Steps Toward the Goal: New Routines

We’re now 19 days into 2019 and I’m trying to implement steps that will help me reach my goal: publishing my memoir. In last week’s post, I said that I needed to work ‘smarter’ because I can’t work any harder. I found two television shows that I’ve hung onto over the years that have partially been background noise and also have me watching to see how the writers progress the story line. (Well, actually that sounds better than it is; the two shows are soap operas and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I watch them!)

When I looked at both more closely, the 90 minute shows take more of my energy than first appears; my mind has to keep up with when they come on since I’ve chosen not to record them; after each show I’m processing what happened, whether I think the writers did a good job with that episode and images that linger of scenes and situations. (I’m also saying, “That’s stupid. He was just married to her sister last year!”)

That 90 minutes+ could have been spent distraction-free, working on my list of tasks to produce the memoir, doing just one thing at the time. Since I took those two shows out of my daily schedule last Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about routines.

Years ago, I went through treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. At that time, I was working as a Research Coordinator with clinical trials—or pharmaceutical research. When I finished the 6 rounds of chemo and it was time to schedule the 32 radiation treatments, I was overwhelmed.

“How am I going to do that and go to work every day?” I asked myself. I knew I could take time off to rest as needed, but I really wanted and needed to maintain my job. Considering my energy level and the daily work flow at our office, I decided I would request the first radiation appointment of the day—the 8:15 slot. While that seemed to be the best, I had enough trouble making it to my office by 8:30 so how would I manage to get to UNC Hospital fifteen minutes earlier, every day for over 6 weeks?

Thinking about the days ahead, adding radiation treatments to my already full schedule, it came to me: Make it more normal by making it routine.

 I would have to get up earlier in order to still have time for my morning walk, at least as long as I felt up to it. Walking at sunrise had been my practice and was the favorite part of my day; I wouldn’t give that up.


Morning Walk

I had to make sure that my clothes were ready and my lunch was packed the night before—just like we’d tried to have our sons do over the years of school mornings. But still, I dreaded driving the 10 miles to the UNC parking lot to my space marked “Radiation Oncology Patient.” I hated being reminded of cancer every morning, unlike my chemo every third week that gave me a break from any announcement of being a cancer patient.

What if I pair the bitter with the sweet, I thought, remembering that practice I started during the numerous medical visits early on in the cancer process; after something bitter– like a procedure I’d give myself something sweet– like a shopping trip.

If I got to my appointment 15 minutes earlier, I could write while waiting, using the time when I felt the best to work on a new short story. I’d bring my mug of coffee and savor those minutes instead of thinking about what was in front of me.

I followed through with my new routine and when I was pulling out of my drive, I added music to make me feel better.  I put a contemporary Christian CD in the player, Hymns of Worship and Praise. My favorite portion of the road crossed over Jordan Lake, and when I reached the section where I could see the broadest expanse of water, my favorite song, “God of Wonders” played. Looking out over the beauty of boats in morning fog, I felt lifted up above my circumstances and empowered for the day ahead.


January on Jordan Lake

Making that my daily routine for those 32 days helped me to cope with the treatments and the cumulative fatigue.

That was eighteen years ago and I still remember that following that routine made the experience feel more familiar. Now, as I think of ways to streamline how I use my time, I see a way to apply what I learned during those radiation treatments. Instead of having to set a new wake-up time each weekday morning depending on whether I’m going to my UNC job, keeping my grandson, or writing, I’ll stick with one. If I go with the earliest time that I need for babysitting, I won’t have to think about it each night and it’ll be easier for my body to adjust.

And on those dark mornings driving to my grandson’s house, I’ll have the sweet reward when I arrive of holding him in those cuddly footed pajamas while I fix myself a second cup of French Roast.



How About You?

How are you progressing toward your 2019 goal?

Are there changes in your routine that could open up time to work on your goal?

Carry a Song

I crossed over Jordan Lake listening to one of my favorite songs, “God of Wonders” in what became my ritual for preparing for radiation treatments.  I followed the same pattern in an attempt to make the unfamiliar seem routine; leave home at the same time, put in the Third Day CD when I pulled out of the drive, sing to the chorus when I crossed the lake in the early morning beauty.  By the time I reached my radiation altar, I felt empowered by the song.  Months later, the same chorus played when I drove into Sedona and caught my first view of the massive red rocks.


Jordan Lake, central North Carolina

There have been other songs that have carried me through difficult times, crying out for me when I had no words.  Sometimes we have that experience with scriptures, poems, or mantras, but somehow when the words are put to music it seems the song settles into our souls.  That’s what happened some years ago when I took my journey to Chincoteague Island at the Assateague National Seashore in Virginia.

When I left on that solo journey, I was very tired and struggling with the after effects of an allergic reaction.  The day before, I’d been working in my flower garden and chopped into a bed of red ants that quickly climbed onto my ankles.  When I tried to rub them off, they got onto my arms and several lodged under my compression sleeve that I’d worn to protect my left arm with lymphedema.  My bites had made my whole body sluggish and itchy.  By the time I pulled into my hotel at Chincoteague, all I felt like doing was sleeping.  That wasn’t what I wanted from my solo journey.


Beachfront Assateague National Seashore, Virginia

The next day, I spent the morning on the beach and felt the cool salt water wash those itchy bites, the perfect balm.  But too soon, a fast- moving storm sent me to my car for cover.  Feeling the gift of not having to be anywhere, I sat there and watched the storm move across the water, listening to a CD that was like a companion for that trip, Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons.  The song, “Never Once,” played as I watched a man get out of his jeep and walk with his head down into the storm.  The image was so strong—the man going into the storm while Redman sang, “Never once did we ever walk alone, Never once did You leave us on our own, You are faithful, God, You are faithful.”

When I left Chincoteague Island, I wasn’t sure what I carried home, my ‘boon’ or blessing from the trip.  I’d had less energy the entire time for interacting with the people in my path.  But within weeks, I had my answer.

We three sisters had struggled with Mama’s decline from dementia.  After managing a couple of years with nursing assistants in her home, that was no longer enough.  It was apparent that we had to place her in a nursing home– something we’d feared.  On the day I drove to my hometown to meet my sisters to move Mama into Parkview, my heart broke.  Driving down the familiar road over Jordan Lake, I listened to Matt Redman’s song Never Once and could see the man from the jeep.  I felt like I was him, going head first into the storm.  While I didn’t have the words to say a prayer, the song said it all for me.  As much as it hurt to reach this point with Mama, I wasn’t alone, God was with me, and with Mama.

I was glad I’d carried that song.


Sunset at Assateague National Seashore, Virginia


How about you?

Are there songs that have given you voice when you were unable to speak?

What songs, scriptures, poems, mantras could you store away to be pulled out when you need them?