Friday, October 30, 2009

- Shame Revisited, Part 2 (The Climb)

"Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you..." Psalm 31:17

Yesterday, I was talking about shame and its effects on our lives. I found this on the web:

"Helen B. Lewis, a pioneer in recognizing the importance of shame to psychotherapy, argued that shame really represents an entire family of emotions. This family includes: humiliation, embarrassment, feelings of low self-esteem, belittlement, and stigmatization. Shame is often a central ingredient in experiences of being: 

alienated, inadequate, helpless, powerless, defenseless, weak, insecure, uncertain, shy, ineffectual, inferior, flawed, exposed, unworthy, hurt, intimidated, defeated, rejected, dumped, rebuffed, stupid, bizarre, odd, peculiar, different

Shame manifests itself physically in a wide variety of forms. The person may hide their eyes; lower their gaze; blush; bite their lips or tongue; present a forced smile, or fidget. Other responses may include annoyance, defensiveness, exaggeration or denial. Because the affect of shame often interferes with our ability to think, the individual may experience confusion, being at a loss for words, or a completely blank mind.

Shame is often experienced as the inner, critical voice that judges whatever we do as wrong, inferior, or worthless. Often this inner critical voice is repeating what was said to us by our parents, relatives, teachers and peers. We may have been told that we were naughty, selfish, ugly, stupid, etc. We may have been ostracized by peers at school, humiliated by teachers, treated with contempt by our parents. 

"My disgrace is before me all day long, and my face is covered with shame." Psalm 44:15

Paradoxically, shame may be caused by others expecting too much of us, evoking criticism when our performance is less than perfect. Some authority figures are never satisfied with one's efforts or performance, they are critical no matter what. Unfortunately, these criticisms become internalized, so that it is our own inner critical voice that is meting out the shaming messages, such as: "You idiot, why did you do that?," "Can't you do anything right?," or "You should be ashamed of yourself," etc."
~ ~ ~
It is so sad to think of how many of us walk around living in shame of some sort. Not to say shame does not have a role in our lives - I believe it does. If we are doing something immoral or illegal, or if we are behaving in ways that are socially unacceptable, or selfish, then I think shame is a good way of telling us that we are doing something wrong and need to change our ways. I'm not suggesting we tell ourselves we shouldn't be ashamed if, in fact, we should be. Sometimes our conscience tells us things that are very accurate.

But then again, sometimes our conscience has been affected in such a way that it will lie to us. We may feel guilty for something and not even know why, but it's as if our conscience is betraying us. The type of shame many of us battle is the shame that has been imposed upon us by others; perhaps by those who had power over us and who may have abused that power. A shame that comes from a terrible sense of inadequacy, or a cultural shame that comes from falling below the perceived line of success, as in, you earn $40,000 per year but your peers all earn $50,000.

I was saying yesterday how I'd felt hit by shame again when I realized I was facing the next few weeks with nothing significant lined up on my schedule. This time, though, when shame came calling, I called its bluff. I actually spoke to it. I said, "I am not going to give in to shame. I am not going to give in to these feelings. I refuse to succumb to shame." I decided that rather than give in to its seductive feelings, I would fight them. It was pretty cool! I've never really done that before. I'm becoming a fighter in my old age. And it's about time.

I guess that's what separates "the men from the boys" in terms of surviving life and living life victoriously instead of in defeat. It's confronting something that's facing you and not accepting the overwhelming feelings that accompany it. It's making decisions and choices to "talk to yourself" and tell yourself the truth. Sometimes we need to hear the truth, and sometimes the only one around to tell you the truth is.....YOU!

Actually, in the Bible, it says, "David encouraged himself in the Lord." An interesting statement that follows  an account of an overwhelming crisis he was facing. I picture David drawing strength from God and - dare I imagine - he talked to himself? Encouraged himself? Spoke affirmative words to himself?

That's partly how I've been dealing with this whole health crisis - telling myself encouraging things.

Telling myself the truth:

"I will not be defeated by this cancer."

"I will not give into self-pity."

"God loves me SO much, and He is with me every step of the way."

....and so on.

And yesterday:

"I will not give into shame. I have dignity and worth, and I refuse to walk around feeling ashamed. I have nothing to be ashamed of. He loves me! He and I are going to figure out ways to see good come out of this....even this! And it's gonna be good!"

"Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." Psalm 34:5

Okay, so this video might be a bit cheesy for some of you, but I love the lyrics! Take a listen, and read the words beneath. God bless you.

The Climb
I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying
"You'll never reach it"

Every step I'm taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going

And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on

'Cause there's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb, yeah!

Keep on moving, keep climbing
Keep the faith, baby
It's all about, it's all about the climb
Keep the faith, keep your faith

Thursday, October 29, 2009

- Shame Revisited (Blackbird)

I've been thinking today about shame and how insidious it is. It sneaks up on us when we least suspect it, choking the spirit and suffocating potential. It disturbs our equilibrium and destroys our self-confidence.

