Archives for posts with tag: psychological impact of breast cancer

I’ve been avoidant. 

Okay, maybe a little lazy with a capital Z mixed in as well. 

A little unfocused. Perhaps a little scattered and overextended.

But really.

Mostly avoidant.

Despite the urging and friendly Yoo-Hoo’s of others to come back out to play, I have dug my heels in and looked away. 

In fact, I have a confession to make. Please forgive me y’all. I’ve been avoidant of reading the other bloggesses blogs as well.

Truth is, way back yonder in December I promised I’d be back soon. And “soon” by any stretch of the definition well, “soon” has done come and gone. And I still sit here, avoidant.

At first I thought I just needed a little break. I really loved writing my lil blog every week, and kinda got to where it was a part of me. Initially, it felt good to empty out the trash can, and to spill out the rummage left behind in my head by cancer. I felt humbly, that I had figured out why I was still here. At first.

My little über analyzing brain has tried and tried to figure out what’s up with the delay of my return to the blogosphere. After a year of writing about the ick and nonsense and cancer drama, I can only describe to you more what I didn’t feel than what I did.

What I didn’t feel anymore was the gratification of the purge; I didn’t feel the expected satisfaction of succinctly tying up so many loose ends and setting them free. At the end of it, I no longer felt the organized glee of putting them all into neatly categorized drawers and boxes and sliding the drawers shut.

No, I didn’t feel the satisfaction of the emptied attic. It left me with nothing to do with my hands. And really, what’s the point of being the crazy old woman in the attic if there is no fodder, if there are no chests to open and frantically grab and wildly throw the contents about while screaming about cancer? 

The empty space, albeit peaceful, haunted me more some days than a head chock full of trauma bits.

I mean, who was I if I wasn’t the girl with cancer? What should I do with a mind born to dissect and analyze everything to death when there was thankfully, no apparent death to analyze? 

Perhaps (I entertained but for only a moment) I am a tad histrionic after all, thriving on drama and needing crisis to feel like I was alive, forever needing something to do with my racing mind and hands. Perhaps it’s why the stillness, which I did not really resent, felt odd.

What I felt was nothing. Not good or bad, not relief or angst. Nothing. A void. An absence of something that had taken up a whole lot of space. Emptiness where the cancer was, a big empty attic previously taken up by the cancer.

And a reluctance to refill the room with those thoughts again.

Early on in my cancer diagnosis, I was sitting in Grandmother Willow’s office. This was shortly after the dirty little secret of breast cancer was whispered in my ear; that the trick is not it getting rid of it the first time, but in keeping it away. Grandmother Willow was trying to stem my rapidly racing thoughts as they made loop after loop, trying to assure me that one day this cancer would all seem an afterthought.

Because I can sometimes be a Little Miss Know It All, I often tend to call bullshit on theories that don’t match up with my picture of the world, and that day was no different. I remember thinking maybe she was the crazy old lady in the attic because I could see nothing but a life from here on in with the grim reaper as my constant traveling companion, forever bound like members of a chain gang with his endless whisper distracting me for eternity.

I distinctly remember her telling me about woman who recently came to see her who, after a whole first session of spilling her current emotional history said, “And oh yeah, and I had breast cancer ten years ago.” “Oh yeah,” like she had forgotten about it. “Oh yeah,” like it was an afterthought.

“Bullshit,” I thought.

Sitting bald and frightened on her couch, it seemed inconceivable that cancer would one day take up so little room in my life; that it would become such a non entity in my identity. That in the game board of Lauren’s life, cancer would become such a non player in my current emotions on any given future day.

Yet, this is how I have felt these last months. I have felt the absence of cancer. 

After years of thinking about nothing but cancer, I have somehow managed to get to where it is not part of the complexion of my being. One day last week, a neighbor stopped to tell me she had gotten her port out that morning. I felt this blankness when she said it, not lack of empathy, but more a situation where I was unable to summon the empathy because I had forgotten how it felt to be in her shoes. I knew she must feel relief, but I couldn’t feel the taste of it in my mouth anymore. When I started to try to remember what I had blogged about ports, I couldn’t even remember what I had written. All I could remember was how hilarious it was that Wendy had made hers into a daisy.

When I went back to read that blog, I swear to you,  it was as if someone else had written it. Sometimes this happens with my mom; I can’t remember what she looked like until I look at pictures, and then I am surprised at features in her face that I forgot.

I was detached from cancer. Detached from the chain gang.

Years ago, big surprise, I had to take Concerta for my ADD. With that drug, the thought of food and hunger vanished. I’m not saying I wasn’t hungry or my appetite was curbed, I am saying that the thought of food no longer crossed my mind. I’d be sitting there feeling faint and go, “Oh, yeah, I haven’t eaten in two days.” This little pill took away the emotion and rituals and grooves in my brain that were attached to food and eating; it eliminated the craving and the timing and desire to indulge in this so familiar and daily ritual.

