Happy Haute New Year.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and I’m ready to send 2016 packing with a cherry on top. It’s been one heck of a crazy year. I’ve been thinking a lot these past couple months about what to write next or if I even should keep writing. Am I dwelling? Is this still a positive thing for me to do? Am I self-indulgent to continue or am I providing value for people? And lastly, because I actually do like to write, should I just start writing about other stuff as well? Maybe a lifestyle blog although that may be a little strange because of the hautecancer thing. The cancer word is a bit limiting. Anyway…I haven’t really come up with any answers so decided I would just wrap this thing up with a little tough love for cancer patients, sprinkled with a few highlights of of lessons learned this past year. Please enjoy.

First, a little rant. I’m not sure what the origin of the term cancer victim is and it really doesn’t matter, BUT…I’ve just gotta say, I hate hate hate the word victim. Always have. It’s weak, emotionally crippling and either annoys people or worse, evokes pity. Ew.

Cancer didn’t happen TO me. It just fucking happened.

A diagnosis is not a choice. You either glow or you don’t. Sorry – no matter how much of a badass you may be, you don’t get to Rambo your way out of a radiology result. Everything subsequent to your diagnosis, though, is an entirely different story. The path you take is paved with choices, each with the potential to influence and empower your mind, body and spirit. So yay for that.

For me, the first decision I made was to believe the words of the amazing nurse who was in the room with me when the radiologist told me the news. She looked me square in the eye and told me, in that stern but comforting nurse voice, that I needed to believe that cancer is NOT a death sentence. It made sense and it felt good so I went with it – clung to it even. It helped a lot those first few weeks and I’ve passed it on to others, attempting to be stern but comforting as well. Thank you, amazing nurse.

I then chose who to tell. I called my sister and my mom. I asked my sister to tell the family my news and instructed her to make sure they knew I was in no mood for meltdowns so no one was to call me if they were going to cry. I asked my mom to be my researcher because she’s good at that stuff. I decided to tell my best work friend because he is very calm and comforting and knows a lot of people. I needed him to help me navigate through the logistics and he did a stellar job of it. Thank you mom, sister and work friend. I love you all and appreciate you more than words can express.

My next series of choices involved care and treatment. I made a few important decisions in this area. I decided to get two opinions from two of the best cancer treatment facilities around. I decided to have a bilateral (both of ’em) mastectomy even though I only had one cancerous breast. I decided to drastically change my diet because I wanted to be as healthy as possible and avoid chemotherapy if it ended up being a “marginal” recommendation. I threw away all the crap in my kitchen that was refined, processed, GMO poisoned or otherwise bad for me. I stopped using plastic storage containers and plastic wrap. I chose RSO and Turkey Tail supplements. Talk about empowering. Thank you, natural healing bloggers.

I chose not to be a victim, to skip the pity party and show up for the rager instead. I chose to find beauty in moments and joy in everything I could. I slowed down and practiced gratitude and mindfulness. I listened more. I loved harder. I smiled when I felt happy. I felt powerful and positive and sincere. I knew that I might die and it made me feel profound appreciation for life. I began a practice of thanking the universe when my feet first hit the floor each morning. I would just say thank you, world – I’m here. Thank you, Jewish prayer ritual that someone told me about.

I chose not to battle cancer but to, instead, adopt a philosophy of working through it – engaging my mind-body-spirit energy with positive thinking, healthy eating and exercise and eliminating negative people and toxic junk from my world. Most of it anyway. It’s a work in progress…

I chose to share my story. First to family, then to friends and then publicly, as I’m doing now. I chose to talk about the emerging lessons, rather than the blood and guts of the situation because it made me feel good. I could have chosen to focus on the associated losses – my boobs, my health, my daily workout regime, my unscarred torso, but why? Not empowering at all. I wanted to feel like I was adding value somehow by sharing my experience. I wanted people to love their lives and the beautiful world we live in and to hold their favorite people closer to their hearts.

I’m not sugarcoating cancer. It does suck to have it or care about someone who does but here’s the thing…if you take the stance that cancer has happened to you like a curse or a death sentence or a punishment, you approach it with a significant disadvantage. Why would you want to do that? Not only is it negative but it breeds even more negativity because the people in your life will take your cue and act accordingly.Then what? Negativity City, that’s what.

