Cancer Schmancer: Here’s To Completely Shaking Up 2015!

It’s been a while since I last posted. I guess I had run out of things to say…same old, same old. “I’m trying to find my purpose after my breast cancer diagnosis.” “I can’t seem to shake this funk.” “My hormones are kicking my ass.” I got tired of listening to myself. Then, something came over me….

None of this is ever going to change if you wake up each morning with the same mindset and continue doing what you’ve always done. Not exactly a revelation, but so many times we hear things over and over, and one day they just  click.

So…I’ve decided that enough time in my life has been wasted on regret and negativity. I’ve embarked on a total life overhaul. How?

I’m not sure where or when it happened exactly, but I started reading motivational books, listening to positive affirmations, and generally trying to surround myself with positive influences in the virtual world. I started taking yoga classes, which I find deeply relaxing for the rest of the day. Got stress? Take yoga!

I got myself a business coach because I decided that I have something to offer other people, even if I haven’t completely refined my niche just yet. I know that it will involve holistic health care for women with a specialty in holistic cancer care during treatment and beyond. That one decision to get a coach has profoundly changed my mindset. He is an acupuncturist with a degree in Eastern philosophy. He is incredibly inspiring, not “salesy” and “sleazy”.

Most recently, I came across a phenomenal young man named Hal Elrod who is a life coach and extremely successful motivational speaker. He had a high-paying sales job at 20 years old when he was struck head on at 70 mph by a drunk driver going the wrong way down the interstate. He had to be cut out of the car and was clinically dead for 6 minutes before paramedics could revive him and airlift him to the hospital.

Take a peek at Hal speaking in the video below. You don’t have to watch the whole thing…but I bet you won’t be able to stop.

Told he would probably never walk again and had suffered permanent brain damage, he chose to accept whatever would come without self-pity. He told his father that he either would walk again or “be the happiest guy you know in a wheelchair”.

He did walk again, through sheer determination. He went back to his sales career and shattered his previous records. Eventually, he wrote a book that would become one of the highest rated in Amazon history, at age 32!

The name of that book is “The Miracle Morning”, and I just started reading it. So far, it has been full of great advice and inspiration. The book talks about how all highly successful people wake up early and have a morning routine that sets the tone for the rest of the day. The book spells out 6 points of that routine in detail, all of which take no more than an hour.

Not being a morning person, at all, I’m a little nervous about getting up an hour earlier, but the book has hundreds of testimonials on Amazon about how it has changed lives. I’m really excited to try it. I’m going to finish it this weekend and start on Monday.

The book talks about having an Accountability Partner for the “30 day Life Transformation Challenge”, so if any of you want to do it along with me, let me know. There is a website where you can get some great free stuff and get a feel for the philosophy. You do have to give an e-mail address, just a heads up. No…I don’t work for this guy:)

I know that there may still be ups and downs in my recovery, but I finally feel like I’m on the right path and learning how to enjoy the journey. Happy New Year, my friends!

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THE DANCE

I’ve been doing a rumba for the last 6 years, being drawn in by the seductive rhythms and passionate low pleading of the song. Each time I’ve turned my face away, hand outstretched, yearning to find my own steps, I’ve been forcefully embraced by a silent partner and led back into the choreography which was chosen long ago.

This metaphor could describe many of the layers I’m peeling away from a life which no longer feels authentic. The process is slow…not like ripping off a bandaid, more like wiping the grime off of a window that has been dirty and nagging for years, but has been overlooked for more pressing tasks.

I graduated from chiropractic school in late 2006 and received my license to practice in 2008 after rigorous national and state exams. Since that time, I have seen probably less than 50 different patients. After some initial excitement of setting up a home office and getting all of my ducks in a row, I’ve just never been “ready” to take the plunge and start trying to attract clients. Granted, there have been some really major stumbling blocks in my life during those years, but I almost feel like I’ve used them as an excuse not to practice.

If I’m being honest, the questions began the first time I toured the chiropractic school. Before I started, I was in a graduate program to teach science, but teaching high school was not turning out to be a very attractive proposition. A classmate of mine, who was a chiropractor herself, told me about her work. It paid well, the hours were decent, and there was an opportunity to help a lot of people using my science background.

It alI sounded very promising, and I decided to check out the school.  As I peered in the technique classrooms, some of the students had others lying on benches, practicing moves that were very foreign and strange-looking to me. My stomach tightened a bit. I couldn’t really see myself there. I ignored that feeling, as I had done so many times, and feigned enthusiasm.  In no time at all, I was enrolled and large promissory notes were signed.

I soon met another skeptic with a delightfully sarcastic sense of humor. Several times each semester, we would sit in the gazebo in the middle of campus, making fun of the chiropractic zealots and questioning whether this was the semester we should drop out and find another career or transfer to a less cultist school.

Once we got about halfway through the program, leaving became less and less realistic. We were in too far, both financially and academically. (Few people realize that chiropractors take all of the same courses as med students; they just have shorter “residencies”.) I also had a pride issue at stake. My brother had bet me at the outset that I wouldn’t finish the program. I proved him wrong. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a win.

