Happy Cancerversary!

Cancerversary is a ‘milestone defined by you’ according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship #cancerversary.  That’s what June 22 is when I celebrate my survivorship from triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed in 2000. While my situation was cancer, your life-changing event may have been divorce, sobriety, or some other thing that irrevocably altered your life. Each of us has a unique journey and I hope that you can look back on the twists and turns in yours as I share those from mine.

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 I consider the eighteen years since my diagnosis and think about the path my life has taken.  I remember that as we approached 2000, there was a lot of Y2K hype that was focused on computer issues, and by some, was generalized to other areas. But as my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, later said, for our family it lived up to the hype.  In January of that year, my father-in-law, who’d already been homebound on a ventilator for almost ten years, was diagnosed with cancer that originated in his lungs and had spread to his bones. He died on March 28thon his 71stbirthday. Then on June 22cnd, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was followed by eight months of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation– lasting through the rest of 2000 to the end of February 2001.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast for writers that asked what your goals are for the next decade. Back in 2000, I wasn’t looking ahead to the next decade, but rather trying to get to the one-year mark, the two-year mark, and especially the five-year mark that was the big milestone with my subtype of breast cancer. Now, when I think of the decade that followed my diagnosis, it’s interesting that the story of those years is told in my memoir. At this eighteen year cancerversary, I’m preparing it for my editor.

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Our family when I’d just finished treatment and still had short hair

Those ten years include walking that cancer treatment path while navigating the toxic job at The Research Company. Ultimately, that included being fired from my job and the accompanying shame and anger that goes with it. God’s grace was evident as I took the steps to return to working as a school nurse at McDougle Middle. There I developed friendships that I continue to enjoy to this day. I was able to use my gifts and experiences from working as a psychiatric nurse to help students struggling with mental health issues. That trail led me to becoming a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid that resulted in being a co-leader with Cindy. She told me about a part-time job as a research nurse with UNC Outpatient Psychiatry– just enough work for my post-retirement from the schools last March.

That decade included going through the mid-life challenges of raising children, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with dementia, and trying to find my life when my nest emptied. Part of what I found was the extraordinary of taking yearly solo journeys, that became spiritual pilgrimages. In those ten years, I took seven journeys that included places like Jekyll Island, Georgia and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Accounts of all those journeys woven into my everyday life are all contained in my memoir, that I didn’t know I would write when I was diagnosed that June 22, 2000.

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First journey to Sedona became a template for 13 more

Beyond that decade, I’ve had eight more years that have continued to open up the world to me while pulling me into what is essential. My life has followed the course that is unique for me, as I continued with seven more journeys and entered my ‘senior years’ and now I’ve added the joy of being a grandmother.  How rich my life has been, how grateful I feel for God’s blessings and the way they have shown up through the people and places in my path.

I remember when I was reeling in the shock of my diagnosis, sitting in the waiting room for my appointment with the surgeon just days after the radiologist looked at that mammography film. Restless with anxiety, I listened as a woman talked to the receptionist.

“Yeah, it’s been eight years now since my surgery,” the woman told the receptionist.

“That’s great,” she responded. “You’re doing so well.”

She’s lived for eight years, I thought, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just by overhearing that conversation I felt hope, the first time I ever heard about someone’s cancerversaryand didn’t even know there was such a thing.

My hope for you this day, is that something that I’ve shared will bring you a wave of relief. I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I hope that you can look ahead, to what you want for the next decade– or the next year, or two years, or five years.

Your road will be unique– the way that is right for you. My prayer is that God will bless you as you take each step forward. As I say on Twitter #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back.

If your challenge is cancer, I invite you to read my recent invited post on the SHARE site entitled 5 Tips for Getting Through Cancer https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2018/06/breast-cancer-stories/

Blessings to you!

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How About You?

What is your _______versary? What was that pivotal event in your life?

How do you look back on the time since that event and the path your life has followed?

How can you celebrate your _________versary?

 

 

A Father’s Care

I’ve thought a lot about a father’s care over the past six weeks as I’ve watched my son, Brooks become a father. You can see the joy, the weight, the responsibility, the wonder of his new role as he tenderly cares for his baby boy. From the time Brooks knew they were going to be parents, I listened to how he considered decisions in light of what would be best for his family, what a child would need– a father’s protection and provision coming forth from within.

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My son caring for his son

My son learned about being a father from his Dad, my husband, David always a rock of support for his sons.  David didn’t run away from infant care, or terrible twos, or late-night fevers, or problems with getting the boys to complete their homework. He worked hard to provide for all of us so that we could have a good life.  And David had seen that same behavior in his father– hard working to support his wife and three sons.

