Step Forward in 2019

Over the past year since I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve often used the hashtag #stepforwardfromcancer. That phrase came to me when I was planning a group for breast cancer survivors. I was using my Life Coaching knowledge to help those participants move toward a better place in their lives. When I remembered back to my treatment, I thought of how the meaning of ‘stepping forward’ was relative to where I was in the process. (You could substitute another illness, #stepforwardfrom_____ if it stopped you in your tracks and changed your life).

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path up Mt Constitution overlooking Puget Sound, Washington State

In the early days when decisions needed to be made about my cancer treatment, a step forward could be making a choice that gave me more control: whether to take an aggressive approach, what location I’d go to for my infusions, what time each day to have my radiation appointment. When I was further along and feeling the impact of treatment, stepping forward could be pushing myself a little harder to get out of bed and walk outside. Sometimes it was choosing to participate in activities in spite of my nausea, taking my aide of a ‘nausea cocktail’ of cranberry juice and Diet Sprite on crushed ice. And once I was done with treatment, stepping forward was about moving toward the things that I’d put on hold, trying to let go of the fear of the cancer returning in order to enjoy life.

Sometimes with my hashtag I’ll go further and add #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back. While a physical illness is an obvious block to moving forward in the way we’d planned, sometimes the things that hold us back are not visible. For me one of those things is feeling inadequate, doubting myself. I’ve experienced this in various areas of my life, but the one that comes to mind that I’ve learned most about over the years is having the confidence to take solo journeys.

Taking solo journeys started by accident when I had that serendipitous trip to Sedona, Arizona in spring of 2001—right after I finished my 8 months of cancer treatment. I had the chance to travel for a few days between 2 business trips out West—but I had to do that alone. At first, I thought, “How can I go by myself to an unfamiliar place so far away?” That seemed like something other women might have the confidence to do, but not me. Taking those first awkward steps was rewarded by discovering the freedom of time alone without the distractions of fellow travelers. For me, it was a time of spiritual renewal in the presence of God, and eventually, after years of journeys, helped me to discover more of myself.

Each year when I approached planning that journey, I dealt with some level of doubt: Why are you going to that destination instead of another? How are you going to fit in with that group of people? Will you have the physical ability to carry out your plan?

What I’ve found is that those voices of doubt sound pretty familiar over time. They pick on the same vulnerable spots where they know they’ll get a reaction out of me, those areas of pride that will quickly defend themselves when they’re accused. By taking risks and not letting that thing hold you back, whatever it is for you, the more times you do it anyway, the more routine, the less of a hold it has on you.

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At the top of Mt Constitution, Washington State

So now, as we’re into the first week of 2019, I hope that you can start this new year by stepping forward from whatever has had a grip on you, whether it’s a physical illness or an emotional thorn in your side that keeps you from living the life you desire. Each small step leads to another to make the journey down your path the best it can be.

 Blessings to You!

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What about You?

Are there physical or emotional things that you need to #stepforwardfrom in 2019?

What first step will you take? Are there supports that would help you?

Related Post

Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Fall Tapestry

October is a month of fall festivals and breast cancer awareness.  Yesterday, both came together when I attended the Big Foot Festival near my hometown of Sanford.  I don’t know a lot about Big Foot, but I went to support my friend, Donna, who’d organized the event as a fund raiser for clean water efforts.  Walking along the food vendors, I spotted a woman in a pink baseball cap with shiny rhinestones forming a breast cancer ribbon.  Sometimes I hold back, not sure if that person wants to share, but her cap was so bold that I felt it was an invitation.

She told me about her shock when an Emergency Room doctor abruptly announced that her back pain was caused by cancer.  Through tears she relived hearing the “C word” and later learning that hers was Stage IV.  Soon she added, “God is seeing me through and I’ve been able to help others, especially women who’re now more aware.”

“I’ve had breast cancer, too,” I said.  “Now it’s been seventeen years as a survivor.”

“Thanks for telling me,” she responded.  “Some days you just need to hear that.

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She told me of her shock at hearing the “C word”

She recalled how she’d been supported by her community: cards, meals, gifts.  Her face brightened as she told me about her plans for the future.

