Ocean or Mountains?

Which one do you prefer?  Which one rejuvenates you – replenishes your soul?

I ask because the answer is often not what I presumed.

I live on the coast.  I love it.  I can sit in the sand or in my car and watch the waves break for hours while I ponder God’s awesome power, the immensity of the universe and my place in it.  The ocean fills me with wonder.  I revel in it’s ever-changing beauty.  No two waves are alike.  No two sunsets the same color.  Foam patterns on the beach are different with each receding wave.  I meditate on infinite possibility. 

But it’s the mountains that heal me. There’s just something about being surrounded by trees that fills me with a serenity I cannot tap into elsewhere.

The sound of a creek waters flowing over rocks and swirling around a sandbar is soothing music to my ears.

I spent the day in the mountains yesterday.  I just drove by myself for five hours.  The higher the altitude became the lighter I felt.

I stopped by Burney Falls.  It was cold and damp from the mist and the late afternoon shadows.  But the smell was beyond Heavenly.  Pine.  Moss.  Damp earth.  Deep cleansing breaths.

Little traffic.  Fading sunlight.  Trees straight and tall on all sides.  Majesty above them.

Peace.  Completeness.  Inspiration.  Quiet.  Solitude.  Wellness.  Integrity.
All these words and more define the mountains for me.
I came home refreshed and ready for another round of parenting, working, struggling to survive. 
Which gives you that renewal?  Ocean or Mountains?

Benefit or Burden

I love October.  Suddenly the bright spotlight of the media is shown on stories that normally don’t rate for their lack of warm fuzziness.

Take the Welsh’s from Ohio, for instance…  Both wife and husband are in their 60s and are undergoing Breast Cancer treatment.  Both. Of. Them. 

This is a subject near and dear to my heart as my boys have a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer because I and my mother both carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation.  By significantly, I mean about 80 times that of other men!!!  This equates to about a 1 in 14 lifetime chance of breast cancer.  BRCA2 also increases the risk of other cancers: prostate, pancreatic and stomach cancers as well as melanoma.  Did they hit the genetic jackpot or what!? The BRCA2 gene DOUBLES a man’s chances of developing prostate cancer and melanoma!  My boys have a 1 in 3 chance of prostate cancer before they turn 65!  All of these cancers will rear their ugly heads earlier than typical in a BRCA2 man.

I have long been an advocate of Knowledge Is Power!  It’s only when we hide medical histories and facts in the dark because of embarrassment or fear that these awful diseases get the upper hand.  That being said, knowing my boys could be victims of genetic Russian Roulette, I have a decision to make.  Should I get them genetically tested?

My quandary is this:  genetic testing would arm all of us with the power of knowledge.  We could gird our sons against cancer with more frequent screenings at much younger ages.  Even enroll them in test programs aimed at prevention.  However, by equipping ourselves with this information we also make the results available to insurance companies.  If I test the boys as children in order to afford them the best possible chance at survival, do I label them with a giant red flag that will prevent them from ever getting health insurance?  Will it cause them employment issues in the future?

It’s such a tight rope to walk; future benefit or burden?  What would you do?

Cross posted to Mothers With Cancer

Put on a happy face

I have to wonder about myself sometimes. Do I even know myself at all?

I had my three month visit with my oncologist today. This time I actually went in with a well-thought (yet hastily-scrawled) out list of concerns to discuss. But first, the important news… all my blood work was perfect! No indications that there is any cancer on the horizon. Amen!

Rarely do I have lists for my doctors. I usually breeze in all sunshine and smiles making the best of even the worst of situations with a few notable exceptions. I was decidedly unsunny when I arrived at the Emergency Room with a ruptured fallopian tube. Once Daddy-O and Ben got there the whole episode became fairly foggy, but I do have a vague recollection of thrashing around on the table in pain, sure I was about to die and praying out loud for God to save me or at least not take me in front of my son. Or when I bawled my eyes out pregnant with Danny at my regular doctor’s office because I’d had undiagnosed bronchial asthma for months and was so physically stressed from just. not. breathing. that I couldn’t maintain anymore! Otherwise, I might have one off-the-cuff question or two but that’s it.

Today’s list read something like this:

  • Forgetfulness!!! Chemo-brain or old age?
  • Still painful sternum
  • Big bruise on arm since August!
  • Wake up still tired. Low energy? Depression?
  • Daddy-O says I’m a bitch… asks if meds can be increased… please?????

After regailing her with my many and varied tales of forgetful woe, Dr. Villa came to the shocking conclusion that I am doing too much multi-tasking. Put another way, if I put too many balls in the air one is bound to fall every now and then. Plus, I am getting older.

No worries about he painful sternum. I don’t know why I shouldn’t worry. She didn’t say. I didn’t ask. I’m ok with that.

Same thing with the ginormous bruise (which is really a mere shadow of it’s former self) that has been on my arm since August. No worries. Eh.