Likewise, I saw how my Daddy cared for Mama and we three daughters.  He worked long hours on our farm and in other jobs to provide for us. He was the best to bring special treats like ice cream when we were sick and to complement us in our Easter outfits, when we played the piano, or baked him his favorite cake. I was devastated when we lost him to a heart attack when he was just 57. I was 22 and suddenly without the care of my father.

David and I married just eight months after my father died. I was grateful to David’s father, ‘DB’ for welcoming me as a daughter– one he’d never had. For the next 22 years, we were close and I depended on his fatherly support. I really missed that when 3 months after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and could have benefitted from his concern, knowing I had a father watching out for me. I certainly trusted in God my Father during that time, but it would have been nice to have that from an earthly father. I missed the practical way DB had of showing his love, his signature parting instruction to his sons to “check your oil,” the way he said I’m thinking about your safety on the road, without saying it directly. A father’s care that’s a tangible love with an extra twenty dollars pressed into your hand or groceries loaded into the back of your car.

I appreciate what feels like fatherly care– even when it hasn’t come from Daddy or DB. I’ve received that type of support from people in my path on my solo journeys. One of those experiences came the first time I camped.

In July of 2015, I took my first trip by train.  I boarded the Amtrak in Durham and rode to Penn Station in New York, stayed over the weekend with my son, Ross, then continued on to White River Junction, Vermont. There I stayed in a hostel room located in Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel. After a couple of nights, I rented a car and drove to the western side of Vermont to camp at Button Bay State Park on Lake Champlain. I’d stayed in a state park cabin before and hoped I could do that in Vermont.  But they only had a cabin available for one night.  If I wanted to stay for three as I’d planned, the second two nights would be in a lean-to.

I was a bit skeptical, never having camped in a lean-to and wondering how I’d be able to take enough gear– since I would only have my backpack and a small suitcase. Around the time I was planning my trip, I met a woman from that area and she assured me I’d be fine without a tent.

The State Park was on a beautiful point of land overlooking the lake.  If you walked down the road to the west you could see the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the distance.

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Button Bay State Park, Vermont

The first night when I stayed in the cabin, there was a  family from Massachusetts at the site next to mine.  They appeared to have a well-established camp site with tents like satellites around their cabin, bikes for the children, and a table for their Coleman stove and cooking supplies.

They watched from their campfire as I unloaded my backpack, suitcase, bedding, and bag of Vermont cheese and apples. Later, they came over and spoke, seeming curious that I was a woman traveling alone.  I told them how I’d made my reservations too late to get the cabin but for one night. They’d been coming for a week every summer since the father was a boy, maybe around forty years. The mother asked me where I would spend the other nights. I told her I’d move to the lean-to sites.

“You gotta tent?” the man asked me.

“No. Just bedding and a floor cushion. A woman I met from near here camps and said that should be adequate,” I said, trying to sound confident.

He looked at me, like he was studying my response, then said, “Those mosquitoes will eat you up. I’ve got one you can use.”

He went to the back of his van and pulled out the tent that he said he’d had since he was nine.  I thanked him and told him I’d return it the morning I left.

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My Lean-To with the stranger’s tent

I managed to rig the tent inside the lean-to using rocks to prop up the poles since I couldn’t anchor them with stakes in the ground.  I just did manage to crawl in and zip up the tent without everything collapsing in on me.  I heard a couple of mosquitoes buzzing and got them out before I fell to sleep reading by flashlight and listening to the groups nearby talking or singing around their campfires. It felt familiar to be camping again after all the years our sons had been in Boy Scouts.

The next morning when I went to the bathhouse, the counter was dotted with what looked to be hundreds of tiny mosquitoes.  I shook my head in amazement.  He was right, I thought, and was thankful for the stranger in my path. He’d made my stay at Button Bay pleasant and had reminded me of how wonderful it is to receive fatherly care.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain

https://www.vtstateparks.com/buttonbay.html

How About You?

What are the special memories you have of your father’s care?

What other people have provided that for you?  How have you provided that type of support to others?

 

Sad Stories along the Road

Not all the stories of the people in my path are humorous or entertaining; there are some that are heavy, racked with pain that is real and truly part of our human experience.  Over the last few days we’ve been alarmed and saddened by the tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and the knowledge that there were other suicides by lesser known people– all leaving a trail of unfathomable grief.