“That’s right, look toward the future,” I encouraged her.  “While you’re taking the needed treatment steps, you’re moving on to the things that you desire.”

We hugged goodbye.  I added her to the women in my breast cancer tree, the one I pass on my morning walks that reminds me to hold them up to the light of prayer.

I took advantage of the food vendors—eating all those fair-like delicacies; hotdog with mustard, chili, and slaw; quesadillas with pork; Big Foot sugar cookies; mango and strawberry shaved ice.  Saturday was no time to stick to a healthy diet.  Eating with Donna’s family and friends, we sat in lawn chairs around her booth of merchandise, including tee shirts she designed, furry face masks of wee Big Foots, back scratchers of the mysterious creature’s paws.  How nice it was to be grafted into this group, my friend the central figure who pulled us together.

I saw a couple of women I hadn’t seen in years, one telling me I should spend more time in my hometown.  The other woman’s three children were contestants in the Big Foot hollering contest.  It occurred to me how seldom I participated in such community events—usually too busy doing something purposeful, goal-directed.  How relaxing it was to just move in the flow of this festival, no expectations, no responsibilities—just enjoying the afternoon.

As the sun was setting, casting that gloaming light over the Deep River, we listened to people tell stories of their encounters with Big Foot.  I thought back to my experiences in Scotland.  Just a few weeks before I was riding a boat out into Loch Ness, listening to accounts of Nessie in the seven- hundred- foot water.  I could see Alistair, our retreat leader in Iona, lying down on the hill of the fairies and telling about Celtic beliefs.  If felt like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Celtic fairies were now being joined.

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The Deep River reminded me of the deep waters of Loch Ness

Watching the light disappear, I noticed the foundation of the bridge over the river was made of stone.  That’s like so many buildings in Scotland, I thought. The path that I’m called to follow is the same in Sanford as Scotland; be present, be myself as I encounter the people in my path.  Today there had been the woman with breast cancer, my widening circle who shared Donna’s generous friendship, and those who’d experienced realms unfamiliar to me.  All had woven a beautiful tapestry on a fall day.

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What about you?

In what ways have you seen your call in life being expressed the same way while in different places?

How can you live into that this day?

What new threads do you see in the tapestry that is your life?

Walking to the Depths

My third solo journey was to the Sea of Peace House of Prayer, a center for contemplation at Edisto Island, South Carolina.  I was searching for pastoral support to examine my life.  Sharon, the spiritual director, described the tools available including one-to-one sessions and walking the labyrinth.  When I saw that sandy path edged in stones and shells, I was skeptical that walking it would produce anything of value.  I was wrong.

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photo by Susan Klavohn Bryant

Sharon introduced that seven circuit path with only one way to the center.  At first, I walked it too quickly, but gradually I began to slow down.  After several mornings, I saw a brown oak leaf in the center of the path.  For a moment, it appeared as if the word pride was written across the center vein of the leaf.

What has pride got to do with anything, I thought.

That evening in my one-to-one session with Sharon, I told her how hard it was to let go of striving to accomplish.  I described my busy, overbooked life as a wife, mother, school nurse, and volunteer with my church.  I told her about my walk around the labyrinth.

“There was a leaf in my path, and in my mind’s eye, I saw the word pride written on it.  I’m not sure why.”

Sharon waited while both of us sat in silence.  Then she said, “Sometimes it’s the ego, the false self that tells us we have to be in charge, that we have to accomplish more.  If we let go of the control then God can show us how to rest.”

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I felt the startle of recognition in what she was saying.  I’d shared with her about my breast cancer but not about being fired from a job.  It had been five years and I’d told only a few people.

Now, I read another female spiritual leader’s words, Christine Valters Painter’s description of how we walk a pilgrim path.  In The Soul of a Pilgrim, she describes the inner pilgrimage descending into our depths to the places where “wounds and shame dwell.”

Looking back to that session with Sharon, I saw how my pride was underneath the need to feel competent.  Being fired had wounded my confidence and left me feeling ashamed. Paintner points out that we need to “retrieve these lost parts and welcome them back into the wholeness of our being.”