Shame is crippling. So often, it is linked to our past. It tells us that nothing has changed. Emotionally and mentally, it brings us to the same turf, time after time. We do not know why we are on that same turf yet again; we only know that the turf looks, feels and smells the same, and that once again, we are standing on it, if not mired and sinking into it.

Most aspects that cause us shame are areas we can hide, or disguise, so that the world does not see them.

- If our shame is due to an eating disorder, we learn to hide it from others (although in its advanced forms, as with anorexia, people will eventually notice something is wrong);

- If shame comes through irrational fears or phobias, we can studiously avoid any possible situations in life where we would be confronted with that fear, especially where others might see us reacting;

- If our continuing financial insufficiency brings shame and we continually find ourselves broke, we can make excuses for not hanging out with certain people; not attending certain functions where we would feel "less than". We can deliberately associate with people who are "more poor" than we are; not that this is wrong, but if the motive is to avoid shame and feel a bit better about ourselves, we may be avoiding the root of the issue.

- If shame arises through the consequences we feel as a result of choosing the wrong types of romantic partners, we can hide for awhile; pretending our relationships are functional, normal and happy. Inwardly, though, we can feel ourselves empty, alone and foolish.

The point is, shame can and will place us in a position of having to pretend or hide. Shame can work in the life of every person, yet play a completely different role in each life.

It also serves as a mocker. It is as if shame sits on your shoulder and speaks to you, pointing out all the people surrounding you who are (seemingly) glowingly successful in the very area you are not. 

For example, if you are someone who feels you are not particularly talented in anything particular, you may find your world full of gifted people wherever you look. It will be as if you are the only untalented person in the room, in your social circle; in fact, in your entire universe.

If you are single and ashamed of it, you will be painfully aware of happy couples cuddling wherever you look. There may be other single people around you who are also feeling ashamed, but because of your shame-wound, you will be acutely aware of those happy couples all over your landscape, and at times it will feel as  though a knife is twisting in your heart.

If your dream was always to have intelligent, well-behaved children, and your children remind you of wild, unruly horses with ADD and a report full of C-minuses, you will no doubt become painfully aware of all the perfect mothers with perfect children who behave like perfect little ladies and gentlemen and who win awards in school for perfect report cards and good behavior.

One mother recently told me of her experience in this whole area of children. Her daughter had dropped out of high school and was living a life very contrary to the one she had been brought up to live. Around this same time, the neighbor's daughter graduated high school and on prom night, a limousine pulled up in front of the house to take her off to the celebrations.

My friend, who is a very gracious, lovely person, walked out to meet the neighbor's daughter as she was climbing into the limo. She handed her a graduation gift and congratulated her for her success....and then she came back into her house and wept for her own daughter, her own pain.

That is how life happens to us sometimes - its circumstances kick us right where we live, where we are the most vulnerable, where we are the most sensitive, the most hurting. Ever had that happen to you? It knocks the breath right out of you. It can rob you of any trace of joy you've ever had. And it can bring with it an overwhelming sense of shame.

Shame reared its ugly head in my life yesterday. I had just had my bandage removed from my second surgery, along with the drain and half the clips from my second incision (sorry for that description if you're queasy). I was driving home (yep, I can drive again - my arm is really good), and I was realizing that I'd recuperated more quickly than I thought I would from this surgery.

That's good, but it's caught me off guard. I'd thought I would be lying around for at least three weeks, but what I didn't realize is that the first surgery was two or two and a half hours, while the second one was a mere half hour. So I had a fraction of the anesthetic with the second surgery, and I guess that's why I've snapped back so quickly.

So why the shame? Well, my area of shame has always been in living with the results I've had from not planning my life properly. Not disciplining myself to get up out of bed early enough in the morning, not committing myself to a job, or to school, not taking on enough challenges, not following through on plans I've made for fear I've made the wrong decisions, resisting structure because I wanted to be a free spirit, etc. etc. etc.

I know that this is a completely different situation because of the cancer, but the situation feels exactly the same - it's all-so-familiar turf, and I seem to revisit it SO often. It's November and I have probably a month to go before starting chemo, and I have nothing to plans, no job, no life. Ack! And so, the shame resurfaces, despite the fact my head is telling me it's not my fault.

I want to point out that with shame, what the outside world sees and what we see are often completely different pictures. For example, ofttimes, I will see things in your life I wish I had, and I'll think your life is much rosier than mine, while you'll look at my life and see things you wish you had, and think my life is pretty peachy.

That's the annoying thing about people not being transparent with each other....sometimes we can feel so frustrated because it seems that the lives of others are so simple and attractive, when actually, they may be struggling with their own personal demons far more than we'll ever realize. Yet if we all keep our stuff to ourselves, nobody will know our secret battles. And I don't think that's very healthy overall for the human race. It breeds jealousy, competitiveness, envy and strife.

I don't mean to say that we should dump all our troubles on the guy riding next to us in the bus, but I do think there is a place for openness and honesty that can truly help set others free, and serve to liberate them from their own personal shame.