As a nurse working in mental health for fifteen years and school health for twenty, I’ve seen the devastation of death by one’s own hand. I was a trainer for Youth Mental Health First Aid because I wanted to help teachers, educational staff, and others in the community watch for those who showed signs of depression, signs they may be considering suicide.  In the sadness of these recent deaths, we’re reminded of the expanding need for mental health services in our pressure-filled society, and the importance of reaching out to one another in the truth about our struggles, instead of presenting that perfect social media picture of everything being okay.

Hopefully we realize the importance of being present to each person, staying in the moment and being able to stand with them in their pain.  I’m reminded of a chance meeting with a woman in my path during my solo journey back in April of 2013.

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

 I was spending a few days exploring Colorado Springs before the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference.  After a very scary, and ‘sickening’ trip up Pike’s Peak on the Cog Railway, I spent the next two days in bed with altitude sickness. Thankfully, I’d stayed in a Bed & Breakfast where the staff came to check on me.  The woman who owned the guesthouse, brought me medicine her son took when he visited, since he always had problems with the altitude. My last evening there, I heard a knock at the door.  I was just able to crawl out of bed, put on my robe, and open the door to one of the staff.  She handed me my bedtime chocolate and an extra towel.

“I hear you’ve been having some trouble with the altitude,” she said.  “When I moved here from Kansas, it took me almost 6 months to adjust.”

“Yeah, I thought I would be okay.  I’ve been in Colorado for days, even went up into Rocky Mountain National Park last weekend.  When the cog train reached 11,500 feet, that’s when I lost it, literally!”

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Inside the cog rail train going up Pike’s Peak

She asked me where I was from, calculating how much I was having to adapt.

“So you’re used to being in North Carolina.  You’d better get back to sea level!” she said and chuckled. “It’s beautiful in the South. I used to have a son that lived in Charleston.  Went there when he was nineteen.”

I was startled by her response.

“What do you mean by ‘used’ to have a son?” I asked.

“He moved across the country, trying to get his life together. We thought he was doing better,” she said, her face changing from the dark cloud that moved in. “But then we got the news that he took an overdose and killed himself.”

We stood there, her in the hall, me in the doorway, trying to take in her sad story.

“It’s been so hard. He was my stepson and I loved him,” she continued. “It’s killing my husband. I don’t think he’ll ever get over losing his boy.”

I told her I was the mother of two sons, and that I was so sorry for their loss. I couldn’t imagine the depth of that pain.

“Suicide is the hardest death, I think.  Such a senseless loss and leaves people behind with so many questions,” I said, wanting to support her, but like everyone, not quite sure what to say.

“Yeah, we knew he had problems. But we never thought he’d do that,” she continued. “It was like a horrible nightmare to go there afterwards for his belongings.”

We talked for a while longer, and eventually she led us back to the present, asking me about the remainder of my trip, interested in my writing conference. Our conversation ended with her wishing me to feel better and me telling her to take care of herself and her husband as they found the strength they needed.

Maybe I’d provided at least a moment of comfort for the grieving woman. She had ministered to me in my physical illness, providing cheer with her unexpected presence after I’d been so isolated. I hope she’d felt some relief to share her story since many times those dealing with a family member’s suicide may keep it to themselves.

My hope for the woman at my door as well as others who are either feeling sad in themselves or from the suicide of a loved one, is that they will get the professional help that’s needed to go beyond the sadness to a place of hope.  May we all support each other, being honest about how we struggle and finding comfort and strength to move forward hand-in-hand down the road that is life.

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Welcoming Guesthouse

 How about You?

(For this post, the Reflective Questions seem to be more personal. At this time, I am no longer a Mental Health Professional and therefore I’m not able to respond to comments that are of a clinical nature.  However, I do encourage my readers to consider these questions and take the needed action to get help for themselves or others.)

Have you ever experienced depression yourself or in someone else?  How were you able to express your feelings to someone else or to listen while they shared with you?

How can you be more honest with others about the things you struggle with?  What type of professional, family/friend, and/or community support might help?

RESOURCES:

National Suicide Hotline. (800) 273-8255

Website with information on depression and suicide prevention–

https://www.samhsa.gov/suicide-prevention

 

 

 

Daily Bread at Tibbett’s Point

It was June and I was celebrating being a 10-year Breast Cancer Survivor, a decade since I’d heard the words, “You have cancer.”  I wanted to take my summer journey to a special place, the seventh solo trip that had turned into yearly pilgrimages.  Thumbing through a resource book for hostels in the U.S., I found the perfect place, described as a location with the most beautiful sunsets: Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel. Located in Cape Vincent, New York, where the St. Lawrence River flowed into Lake Ontario, the hostel was in the former lighthouse keeper’s house.