Back to what I said earlier. Cancer didn’t happen to me and maybe, strange as it may seem, it actually happened for me. I know I’m a stronger and happier person today that I was on May 5th, 2016. I had cancer and now I don’t. What remains matters more than anything else has ever mattered. On this eve before New Year’s Eve, on a beautiful beach in a beautiful country I am accompanied by my three favorite things. I have love. I have peace. I have gratitude.

And in lieu of a long list of resolutions, which I would probably break in a week anyway, I wish my favorite things for you, and that you may find them within and around you and that they keep you stronger than ever. Happy New Year, Beautiful Ones. Stay haute!

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LOVE PEACE GRATITUDE 4LIFE©

A midnight ramble on the A and B theory of metaphysics, infinite moments and Culture Club

It’s not surprising that the older I get, the more I think about time. I suppose our perception of time is generally commensurate with the time we expect to have left, right? And what if you’re 48 years old facing the possibility of impending mortality? Thinking about time becomes a lot like having a Smith’s song stuck in your head. Dark, man…

The good news is that while I did obsess over it for a period of time, I developed a new and improved relationship with time. Although, admittedly, I haven’t really formally organized my description of this relationship yet so you may be in for some serious word vomit.  For this I apologize and understand if you excuse yourself from what may sound nonsensical if not just somewhat disjointed or unclear. Maybe frequent paragraph breaks will help keep things in order. Thanks for giving it a shot either way. Here goes…

Metaphysics can be a nice place to look for answers to big questions when you’re trying to make sense of things. Plus, just the word metaphysics is inherently impressive, communicating both mystique and intellect. It, metaphysics, has quite a few interesting things to say about time, essentially broken into two primary theories, A and B (clever, yeah?). The B-theory would be a nice one to adopt, but I can’t really wrap my brain around it. Wish I could. Can’t. It basically states that time is not dynamic and is not broken into past, present and future but rather kind of one big lump. Consequently, we are never really experiencing the present distinct from the past or future. It’s a more scientifically-based theory because it compares time to space, more specifically, one of the four dimensions of spacetime. uhhhh, yeah, I said spacetime… umm, okay, as I used to say to my kids when asked a question that rendered me clueless, “it’s hard to explain – google it.” Anyway, it’s kind of a nice, little theory, B, for those wanting to live in the moment. ‘Cuz it’s all one big moment, y’know?

The A-theory believes that the past, present and future are all distinct of each other. The present is the most real, and events of the past lose realness as they are further away from the present. Some subscribers to this theory – they’re called presentists- google it, kids, it’s hard to explain – state that only the present is real and that past events only existed as they were happening, just as future events won’t exist until they happen, and will cease to exist when they are past.. Duuuuuude…..! I don’t really know much more about this but my nominal understanding leads me to believe that I align more with the A-theory subscribership. At least for today.

For a time, I was terrified thinking that I may only live for months, or a few years. I had always measured my remainder of life, of time, by my expectation that I would live to be around 95 years old. This seemed reasonable, given the longevity in my family. So there were always X years left, around 40ish at last assessment. I remember being acutely aware when I got to the half-way point that I was there and from then on the glass of time was half full and emptying. It never even occurred to me that I may have to recalibrate my time meter.

During the testing and waiting of not knowing where I stood with cancer, I reflected on the question of quality vs. quantity when it comes to time. I asked my friends who didn’t have cancer (the majority, thankfully) what their choice would be between 10 amazing years of pure bliss or 40 years of a mediocre life. I got all kinds of answers and several negotiations.

I determined that I’d rather, as hard as it is to say, have the amazing 10 years. There. I said it.

I am slowly changing the way I look at time, developing my own theory. Maybe I should name it. Never mind. Not feeling it. Regardless, my theory debunks the idea of a time lump and recognizes a distinct past, present and future. I have also expanded its view to include the value I place on each. The value directly relates to the “realness” of a moment in my theory, which can be totally different for everyone. The goal of time, in my theory (I totally should have given it a name; it would have flowed so much better than me having to say “in my theory” over and over) is to be 100% present in the moment. A moment, in my theory (now I’m just entertaining myself), can encompass any or all past, present and future thoughts, actions or events but the primary perspective should encapsulate the present moment.

I measure the value of my past in terms of the wisdom or insight I have taken away from it and for these reasons, my past is a tremendously valuable and very real part of my life. Having said this, although it may be part of my collective experience, I don’t want it to be my focus. I don’t want to spend my time agonizing over mistakes or mourning the passing of good times. In that way, I suppose there is some benefit to the idea that the reality of a moment diminishes as the moment moves further into the past. Who has room for multiple realities? Wait. Don’t answer that.