Years after that retreat at Edisto Island, I finally recognized how deeply I’d buried my shame.  Last summer in the quiet of the kitchen at Artcroft in Kentucky, I worked on my memoir, Saved by Sedona.  It occurred to me, that I’d written about cancer but not about my toxic job.  I’d been submerged in it a year before I was diagnosed and at times the job was worse than cancer.

That still small voice of God within me said, “You need to go back and tell the whole truth.”

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My kitchen table that became my writer’s desk

While I rewrote the chapters, I experienced the painful cleaning out of that festered wound, writing through tears of anger and sadness.  Gradually, I was able to forgive myself for my part of the problem and be thankful for the good that came from that job.

Now, I go back and mentally trace my steps to the center of the labyrinth and remember the leaf.  I marvel at what a simple path of stones and shells, along with the intention of traveling to the depths of those inner hidden places, can do to bring light to my journey.

How about you?

Have you found walking a labyrinth or another spiritual practice that has helped you travel to the depths on an internal pilgrimage?

How have you used what was revealed to you?

Is there a spiritual practice that you would like to incorporate into your life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thin Veil

On a chilly day in early April, we ate lunch together on the Duke University campus.  Carol, Cathy, and I were all cancer survivors and now, Relay for Life team members for the Congregation at Duke Chapel.  I told them my plans to take a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland.

“The veil is thin there,” Cathy told me.  She went on to describe this veil as the place between life on earth and the life that awaits.  She’d been present in that space when she sat with critically ill hospital patients who were near death.

Later, I read about that thin place in my book, Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide by Peter W. Millar.  He says that Rev. George MacLeod, the founder of the ecumenical Christian community of Iona, saw the patterns of weaving vines in Celtic crosses pointing to the intertwining of heaven and earth.   Rev. MacLeod said that Iona itself was a ‘thin place’ where the material and spiritual came close to each other.

 

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I remember experiencing that kind of space when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Having a potentially fatal illness, makes you look more closely at life on earth and life beyond death.  Later, when the crisis had passed, I wished I could stay in that ‘thin space’ in order to keep a proper perspective on life.  I wonder how I’ll experience this at Iona.

Part of me keeps away from any space that’s in between.  Uncertainty raises my anxiety and causes me to feel a bit off-kilter.  When people say of faith, to “live into the mystery” I’m not sure how to do that.  Don’t we all spend our days trying to be more certain?

My solo journeys start with a feeling of stepping into the unknown.  I remember when I traveled to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State.  I chose that destination after I was mesmerized by the movie setting for Snow Falling on Cedars.  Was it foolish to take a trip across the country based on what could be whimsy?

I stayed in Friday Harbor and took the ferry to Orcas Island to hike up Mt. Constitution.  The path coursed through a forest that looked like the one in the movie.  Climbing that mountain gave me time to feel God’s presence and think about the path of my life.

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The next day, I took a ferry to Victoria Island, Canada and visited Craigdarroch Castle.  I watched the full moon shine down on the roof with its angles and turrets.  A security guard standing nearby asked me where I was from and how I’d chosen to travel there.  I told him about my solo journeys then asked where he was from, curious because his accent sounded Scottish.

“Well, it’s a long story,” he said.  “Twenty years ago my life turned around when I became a Christian.  I came here from Nova Scotia to make amends with my Dad.”  He went on to say his father died not long after that.

“I’m a Christian, too,” I said.

“I know you are,” he said.  “It’s no accident that you’re here.”

That ‘divine appointment’ made me feel that I was on a path meant for me, that it wasn’t just whimsy.  Now, as I prepare for my trip to Scotland, I’ve been reading the history of the Highland Clearances, how folks were forced off their land and out of the country.  Nova Scotia and North Carolina received some of those immigrants.  I may share a heritage with that security guard whom I met nine years ago.

That ‘thin veil’ of Iona awaits.  I wonder what discoveries I’ll make in that place, what divine appointments there’ll be with the people in my path.