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Looking at the map, when I drove from the Buffalo airport to Cape Vincent, I’d travel through the Genesee Valley, an area I’d first learned of through the writings of Henry Nouwen. He was a Catholic theologian and I liked his down-to-earth-way of writing about faith.  He’d stayed at the Abbey at Genesee, living and learning with the monks and wrote about it in the book, The Diary of Genesee.  I decided to take a side-trip off the NY Thruway and go to that same abbey– pick up a copy of the book and loaves of Monk’s Bread to take as a ‘pilgrim’s gift’ to the hostel.

The evening I arrived, I was amazed at my first glimpse of the sun setting over the St. Lawrence River, an orange orb sliding down the back side of the dark blue sky.  People were sitting in Adirondack chairs near the lighthouse, facing west and witnessing together the closing of another day.  I knocked on the office door and was greeted by Bea, the 83-year-old woman who was filling in for the current manager.

After she showed me around, Bea invited me to join her and two other women along with two college-age guests at the kitchen table.  The conversation flowed easily, with folks telling about experiences in different hostels– all solo travelers.

“This is what I love about hostels,” Bea said.  “Everyone sitting around the table like this, sharing all their adventures.”

Later, the two college-age guests left and Bea, Ruth– who was also in her eighties, and Coleen, sixty-three, who was Bea’s friend from down the road, continued talking, including me in their familiar conversation.  I unpacked my food, including the two loaves of Monk’s Bread.

“Here’s something I brought to share with everyone,” I said, and placed the loaves on the table.

Coleen pulled one over and read the ingredients.

“I love cinnamon bread. I don’t often buy it because it’s expensive and I live on a retiree’s income,” she said. “Think I’ll try some now.” She took a slice, bit into it, and smiled.

For the next five days, I made my home at the hostel.  At breakfast and dinner, I enjoyed getting to know Bea, Ruth, and Coleen.  I came to think of them as the ‘Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point’ as their personalities reminded me of the other Golden Girls on the old t.v. sitcom.

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(L to R) Bea, Coleen, Ruth, Me

During the day, I explored the area– writing in a Cape Vincent coffee shop, trekking over to Kingston, Canada, and taking a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. One evening when I returned from observing the sunset, Coleen and Ruth were sitting at the table. Bea was measuring flour into a bowl.

“Come join us, Connie,” Ruth said.  “We’re watching Bea work.”

“I’m making cookies with my Grandmother’s recipe,” Bea explained. “She never wasted anything.”

“You won’t believe how good they are,” Coleen said, “even with chicken fat.”

Chicken fat?” I asked, thinking I must have misheard.

Coleen smiled, “They really are good.”

We waited around the table, while Bea added sugar and a lot of pumpkin pie spice.  After a thorough mixing, she spooned the dough onto the cookie sheet. Waiting for them to bake, we talked about all we’d done that day and their company felt so familiar to me, like being at my aunt’s table. Ruth put the kettle on for tea.

While the cookies were still warm, Bea placed them on a plate and passed them to me.  The three women waited for my response.

The sweet, cinnamon-based, fall-flavored taste had no hint of chicken fat, that had been completely covered by the spice.

“You’re right. They are good,” I responded, feeling that sweet satisfaction of the warm carbohydrate treats, like what Bea had known from her Grandmother’s cookie jar.

Bea and the other Golden Girls of Tibbett’s Point smiled and reached for their cookies.

Of all the places I’d stayed over the decade, I’d had more satisfying meals at that hostel table.  Whether it was eating breakfast with toast made from the Monk’s bread or evening cookies made with chicken fat, sharing food and friendship had been the heart of that kitchen.

Tibbett’s Point had been a great place to celebrate my 10th anniversary as a survivor.  How sweet it was to think of all the memories of special times I’d experienced since that day when my world was turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.

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How about you?

 What milestone in your life deserves a special celebration?

How would you like to celebrate?

 

If It Feels Wrong

When we were children, many of us heard our parents say, “If it feels wrong, don’t do it.”  That was a way to help us judge right from wrong, that internal compass that kept us on the proper course.  Probably those first deciding points were about how we were treating our siblings– at least it was for me.  If I didn’t want to share my candy bar with one of my sisters, then the assumption was ‘being selfish’ would feel wrong and I would give them a piece of my Baby Ruth.  When I was in elementary school and my circle expanded, it applied to telling my piano teacher the truth.  When she’d ask how much  I’d practiced, then my parents assumed that ‘stretching the truth’ would not feel right. Surely, I’d tell Mrs. Godfrey how little I’d practiced, playing outside instead of sitting at our piano.

