Submitted for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray
Those of you who have followed me for any length of time know that I have been on the fence about many things in my life….ad nauseum. Today, I took one small, brave step toward the future, a future that I hope will bring a greater sense of peace and authenticity in my life, something that has been missing for far too long.
I finished chiropractic school in Fall of 2006. I accepted a position in the local hospital laboratory while I was waiting to my national board exams, as I already had an undergraduate degree in that field. Shortly after I took the job, I found out that I was pregnant with my youngest child, who is now 6. I was thrilled! Oh well, change of plans. I decided to work in the lab for 2 years or so and save money to open a practice.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. Over the next several years, my life began to unravel. In 2007, my husband was injured at work, and we ended up losing our home and having to declare bankruptcy. The following Spring, we lost our oldest son unexpectedly, four days after we celebrated the birth of our daughter. Needless to say, I stayed at my job.
I despised working in the lab. It was a regulatory job filled with nit-picking rules and mind-numbing details. I equated myself to a well-paid hall monitor. I flirted with the idea of doing something with the chiropractic degree several times, but I could never quite find the strength and energy to make the change. And saving money was a pipe dream with three kids at home. Two years dragged into five.
So many times I promised myself that I would quit suffocating my dreams and find my purpose in life, but I lied. I plodded along, one foot in front of the other, the good responsible girl to the end. Meanwhile, my body rebelled against the repressed anger and resignation, and I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in March of 2013. I fully believe that my job was a contributing factor in my disease.
To most people, my job would seem like a cakewalk. I only work 3 days per week, 8:30-5. I don’t do strenuous manual labor or have to deal with extreme weather conditions. I don’t work most weekends or holidays. Just saying these things to myself has kept me there for over 7 years. “What kind of spoiled brat leaves a job like that?” But I have slowly died inside over those years, and part of me has given up hope of ever finding what I’m meant to offer this world.
I know you’re probably thinking that I have finally taken a chiropractic job. Nope. I have no prospects, no grand plans. I simply walked into my boss’ office this afternoon and told her that I need to make some changes at the end of September. I will no longer be doing my 3 day gig. I can’t..do…it..anymore. I offered to stay on in a PRN, as-needed capacity, where I can say “yes” or “no” on any given day and take a break whenever it suits me, for a week, or six.
I have known this woman off and on for nearly 20 years. She started out working in the lab like me. We have been friends. although more distant lately. What was her response? Did she immediately act surprised, the disappointment showing on her face? No. Our conversation lasted all of five minutes. She simply said “Ok. I’ll take a look at it and let you know.” So, I suppose she has to do her thing and I have to do mine.
I guess I’m crazy, because we certainly can’t afford to live comfortably without my income. There will no doubt be sacrifices until I line something else up. But I need this time. I need to sit back and take stock of the last 18 months of treatment and regroup, play in the garden, and enjoy the last vestiges of summer warmth. Many days, I’m not even sure that I really want to be a chiropractor anymore. All I know is that it’s time to start listening to that inner voice and heed the lessons that breast cancer taught me. Life is too short to be unhappy.
As a cancer survivor, healthy eating has become paramount to my survival. All the research points to the fact that a diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables is the key to preventing not only cancer, but a myriad of other diseases. Look around you at the people walking down the street and it will become crystal clear that you are what you eat. See a few Big Macs out there?
I’ve always been fairly conscientious about what I put in my mouth, but I do have a sweet tooth. I can remember watching “The Biggest Loser” a few years ago with my ice cream bowl on my lap. Ironic, huh? I wasn’t seriously overweight, but I was enjoying a form of denial. After all, I did cut up fresh fruit to put on top of my dessert.
Shortly after that. I started running and got serious about my diet. I was fairly strict during the week…no dessert and no alcohol. I ate lean meat and tried to cut back on my carb consumption. But I never tried to live with complete deprivation because I believe that this leads to failure. I allowed myself to indulge that sweet tooth on Saturdays, usually in the form of some decadent ice cream shop creation involving lots of chocolate and the word “fantasy”.
So there I was, proud as punch about my healthy new lifestyle, and I got cancer anyway. I was in shock at the seeming unfairness of it all. What about all these yahoos smoking and drinking while double-fisting Krispy Kreme doughnuts?! They’ll probably live forever!
My diagnosis made me realize a couple of things. First, cancer is a sneaky, relentless disease that has many causes. Even if you do everything just right, you aren’t immune. Second, you can always take steps to give yourself a little more insurance. I was eating better than most, but I was still nowhere near the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which is still inadequate.
Since my ordeal, I have made a concerted effort to scour vegan and vegetarian blogs, books, and other resources to find new recipes. I still eat meat, but I’ve cut back, and I try not to use any products from large commercial farms. I also limit dairy, but cheese is a tough thing to give up!
This year, I raised an organic garden, although it has been very challenging lately with all the rain. Asheville is trying to become a suburb of Seattle, I think. I’ve had yellow squash and phallic cucumbers running out my ears. I made my own pickles, and a vegan blackberry cobbler. Right now, I have green beans, watermelon, and pumpkins trying to take off. The tomatoes finally lost the battle to the weather, so I’ll be pulling them out this weekend.
Overall, the garden has been a success, and not only from a food standpoint. There’s something soul sustaining about digging in the dirt. At the end of a really crappy day, I can’t help but feel better standing among my veggies.
I feel pretty good about my choices most of the time. I’ve come up with a supplement regimen that works. I’m getting more creative and healthier in the kitchen. That mental piece is still a work in progress, but I’m trying to figure out my path to happiness and fulfillment. The only thing I can ask when I look back on my life is that I did everything I could to change the outcome and survive. The rest is out of my hands.
My children think I’m crazy sometimes, but they’ve learned to embrace it and even appreciate pieces of my offbeat personality when they catch themselves acting like Mom. This photo was taken on one of those eye-rolling occasions.
We had been enjoying a sunny afternoon stroll downtown and had just returned to the parking garage. As I started to get in the car, this scene caught my eye on the parking level just above us. My teenage daughter was feeling particularly salty that day and insisted that we go home. I had to risk her wrath when she realized we were going up instead of down toward the exit. I think it was worth it:)
Ahhh summer, how I love you. I pine for you on cold, dreary December days. I rejoice upon your return and bask in your embrace, unashamed. But your flirtation is brief and intense, like a butterfly landing momentarily on a bloom. Soon you will depart once again, and I will cling to your memory, as it is all that you have left me.