Since graduation, I’ve had numerous opportunities to go in with other doctors or rent my own space. I’ve even signed a lease and backed out of the deal. Something just keeps telling me not to commit. I love the idea of helping people and having my own space, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t love chiropractic. I find myself almost giddy when people cancel appointments. Don’t get me wrong, I find tremendous value in chiropractic, and I am an avid patient. I just don’t want to do it to others all day long.

This is probably the first time I have laid my feelings bare to such an extent, even to myself. It’s not easy to say. I have almost $300,000 in student loan debt, which is far more than my mortgage. I feel like I should suck it up and just make the money. But I can’t. Living through cancer has made it impossible to keep doing things I don’t want to do. The “shoulds” are slowly losing the power they have held over me for my entire life.

I don’t know what I”ll do from here, and that’s more than a little scary. My passion is nutrition. I would love to help people get well with lifestyle changes and natural remedies as much as possible, but I’m not sure I can deal with the public day in and day out. I need a lot of time for introspection, or I tend to get overwhelmed. Teaching might be the ultimate solution, maybe with a practice on the side.

I have a lot of good skills that I must now figure out how to weave into a cohesive fabric of occupational fulfillment while somehow still paying the bills Am I being unrealistic, asking for too much, going crazy? Maybe…probably…but I can’t continue to be an impostor in my own life. For better or worse, this is the new me. And I’m learning to like her.

The Winds of Change Are Blowing…

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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.

Why Not Living Might Kill You

PUN OF THE DAY: I WONDERED WHY THE BALL KEPT GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER, AND THEN IT HIT ME…

Today marks the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.  On March 20th last year, I anxiously awaited my biopsy results, sore and bruised from the whirlwind of procedures I had endured the day before. My little delusions fell one by one like dominoes throughout the day. Maybe it’s not cancer. Wrong. Well, ok, maybe it’s not invasive. It is. Ok, maybe it’s not in the lymph nodes, just in the breast. Sorry. I remember when the walls finally came tumbling down and I had to call it a day. Even the most hardcore optimist has to face reality at some point.

Four months of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments later, I’m here, still standing, and still running. Physically, I’ve fared better than many. I have no obvious residual effects from the myriad of drugs and poisons injected into my body, other than a touch of menopause which may or may not be permanent.

I have written many times during the course of this year about the emotions that surface when one faces a serious health crisis. In some ways, breast cancer has been a good thing. It has taught me to never take anything for granted. Not time, not memories, and especially not those whom I love most in this world. It has stripped away the vanity that I used to hide behind and forced me to find more authentic ways of dealing with the world. And it has caused me to dig deeper and find more courage than I ever thought possible. Nothing will test your mettle like going out for the first time with the faintest covering of white peach fuzz barely covering a shiny, bald head.

Some people who blog about cancer talk about having lost their way and given up their identities, especially the women. I believe that there is a lot of truth in the idea that cancer is the result of stuffing down emotions and desires, of sacrificing the self in service of others. Of losing passion and giving up dreams. Eventually, the mind rebels against the oppression and demands attention, which is manifested in the body.

In that spirit, I would like you to watch the TED talk above. It’s ostensibly about failing to find passion in your career, but it hit me in the solar plexus as I listened to it. It’s really about listening to your dreams and never settling for an average life. The speaker is wonderful. He’s funny, insightful, and riveting. You’ll be reeled in after the first few seconds.

For myself, I hope and I pray that this is the first of many anniversaries to come.

Sun, Sand, and No Squishy Frogs

I haven’t posted for several days, but I have a pretty good excuse. My daughter and I are “wintering in Florida”. Well, not exactly wintering, more like “thawing out” for a week or so. We are on the Gulf coast in Sarasota, 10 minutes from what has been voted most beautiful beach in the United States, Siesta Key.

I am from Miami originally, and when I was growing up I couldn’t wait to leave Florida and see the seasons. The heat was oppressive in the summertime, much like stepping into a giant sauna with B52 bomber-size roaches. And amphibians of every size and shape. I remember sneaking in after curfew one night and tiptoeing ever so stealthily down the hall in stocking feet. I almost made it to my bedroom….when I stepped square on a baby tree frog In the darkness. It took everything I had not to lose it right there. Instead, I made horrible faces and exhaled silent screams as I raced to the bathroom to wash my foot.

Fast forward to today. Oh what a difference 30 years makes. Slap me with a shuffleboard stick and call me granny, but I hate, hate, hate being cold. I get chilled to the bone sometimes, and I actually have to get in a hot shower to warm up. And it has been a nasty winter in Asheville so far. There hasn’t been much snow, but the “polar vortex” has a firm grip. Next week the forecast low is 3 degrees one morning. Really? 3? Can’t wait to get back!

Meanwhile, we have enjoyed beautiful sunshine and average temperatures near 70 for most of our stay In Florida. Yesterday we walked along the beach and collected shells. I could get used to this. Tomorrow, it’s off to the Ringling Museum, which is supposed to be fantastic.

And so far….not a roach or a tree frog in sight. I’m keeping my shoes on, just in case.