We can show each other that every life has its own share of sorrows and cares and hurts and complications, and that in the end, we're all in this together, each carrying his or her own load. Some loads are heavier than others, yes, but we most definitely have our own loads to bear.

Maybe I'll continue more on this tomorrow....

What are your experiences about shame? There's room below to comment (I believe you must have a Google account to be able to post) or you can send me an email at my private email address.

Don't have my private email address? If I type it out, big evil spam machines that search the net will pick it up and send endless spam mails to it, so here it is in code:  wendy"@"wendy dot ca  Did you get that? Take the quotes off either side of the commercial @ and put a period . instead of the word dot.  Pretty sneaky, eh?

BLACKBIRD   Sung by Sarah McLachlan

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly
Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

- My Arm Is Fine (Giggling Babies)

So, trundled off to the Jewish General again yesterday for the third day in a row, after spending parts of 2 days in Emerg. Had an ultrasound of my arm to make sure it was not about to wither up and fall off.

The Ultrasound Technician was very nice. She smeared my right shoulder and arm with that nice frosty cold ultrasound gel stuff and probed around for signs of an impending blood clot, but there was none. Turns out it's just a hematoma, which says is "a circumscribed collection of blood, usually clotted, in a tissue or organ, caused by a break in a blood vessel." Sounds like a clot to me, but what do I know?

I'm not feeling very verbose today. In fact, I think I'm suffering from yet another ailment called Cabin Fever. Another way of describing Cabin Fever is "GET ME OUT OF THIS HOUSE BECAUSE I'M GOING CRAZY DOING NOTHINGGGGG!!!!" I guess that's a good thing, right? It must mean I'm getting better.

But I'm feeling very frustrated because chemo is bound to start soon, so I can't get involved in anything much until I know how tired or how sick I'm going to feel while I'm on it. So I'm in limbo. On hold. My life is in that big gray patch they call "no-man's-land". Arrrggghhh. It's 2:08 pm and I'm still in my robe.

Tonight, I'm going to help out at a volunteer ESL (English as a Second Language) course. It'll get me out of the house and get my mind off my aches and pains.

Okay, enough about me. Time to laugh. Ready for a giggle or two? Watch these cuties!

See you soon, and blessings to each one of you. Hope your journey isn't too rough today....

Monday, October 26, 2009

- "How This Blog Is Done" by Timmy

Hiya - Wendy, here. So aren't you lucky? There are TWO Blog Postings today! This is just a fun one.

The real one is a page back - to see it, click here:

So Timmy (my cat) has been wanting to get more air time, so to speak. He's informed me that since he considers himself an integral part of the planning of this blog, he'd like to tell his own story, using pictures.

I'll get out of the way, now, and let him, I mean, speak. See you soon!

"Yup, it's me, Timmy.
Okay, so our day starts early - around 9 am or so."

"Wake UP!!!"

"She writes out some ideas on paper.
If I don't like 'em, I scrunch 'em up."

"We have a Blog Planning Production Meeting.
I'm in charge of that."

"Mom gets started by typing out a rough draft of the Blog.
I do the spellcheck."

"DRAT - doorbell! One of many interruptions."

"Second draft."

"Yessss - after-lunch siesta!"

"I handle all incoming phonecalls."

"This one's for her (again)."

"Sometimes she gets writer's block. Or gets discouraged.
This is also my department."

"I keep telling her to DRINK! She needs fluids."

"She tries to use the excuse that she can't open the bottle, so of course, I have to do that, too."

"Third revision. Bor-r-r-r-ing!"

"FOURTH and final revision."

"Some stretching exercises while she finishes up....."

"....and we're done!"

"Now you know who's REALLY behind this blog."

"Bedtime soon. Good night!
(Keep coming back to read this Blog - it makes her feel good)"

- Timmy

- All Righty, Then (Special Friends)

Ooh, this weekend was a special one. Where, oh, where to begin? It started out quite nicely, I must say, with a pleasant 3 hours or so composing my Blog Posting (I like capitalizing "Blog Posting" because it makes it look more important) on having a Good Attitude.

There are two or three ways of looking at what happened next. One way would be to say that it was decided by the powers that be that I needed to be tested on having a good attitude. Another way would be to say that I was kinda bored after finishing my blog, so I needed something exciting to do. A third way would be....oh, never mind, I'll just cut to the chase.

As I finished my bloggy thingy (another way of writing it - kinda cutesy), I noticed that my right upper arm looked odd. I mean, my bicep was sticking out in this weird way. It was all hard and strange-looking and sore to the touch. And I hadn't even been lifting weights.

Being the brilliant medical genius that I am, I suddenly remembered the "17 Signs of Lymphodema" paper included in the dozens of pamphlets the Jewish General Hospital has bestowed upon me since I was diagnosed. This blog is not long enough to list all the fascinating titles found in this folder of information (such as the pamphlet describing a program where I can be paired with another woman who has already had breast cancer, called "Breast Friends"...isn't that catchy?) But I digress.

So I go rushing to find the paper and realize that it does indeed sound like I have lymphodema. "This can be very serious," it says, "contact your doctor immediately", and so I call my hospital.