I worried that I might be having a bit of depression (even though I don’t feel like I’m depressed) as indicated by my waking tired after a full nights sleep, constant low energy, etc. etc. Those are the same symptoms I had the last time I didn’t feel depressed after I had my miscarriage. Turns out I actually was. Huh. Who knew? So I thought I’d ask. But my Dr. V gets the big bucks for a reason. Her first question was if I’d been excercising, which I haven’t. See asthma reference above which is triggered by cold. The virus I got in early December flared up the asthma and it’s been too cold and/or windy for me to get outside and walk until this week. So no excercise for me. Click! 100 watts glaring at me. That accounts for both symptoms. See. I knew I wasn’t depressed.

But apparently, I am a bitch.

I’m finding this harder and harder to deny. Though, in my defense, I do live with three testosterone-ridden humans and suffer with immeasurable provocation. Still, I do sometimes step out of myself in mid-rant and raise an eyebrow at my own hostility. At any rate, she is going to increase the dosage of my Effexor and see if that helps with my break-through hot flashes and these apparent nasty mood swings.

Daddy-O is lucky to have her as an ally.

As well as all that went, I left my appointment feeling less than satisfied.

We normally hug and gush and smile after leisurely minutes of familiar catching up. Today was more formal and doctor / patient like. She looked fairly sober as I left. No hug. No emotional fireworks display for the wonderful bloodwork and continued victory over cancer. I walked out feeling like a burden. *sigh*

Now I can’t help but wonder if I am always so positive and upbeat because that is the way I’ve always been or because I crave approval.

In lieu of a resolution…

I hate resolutions. They allow no leeway and are doomed to failure. So instead I will project onto 2009 my wishes. I challenge you to do the same.

Salon.com issued a challenge for their readers to write their memoir in six words. The results were wonderful and ingenious. One that could also be my memoir is from reader Jared2:

“Broke. Payday. Broke. Payday. Broke. Payday … “ Jared2


A couple other samples:

“Current lawyer, aspiring writer, often silly.” Jenbynight

“Too much hair, then not enough.” Burstoflethargy

The Challenge
1. Write your memoir in six words. Or, if you’re feeling less expansive, just sum up 2008.
2. Use six words to sum up your wishes for 2009.
3. Link to this blog in your post.
4. Tag as many or as few people as you wish. No pressure here. List them in your post.

My memoir:
Boobies; breasts; tube socks; tumor; Bellyboob.

2008:
Work and pay; hope and pray.
My Wishes for 2009 are not very original but truly heartfelt:
More money; less debt; universal health.

I am going to tag:

May you and yours have a successful, safe and healthy 2009!

A Life Sentence

If you’ll remember back a bit, I posted an excerpt from Ben’s Sentence Completion List. This was an assignment from Dr. Flaton, the pediatric ADD specialist. As a very special treat for you today, I will post the remainder of Ben’s sentences. And perhaps a comment or two if you are very, very good readers. Just a reminder, Ben is 8 years old.

1. I would like to be a scientist.

2. My mother loves chocolate martinis. (ack! choke! cough! While technically true, this was not high on my list of things I wanted the doctor to know.)

3. I cannot have a cell phone. (This is so true. But I am considering wrist watch walkie talkies with a mile and a half range.)

4. If I only had a cell phone I’d love my Mom and Dad. (Boy! They learn early don’t they? The answer is still “NO!”)

5. Girls _____________________ (He had no reply to that. I find that comforting on so many levels.)

6. I am ashamed of Danny having attitude. (Note that he’s not ashamed of his own behavior. This answer is totally worthy of a presidential candidate!)

7. I am afraid of nothing. (Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of…)

8. I like Pokemon cards.

9. I don’t like summer school.

10. I love my Mom, Dad and Danny.

11. Boys are my friends.

12. Mother should do nothing. (I am not exactly sure how to take that… but I like it.)

13. There are times when I am bored.

14. I hate bullies.

15. It makes me sad to watch a kid being bullied.

16. My home is small.

17. Father should do nothing. (again with that?)

18. People think that I am stupid. (What!? After much teeth gnashing and hand wringing it turns out there is a snotty 2nd grader that asks him things like “what is 1000 x 200?” When Ben doesn’t know the answer he tells him he’s stupid. Grrrrr!)

19. Sometimes I think about skateboarding and fishing and surfing.

20. Nobody knows that I have ADD. (I can’t decide if it’s wonderful or really sad that he doesn’t get that people know he’s ADD…)

21. The best thing that ever happened to me was riding a horse.

22. The worst thing that ever happened to me was breaking my wrist the first time.

So, I guess we haven’t completely ruined our kid. Except for being outed about the chocolate martini addiction and the small house it’s all good.

Did anyone notice what didn’t make the list anywhere?????

CANCER.

That’s right. No cancer anywhere.

No, “worst thing that ever happened to me was mom getting cancer…”

No, “mom should buy a wig…”

No, “afraid my mom will die…”

Just normal, every day eight-year-old boy stuff: science, surfing, cell phones and Pokemon cards. Thank you, Lord!