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altar for my Iona journey

What about you?

Has there been a time in your life when you’ve experienced that ‘thin place’ between earth and heaven?

How did that experience impact your life?

Have you stepped out into the unknown and later discovered you were on your unique path?

It’s About the Future

I sat on a rock overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains on that Sunday morning in September.  In the stillness that was shrouded in fog, I felt the burden of trudging through cancer treatment and my toxic job.  I prayed for God to lift me out of that pit, and waited for some sign that God was listening.  Eventually, the answer came in that ‘still small voice’ in the words, “It’s About the Future.”

I continued sitting there, wondering what this message meant for me.  I thought about the future when I was first diagnosed, asking God to spare my life.  With my aggressive treatment regimen, my oncologist was confident that I’d be okay—and I believed him.  But where I mired down, was in feeling that my future would continue as daily struggle with my health and my career.  It was hard to look beyond my present.  How could I see the future when I was consumed with dread?

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How could I see the future when I was consumed with dread?

The answer didn’t come that morning on the mountain.  In fact, that message became a question that stayed with me; what is it you want me to see in the future, God?  There was a sense that I wasn’t to stay in my present state of anxiety.  While that conversation with God didn’t change the fact that I had to return home to chemo and work, I did feel lighter—like God was starting to pull me up from the pit.

I continued to look for the meaning to be revealed.  It seemed that God was showing me to avoid getting bogged down in the negative climate at work.   It was a temporary place. I was to do my best while I was there, but eventually I’d move on.  With my cancer regimen, I should focus on the treatment in front of me, engaging with the infusion staff and the family and friends who accompanied me.  I would be present to the moment but moving toward the future.

By April I’d finished treatment.  I was tired from the radiation, but now I could fly to a research meeting in Arizona.  Afterwards I took my journey to Sedona then traveled on to the Grand Canyon.  That evening, I watched the sun setting over the South Rim and was reminded of that morning in the Smokies.

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Watching a hawk flying near the canyon walls, I remembered the message, It’s about the Future, and this time there was more:  Don’t be weighed down by what’s happening now.  Get through today but look ahead to the future I’m providing for you.

I remembered Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Hope and a Future.  This was a promise of God’s faithfulness to see me through, to pull me from the pit and place my feet on a solid rock.  I couldn’t see the future God had for me, but I did feel assured with that promise.

Eventually, a way was provided from that job to one in a healthy environment.  The cancer treatment was successful and I’ve had years of being cancer free.  There have been times I’ve gotten bogged down again, but I hear that same message and know to keep moving.  Those steps forward have led me to solo journeys that have become pilgrimages for my soul.

Years later, in my future, I sat on the banks of Lake Champlain in Vermont and remembered that message.  The answer had now come to me fully;  Stay in God’s presence each moment and He will lead you to the Future, one that is filled with Hope.

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What about you?

Have you had times of being so weighed down in struggle you couldn’t see a hopeful future?

How could you find your way to greater hope?

What resources are available to help you when you feel overwhelmed?

 

Finding the Divine in the Everyday

The evening after my third chemotherapy, I was lying on my bed and barely able to lift my head.  My nausea and fatigue had increased with the cumulative impact of the medicine.  It was distressing to think I had to go through three more infusions, scheduled once every three weeks, and after that thirty radiation treatments.  In my cast down state, I turned to the Psalms my go-to book of the Bible.  I identified with the cries of the Psalmist and had just enough concentration for the pithy verses.

Thumbing through the chapters, the first portion of Psalm 86:1 (NIV) caught my attention: “Give me a sign of your goodness.”  I could think of nothing good, only the daily strain of dealing with cancer treatment, trying to maintain our home life, and struggling with my job.  In the darkness of that hour, all I could do was pray the Psalm, “God, give me a sign of your goodness.”

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Give Me A Sign of Your Goodness

I wondered if that prayer would make any difference, given my situation.  I found myself changing “Give” to “Show me your goodness.  Was it because I needed the eyes of my heart opened?

I waited and watched, almost like I was daring God to do something.  Some of me was dug in, determine to be despondent—like I could get something good from a martyr’s stance.  Finally, I began to notice what could be answers to that prayer.