Of course, calling a hospital on a Saturday to find a doctor is a little like wandering through Vatican City looking for a Protestant....unfortunately, it's just not going to be your lucky day.

The Emergency Department won't let me speak to anyone remotely medical, although the twenty-something receptionist is very friendly. She tells me to call 811 instead which, here in Canada, is kind of an OnStar service for sick people, except that it's with a phone in your hand instead of an intercom in your car.

You dial the number, follow the electronic voice prompts, wait on hold for 23 minutes, and then spend 10 minutes describing your symptoms to someone who, in our case here in  a predominantly French-speaking province, has a heavy French accent and does not necessarily understand English all that well. It's not always terribly effective but it does make you feel validated, as if someone truly is interested in you and wants to listen to your health problems.

Besides, having waited on hold for so long means you usually end up lying down on your bed with the phone glued to your ear while listening to tinny, static-filled music playing through the earpiece, courtesy of your local Quebec radio station. In a strange way, this can be quite calming and hypnotic (no offense to Quebecois musicians intended), which is good for you if you are upset about your current medical condition.

In fact, very often, by the time a real live 811 operator comes on the line to speak to you, you might either (a) have fallen asleep or (b) have forgotten the very nature and purpose of your call. Both are quite relaxing, guaranteed to lower blood pressure.

Well, it's finally my turn and a nice French operator (supposedly a nurse) interrupts the tinny radio music by coming on the line. He struggles to understand the term "lymphodema". I try to think of a way to translate this into French. Like any other good English-speaking person living in Quebec, I began studying French in Grade 3 and finished when I graduated in Grade 11, (which means that I am nowhere near bilingual) and I am fairly certain that in all those years of  French studies, I never once encountered the French word for "lymphodema".

We try to find common ground of understanding, but I don't have a French-English dictionary on hand and he probably can't look it up on his computer because he doesn't know how to spell it. After clearly describing my symptoms in vivid detail (he is very empathetic and such a good listener!), he finally figures out what my problem is and recommends I hang up and go straight to the hospital.

By this time, I figure my arm must be ready for amputation. But, since I've just finished blogging on the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, I decide there is a wonderful chance that all is not lost. We  run downstairs and jump into my car (I get into the passenger side - I can't drive a standard shift if I have lymphodema in my right arm) and George gets in on the driver's side and we're off to Emergency, full of optimism that the staff will be able to save my odd-looking arm.

(In case my French-speaking friends never forgive me for making 811 sound completely incompetent, I must admit that this last bit about the operator not understanding or speaking English very well is actually fiction - I made it up to make this story sound more compelling and funny. He actually spoke English very well and knew immediately what lymphodema was. Hope you can forgive me for that. I never let truth get in the way of a good story. To justify myself here, I want to assure you that I'll always tell you which parts of my stories are not true. Otherwise, I would feel too guilty. But again, I digress.)

So, as I go though triage at the Jewish General Emergency, they look concerned at my symptoms and tell me they will "express" me. That means instead of waiting the customary 10 to 12 hours, I will wait a mere 2 to 3 hours. Not bad, eh? Remember, we have socialized medicine here in Canada, so who can complain when it's free. Right?

Well, I could go on and on, boring you with endless details, but I guess I should shorten this already-lengthy tale by saying that after an hour wait in the waiting room, and another hour wait in the cubicle in the Green Unit, a doctor came in and gave my arm a look. He left, brought back another doctor to give my arm a look, and they decided I needed an ultrasound of my arm. They didn't think it was lympodemia but were concerned that it could be an infection or a blood clot related to the surgery from last Tuesday.

The Guy-On-Call-Who-Does-Ultrasounds-On-Weekends apparently told them over the phone in no uncertain terms that unless I was dying, he wasn't going to make a special trip into Emergency. Where is this guy? At home watching TV on a Sunday morning? Upstairs in the staff lounge napping? Honestly.

So the two doctors came back in to see me looking pretty ticked off at his decision and said I'd have to come back Monday (which is today). In the meantime, they said, they would give me an injection of blood thinner, in the event that I did indeed have a blood clot. This would keep me in a safer range until the Monday, when I could have the by-then withering, gangrenous arm (okay, it probably wouldn't look like that but I have a good imagination) properly assessed.

Before leaving, they warned me that if, at any time, I should develop a headache, I was to come rushing back to Emergency, as this would indicate I was experiencing "cerebral hemorrhage"....that's "bleeding in the brain", in case you weren't sure. Oh. My.

So, we went home, I cried for half an hour - emotional release, I suppose - and then I went to bed. I had some weird dreams and woke up Sunday morning with....guess what? A headache! Oh, yes. A headache. Probably from crying? Not drinking enough water the day before? Bleeding in my brain? Who knows? So back to Emergency, where they sent me off for a CAT scan.

Oh, the drama of it all....the suspense, the tense music in the background (not from the Quebec radio station this time; I mean, in my imagination, I can hear this Hollywood-type music playing in the background of my life...kind of like a soap opera-type thing). The CAT scan technician obviously doesn't share the same work ethic as the Ultrasound technician, as he has actually shown up for work this lovely Sunday.