Cross posted to Mothers with Cancer

Of Childhood Rituals…

I got Danny’s pony pictures back from the preschool today. They are adorable. Is there ever a bad Pony Picture, though? Of course, I had to pull out Ben’s pony pictures from when he was 3 years old. They look nothing alike.

Ben was a smiling and blond – the quintessential Good Guy. Danny is solemn and dark. Not so much the Bad Guy as the Bad Boy. The cloudiness in his eyes gives them a smoldering, smokey look… if you can overlook the one that’s looking the wrong way, that is.

Ben on Nugget 2003 / Danny on Cupcake 2008

Hopalong Cassidy / Black Bart

I’m also struck by how sad Danny looks. And also, how good looking both my boys are (not that I’m biased or anything) even though they look completely different.

Am I the only Mom who sees a good picture of her kid and loves them that much more for it? Maybe I love them more in pictures than in person? I kid, of course. But they sure are quieter in photos…

How to be happy in spite of it all, part 1

Just after I returned to work after breast cancer treatment, a co-worker paid me an incredible compliment. She told me that I had handled my diagnosis and treatment with (I am paraphrasing here with all the accuracy Chemo-Brain permits) incredible grace and, well, I can’t remember what else, but it was good. The general idea was that I had a wonderfully positive attitude that continued to astound those around me.

I pshawed her, of course. Because, there was nothing graceful about my actions nor reactions. Nothing heroic. Nothing brave. At least I didn’t think so. I was just doing what I had always done during trying times. What I had watched my mother do before me. And my grandmother before her. I put on a happy face.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Or maybe you’re thinking simplistic is more like it. Well, you’re probably right. When others began asking me exactly how I stayed so positive in the face of a daunting cancer diagnosis and 90% recurrence risk, right on the heals of my finding out my infant was born blind, well, I couldn’t explain it. At least not in terms of usable information. It’s just something I’d been raised doing. I didn’t know quite how to explain the process.

Then I found The Bounce Back Book, by Karen Salmansohn a few weeks ago. It’s a short little self-help book, more along the lines of a pocket manual than a book, but it certainly clarified things for me. Salmansohn has a knack for doing exactly what I could not; break down the process of having and maintaining a positive attitude.

In her book, Salmansohn offers 75 tips for “thriving in the face of adversity, setbacks, and losses.” Many of these tips are a bit redundant, merely rewording the same advice to fit a slightly different situation. Sometimes that’s what it takes, however, for understanding to register. Hearing something many, many different ways. I don’t mean for this to be a book review, yet if I had a friend going through a rough patch and looking for a way to fight negativity, I’d consider sending The Bounce Back Book. We could all learn a bit from it’s pages.

For my purposes here, I will tell you what I took away from this book. That is, I will share with you those behaviors (as identified by Salmansohn) that I have practiced over the years and feel contributed to my success in overcoming the more negative crap life has thrown my way.

The Formula
Each of us has a genetic tendency toward optimism or pessimism, according to The Happiness Project in the U.K. This, however, only accounts for about 50% of our personal happiness equation. The rest is all about what you do and the choices you make. Dr. Jonathan Haidt even came up with a fancy, schmancy formula to become happier. And he’s a Positive Psychologist, or a positive psychologist (I’m not sure which-but I think it might make a difference) so he ought to know.

H = S + C + V

H = happiness level C = current conditions

S = set point for happiness V = voluntary activities

I happen to think Dr. Haidt is on to something.

Family
About that genetic predisposition towards happiness, or not. I guess I must have it. We’re real Nietzsche people in my family, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And boy, oh, boy, have we been getting stronger in my lifetime. I’ve always remembered my Mom laughing off the bad times. She always found the humor in life when I was growing up and still does to this day.

Humor saved the day when I was fourteen years old, sitting in the front row in front of my Father’s casket with the rest of my family at his funeral. As you can imagine, it had been a stressful few days after he’d died, no matter how expected his death was. We, as a family, have always turned to humor in times of stress. True to form, when we noticed that the florist’s shop had placed an arrangement directly in front of my Mom’s chair that was completely bug-eaten, we just couldn’t stop the giggles. I’m sure the entire congregation behind us thought we were sobbing uncontrollably, in reality, we were shaking from trying not to laugh out loud.

We’re sort of wacked, I know. But that outlook has served us well, over the years. In general, we try to always see the humor in a situation. One of my very first comments after my cancer diagnosis, which came close to Christmas 2005, was that I wouldn’t have to worry about what I ate over the holidays because I was starting the Chemo Diet come January!! Woohoo! Holidays, here I come!

My family could have focused on the loss of my dad, instead we chose to break an overwhelming situation down into more manageable pieces. We focused on the insect-riddled flowers to get through the funeral.

Similarly, I chose to see the diet-free holiday season as a silver lining instead of the dark cloud that was a cancer diagnosis. The cloud hadn’t blown away and my dad was still gone but my outlook on the world was much more positive for my efforts.
Cross posted at Mothers with Cancer