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Over the years, I’ve found that the feeling of ‘wrong’ is sometimes hard to discern.  What my parents were referring to has gotten mixed in with those uncertain feelings produced by anxiety when I try something new. I’m not talking about something new that would hurt someone, but just behavior to move in a new and challenging direction in my life.  While I can mentally evaluate a new venture and see its components rationally, the emotions and the accompanying physical feelings are harder to navigate, especially when I don’t have the advantage of watching someone else go before me.

Sometimes what is unfamiliar can feel wrong because it makes me uncomfortable, raising my anxiety that something bad could happen– so that it feels like getting in trouble as a child for doing something wrong.

Years ago, I took my summer pilgrimage to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.  I’d decided before that trip to hike Mt. Constitution because at its summit you are at the highest point in Puget Sound.  I wanted to experience the view from there.

While I’d read about the park and understood from their website there would be trail maps, when I arrived, that wasn’t the case.  Nor was there a park ranger station with staff to ask about the 2.2-mile hike to the top.  I had one bottle of water and was not prepared with proper hiking gear.  I was also on a very tight schedule because of having to rely on the island bus and ferry system.  I felt uneasy with no map of the trail, no one knowing where I was, and my cell phone probably useless in those remote woods.

I walked a short distance up the trail and stopped to ponder what to do.  I was flooded with emotions– fear that something could happen like spraining my ankle with no one to help or getting lost because there weren’t many blaze markers to guide my way.  The decision had to be made quickly in order to hike to the summit and back in time for the last ferry.

If I went with that lingering guideline, “If it feels wrong, don’t do it,” then I would have returned to the safety of the hostel at Friday Harbor.  I had no idea how hard the hike would be for me since it was rated as ‘difficult’ given the incline. I knew the chances of me returning were slim, and if I walked away, I would probably never see that sight of Puget Sound.

I decided to go forward in spite of feeling scared and uncertain– two emotions that definitely didn’t feel right.  After almost an hour of hiking through the ginormous Douglas fir trees, and areas that looked like a fairytale forest with fallen trees blanketed in moss, I passed other hikers who reassured me.

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Wildflowers along the Mt. Constitution Trail

I made it to the top, climbed up on the overlook tower, and couldn’t believe the expansive scene below with the little islands dotting the sound and snow-capped Mt. Baker.  Thank God I made it to this magnificent place, I thought, and felt rewarded for taking a risk.

Sometimes doing something that’s unfamiliar that creates anxiety, doesn’t pay off like that hike.  But from where I stand now, I’m glad that I’m beginning to distinguish between what feels wrong as gauged by my moral compass versus the discomfort of stepping out into the unknown.  If I’d continued to confuse those feelings, I may never have taken the risks of going on yearly pilgrimages, that unknown that is now familiar.

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How about you?

In what ways have you confused a feeling that’s new for you with one that you may have been warned about?

How would pushing beyond that uncertainty benefit your life?

Happy 100th

This is the 100th post since I started my blog with WordPress almost a year ago. When I published the first entry on May 31, 2017, I wasn’t looking ahead at the hours of work involved when I made the commitment to posting twice a week. I had no clue how much effort it would take to create each entry and find the accompanying images– didn’t figure ahead that with 52 weeks in a year that would be 104 posts!  I just jumped in and have learned by doing– the method that’s best for me.

I guess no matter what you do 100 times, you probably get better at it– or at least it’s more familiar.  It helped to make a commitment to regularly producing my posts, the twice-weekly deadlines forcing a new discipline in my writing.  Once I made the announcement that I would publish them on Wednesdays and Sundays, I had to stick with my decision.

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That was a real challenge when I took last year’s journey.  In Paris, I had problems with my computer and had to use the hotel’s.  The keyboard was different in France, and I struggled with finding the right key– pecking out a word at the time, barely able to complete that post before we had to leave for the train station.

On Iona, the wifi was difficult to access from the Abbey and I had to walk down the road to a hotel lounge.  Instead of getting to explore the island in our free time, I ordered a pot of tea and hurried to write my post before I had to be back for my evening kitchen duty.  But some of that was a labor of love because I wanted to tell you in real time what I was experiencing so you could be with me on that journey.  There were pictures of the stunning beauty of the island that I couldn’t wait to share.