Now Look What Cancer Made Me Do…

CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

I’m about to step off a precipice into a free-fall. Where I’ll land, nobody knows. Will there be a net? Maybe. I feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland sans acid. At least I hope no giant white rabbits will appear in this gig.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

My odyssey into becoming a full-fledged chiropractor has been longer and more filled with twists and turns than a Swiss mountain road. I’ve been doing it in a half-assed, chicken shit kind of way for years; a small home office with a few family members and friends of friends. If it had been my sole source of income all this time, let’s just say Alpo would be looking mighty good for dinner about now. Thankfully, I’ve been employed in a hospital lab as well, so I can afford groceries.

DOG ON BACK

Oh, I’ve had plenty of legitimate reasons for dragging my feet. Let’s see. I got pregnant right out of chiropractic school with the idea of working at the lab for a couple of years and then starting my practice when the baby was a little older. That was planned. My oldest child died four days after she was born. That was not planned. That one threw me for a loop. I finally recovered enough to think about a practice again. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ok, God, time to challenge someone else!

Well, here I am, still standing and rebelling. And I’m pulling myself back up to try again. I have had many opportunities come calling in the past few weeks, and I’m listening very carefully. It looks like I may be getting an office next month in a holistic practice including two acupuncturists and a massage therapist.

Holy crapballs, what am I doing? I’m terrified, yet exhilarated. The two crazy people in my head have been arguing non-stop for days.

“Stop! Are you nuts? It’s the holiday season in a bad economy and you want to start a business? Why don’t you just slit your wrists while you’re at it?” (I know, this one is a bit dramatic.)

“I know it’s a little crazy, but it can’t be a coincidence that I keep getting offers to rent space. The universe is sending out lots of signals, and I shouldn’t ignore them.” (This one is a little naive but very sweet.)

It’s true though. I feel like someone is reaching right down from the cosmos and kicking me hard in the ass. And I have a strong feeling that person is my son. At least I’d really like to think so. He was my biggest cheerleader for starting a practice while he was alive, and he is no doubt wondering what the holdup is.

It would seem that I had to wait for the cancer to reveal it’s true purpose. I’ve written about how this horrible diagnosis has made some positive changes in my life quite unexpectedly. And they continue to unfold in delicate layers. As a result of this experience, I have developed a strong desire to help others through cancer treatment and recovery. I’ve spent years doing continuing education in nutrition, supplementation, and functional medicine. And yet I had no direction for all that knowledge, just a closet full of lecture notes and a dwindling bank account.

In the past year I have put much of that knowledge to the test in designing my own “integrative” treatment plan. I’ve been the ultimate guinea pig, navigating the taboo world of alternative medicine in an effort to salvage my body from the  wreckage of conventional cancer treatment. And I must say, I haven’t fared too badly. I’ve missed less than a week of work through chemo and radiation so far. What a shame that people have to search for holistic treatment like drug addicts in a dark alley or else face the disdain of theIr doctors. I want to be the “go-to woman” in my community.

So what will I do when that first cancer patient shows up looking for help? Give her an awesome adjustment, of course. And hold her hand and tell her it will be okay when she doesn’t know if she can do it. And arm her with information so she will be prepared and not be as terrified. And together we’ll create a plan to help her not just survive cancer, but to thrive in spite of it. Now that is a vocation.

 

The Love I Never Expected

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

I know this is going to seem strange to some of you, but others will have an immediate spark of recognition, perhaps nodding your head or even shedding a tear as you see yourself in what I am about to write.

Breast cancer has certainly brought a lot of changes into my life. Most of them have been unwelcome and frightening, forcing me to find strength I never knew I had in the face of my own mortality. Yet, it hasn’t all been negative.

Being stripped of my comfortable outward identity has forced me to relate in a more raw, honest way with others, as I described in “Can Breast Cancer Make You More Beautiful?”. Having this disease has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with a host of Earth angels who have restored my faith in humanity. And now, the most unexpected thing has happened. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been having what could almost be described as an out-of-body experience.

As I ran along a wooded path yesterday, I held back sobs. I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for my body as it chugged along for 3 miles, doing what I asked of it once again despite the suffering it has endured. I could almost hear a small voice begin to speak.

“I couldn’t help it that this happened, you know. I tried so hard to keep the cancer away. I fought so long and so hard, but I got too tired. It’s not my fault. I don’t understand why you keep letting them hurt me. Please let it be done. Don’t let them burn me. I’m feeling so much better and stronger now. Please protect me.”

It nearly took my breath as I listened. My heart ached. I felt the guilt of a mother who holds her child down while a wound is stitched. Tears stream down her face as her child’s eyes beg the question, “Why are you doing this to me?”

“It’s for your own good, to make you better” I thought. “What else can I do? It’s all so confusing and the choices are terrible. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

In that moment, I felt a fiercely protective love. For the first time in my life, I cherished myself like a toddler with bouncing golden curls and huge, trusting blue eyes. I vowed to spoil myself and show my tremendous appreciation for the body and soul that have bounced back with relentless courage and spirit after each insult.

As I finished my run, I said to that little voice, “I love you. You are my hero.”