He also happens to be a guy I played badminton with a few years ago at Montreal Badminton Club, so we exchange a few pleasantries as he sets me up in his magical machine. Whirring furiously (the machine, not the technician), it searches my head for a few minutes, and then I'm back to Emerg to await the official verdict, although he tells me there's no sign of leaking blood anywhere in my little brain.

So there we have it. False alarm. No bleeding. No cerebral hemorrhage (that last word has got to be one of the weirdest-looking words to spell, honestly). We were free to leave. And that was basically it.

But I did tell the staff a joke or two before we left, which they really appreciated. People always think you're brave if you have a joke or two to tell when you have cancer. They see you as some kind of saint or something . . . a modern-day hero. "Isn't she great?" they exclaim as we leave Emergency, and we overhear by accident. "She has such a great attitude!" Aw, thanks, guys.

It was a momentary bright spot in my otherwise stress-filled weekend.


Special Friends....

The Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara, CA last week caused these two to take shelter together. The fawn is 3 days old and the bobcat about 3 weeks. They immediately bonded and snuggled together under a desk in the Santa Barbara County Dispatch Office for several hours. 

Although wild animals, especially of separate species, are never placed together due to regulations, in this emergency situation they had no choice. During the mayhem of the fire, they were forced to put animals anywhere they could, since they had run out of crates large enough for the fawn. The kitten ran to the fawn and it was instant bonding.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

- Attitude And Altitude

"Your attitude determines your altitude."

I've been thinking today about attitude. You know, growing up, I don't think I ever heard a single thing about maintaining a good attitude in life! Isn't that incredible? My parents were good parents in many, many ways, and yet I don't remember a single time when they told me I should have an optimistic, healthy attitude towards life.

"A healthy attitude is contagious, but don't wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier."

Nor do I recall at any point a moment in school where teachers discussed anything about attitude. No, I think the first time I actually started becoming aware of this thing called attitude was in the past ten years. I began noticing a couple of individuals who never seemed to feel sorry for themselves; people who met life's challenges head on, with no hesitation or moods or moping or hysteria - just a confident, let's-get-things-done kind of reaction to their problems.


“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.”  – William James

The individuals I observed with this approach to life are devoid of self-pity, despite their "entitlement" to wallow in it. I'm sure privately, such individuals have their moments when they let it out emotionally for a time and experience their moments of grief, yet to the world, they present a calm, matter-of-a-fact attitude to the crisis in front of them.

"I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."  
- Martha Washington

The most crucial thing I've observed, though, about these people, is just how attractive they are. Because of their lack of self-pity and their cheery dispositions, people are drawn to them. They are admired, and they deserve to be admired.

Everyone has their own load in life. Have you ever heard this quote? "Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." It's so true. Knowing that, who wants to be around someone who is negative and down all the time? It's just too draining. 

We've all got our own "stuff", and to be around someone whose "stuff" has turned them into negative, complaining, down-in-the-mouth people is just so depressing. I know that in order to stay sane and balanced in this particular crisis I'm in, I've had to avoid people like that, not because I don't care about them, but because right now, I can't afford to go down myself...I have to stay upbeat, positive and optimistic, and I don't feel I can carry someone else's burdens for the moment.

"Everyone has his burden. What counts is how you carry it." – Merle Miller

Now here's an important point - don't miss this: as with any truth, including this one, there's always a danger of going too far in one direction, which can end up being just - I don't know - weird. In talking about optimism, someone can end up feeling condemned because they don't have a "happy-clappy" approach to their condition or situation. They can feel like they've been a failure because the news they've received - that they have a serious illness, or that their spouse is leaving, or that their child is in desperate trouble - is just absolutely sinking them into depths of despair.

I am not suggesting you become a chronic "faker", telling everyone you're just peachy, when in fact, you're on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Suppressing our true emotions for any significant period of time is obviously unhealthy. If you're in the midst of a difficult illness or a life-changing crisis, for goodness sake, seek help to get you through and to strengthen you....there's absolutely no shame in that! We have support systems for a reason, and I, for one, would not be dealing well with this breast cancer if I didn't have good people around to cheer me on.

What I am saying is that even in the midst of tears, we can maintain a good attitude. Nobody can take away the power to choose our response and our attitude to our surroundings and our circumstances. We may feel overwhelmed at times; we may feel hard done by, or unfairly treated, or singled out for disaster, yet at the end of the day, the person who ends up most disadvantaged, most sorrowful, most embittered is the one who gives in to the temptation of self-pity and of a negative outlook.

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances — to choose one's own way." - Viktor Frankl*

* Viktor Frankel survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Turkheim concentration camps.

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." - Lou Holtz

I have no idea who this little guy is. Someone sent me an email and here he was, his cheery, bright face looking out into the world with optimism and joy. His glee is contagious! He is not aware of his disability, because he's too busy doing all the fun things life has to offer him. He's going about his day, he's doing what little boys do, and he's loving it.