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The shores of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

One of the things I’ve had to let go of in blogging is my perfectionism. At first, I was afraid to make a post without having my writing group take a look. I’m not the best at grammar or punctuation, and I often miss spelling errors. But I couldn’t wait for others and I couldn’t afford an editor. I would do my best and hope that what I have to say, and my desire to inspire and encourage would outweigh my errors. You’ve been gracious as readers to overlook those flaws.

Many of my posts have been from portions of my memoir that is the story of my simultaneous struggle with a toxic job and cancer that’s interrupted by a serendipitous trip to Sedona. That journey-turned-pilgrimage was life-changing and became a template for the six that follow in my memoir and the seven that will be covered in the sequel.  Because I’m working on publishing my book, I need more time for that project.

So, now that I’m fully aware of how much time goes into each post, I need to cut back to a weekly production that will be on Saturdays. I appreciate you all for being supportive readers and will let you know when my memoir’s available.

At times posting twice a week has been easy, other times it’s been hard, but always it’s been rewarding when I hear from you that what I’ve said has resonated with your life. It’s brought me joy when I hear that my words have inspired or encouraged you.

Thanks to everyone for your support for my 100 blog posts.  I’ll talk with you again next Saturday.

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What about you?

What new challenge do you need to jump into?

If you have done that in the past, what did you learn after a significant amount of time about the process and the product of that challenge?

 

Saying Goodbye to the Magnolia Tree

The highway department has made the decision they’re going to widen Hwy 42, the road in front of Mama’s house, from a two-lane to a divided four-lane.  For years we’ve wondered when that would happen.  Even when I was a girl and we lived in Daddy’s homeplace that was built in 1880, we knew it wouldn’t pay to renovate that house that was situated too near the road that had once been dirt.

So when I was in eighth grade, that old two-story farmhouse was cut in two sections and moved back on our farm to reveal the new brick ranch that had been constructed behind it.  While our expansive lawn was new, the magnolia tree near the road was old and had most likely been planted by my grandmother.  Now, that tree is in the path of the road widening project and will be destroyed for the sake of progress.

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This is a small thing to complain about compared to what some people will give up, including those families with loved ones buried in the Shallow Well Church cemetery.  The road project will require 200 of the 2200 graves to be moved.  Fortunate for us, this will not impact our family’s sites that are just out of the reach of the expansion, but others will experience the sacred ground of a family member’s resting place being disrupted.  We all wonder if this highway project is as necessary as they claim, and some also wonder about the politics of which roads are widened and who are the ones that really benefit.

But for now, my concern is with losing that magnolia that has been part of my life since my earliest memories.  It was the backdrop for family pictures when we were dressed in church clothes and Mama took the photos using her Brownie camera.  At Christmas, we’d gather branches and use the shiny green leaves to decorate our mantle.  For me, the lemony smell of the blossoms will always be June in the South.  The large white blooms were used around the punch bowl for refreshments that were served after my high school graduation.

When my sons were little, they played with their cousins under that huge tree in Grandma Rosser’s yard.  Several of her seven grandchildren would climb up in the tree while the others made a playhouse underneath, mostly hidden from the view of their parents.

The magnolia was more than a tree.  It was a place.

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When I heard the highway department had marked our yard with stakes to show the road boundaries, I took my iPhone and made pictures.  I thought about how Daddy’s mother had probably planted that tree and had marked time by how much it had grown; “I remember when we planted that tree back when  . . .” and she would call up an event that happened around that time.  There were some trees that were even larger than the magnolia– like the walnut and pecans.  But they had the practical function of providing nut meats for the family and shade to the house before air conditioning.

The magnolia was the crowning glory of that yard with its purpose to delight with year-round color, intoxicating fragrance, and symbol of Southern beauty and belonging.  I’ll miss that tree and all the years of joy it brought to our family.

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Mama’s once expansive lawn with markers for the road boundary

How about you?

What changes have you experienced that were forced on you and altered or took away something you valued?

How did you handle your loss?

Did you have the opportunity to say “Goodbye”?

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother, My Teacher

My mother has been a great teacher over the years.  Some of her lessons were intentional, and some were unintentional.

She was always big on safety, long before she went back to school in her mid-fifties to be a licensed practical nurse.  We would hear cautions about waiting at least an hour after eating to swim, being careful when cooking to keep from getting burned, and making sure our fingers were away from the needle when using her Singer sewing machine—to name a few.  Years later when I started taking solo journeys, thinking she’d be proud of my wanderlust, she’d say, “I don’t like you traveling by yourself.  It’s just not safe for a woman.”