This little blog did the same with cancer. I don’t indulge in cancer much these days. But, it’s not healthy to not need food, nor is healthy to avoid part of your being.

I remember reading how Lance was in an doctor’s office finding out he was just covered with cancer. It seemed insurmountable, yet a few days later after he talked to doctor after doctor about what each intended to do with each and every metastasis he proclaimed, “We had talked this thing down to size.”

Blog by blog, a bite of the proverbial elephant (or grim reaper) at a time, I too had talked the memories and trauma, the cancer down to size.

While the bell can never be un-rung, somehow, somehow….swirling my pen around in the well un-cast the dye. Like a magnet, my pen pulled the dye cast long ago from the water, bringing it from pink to very, very pale, almost indiscernible pink.

Perhaps I lived my way into (at least some of) the answers.

Perhaps I am just reluctant, not avoidant. Perhaps I am detached; not sure that I want to re-attach, or how to re-attach without it filling the room up again.

Perhaps, I have just moved seamlessly, as we do with grief, into acceptance.

Perhaps, I have indeed outlived it.

So in these last months, my life has been filled with all the stuff of teenagers. Colleges visits, college apps, obsessing about the right high school and college choices, proms and dances, driving lessons, graduation preparations for two and undergoing some good old-fashioned teenaged drama teaching me I better grow some thick skin real fast. (Suddenly, I have become a whole lot less smart and a whole lot less funny.) My pop survived another wicked pneumonia, and Scout is still the best dog ever made at the dog factory. Through all of this, I have worn some very good friends down with my new looping obsession; my anticipatory grief that life is gonna change real soon as the kids and people and dogs I love fly away. But in all this, we are busy, busy, busy here at the ranch distracted by life not death; indeed life is moving forward at warp speed.

And oh yeah, six years ago I had cancer.

 

 

I’m back.

 A little at a time, so as not to fill the attic,

but I’m back. 

xoxo

Lauren

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‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
This blogger was tired and so was her mouse!
The blogs of the year had been posted each week,
With the goal that 52 would end as the peak.

Yes, a goal had been hung, like a stocking with care,
A blog a week for a year, and she was quite nearly there!
“I’ll continue on,” she thought; but while all snug in her bed,
Visions of junior mints and a blog break danced in head!

Last January she came, dressed in pink from her head to her foot,
Her mind was from her cancer was all tarnished with soot!
When she started to write, old thoughts served to remind,
Of the icky days of old, but Oh! The gifts she would find!

When out of the blogosphere there arose such a clatter,
It seemed what she said, to lots made the matter!
So onto her laptop each week she flew open the sash,
And her WordPress publish button, she nervously mashed.

She said not a word, but went straight to her work,
Writing about PTSD, grief (and some really big jerks!)
For after five years, she had a head full of ideas and hair,
And the scars and the lessons of cancer to share. 

The keys of the keyboard; Oh! how they danced!
As the emotions of the big C trampled and pranced!
She wrote and she wrote of feelings both wise and quite fearful,
And a few posts about her wee ones, which made her quite tearful!

This new little blogger so lively and quick,
Knew in a moment, she was no longer sick!
Finding mirrors and perspectives alike in the blogosphere,
And humor, frustrations and commonly held fears.

And then in a twinkling she saw on her screen,
The comments of the bloggesses so sweet and serene.
New friends o’er the world were nestled all snug in their beds,
While Blue Geckos and Underbellies danced in their heads!

She made more friends than imagined (and all she quite fancies,)
Like Wendy, Katie, Marie and both of the Nancys.
Philippa, and Beth, and Brenda and again,
We mustn’t forget Jan, Terri, AnneMarie and Renn!

They giggled about chemo and “twang arm” and more,
And shared the experience of fear to your core.
They talked about thigh cancer and things lost and found,
And they shared cancerversarys, and how klunkers abound!

They shared their frustrations at finding a cure,
And found peace in numbers, of that I am sure!
They found new friends in the most extraordinary of places,
Like Yangon and Ireland, and lots with no voices or faces!

They talked about bedazzled bald heads and daisy dressed ports,
and they found in each other, a worldwide cohort!
They held virtual hands as “Captain Anxiety” danced in their heads,
And celebrated after those quite harrowing rechecks, the finding of NED!

But after working her goal of a year full of blogs,
She needed a break to refresh, from unleashing the clogs.
Yes her little chemo brain-brain needed a rest,
And she needed to cuddle her wee ones, in their little Who-nest.