I don't know his name. I don't know how old he is. All I know is that when I grow up, I want to be like him.

"What one approves, another scorns 
And thus his nature each discloses 
You find the rosebush full of thorns 
I find the thornbush full of roses."
- Arthur Guiterman

Friday, October 23, 2009

- Mad World

Well, today was a pretty blah day, but that's okay. Am torn between putting more effort into getting out and just succumbing to the desire to lay around doing nothing and basically sleeping off the painkiller I took yesterday.

My right side is more stiff than sore, and if it gets really painful, I've got the pain meds, although I've only taken one since being discharged Tuesday evening. I'd probably drive my car if I had an automatic, but since I drive a standard shift, it's not possible, so I'm staying put until next week.

Today I came across this while reading: "My life is an example to many, because You have been my strength and protection."  Psalm 71, verse 7. Reading that verse got me thinking today about the whole area of belief, faith, and things invisible. As I've said before, I've been really touched by the encouragement I've received from many of you, particularly the comments you've made about my strength, my attitude, and my cheerfulness in all of this ordeal. To be honest, I've been kind of amazed, too.

Socrates maintained that public discussion of the great issues of life and virtue is a necessary part of any valuable human life. "The unexamined life is not worth living," he said. Hmm, how cool...I wonder if I'm a little bit like Socrates, since I am the Queen of Self-Examination.

For example, I've been pondering lately the reasons why I believe, why I feel so strong and optimistic, etc. Like everyone, I suppose, I get questions running through my mind; questions about life, and the supernatural and so on; questions like:

- How can logical people have faith in something or someone invisible?

- How can people gain strength, courage, and hope from someone who cannot be seen, or whose existence cannot be proven, nor whose truths cannot be scientifically quantified or tested?

- How can anyone be expected to place unwavering faith in a being whose character cannot be actively demonstrated?

Wow, what great questions! (yawn) Well, good night! Gotta run!

Just kidding. Those questions were simply served up to whet your appetite. I will now attempt to answer these and many other stupendous questions in the next two or three paragraphs. Ha ha ha! Not even remotely likely.

Those of you who already know me know that I am a person of faith. You know that when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had sold most of my possessions and had given up an apartment I absolutely loved. I was one week away from flying to a missions training center, ready to begin a new phase of my life.

And yet, this health thing hasn't shaken my faith in the slightest. It hasn't caused me to question God, nor to shake my fist in the air, crying "why me-e-e-ee?!?!?!?" It has not caused me to throw my Bible against the wall nor out the window. And I did not get rid of my favorite wooden cross necklace as a sign that I was officially on strike from believing in Him.

Actually, my test of faith started a couple of years ago, and it involved some of the questions listed above, rather than any specific crisis or circumstance. Although I had been an active believer for thirty years or so, I had started to doubt some of the core beliefs upon which I had based my life. And it was very unnerving.

At times, I questioned my sanity at ever having put my faith in a God I couldn't see; a God whom so many others around me were so sure does not exist. And I wondered if I was going to still be a follower of Christ by the time the following year arrived.

At that point of my life, walking through that valley of the shadows, pondering all the mysterious unknowns associated with faith systems and religions, somehow, walking away seemed to be the most rational  and logical thing to do.

It seemed so tempting....why not simply exchange my belief in one God for a belief of everything in general and nothing in particular? And so I pondered, and I reasoned. I wrestled with the possibility that it was all fake, and that everything I trusted in was just....well, silly, foolish and imaginary.

And yet, in the end, I chose to continue believing. I chose to continue exercising my faith in God; chose still to trust the invisible.

Was I crazy? Deceived? In need of a crutch? We believers get these accusations thrown our way all the time, believe me - sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes not....

Ah, well....this is a huge topic, and I'm out of steam. It's past midnight and my incision area is tingling and asking me to please go and lie down so it can....I don't know....untingle?

Before I go, I'll leave you with this song, "Mad World". I love Gary Jules' interpretation of's haunting and sad and poignant. And the subject of the song, that this world is a sad and painful place, is one of the important reasons I ultimately decided two years ago that it was rational to continue believing in the unseen, and in the unknown.

But more about that another day....

Mad World    Michael Andrews and Gary Jules

All around are me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
And their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrows
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very very,
Mad world, Mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
May they feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very very
Mad world, Mad world
Mad world, Mad world

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

- Hope Deferred (I Dreamed A Dream)

Hi Everyone, so today was a pretty decent day (well, technically, it was yesterday, but I'm finally posting this at 1:51 am Wednesday morning). Got to the hospital around 11:15 am to check into ODS (One Day Surgery). See, even when you have something seriously wrong with you, Quebec hospitals still only want you to hang around for a few hours after your operation, and then it's like, "Get outta here, you whiner !!"

Wanna qualify for a longer stay in hospital? Halfway through your stay in the Recovery Room, start acting strange and disoriented, drool a bit and say random things in a scared whisper like "I see dead people walking around!" and I guess they'd have to transfer you to a room  for an overnight stay (although this could work against you if they decide you need a padded cell or something).

