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FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the more prominent and important Jewish Holidays, there is a call to action that is directly related to forgiveness. You are supposed to make amends with anyone you may have harmed and ask for forgiveness, face to face, eye to eye. If the person does not grant you forgiveness, there is a catchall that I love. You are supposed to ask two more times and if you are still not granted forgiveness, you are forgiven because if you sincerely mean what you ask, God apparently thinks that this is the point. Intention. Courage. Humility. Like all religion, there are various interpretations. These can be symbolic gestures too, maybe you need to forgive someone else and you just simply begin the process in your own heart without even having a conversation. Maybe the person you harmed or have been harmed by has passed away or the relationship is beyond a face to face — meditating, breathing, sending that person light and surrounding their aura with love may be the start of forgiveness. I look at the directive as an opportunity to pay attention and make a motion, even if it is just a baby step, to move towards love.

I have never been violently abused, I don’t know how the possibility of forgiveness is possible in these situations. I have never been harmed in such a way where forgiveness does not even seem like it is place to even walk towards. I cannot speak to this, but I do know that when I move towards forgiveness even if it is just in my mind, I am the person who feels better. It is not about the other person, it is about my own heart. Forgiveness is not meant to change the person on the receiving end, it is the person looking back in the mirror.

If I have hurt someone unintentionally, how is that I would even know to ask for forgiveness? This is where a kind meditation can be helpful. A deep breath surrounded by some conscious quiet saying to myself, I ask for forgiveness for any harm or hurt I may have caused to anyone intentionally or unintentionally. I open my heart to forgive and be forgiven and I ask for only goodness and love to move between us. Another one that is even easier is to say I FORGIVE YOU and see the person in your minds eye. If it is you that needs the forgiveness, I FORGIVE MYSELF. I have even read that it is helpful to look at yourself directly in the mirror and say, I FORGIVE YOU. And then really sit for a moment and feel the feeling, then do it again. I have tried this and it is powerful to notice the self talk that comes up by staring at yourself in a mirror contemplating.

Sometimes this small movement of consciousness and awareness can lead to an opening. Openings are good, much better than closures. Closures of the heart are anger and resentment and this eats away at your soul. No matter what the harm, soul eating is not good for my health, for sure. Resentment as it relates to health may as well be like eating Big Macs and French fries every day three times a day for life, a heart doctor’s worst nightmare. Stress from resentment has far reaching consequences on blood pressure, headaches, immune systems, and emotional weariness that does not induce well being.

What does FORGIVENESS have to do with GRATITUDE? I mean it is Thanksgiving, not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, not New Years where I make my list of goals that include action items for personal improvement. This isn’t an Alanon meeting day where I am on Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/en_step5.pdf)

This is not confession day at church behind a screen where a priest is listening to the Forgive me Father for I have sinned. In my opinion, gratitude goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Sometimes the first step of forgiveness is to simply train your mind to consider what you are thankful for. An interesting exercise is to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. After you have done this, think about something you are angry or resentful about and place it in your mind for just a moment. Notice how that thought makes you feel. Does your face get scrunched up, are you frowning, feeling revved up, heart racing? Now try to allow that thought to leave you, put it in a box and place it in a river and watch it float down and away. Then simply take a few breaths again, quiet your mind and think of a few things you are thankful for, grateful for. Shelter, your children, food on the table, your health, whatever comes to your heart. Hold those thoughts and notice the feelings in your body now. Relaxed, calmer, more peaceful? Do you realize that both feelings were choices you just made? Powerful.

I believe that gratitude is like exercise or learning how to play an instrument, you have to practice it daily or else you simply will not improve, and neither will your health and way you see the world. Gratitude can lead to forgiveness, but the first step is all about taking it. And it is free. This is the gem of gratitude and forgiveness. They are both free. You just have to show up.

Holidays are loaded with layers of stuff. Family dynamics, expectations, guilt, and these holidays can push buttons that trigger behavior in sometimes out of the blue surprising ways. Often not planned, not anticipated, but they can come at you with a force of strength and set you on a course that is anything but thank-full. But I have learned and really believe that behavior and my response to it is a choice I make. It takes two to make conflict. I have a choice to engage or disengage. I don’t have to read the email that is going to make me feel bad, I can just delete it. I don’t have to go on social media and allow myself to be exposed to discussions that don’t make me feel energized and happy. These are all choices that I make often. I want to feel good. This is a choice. Gratitude and Forgiveness make me feel good, great actually.