And what to her wondering eyes should appear,
As she hit publish on this Christmas morning so dear?
As she glanced out from her laptop, while wishing for snow,
She looked back and saw, “Hurray! It’s your 52nd blog!” in the glow!

More rapid than Komen, all year the bloggers they’d came,
And she knew in her heart they’d continue the same!
So she rode out of sight shouting, “Carry on Y’all,
And blog away, blog away, blog away all!”

“On Philippa and Wendy, Annemarie and Renn
On Katie and Nancy, Beth, Terri and then,
Do you recall, the most famous blogger of all?
Marie the red-headed blogger; she led the blog ball!

For a month (maybe two) she’ll be gone but return,
With new blogs on life’s other travails, and fresh ideas to burn!
But for now laying a finger on her laptop to close,
A break from her blog, was the path that she chose.

As she hit “publish” today with a quiet Christmas morn’ tap,
She found her goal in her stocking, and settled for a long winter’s nap.
And she exclaimed with such love as she drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to y’all, and to all a good-night!”

 

Back soon,
xoxo 
Lauren

When all the noise is gone there is only God.  ~Author Unknown

 

Years ago, then President Kennedy made a speech about the space program and our need to keep advancing it. He referred to the story of some little boys running through the green, green fields of Ireland and coming upon an orchard wall that seemed perhaps too high to climb. Instead of turning back the boys took their hats and threw them over the wall, and thus, then had to climb the wall to go get their hats; the toss leaving them with no choice but to go over the wall to retrieve their caps.

I have always been a throw my hat over the wall kind of girl. Sometimes it’s because I am just dying to know what’s on the other side, sometimes it’s just for the thrill of the climb. Being an eternal sunshiny optimist, I think it’s mostly because I believe that what is on the other side of the wall is not better than what I have, but something new and different and grand to experience. Mostly though, just like those little Irish boys the toss is made to force me to do something I thought I couldn’t do, to make something happen, to experience something that would not have had I not done so. Truth be told, I get a wee bit agitated when there are no walls to climb, my fingers itch and fidget with a cap in hand, and I start to actively search out walls when that happens. 

When we are making our way through our life and come across the cancer wall, I think that most of the time our oncologists and surgeons rip the cap out of our hand and toss it over the wall for us. They lay out their neat tactical plans of how we will scale the wall and give us visions of how 85 or 95 percent of the people have made it over, and how they are living life on the other side of the wall. We want to visit this magical and unbelievable land on the other side and really don’t have much choice but to go after our cap to cover our bald heads; then too, to go after it is infinitely better than staying on this side of the orchard wall, where things appear to be dying.

But after cancer, as we continue onward through the vast field that is our life, what do we do when we come upon a wall? Do we bemoan the fact that it is unfair, because we already had to climb the big wall o’ cancer? Do we even have the strength or gumption to climb anymore? I mean honestly what’s the use if we are gonna die while trying? Do we avoid walls altogether? Do we see it as a positive or negative? An adventure or labor? 

Cancer makes us hesitate. It makes us want to hold on to what we have and clutch tightly to our caps because well, we might need it to cover our bald noggin again sometime soon. Cancer makes us afraid to plan and take on new things. Throwing our hat over a wall feels like buying green bananas. Cancer eats zest. Cancer makes us afraid. Cancer makes us tentative and bit distrusting of planning for the future. Cancer makes us think the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. In the months just after treatment is completed it is hard to believe there are better days ahead, it feels counterintuitive to trust that the ice is thick enough to skate out on and into our future.  

After five years, I prefer to look back at that time of caution and fear as a time when I was just resting and gathering my strength. I remember it now, with my sunshine spin, as a place where yes I may have taken the cap off and considered the toss but in the end held kept it in my hands as I sunk down with my back against that wall to as they say in the south, sit a spell.

But I can tell from my perch high atop of yet another wall, five years and a million walls out from cancer that once you catch your breath and no longer need that cap to cover your head, cancer becomes a catapult sailing you high over the wall and into life after. Cancer catapults both our caps, and us. Cancer makes us want to experience everything that is behind wall number one and two and three and four. Cancer in the end, makes us adept and easy hat tossers, and skilled climbers with a penchant for finding even higher walls. Cancer makes us grateful for the toil of the climb.

To move from a place of fear, from a place of clutching our caps to our chest to a place where we are making the toss we have to believe that the days ahead are better than the days behind us. We must believe we are capable of making the climb and will live to see the other side in order for us to throw. We must be willing to give up the status quo and the safety of what we know, for perhaps the devil we don’t (which may in fact, be a devil of a good time.) We must toss our hats over with glee and sense that an adventure beholds us, not a tragedy. We must be excited about the climb. But mostly we must actively find our own walls by beginning to move through life again. That is what life is all about Charlie Brown; making the run to kick over and over, even though the ball may get pulled out at the last minute.