Another way to qualify for an overnight stay would be to become best friends with the Head Nurse, a Hospital Administrator, or the Guy In Charge of Housekeeping, and I suppose that could open some doors for you as well.

Anyways, I wasn't feeling that adventurous today, so I opted for acting normally and leaving on time. Surgery was at 2 pm and lasted about half an hour. For those of you just tuning in to this blog (hmm, how far back in this fascinating story should I go? "I was born in 1959 to parents who were..." No, no, no - too far back...), I was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 19th of this year, had a double mastectomy September 15th, and found out October 15th that one of the two lymph nodes they'd removed was positive.

Today, I went back into surgery to get another bunch of lymph nodes removed for analysis, to see if the cancer has spread further than previously thought, and if so, how much. And, since Quebec hospitals also believe that a bit of suspense adds spice to life, I'll now have to wait 2 - 4 weeks to find out just how many of those lymph nodes, if any, are positive for cancer. Yay! I love a mystery! Phhhhttt.

George very kindly took me in and hung around the hospital all day, and then we came back to his place where he's spoiling me with endless cups of tea and great home cooked meals. So I'm very blessed.

Of course, Timmy is here, too, helping me to recuperate. He's a real trooper (see picture at right).

My doctor went in through the same small incision he'd previously made near my right underarm when he removed the two lymph nodes on September 15th. He says he removed a bunch of fat or tissue or whatever today and has no idea how many lymph nodes are in there...that's someone else's job to dig those out now.

I woke up in lots of pain and wasn't getting any relief from the pain meds they were giving me, so they added a sedative into the mix and I had a lovely, drowsy afternoon until they kicked me out around 6 pm tonight.

It's amazing the stuff you learn when you have a certain illness.  I'd never heard of the term "receptors" in relation to tumors, but gradually I'm learning more about them. Breast cancer tumors have 3 possible receptors: Estrogen, Progesterone, and HER2. I am positive for Estrogen and Progesterone, and negative for HER2.

Today, my doctor told me I'll probably only need 4 rounds of chemo - around 6 months worth - because I am negative for HER2. Yay! He'd previously told me that my chemo would probably last a year. So that will be cool, although I am certainly not going to get my hopes up until the final pathology report comes in next month.

And so now I wait. I wait for news of my health, I wait until I start chemo, probably in November or December, and I wait for my deferred dreams (of going into overseas missions) to become a reality.

There's a verse in the Bible that says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." (Proverbs 13:12). I get that! If you're a human being, you've probably had this experience at one time or another in your life, too. You wait for something you really, really want, you hope like crazy it'll come your way, and month after month - or maybe year after year or - ugh - even decade after decade, you wait....and you wait....and you wait....until your hope is just about crushed.

You wait for that wait to meet Mr. or Mrs. wait for that big break....for your moment in the sun.

You wait for the moment you can finally afford your first wait for your erring child to smarten up, to see the light and to start living wait for retirement....for the moment when you don't have to run around every single day like a madman....

You wait for the day you start feeling better....or for the day you don't feel so broken inside, or so dysfunctional, or so whatever. You wait and you wait until it feels like your head is going to explode if you have to wait another single, blessed minute. And, like the verse above says, if you wait too long, that wait can become unbearable, turning hope into despair, despondency, and resignation to reality.

It's normal to see beyond our "today". Susan Boyle had a dream - to become a famous, world-class singer. Born when her mother was 47, she was briefly deprived of oxygen during the difficult birth and was later diagnosed as having learning difficulties. She was bullied as a child, was nicknamed "Susie Simple" by other children, and left school with very few qualifications. She sometimes visited the theatre to listen to professional singers, and though she performed at a number of local venues, it never amounted to much of anything.

Susan almost abandoned her plan to enter Britain's Got Talent, but someone persuaded her to audition despite her believing "...she was too old and that it was a young person's game". Boyle said that her mother's death motivated her to go on the show, so she auditioned to pay tribute to her mother.

Overnight, Susan became internationally known. The most popular YouTube video submission of her audition for the show garnered nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours. A total of 103 million video views on 20 different websites was reached within nine days. ABC News hailed her "Britain's newest pop sensation", and its Entertainment section headlined Boyle as "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell".

The song she chose to sing, "I Dreamed a Dream" is from the stage musical "Les Miserables" or "The Miserable Ones", based on a novel written in 1862. The song is sung as a solo by the character Fantine, a woman whose life is one of abject poverty and tragedy. Fantine has given birth to an illegitimate daughter, is abandoned by the father of the child, and is forced to resort to prostitution in order to pay for her daughter's board and expenses. She spends time in prison, and though she is released, she dies a premature death.

There is no wonder that we are stirred deeply by this woman named Susan Boyle, whose dream is now coming true in mid-life, in a time when the economy has robbed so many of their dreams, and who sings about the hopelessness of someone whose dreams never came true.

Susan's new album "I Dreamed A Dream" is slated for release November 23rd, 2009.

And what about you? Have your dreams become a faint reality? Distant at best? Are you bogged down in despair? Barely hanging on? Hanging by a thread?