What she would see as sharing life lessons were renamed “sermons” by my older sister, who even went to the point of numbering them, mostly out of earshot of Mama, saying “Sermon No. 101” when Mama would start in on one of her themes of being grateful, or thoughtful, or working hard.  Once we picked up on that ‘preachy’ tone of voice I think we must have tuned out Mama’s words, but we couldn’t tune out her actions.

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Back in the Day of Mama Sermons

She was tireless in the way she lived all those sermons, never fussy about what she had because it was always plenty, thinking of the welfare of others with little regard for her own, working until late in the night and up early in the morning to do the endless chores of her job and our farm.  Her kindnesses have continued even with her advancing dementia, smiling often and reaching out to touch a fellow resident’s arm in greeting when I push her in her wheelchair down the hallways of Parkview.

But Mama also taught me in ways that she didn’t intend—like the problem with avoiding conflict.  She was raised to never say anything unkind and for her that sometimes meant not acknowledging the problems that were before you.  If there was a situation that was going on in our extended family or community, Mama would never speak about it.  I think it would have helped to know some of that when I was growing up so I would have been prepared for that as an adult.

How surprised I was when I married my husband and found his family didn’t approach life that way.  They’d talk openly about how things in their extended family or with their neighbors weren’t ideal.

Likewise, my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, would say if she was having problems with one of her friends, one of the ‘girls’ that had worked with her at the telephone office.  They’d been operators for many years and were friends outside of work, maintaining their close relationships into retirement.  Mary Dell didn’t hesitate to say if she was mad at her friend for saying or doing something that she didn’t like.  Sometimes they’d part ways for a while then makeup and go back to their usual enjoyment of going out to lunch and then shopping in thrift stores. My mother-in-law taught me that you could acknowledge disagreement and then get beyond it.  You didn’t have to ignore the less-than-perfect truth.

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(L to R) Mama, my son, Brooks, my mother-in-law, Mary Dell

I think about how I’ve taught my two sons things I intended and those I didn’t.  I’ve apologized to them for all I couldn’t be as a mother—and like other mothers, I did the best I could at that point in my life.  And what was always true, was how completely I loved them.

Now our family has a new generation with the birth of my grandson eleven days ago.  My daughter-in-law, Emily is finding her way as a new mother, doing the best she can for that little boy she loves more than she knew was possible.

And hopefully, over these generations, we’ll see that mothers love deeply and do the best they can. There is grace provided that makes what we learned, both intentional and unintentional, sufficient to guide us through our lives and honor the mothers that did their best.

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My new grandson

How about you?

What are some of the intentional lessons that your mother taught you?

What are some of the unintentional things you learned from her?

 

3 Things I Learned from Cancer

Now that I’ve been a breast cancer survivor for almost eighteen years, I think back on the three things I learned from going through treatment.  It occurs to me that what I learned from cancer can be applied to other areas of life—even to becoming a parent, like my son and daughter-in-law did just one week ago.  While these are very different in some ways, the things I learned from cancer can be generalized.  I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my perspective from my personal experience.

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Walking with my friend and fellow survivor, Mary

When you hear the oncologist say, “You have cancer,” it’s shocking and you’re paralyzed with fear. The immediate question is, “Am I going to live?”  After you hear about the type of cancer you have (mine was triple negative) the team maps out your options.  For me, it was eight months of treatment including surgery, chemo, and radiation.  While it’s helpful to get the big picture when you’re starting out, I found it overwhelming to look too far ahead.  So the first thing cancer taught me was

#1– DON’T LOOK TOO FAR AHEAD

 Just focus on the next few steps along the path.  For me, I relied on prayer, asking God to help me with the present moment, giving me the courage for whatever I was going through in that phase of treatment.  When you’re a new parent, it helps to do the same thing.  Sometimes you need strength to get through another night of broken sleep, another fussy evening with colic.  You’d be overwhelmed if you looked ahead and thought about how many nights or evenings you could have like that.

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My son, Brooks– a new father.

When I heard I had cancer, my immediate response was to assume the outcome for me would be like one of my high school classmates who’d been diagnosed a few years before.  Even though I’m a nurse, I didn’t work in oncology and I had very little knowledge of breast cancer, so I latched on to the most recent example I had from another woman.  But I didn’t know anything about her subtype of breast cancer, her specific biochemistry, family history, her body’s unique response to treatment.  My outcome was very different from hers.  So, the second thing cancer taught me was

#2 DON’T ASSUME YOUR EXPERIENCE WILL BE THE SAME AS ANOTHER PERSON’S

That’s also true for parenting.  Just because your friends had a difficult time during a phase of raising their child, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for you.  Another phase will challenge you more because of your child’s unique personality, your perspective as a parent, other things going on in your family life at the time.  When we focus on the moment and don’t compare our experience, whether it’s with an illness or the challenges of parenting, we have what we need to make it through.