The future is another story. It is so natural to think ahead of our present moment that it takes some serious practice and repetition to resist the urge. It’s one thing to look forward to, say, a winter trip to Cabo (can’t wait) or graduation from business school (it’s taking FOREVER) but when you constantly look forward and place real value on things that haven’t even happened yet, that don’t actually exist yet, you run a serious risk of missing out on living. Those who operate like this may likely end up in Cabo having breakfast on their balcony overlooking the beach talking about what they should have done yesterday and what they probably won’t have time to do later, totally oblivious to the sun that has rising over the ocean for the past hour. You don’t want to do that.

So, and I think it’s obvious at this point, the award for greatest value proposition in the spectrum of time…goes to…LIFE IN REAL TIME! Congratulations, present.

There are many well-known attributes to this practice: purity of experience, authenticity, the super cool tingly feeling that happens when you are able to almost literally breathe in a moment? The sense of satisfaction felt when you are able to slow the f@*l down and experience the beauty and energy and wonder surrounding you? Who wouldn’t want that good stuff?

I also, as an afterthought, had another realization which I’ll add on to this theory which, I’ve just decided, I am no longer calling a theory but a concept. Another, and less cliche, benefit of living in the present moment is that moments seem much more enjoyable then calendar metrics. Ten years, 120 months, 3,650 days, or millions of moments? For me, it’s moments. I like thinking that I have millions of moments. I like the idea that a moment can’t be quantified so that there will be an infinite amount of them  in whatever remaining time i have. I like the idea that I’m not going to be a passive observer of my surroundings or  have passive relationships with people that I love and that I haven’t exhausted my time dwelling on the past or stressing about the future.

Most of all, I like the challenge on me to put up some really outstanding moments, to make them count without holding back or lunging forward, and to recognize the extra special moments as rare gifts, deserving of my full attention.

It’s just a theory, a concept. I realize that  it’s a little loose and I anticipate that it will evolve over time, though I’m not going to give it that much thought, because it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be here, doing my best to stay present and to share life with my favorite people, not counting years but rather content in the knowledge that I exist within an endless sea of moments, each its own opportunity to experience life as it is happening, in real time.

And now, as a surprise bonus for reaching the end of this post, even after I practically begged you to abandon ship, I will post a few lyrics from one of my very favorite songs. It is pretty much apropo of nothing here, although it does mention time quite a bit. Sing it, Boy.

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In time we could’ve been so much more
But time is precious I know
In time we could’ve been so much more
The time has nothing to show because
Time won’t give me time
And time makes lovers feel
Like they’ve got something real
But you and me we know
We got nothing but time

LOVE PEACE GRATITUDE 4LIFE©

People and things…

I feel things so much more deeply these days. I was told this would happen…

One of the first “whoa” moments (yes, it’s a modification of the great O’s “aha” but I can’t just be re-using coined phrases, can I?), came a few days after my diagnosis. Gotta stop here to say that if this is the first of my posts you’ve ever read, that weird little parenthesized aside up there came in much earlier than normal. Not usually first paragraph stuff so I apologize, although you may want to just settle in and get used to it. It’s my voice. What can I say?

Back to business – I want to spend a few posts talking about extraordinary people and things that have made me say “whoa” or “oh my god” or “HO. LEE. SHIT. WOW. OKAY THEN” or even rendered me speechless (rare). All of these things, call them whatever cute little catch phrase you like, are synonymous with my amazement in having the universe just flat out drop things in my lap when I have most needed them. The “things” came in various form: answers, understanding, patience, calm, forgiveness, hope, composure, strength, vulnerability, and love like you wouldn’t believe! These things I’ve been given were made possible by the most amazing gift from a relative stranger that, without question, changed the course of my life.

If I was a director setting the scene, as it was, when this life-changer occurred, it would look something like:

Woman, 47, has just been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and has been basically existing in a state of shock and panic for several days. She hasn’t yet shared the news with family, including her children, but randomly told a trusted colleague and friend, perhaps an effort to practice breaking the news although it is unclear. She is sure she is going to be dead in a year and can barely look her daughter in the eye because it’s too painful to imagine not watching her grow up. It’s pretty bad.