In my mailbox arrived a stack of “Thinking of You” cards that matched the number of medical bills.  A co-worker offered to help me sort through the insurance statements that totally overwhelmed me.  A friend called to invite me to go to the mountains for the weekend.

Some days nature was the provider of that goodness; our Heavenly Blue morning glory vine delighting me with a mass of those stunning blooms; my Golden Retriever, Molly snuggling next to me as we sat together on the porch; a beautiful walk at sunset with a horse neighing as a blue heron landed over a neighbor’s pond.  All of these reminded me of the steadfast beauty of creation, how nothing could change that.

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My first Golden, Molly

While it’s been years now since those days of cancer treatment, I still look to that Psalm when I lose my way.  When I’m discouraged and everything seems to be a challenge, I try to remind myself to step back, take a moment, and pray for a sign of God’s goodness.

I’ve thought about whether God causes new things to show up, or were those things present all along—waiting for me to have the eyes to see?  I think maybe it’s both.

When I’m listening for God’s direction in my life, through that ‘still small voice’ inside of me, sometimes I’m directed to do things for others.  I get the nudge to make a phone call, an impulse to send a card, the courage to approach that stranger that God has put in my path.  The longer I live, the more I see that when I, and others, follow that intuition—that leading from within, people receive what they needWhen I’m moving in my own direction and paying attention only to my agenda, some of these needs undoubtedly go unfulfilled.

By opening the eyes of my heart, God prepares me to receive the gift that will meet my need.  While these things may seem very everyday—the phone call, a colorful sunset, the comfort of your dog, they become Divine because their source is our Creator and they are a healing balm for our souls.

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What about you?

Have you seen God’s goodness show up in the Everyday when you most needed it?

How did that sign make a difference in the direction of your life?

Have your actions supplied that Divine sign for someone?

Toxic Takeaway

He helped me pack up my office that afternoon, my last, at The Research Company.

“You know it’s not you, Connie,” he said and placed the last of my belongings in my trunk.  “Just be glad you’re getting out of here.”  He was the only co-worker I could trust.

Later, I wondered if I really did know it wasn’t my fault.  How could I land in a place, after twenty-three years as a professional nurse and things go so terribly wrong?  I was totally unprepared for dealing with that toxic work environment.  I’d never been in that situation.

The half-mile road through my neighborhood became my track of travail as I walked back and forth, attempting to process my emotions, thinking through the issues, reviewing the complaints they had against me.  It was hard to let go of my anger and to understand how God could allow me to go through cancer and that job at the same time.

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the road through my neighborhood became my track of travail

After a couple of months of job interviews, I decided to return to working as a school nurse.

 

While I thought that I’d left the negative impact of The Research Company behind, soon into my new job, I found I wasn’t as far along as I’d thought.

The Assistant Principal came to my door.

“Connie, could you come to my office?” she asked.  “I need to talk with you.”

I felt my heart race and was lightheaded with anxiety.  What did I do wrong, I thought and felt like I’d been called to that final meeting at The Research Company.

“You know the boy you saw this morning, the one in the fight?” she asked.

My mind raced through the students, trying to focus in spite of my panicky feelings.  Finally, I recalled the 7th grader she was referring to.

“Yes, I remember.”

“What’s your take on what happened with him and the other boy?” she asked.  “I have to call his mother.”

She just wants my opinion, I thought and felt so relieved.

That incident made me realize I’d been on edge, especially when I sensed my competence was being challenged.  It was more than my temperament of being sensitive, it was like my self-confidence was damaged.  I’d seen students who’d been abused and were always in a defensive posture, watching for potential danger.  While I tried to understand what it was like for them, I’d never been in that situation.

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my new workplace

Now I saw, that even as a grown woman, with a great work history, advanced degree, supportive family and friends, the two years I’d stayed in that toxic work environment had torn me down.  How insidious those undermining comments, favoritism, disrespect that were the daily norm at The Research Company.  While it wasn’t like the physical abuse of a student, it resembled that less-easy-to-identify emotional abuse that had just as harmful an effect.