Sometimes it’s tempting for me to make broad assumptions, probably to make things seem more simple than they are in life.  With cancer treatment, I knew I had six rounds of chemo and to make that process seem more familiar, I assumed each treatment would affect me the same: the level of nausea, discomfort with the transfusion, feeling foggy afterward.  But the days were varied and sometimes there were unexpected blessings dropped into my life that distracted me from whatever I was experiencing and provided beauty and relief.  So the third thing cancer taught me was

#3 DON’T ASSUME EVERY DAY WILL BE THE SAME

As a parent, the same kinds of mercies show up: extra help when you don’t think you have the energy you need, your child moving forward to that next developmental step when you thought you were stuck, that first intentional smile when you’re at a point of exhaustion.  The days change, each with its own up and down pattern that forms a beautiful whole.

Whatever your challenge, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in these words and you’ll discover what your current phase of life has to teach you.

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How about You?

What are the lessons you learned going through a big change in your life?

How can you share your experience with others?

 

 

 

 

Sweet Anticipation

The text came last September when I was staying in a hotel at the Edinburgh Airport.  Since my husband had returned home the week before when I took my pilgrimage to Iona, I was in the room alone.  The text included the picture of the sonogram of our first grandchild, and that was when I learned we were having a boy.  I cheered and clapped my hands, and shouted, “We’re having a grandson!”  Tears streamed down my face as I studied the sonogram and listened to the beat of his heart, over-and-over again, letting the joy of that moment sink in.

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I wondered what he would look like, if he’d favor our son, Brooks or look more like my daughter-in-law, Emily.  What would his personality be like—what blend of family characteristics mixed with his own unique traits?  It would be so interesting to watch him unfold.

Months before, I had assigned a ‘Prayin’ Tree’ (see post-Jan. 6, ’18 ) to Brooks and Emily, and I saw it as a Family Tree—knowing they were ready to start their own new branch.  I chose a large river birch with a wide expansive canopy that was in the yard of one of our neighbors.  Every time I walked past it I prayed for our baby.  Once I found out we were having a little boy, I imagined him climbing the tree.  Later, I’d find out the couple in that house where the river birch grew was wanting to have a baby, and now they are pregnant.  Maybe my prayers helped them, too!

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Over the months of anticipating our grandson, we’ve had those moments of concern when we waited for test results—for Emily and for the baby.   Now there’s so much information these pregnant couples deal with that weren’t routine 33 years ago when I was pregnant with Brooks.  They researched car seats and strollers and the endless number of products on the market.  They’ve had baby showers and been honored by family, friends, and coworkers.

All these months of build-up to the birth of this little boy and the call finally came this past Tuesday at 5:00 a.m.  They were headed to the hospital.  It seemed real and surreal at the same time, quickly getting ready and heading out for the five-hour drive.  At first, I was anxious that we wouldn’t be there at the time of his birth.  But I shouldn’t have worried, because it was a very long labor.  After being together in the birthing room, trying to encourage Emily along, distract her from her pain, we moved to the waiting room and took breaks to the hospital cafeteria.  Since I’d left my computer and writing paper in the car, I opted for working on a blog for Wednesday on brown paper napkins.  It became evident that I would not get that blog out that day because I just could not focus on anything but our baby.

Finally, at 8:44 on Wednesday morning, May 2cnd, almost twenty-eight hours after the call, our little boy who we’d anxiously anticipated for so many months, arrived.  What joy to hold him in my arms and see the face of the grandson I’d only dreamed about and caught a glimpse of in a sonogram.  And what a deep sense of gratitude to see my son holding his son and looking at him with such love, seeing his son’s sweet face, a moment I’d dreamed of.

All the months of anticipation had led to that sweet moment.  A new chapter of life is opening and I feel the fullness of God’s blessings and thanksgiving that mother and baby are fine and that I’m a grandparent, “Grammy” they’ll call me until he figures out what he chooses to call his grandmother.  And whatever will be fine with me.

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How about You?

What is it you’re anticipating in your life?

How has or will life change for you when what you’ve anticipated finally arrives?