreciate about this model and the people who practice it – there is a sense of community surrounding it. A sharing not only of knowledge and research; but perhaps more importantly, of encouragement and support among like-minded colleagues who all have something to gain no matter the number of hours or years of training and experience.

The first question asked of us was:
How/where/when did you meet SFBT?”

I was surprised how many of those stories, my own included, began with a variation of “Actually, it was quite by accident...” Followed by a feeling of inspiration, and a noticed change in thinking and perspective not only in terms of the therapeutic process but of our own lives and attitudes as well.

I quite clearly remember the bubbling excitement in the core of my being as the potential of this perspective first became clear. The frustration in the challenge to disengage from “problem-focused talk” and move towards more positive, affirming, solution-focused talk*. And the light-bulb moment when I realized the switch had happened and I didn't have to work so hard to find the later. My new-found desire to bring a solution-focused perspective to all my conversations and interactions, not just the therapeutic ones.

A later question proposed the following to the larger group:
Suppose today is the beginning of something meaningful and worthwhile and precious.
How will you start to notice that a little bit of this new thing is happening?”

This type of question is quite characteristic of the SF approach*. It assumes change and success are not only possible, but may be close at hand. The answer begs a description of what would be different and, in some cases, what would be better.

My answer to this question while sitting among SF practitioners from around the world, was noticing a lasting twinge of the inspiration and motivation I was currently feeling overflowing inside me from the weekend's workshops and conversations. I would notice myself in the days and weeks to come crossing more things off my To Do list (ahem creating a to do list) and working more efficiently towards my career and personal goals.

So almost two weeks later, where am I now?

Truth: It is so much easier to hold on to the motivation and inspiration when surrounded by like-minded people, sharing encouragement and support, in a space outside of your every day experience. Once back to the daily grind, routine threatens to drown out inspiration's voice.

I have noticed the occasional twinge of the inspiration and items crossed off my To Do list, though it weakens with each passing day. So I write this blog with the hope of adding fuel to that spark again. A reminder to continue asking myself a few more “Suppose...” questions. And maybe even starting to think and act in some ways as if that suppose has already happened!

* The comments above about SFBT are basic descriptions. If you are interested in learning/talking more about this perspective please feel free to ask in the comment section below, or contact me directly!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Remembering my way, every day

...we must first THINK about these things; 
because inevitably, we become what we think and our world is a reflection of us.”

About a week before Remembrance Day I became engaged in a conversation about the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Buttons with someone who finds them offensive and disrespectful to the premise of Remembrance Day. I don't fully understand why people find it to be so; except that I can appreciate arguments that the White Poppy claiming “Peace” at it's green centre may have been a campaign better timed earlier or later in the year.

Yet I feel that the Peace Button still calls us to Remember – much like the original poppy – while affording Mennonites and other conscientious objectors an opportunity to participate in Remembrance Day in a way that they feel more comfortable with; that aligns more closely with their beliefs, their values, their reasons for remembering the sacrifices of the fallen and affected veterans and their families.

Truth: I don't always know exactly what to say to explain my pacifist stance, to defend this Mennonite value and belief that I have held on to while loosening my grip on some others. Except that I don't believe war and violence are the only way; nor even the best way to settle disputes. And I don't believe that war, violence, nor even force will lead us toward peace. I also don't have the solution that will. But I believe that if we as humanity put as much time, money, energy, and faith into discovering peaceful strategies for solving our domestic, national, and international disputes, as we put into non-peaceful strategies, that we just might find it.

Plaque at Canada's Peace Park in Cold Lake, Alberta


Peace and positivity can be powerful forces if we allow them to be; if we feed them with peaceful and positive energy.

Plaque at Canada's Peace Park in Cold Lake, Alberta

However I digress, because I also do not believe that Remembrance Day – nor the days surrounding it – are a time to debate whether war or one of it's alternatives are more effective avenues towards peace. I do not believe that Remembrance day – nor the days surrounding it – are a time to debate whether a red poppy, a white poppy, or a button are more appropriate or offensive ways to show our support and remembrance.

Remembrance Day for me is one day that serves as a reminder of all the sacrifices, mistakes and successes that have occurred because of war; because of violence; in the pursuit of peace. A one-day reminder of something we should be remembering every single day in our pursuit of peace.

I for one am grateful that I have the freedom to choose when to remember, how to remember, and why to remember.

Lest we forget.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

My Best Friend(s) – Part 2

I recently read that geese flying together in their characteristic V-formation can fly 70% farther than if they each flew on their own. 70% - that's hugely significant!

I know a lot of my writings over the past 8-months have been about loneliness, uncertainty, longing for love and confirmation. Perhaps it's because those are the spaces I've been honestly facing periodically throughout this year; and thus finding more inspiration there than in the fun and laughter. Perhaps it's in part because I feel like I've done a lot of work over the years in learning to know and love myself; in searching for and creating my own happiness and meaning; in enjoying time on my own – in learning to be my own best friend, like I wrote about last week – and now want to share that with others. Perhaps it's because there is still more work to be done; because there will always be more work to be done in those spaces and in learning to know and love myself.

But in last week's blog I left out two important lessons that I gained while on the journey to know and love myself. While learning to be my own best friend, I also learned to recognize the value of my relationships. And perhaps more importantly, I learned the need and benefit of allowing others to be my friend; to know and love me.

In that process I suppose it brought me to a place of recognizing that as much as I'm grateful to be my own best friend, I also want love and support in my life from other sources. 
Somewhere along the way I think I learned that it was wrong to go looking for something or someone else to contribute to the love and happiness in my life. So my friendships became short-lived or distant, my jobs and living spaces transient. And while I had a fun, met a lot of wonderful people, and had some pretty amazing experiences... I also continued to sometimes feel somewhat lost and like something was missing.