Hang in there, fellow pilgrim; all is not lost. Perhaps you need to let go of your "let go and let God", so to speak. Maybe you need to surrender your dream, your dreams, to the One Who created you, and let Him do something spectacular in your life, something new and different, as I believe He is in the process of doing for me.

Maybe His dreams for you are far deeper than the dreams you've ever had for yourself! I'm preaching to myself, here, believe me! I'm choosing to ponder this for myself, because the only other alternative at this point is for me to give in to despair, and I simply cannot afford to do that right now.

And so I live in hope. Hope that my dreams won't be deferred too much longer, yes, but also hope - wondrous hope! - that God's plans are far better than mine, and He is working out something very beautiful in my life right now.

Surrender your dreams to Him today, and see what new dreams He has waiting for you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

- Normal Is A Setting On Your Dryer (Chocolate Mug Cake Recipe)

So, I'm back to normal today, although as one author says, "Normal is just a setting on your dryer." What is "normal", anyways? Who knows? One of my mother's favorite sayings was "Everyone's strange except me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee." Actually, she used to say, "Everyone's queer except me and thee..." but I convinced her that she couldn't use that word anymore in her favorite saying or else people would get different ideas.

I ran around too much on Thursday and my doctor's appointment, then another errand, a get-together on Friday morning, visiting a dear friend in the afternoon, and a quick trip to Fairview Shopping Centre for a much-needed pair of Fall shoes. And then Saturday, I was wasted. For some reason, anesthetic plays a real number on me and it takes me like, three months to recuperate from that stuff...I'm just so sleepy.

Just to recap: I received the news this past week that I'll need more surgery - one of the two lymph nodes they previously thought was negative is actually positive, so they'll have to operate this Tuesday and remove more lymph nodes; see if the cancer has spread. I felt really down for the past 3 days, but I woke up this morning, well, exactly the same. Bleccchhhh.  So I lay there in bed feeling isolated and alone, and then I decided that I had two choices: to lie there all day and feel sorry for myself, or get up and get out with people.

So I went and hung out with "my peeps" at Westview, which lately has been my favorite church in the whole world. I love the people there and they kinda love me, too, and it just feels good to walk in the doors and have all this overwhelming support coming my cheers me up and I walk outta there feeling like I can face the upcoming week.

I have to tell you a funny story: the Jewish General Hospital is a teaching hospital, meaning that whenever you have a procedure, a surgery, an examination, or whatever, there are bound to be young-looking guys and girls who are very interested in looking at your body. If you should ever find yourself in a teaching hospital and this happens to you, you must remind yourself that these people are not voyeurs (hopefully); they are merely eager students looking for unhealthy guinea pigs like you and me to practice on. Oh! Did I just say that with my out-loud voice? Yes, I did. Oh, well....

So there I am lying on the operating table with my arms stretched out, and about a dozen people rushing around me doing their thing and performing their respective tasks. I look over at my left arm to see a young man who looks like he's around, oh, I don't know - fifteen years old - inserting a needle in my arm. I'm sure he was older, or else they wouldn't have let him touch me, right? Right? Oh, Lord, please, let me be right.

Anyways, I look at his little black name tag, and sure enough, he's a Vanier College Respiratory Student. Groovy. He's old enough to be in college. He wasn't looking very nervous, which is always reassuring, but then I noticed a woman who looked much older....maybe nineteen....(just kidding) observing his technique.

I say to him, "Dude," (I like calling young guys dude cuz it makes me feel cool and hip) "are you being graded on this?" and he replies in kind of a resigned tone of voice, "Oh, yeah." I said, "You realize that if I die, you'll fail, right?" So we all had a good laugh. He laughed. His teacher laughed. The anesthesiologist laughed. I laughed. Well, I sort of laughed. Yep, it's downright hysterical what goes on in operating rooms. Fond memories. And now I get to relive them all again this Tuesday. Are you jealous yet? Enh, it could always be worse. I could be in some fourth rate hospital being operated on by someone who graduated from the Acme International Online School of Medicine.

So, to celebrate this happy Sunday, I am GIVING AWAY ABSOLUTELY FREE this wonderful chocolate cake recipe that you can nuke in your microwave in just a few minutes!!! Yep, you can now enjoy decadence and delight in a mere few minutes! Will you thank me or will you wish you'd never seen this? I sincerely hope you have more self-control than I do!  ;)

Well, enough of hanging out at Second Cup, using up their internet waves. I'm off to the store to buy chocolate, er, I mean, granola and flax seed, and then home for a four-hour nap. Stay tuned for more of my adventures.....coming soon to a blog and a computer near you.....


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe)

Add dry ingredients to mug.
Mix well.
Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil.
Mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) 
     and vanilla extract.
Mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave.

Cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, 
     but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little.
Tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT ! 

This can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous.

And why is this the most 
dangerous cake recipe in the world?

Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

Disclaimer: um, I have never actually made this cake...I'm just forwarding it to you. If you make it, please let me know how it turns out, eh?