When I wrote the first draft of my memoir, Saved by Sedona, I’d shared quite candidly about my struggle with breast cancer.  But there were only veiled references to my work at The Research Company.  I’d buried my shame of losing that job so deeply that it took years of healing before I could acknowledge it.  Now, I had to go back and tell the whole truth.

I’ve rewritten Saved by Sedona.  When I recently attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference, we had to dress as the main character of our book.  For the first time, I publicly acknowledged that toxic job and cancer, dressing in my solo journey hiking attire and wearing a backpack with a toxic waste sticker of The Research Company and a Breast Cancer Ribbon.

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I proudly stood on stage in that huge auditorium and spoke into the microphone.

“My memoir is my story of leaving behind a toxic job and breast cancer and journeying toward a new life of solo journeys.”

Thankfully, after what I’d gone through at The Research Company, my return to the school system had landed me in a healthy work environment.  I would never take that for granted again.

 

How about you?

Have you ever buried a truth that was too difficult to face?

Were there ways that you continued to be impacted?

How could you tenderly work through this issue and fold it into a whole view of yourself?

 

 

 

Transported Beyond Cancer

It’s been seventeen years since I heard the words, “You have cancer.”

Now the waiting room, which had always had an acrid smell of chemo drugs, doesn’t make me nauseous.  Before this visit, I didn’t feel anxious like something bad was about to happen.  My sleep has been good, no lying awake at 3:30 a.m. and wondering what the doctor would find.  All of these things were problems the week of my oncology visit, especially the first five years when my triple negative breast cancer was most likely to return.  At that five-year visit, I let out a breath I’d been holding since my diagnosis and gave my oncologist a high five.  I decided to leave cancer behind and go toward the life I wanted.

Along the way, some fellow breast cancer survivors have told me they’re having a hard time, always saying to themselves, “What if it comes back?”

When I was diagnosed, I was shocked because I had no family history of breast cancer.  Later, I learned that was true for the majority.  I told a nurse in my doctor’s office that if they’d said I had heart disease I wouldn’t have been as surprised since there are cardiac problems on both sides of my family.

“Well, it doesn’t mean you won’t have heart disease,” she responded.

All these women are right; I could have cancer again and I could develop heart disease.

But in the meantime, I choose to live my life without fear.

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Choose to Live without Fear

If something develops, didn’t cancer teach me how to face it?  I learned that I can handle one step at the time with the solid support of my faith, family, and friends.  Each day, life is dependable in providing amazing sights for those with eyes wide open, enriching sounds for listening ears, and moments of joy for hearts ready to be touched.

My yearly pilgrimages have reinforced my resolve to live beyond fear.  When I have an idea of where I’ll go, sometimes that critical internal voice casts doubt, saying, “Why would you want to travel there?”  I could be paralyzed by this, afraid of making a bad choice that I’ll regret.  What I’ve learned after thirteen journeys, is that if I choose a destination by listening to my heart and wait to see that my energy follows, that plan lands me in the right place.

Before each trip, I experience a resistance to leaving.  It feels like it takes too much energy and would be easier to remain at home.  Since I’ll travel alone, the success of the trip is all on me.  Part of my hesitance is leaving the people I love— my husband and my mother who’s in a nursing home.  There’s also the pang of leaving my canine, Madison.

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When I take off, the first day will be long and tiring.  I’ll probably hit a wall, frustrated and alone and think to myself, “Why did I do this?”

But once on the other side of this wall, I find myself in the place I’ve been dreaming of and I’m pleased that I followed my intuition.  My journey will take me closer to my authentic self.  I’ll be amazed at how God knew me better than I knew myself when I was ‘called’ to take solo journeys.

Now, seventeen years as a cancer survivor, I’m letting go of worry.  Whether it’s a course of cancer or setting out on a journey, I trust that no matter what comes up, I can navigate with God’s help, the support of family and friends, and the goodness of the people and places in my path.

 

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What About You?

What would you like to do if you weren’t afraid?

How could you take a step toward that goal?