Today I am grateful for anyone who reads anything I write. Writing is my personal forgiveness and I am so thankful for its presence in my life. May your day be filled with the choice of kindness and humility so that your being is calmer and more peaceful as you make your way, “Over the river and thru the woods to grandmother’s house you go,” where sometimes the big bad wolf awaits, but you don’t have to be eaten by him.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you.


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WHEN IN DOUBT

WHEN IN DOUBT

Clean. Organize. Fold. Wash dishes. Put clothes away. Do the laundry. Clean the fridge. Reorganize a closet. Find some beautiful music (Pete Bradshaw on Pandora as of late). Turn off the tv. Weed a garden. Turn the phone to silent. Complete one task you have been meaning to get to. Distract yourself from yourself and all of that time to reflect. The solution to self- doubt and disarray is this for me. If and when I force myself to take that first step from immobility off the couch and propel myself into a task, a menial task that distracts my non-stop washing machine brain as of late then I reap the rewards when it is done. I light a candle, sit back on the couch and do what injects calm into my soul, I write, I read, I finish the Sunday times. I stop obsessing about the what ifs where I am never comfortable. In fact I so seldom go there that when I visit the island of What If, I do not enjoy the trip. It is foreign to me actually so I think that its unplanned destiny is magnified because it is unfamiliar territory. Kind of like female driving alone, getting lost at night with no phone service looking for a gas station. Get the point? I am usually the person who leans into change and movement with gusto and I can fix anything mentality. I know this to be true. I know these feelings are a normal part of recovery from two hours on the operating table and doped up with anesthesia, followed by narcotics and antibiotics followed by bruising and being tired. This is the perfect recipe for self doubt; though maybe self doubt isn’t the best word to describe, more like feelings of being really overwhelmed at the notion of what needs to be done. The lists never end. I fantasize about the day I can cease technology, cease social media, cease having to reinvent the way I do my business to keep up with the never changing methods of communicating my business. I am exhausted by myself on occasion and it is this feeling that makes me want to “stop the world I want to get off.” A phrase from a musical in 1961, way before Facebook and all of the other shenanigans became a part of our daily thinking of necessities. What world did they want to get off?

I have always worked best under the pressure of chaos, and when there is no chaos, which in fact should be a desire, I am lackluster. So the question is do I create the chaos by my own energy field? Or once I accomplish my infinite tasks, the settled and peaceful feeling is so foreign to me that I am unsure how to lean into it. Hmmm, let me think about this. Is this my cross to bear?

Taking a break from myself yesterday, my partner and I did a favorite Sunday afternoon date; we went to Eli’s for brunch in Warren, RI, then over to the Coffee Depot for a nice cup of tea and to finish the paper and finally a walk over to Second Story Theatre to see The Boys Next Door. http://2ndstorytheatre.com/show/boys-next-door/

I have seen this play before at Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence probably over twenty years ago. It is a joyful chaotic blend of laughing and crying and all of the emotion in between. I love local theatre, especially well done local theatre. I couldn’t believe there were seats available for this show. It is one that shouldn’t be missed (shameless plug here-tickets thurs-sats at 7:30 and my favorite Sundays at 2:30) and I sat there feeling calm and happy with my partner and more importantly so grateful. I think what happens when my head starts spinning in What If land, gratitude is my equalizer. Why do I forget this? Lack of movement amplifies these What If thoughts and has the ability to immobilize. The interesting piece of this is that I know it is happening, I know what I need to do to detour it, but it takes me too much effort to consider the way out. I am grateful that I know what to do and I most always figure out a way to take that step, but the before the step is painful. Ahh life coming at us. There are no guarantees that the flowers will bloom, but I do know that they usually do and this is enough.