The colleague/friend has shared the woman’s news with his other friend, who is also a highly esteemed oncologist currently on sabbatical. The doctor, not knowing a thing about the woman other than her diagnosis, offers to call her. The friend asks the woman how she feels about that? The woman replies “sure, that’s fine” with little expression. It plays out like this:

And so I was driving, kind of lost. Lost in my thoughts and lost in the confusion of the cancer but also literally lost, as in, I hate my GPS and I’m late and I have no idea how to get back to I-5, lost. I was thinking about being lost, too. About how what I really need now was to navigate through this mess, figuratively, literally, the works. As I am pondering away, my phone rings. It is the doctor, friend of my friend. I had completely spaced the conversation, but found a place to pull over to talk. Honestly, I was thinking it would be about a 5 minute conversation. I doubt he really wanted to be spending his time off (turns out he is also on vacation) talking to cancer patients. I was wrong. Turns out that this man, who has never been my actual doctor, was  about to initiate my healing, over the phone, from Palm Springs.

The first thing he said was that he wasn’t calling to give medical advice, and that because he wasn’t currently practicing, he couldn’t do so anyway. He wanted, rather, to talk about the process I was about to go through. He didn’t use the word journey, which I thoroughly appreciated. He asked me to describe my diagnosis, my family situation, my job, and my life in general. He listened to me go on and on, interjecting only briefly for clarification, until I had, for the first time, shared my story in its entirety. He then spoke to me and, even months later, I can still remember the sensation of my numbness being replaced by something new – hope, maybe? It was electrifying.

He told me that cancer was systemic and that my approach needed to reflect that. Although I would feel overwhelmed by the many doctors and tests and would likely be inclined to look ahead and what is next, I needed to remain in step with whatever tests or treatments were currently being done. All I had been able to think about was whether or not the cancer had spread and to where and how much. He told me that it would be revealed in time and that it was important to stay in the moment. He also told me, as did the radiologist when he unofficially diagnosed the tumor he found, that “cancer is not a death sentence.” A good one to remember.

He also told me that for all the questions and uncertainty that I would encounter in coming weeks and months, there were a couple things I could be certain of.  These “couple of things” ended up being everything – the driving force through which I have been able to manage this crazy ride for the past five months and I am beyond grateful to have them as my guide. Here they are. Seriously, you’re going to want to cut and paste this shit, whether you have cancer or not.

He said (and of course I’m paraphrasing – it’s not like I was writing it down),

“Tracy, there are a couple of things you can be sure will happen.

You are going to experience a lot of twists and turns as you go through this process. You will receive both good news and then you’ll get bad news, repeatedly. It’s just the way it goes. You’ll never know what’s coming next and you shouldn’t waste your energy guessing or worrying. You just need to accept that. The important thing is that you take care of yourself and of your family, and do what you can to facilitate the healing process.”

That was some good stuff, but it got better. The next thing he said is more fundamental to my existence and my relationship to the universe  than I can begin to describe. I have used it to reign myself in when I feel scared by a lump or a cough or a headache. I have drawn on its power when I feel frustrated or impatient or stressed out or when I think I’m too busy writing these posts to sit down with my daughter and talk about middle school girl drama. Most importantly, I use it when I feel like a victim of cancer, or anything else for that matter, and instead, it helps me to feel joy and gratitude for the moments I’ve been given. Again, I paraphrase,

“Lastly, I will tell you this and it is the best news by far. You may not know what the future holds, but know that in the end, you will be better. You will be a better mother, daughter, sister, and friend. And you will be a better person for having experienced cancer. You will be more compassionate, empathetic and grateful and you will help others become better as well. And you know what else? You will love more strongly than ever, and you will hold on tighter to the people who you love in ways that people who haven’t gone through cancer can’t even fathom. I’m sure it’s not the ideal way to achieve this, but it’s going to feel really good.”

This conversation with the doctor – it brought me no closer to knowing whether I would live or not live through cancer. There was no new insight provided that suggested what stage or phase my cancer was in, or whether it was hormone receptor positive or genetic. Months of tests would answer those questions. It was, our conversation, my GPS (one that actually worked) and my salvation. It wasn’t about do I live it was, from then on, about how I would live. It hasn’t all been smooth, and there will always be twists and turns, but it’s good, this living. It’s really, really good.

Note:  I’ve re-gifted this many times, adding my own small pieces here and there. I hope you will, too. 🙂

Love Peace Gratitude 4Life©