We are relational beings who typically thrive with close human connection. That will likely mean something different for different people. For me, I want other sources to contribute to the love, confirmation, happiness and sense of meaning in my life. Some I have had all along from my family; some I am building and creating through career aspirations and hobbies; some I am learning to accept through new and old friends; and yes, I even find myself desiring – hoping – for another experience of love in the romantic, intimate sense. I have begun to find and re-discover some of these things. And as a result, among the decreasing moments of loneliness, have had many more moments of laughter, fun, and love (it's finally about those moments)!

I still believe that learning to love yourself and creating your own happiness is important. But I also believe that connecting with others – finding multiple best friends – can be an important contributing factor to that. 
After all, love comes in all different shapes and sizes. And if together we can go 70% farther, well then I want that 70% more love!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

My Best Friend – Part 1

In the last 12 months I think I have had more moments of heart-wrenching, depressed, tear-filled, mind-numbing, desperate loneliness than ever before. Moments of burrowing under the covers and distracting with Netflix. Moments of starvation for lack of motivation to shop, cook, or talk to roommates in the kitchen; and because at least hunger was a different feeling. Moments of gorging on a bag of potato chips or brownies and ice cream because eating something was better than eating nothing. Moments of not reaching out to anyone because there wasn't really anything more to say. Moments of calling a friend who sat at the other end of the phone while I cried too hard to say anything anyway. Moments of desiring warm arms to wrap around me, with soft reassuring whispers in my ear. Moments of craving isolation to console myself the best way anyone could.

Amongst these I have also had many moments of laughter, fun, and love. But this isn't about those moments... at least not yet.

This is about learning to be my own best friend when I needed one most:

When I realized that, as much as I am an advocate for reaching out to others for support and talking through your feelings, I myself have a hard time doing so. Partly because I got used to being the one everyone came to and I didn't want to burden them with my stuff on top of their own. But I also realized that, likely due to past experiences, I have a difficult time trusting that my friends will be there in my time of need. So I suppressed a lot of my own stuff for awhile. Until I learned to be my own best friend. Writing out my feelings, fears, anxieties, and dreams in a journal or a song.

When one of my friends told me years ago that she thought it was a mistake to move away from most of my family and friends after some of those anxieties were fed and dreams shattered by the end of a relationship. But I knew that they would get over it long before my life felt normal again. And I couldn't be there to watch that happen; to wait until they had time and energy to sit through my rehashing of the story; to slowly pull away from the girl who struggled to smile and dream again. So I moved away, embracing new scenery and experiences, meeting new people. And learned to be my own best friend. Writing out my feelings, fears, anxieties and dreams in a journal or a song.

When - as a woman who has actually been, and enjoyed being, single and on my own more often than not - I didn't know what to do with the quiet desperation to be in a relationship that crept into the core of my being. Watching most of my friends find, thrive, and even fight through romantic relationships. Serving couples at the restaurant celebrating anniversaries or just date night, holding hands across the table. Knowing it's not all wine and roses, but wanting my turn to be served none-the-less. Yet, not wanting to be that girl, stifling the desire by escaping into my singleness. Re-discovering my enjoyment in being single, even when it's a struggle. Facing the question of who I was and who I wanted to be. All while learning to be my own best friend. Writing out my feelings, fears, anxieties and dreams in a journal or a blog.

The thing is, “ the end of the day I had to learn to be my own best friend...” can be a saddening thought. How lonely does it sound that “...there's going to be days where no-one is going to be there for me but myself”?

But it can also be an empowering message!

To be your own best friend means that you know yourself well – you know what you like and what you need. You know how to console and support yourself, and when to do so. You know what will make you cry and what will make you laugh, and when to indulge in either or both. To be your own best friend means that you are willing and able to sit with yourself through the hard times and to celebrate the good times.

To be your own best friend means that you love yourself.

Learning to be my own best friend has been - and continues to be - a difficult yet wonderful journey to know and love myself!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sometimes almost falling hurts too

It's not up to you how you fall. It's up to you how far you let yourself fall,
and how long it takes you to get back up and stand on your own two feet.
- Sr. Tac Jeffrey Mitchell  

With umbrella in one hand and 2 grocery bags in the other, I slipped on a small hill during my walk home. Arms flailed, spine contorted and jarred, face suspended in fear of the possible bruise and wet pants, but never actually landed on my ass, kind of slip. Jolted out of the swirling anxious thoughts that had been filling my head, I straightened myself. Smiled and tossed a “slippery when wet” joke at the passer-by who slowed enough to ask if I was okay. Fixed my turned-up umbrella. And continued on my way.

Ok Universe, I thought, you pulled me out of my own head and got my attention. What is it you want me to notice from this?

I know that I am someone who often over-thinks and over-analyzes. The thing is it can be all too easy to get caught up in your own head – be it with anxious thoughts, or day dreams. We miss or ignore the warning signs of the rain, the wet pavement, the inclined road; the instinctual hesitancy of our feet, our gut, our heart: all saying “Be careful. Go slow... Go, but go slow.”

So sometimes we fall. And the bruised bones hurt, the bruised ego hurts, even when there is a lesson to be learned and appreciated in the aftermath.

Sometimes though, we only almost fall. But that can hurt too, jarring the body, jarring the ego.

As I was jolted awake to the slippery ground beneath me and scrambled to find solid footing, survival became the only important thought.
As I steadied my breathing and smiled at a concerned stranger, relief flooded my head.
As I shook off the hurt and collected myself, confidence in strength and stability returned to my thinking.
As I continued on my journey and asked the Universe for the lesson to be learned and appreciated in the aftermath, I looked around at my present surroundings and realized that actually, despite the rain and a bruised ego, I was exactly where I wanted to be and I was doing alright.