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TWO DAYS UNTIL THE FINAL SURGERY

TWO DAYS UNTIL THE FINAL SURGERY

Fingers crossed, hands in prayer position, this Thursday it is almost six months already and I have my (hopefully) final surgery. Reconstruction consists of two parts. One part, the first part, is about the inserting of the tissue expanders so when you wake up from the mastectomy you get to look down and see breasts. Of all the surprises during this experience, this was the best part of the whole thing (besides not having cancer). It made the entire anxiety ridden wild ride a lot more fun for sure; I got to play boob dress up this past six months. Not everyone who has a double mastectomy has the tissue expanders put in out of the gate it turns out. Some women have the actual silicone put in right away. I think it has something to do with the fact that I had radiation at my first round and the skin needed to repair or something like that. I have stopped trying to learn every single detail because I trust my doctor so much and at this point I just want to get on with my surgery hence get on with my life and get used to the next phase of my upper body.

This summer when I speak of playing dress up, what I mean by this is that I had to get fills for the tissue expanders on an almost monthly basis and I had some input as to the size I wanted. This was actually pretty fun, the notion of playing Barbie adding more saline to see what a bigger badder ass tata would appear like. It turns out that 500 cc is actually too big as I quickly learned that over filled boobs struggle with my clothing size and there are some dresses I haven’t been able to wear because my boobs are too big. Not to mention my six foot partner and his very large hands barely fit over them. (Luxury problems indeed)

All of this as a matter of fact is what I would consider luxury problems at this point in my young life. I don’t have cancer, I don’t have my real breasts, my ovaries or my fallopian tubes either, but three surgeries later and I don’t have cancer so this whole shindig has been a welcome alternative and I am grateful. When I say I have my final surgery this Thursday, what happens next is that the Doctor does a small insertion on the scar I already have and pops out the hard baseball like tissue expanders and replaces them with a smaller 450 cc silicone implant. These are squishier and more realistic then the Barbie looking and feeling ones that presently reside in my upper body. When I say hopefully final surgery, it seems that many women have to go back in for some tweaking, maybe the size isn’t right or maybe the new silicone doesn’t settle properly and the mismatch isn’t right or God knows what else can go south. I am sure there are stories after stories of implants gone bad. I made the fatal mistake of reading a Medium story about some explosion that happened to a young mother on a plane. Holy hell. Like bad baby delivery experiences, I am so glad that when I was pregnant, social media didn’t exist with all of the horror stories out there for my inquisitive eyes to see. But the stories of breast reconstruction gone bad are everywhere if you make the fatal mistake of asking the question. I didn’t make that mistake and I won’t. I don’t have cancer and this is the only part of this party I am concerned about. I don’t really care anymore if my boobs are even (they are right now) or if my cleavage is natural looking (it is not right now) or my nipples match (they don’t). Dr. Hottie cares and this is his job, it is his art project and I have surrendered to his capable and artistic hands. At this point after “surviving” this bizarre experience, I am all too happy to move on with the final stage of this whole miraculous procedure just so I can have the female shape I think I still want.

Watching handicapped women and men protesting at a hearing yesterday at the Capital, a woman with no arms and no legs in a wheelchair who made it to Washington DC to protest the healthcare repeal and replace vote- I will not complain. These are boobs for Christ’s sake. I have health insurance that pays for this entire surgery. This is not life or death and it is cosmetic at the end of the day.

Dr. Hottie will take fat from another part of my body and use it as a sculpting tool to fill in gaps etc to make these boobs look more like they are the real deal. I can’t wait for this to be over. It is all so silly compared to all of the mayhem going on in our wild and wacky world at this point.

What I can’t believe is that is has been six months. A half of a year already. I start again with the six month check ups to try to get to the desired five year mark that all cancer patients want to get to. That five year mark somehow signifies that you are cancer free for real. I don’t know about that. I think that this circumstance continues to remind me to live in the glorious present. The alternative to living in the present is to obsess about something completely out of my control, the future. I have learned and am still learning that this is where I need to live or else I have the ability become obsessed with worry and fear. This is surely not helpful for healing. My lifelong personal work is living in the present; I know this for sure. I am the happiest when I reside here. This is the lesson from this last round and from the many women I have had the privilege of meeting who have had much more serious life issues coming at them then I have. In these times of our lives and maybe it is just my age now coupled with cancer and genetic testing outcome, I don’t mean to say cliché, but the present is where it is at, it’s all we got so again onward to this moment.

Hallelujah.



the moment in the sun, the memory to take more naps and the last glorious beach day I got to enjoy because I said yes yesterday.
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THE SPEED OF LIGHT

THE SPEED OF LIGHT

After my last and final fill last week, four weeks before the fifth month, I am in awe of how much time has flown by. This time machine speed of light is accentuated by bringing my son to college again but this time for his sophomore year. The ease of the drop off as he did most of the packing and reminding himself this time around of what to bring. Less reminding from his parents, less nagging from his mother, less stuff overall. TV, Fridge, microwave, and sneaking cans of Bud light left over from this summer into his college fridge along with the killer wardrobe I bought for him yesterday at Banana Republic after a nice brunch at Elis’ in Warren, RI about summed up his combination of inventory for his college move in. This year his room is on the second floor and he has a good size room sharing only with one other roommate as opposed to three in a room. A bigger space with more breathing room and a new roommate he gets to connect with as I watch my son turn into a man overnight it seems. My son is smart and kind and I love watching this part of parenting, Dave and I are lucky to get to enjoy this part of our lives, it is something we only imagined just nineteen short years ago when it seemed like even kindergarten would never come. And just like that, here we are, entering the end of the first half of his first half of college. More relaxed, calmer, less nervous, more confident, a joy to watch.

I have to say that there are these timestamps in parenting that give me great pause. Without sounding morose, the way a funeral allows one to reflect and appreciate more of the present time despite the very dark feelings of grief and sadness, there are moments in time when your child is growing so fast you can barely take a breath and some of the peppery spice you can’t do anything but notice falls into your life by these times. So many firsts. First days of kindergarten, and listening to him chant from the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah, watching his face on our first travel outside the country, buying a coveted video game for him to help him get over his adolescent first broken heart, having to tell him that his parents were divorcing and watching his eyes fill with tears, starting his freshman year of high school and watching him get the only home run for his first season on the freshman baseball team. Watching him get cut his junior year of the same high school and find himself in having to step away from the only sport he ever played. Visiting colleges in the south and coming to the realization that RI wasn’t such a bad place to stay put in for his college years. High school graduation and my mother not attending because she was mad at me (again). Then there was the telling him that I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time and then the second time. These are only the major periods, there are so many commas between these stories and they are recorded through the endless streams of photos locked away in my icloud settings waiting for the day that I make the time to sift through them and make all of those photo albums I intend.

Where does the time go becomes a permanent question I ask daily as I contemplate my upcoming final surgery and life seems so shortened because of all of this. Learning about the BRCA 2 genetic mutation that like a bad sci fi movie has infiltrated my family line like an evil colony takeover and trying not to overworry when I learn that my Doctor wants my son to be tested. Then the final period in the story of genetics learning that my son in fact is also now part of the lineup making him the fifth known generation on my grandmother’s side to have this frustrating mishap in his genes. What the fuck. Grandmother Isabelle, breast cancer in 1957, Great grandfather, Murray, (her dad, my great grandfather) “stomach” cancer in 1959 taking his life way too young, my brother carcinoma of the lung in 1995 taking his life way way too young, my father, esophagus cancer in 2011 taking his life, his sister, my aunt, getting uterine cancer around the same time about 60, luckily she is a warrior and is still fighting the fight because she was a healthy chick going in. Then me in 2015 at 50 getting breast cancer and all of us finding out that the link is that fucking gene. Finding out that my son shares this is almost a surreal experience as I ponder the ways of the world and the life coming at me I seem to always be on the receiving end. Then I consider the comparisons of places like Houston and even worse the crazy exodus of yet another group of people whose religious beliefs don’t jive with another in Bangladesh and I realize how lucky I am.

Isn’t that crazy resilience? I am past wallowing and commiserating because the reality is that I love my life and I love my son’s life so I take this latest with the grain of salt it is and try not turn it into a pile. I just try to remember that these darts flying towards all of us are a good reminder to stop and smell the proverbial roses way more often than I already do. And believe me when I say I smell the roses way more than most. I embrace the roses, I bathe in their delicious fragrance and I never take them for granted because before you know it the season is over and you are wishing for one more smell of them and the smell is only a faint memory in reflection. I am grateful I take the time to bend down when I see one and inhale. This is life in its pure powerful joyful present.

Warrior indeed.



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BOOBS AT THE BEACH

BOOBS AT THE BEACH

The thing about reconstruction surgery after a double mastectomy is the lack of feeling in your upper body. What’s interesting about reflecting on this part of my daily non feeling is how worried I was about this presurgery. Now that I live with it as a part of me though, it really isn’t that bad after all.

When I was at the beach this past weekend after a few week absence from my otherwise regular beach going, the ramifications of the lack of feeling became more apparent. It was a hot perfect beach day. Barely a cloud, barely humidity, just clear delicious New England sun and air. The water matched its perfection. Crisp enough to cool you off from the heat, but not cold enough to take your breath away. I took about seven dips to cool off from the heat and it brightened my soul each and every time I plunged in. A deep dive into the Atlantic is like no other, though my Danish friend, Ken would likely disagree as the very breath taking water off the coast of Denmark makes the Atlantic seem like the Mediterranean, but I am talking USA here. I dive in for my first dip of the day and as I stood up looked down (thank God) to see that my bathing suit top had plunged south leaving most of my new breasts exposed for the people at the shore to see. There is simply no sensation that the front upper half of my body is clothed or not clothed. This definitely adds a new layer of awareness as I need to constantly check in with my top half ensuring I am not fully frontal.

I am actually not horrified by this at all. My only concern is (no pun intended) full disclosure here that these bad girls I now sport that make their way out and available for the eyes that happened to be my way were forced on me because of cancer and not chosen because of vanity. And as I write that, who gives a flying fuck if I chose them or they chose me and why do I even for a moment care what anyone else thinks about my luscious upper half? I don’t know. I guess that is the organic hippy side of me, the human chick side I’m still working on. Mostly I don’t care, but sometimes I do and there it is.

Lying on my front after four months is still not super comfortable. Not sure of ever will be again, but like all of my projections and worries, it probably will be fine. You may think that because I don’t have any feeling, it would be a breeze. The rock hard super expanded tissue expanders that still reside in place of the more flexible silicone implants soon to exchange places have no give. So it still feels like rock hard bowling balls on my front and lying on them creates an odd sense of pressure that isn’t a feeling of pain, but is more a feeling of discomfort. If I am slightly propped up on my elbows and have a blanket of some sort snugly placed underneath, I can manage to read a book for at least a half hour. This is way more than I ever imagined even last month by this time so I will take the thirty minutes because there is nothing like a great book on your front side, bright hot sun warming our backside on a beautiful beach day. The first round of “we caught it early” breast cancer two summers ago, I couldn’t sit out in the sun because I was getting radiated for most of the summer. I needed an umbrella and lots of sunscreen. This summer is total freedom, how ironic. Ahh the trials and tribulations of beach going with new hopefully cancer free forever ta-tas.

I often wonder if the radiation did more harm than good, but as my almost 100 year old grandfather would say, “Be that as it may, it is what it is.” There are no regrets of my first decision to go the route of lumpectomies and ovary and fallopian tube prophylactic (aka preventative) removal. I think that it was a great decision for me and this is the thing about decisions, they are ultimately yours. I had the luxury of making them from the “we caught it early” rooftop, some people are not that lucky. Some people are in the dire place of deciding to continue treatment or not because the cancer has spread so much. These life decisions become relative to the bigger picture of cancer and my own experience. As my last few weeks of over scheduling myself have created feelings of being overwhelmed, I am reminded of how quickly things can change in our lives. As I adjust to my new schedule of working more out front of my wonderful business of beauty, I need to remind myself of this. I need to remember how quickly life can change and attempt to surround myself with only the tasks and lists that give me pleasure. I live the life I live because of the conscious choices I have made to live it and it is easy to go astray to the bullshit that sucks energy from me. This is when I realize I need to get out in the garden, pull some weeds, call my grandfather and be thankful for this moment. This is what the beach does for me and even though I can’t be there with the fervor and frequency of my previous work schedule, when I am there, I am reminded of the deep gratitude I have for my life.

Today my mission is to stay in the present, follow my lists so I can complete the tasks that need to be done before the weekend and to try to, in each moment, feel thankful for the privilege of being alive and healthy.

This is joy.

AMEN!