A tad impulsive I am yes, and admittedly I have been known many a time to toss before I totally think it through. Sometimes I have created my own walls just so I can toss. But I have found that ninety-nine percent of the time the climb is worth it and that the sweat and toil of working toward a goal remind me I am alive. If I thought about it too long, I might not make the toss; cancer has given me the luxury of not having a lot of time to think about it.

Life is in the preparing to climb. Life is in the climb. Life feels like drawing the deepest of breaths when you are on top of the wall. Almost always, I find not greener pastures but my hat, and lots more life experiences to fill it with.

There are a million things that cancer took from me but two million more I have because cancer, many found on the other sides of walls I would have never thrown my hat over had it not been for cancer, and many found while making the climb.

And heck, I’d rather die while climbing a wall than die while standing at the bottom, anxiously peering at it, clutching my hat, trying to screw up the courage to make the toss. As Mr. Buffet says, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

I didn’t survive cancer to just stand there. Neither did you.

Walls don’t come to us, we must go to them. As they say, ships in the harbour are safe, but that is not what ships are made for.

The prospect of a short life has made me to run gleefully to them, and throw my hat over the wall again, building my wings on the way down the other side.

Just not angel wings…not yet at least.

“One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on”

~The Polar Express

It was indeed a great Thanksgiving here at the ranch. The week started off with a grand gathering of all the people I love for our Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and then like a wide-angle lens zooming in, became more focused as I pulled my wee ones closer and closer, ending with just me and the kiddos doing oodles of fun things these last few days. Read the rest of this entry »

Once when Amelia was just a tiny little cutie pie (as opposed to the even bigger cutie pie that she is now,) I woke up to a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It said in little kid printing, “Thank you for protekting me.” Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve recently taken on this less than sparkly little habit of calling 2011 my Lost Year. Read the rest of this entry »

Pink.

Who knew such a benign and gentle hue could summon such strong emotions, and could wield such power? Read the rest of this entry »

I am so sick of talking about breast cancer.

In fact, Grandmother Willow and I recently had a fifty minute-ish chat about it as I crawled all over my psyche looking for clues to my blues. This little Suzy Sunshine was très dissatisfied with her last months of little black rain cloud funkity funk and darn it, I told her, I needed to find the source of my gloomy river and fix it pronto. I speculated, as I have during several recent chats that the business of tiptoeing around the mine field that is cancer while writing this blog has had a little something to do with my sad state of affairs. Maybe even a big little something to do with it.

A minefield indeed; a desolate battleground from a long ago war. A place where still, even years later, I must tread carefully as mines are left that have yet to be detonated. Shards of shrapnel remain, ready to slice into my still tender skin as I wander through, and the remains of what was lost still litter the ground creating sometimes massive obstacles to my progress. A land where I occasionally find a bullet in the soil; a tiny yet lethal missile that missed its mark many years ago, which in my hand weighs heavier than I would speculate of its tiny mass, as I mentally gauge the potential it carried as it was fired in my path all those years ago.

I spend most of my days in my professional life seeing and talking about very ugly things; cesspool of human failure things. Over the last 20 or so years in working with abused wee ones, I have learned a little about the cost of caring, the cost of going over and over traumatic events and quite awful things. Compassion fatigue has often been an unwanted traveling companion in my life. It takes a toll on your psyche to care and listen, and it is the high internal price you pay for dealing with highly emotional traumatic events of others over a long period of time. 

Like with the artist formerly known as Prince, PTSD is the reaction formerly known as Battle Fatigue, (the cost of dealing with your own highly emotional traumatic events over a long period of time.) And you know what? Cancer is a long ass battle for sure, its got physical and mental staying power. The endgame (that is really the never-ending game) is that dealing with cancer and thinking about cancer and worrying about cancer is freaking exhausting. Revisiting the war zone that is and was cancer, even years later, is exhausting.

I my friends, have cancer fatigue. Cancer has done wore me out.

Because even after five years, there are still bombs that have yet to detonate and that scares me. Daily, I find a bullet in the soil and pick it up and realize how close it came to taking me down; while that act of holding the bullet in hand is in itself is frightening, more terrifying is the realization that there may still be bullets in the gun.

As I write this blog, I realize that I have been anxiously and cautiously tiptoeing along, carefully calculating each step and holding my breath even as I sleep. I’m feeling physically exhausted and mentally fatigued by the constant mindfulness to cancer, from the perpetual heaviness of the armor I attempt to don as I write, and by the tiny yet constant effort needed in the hunch up of my shoulders as I tread.

Years ago, when I got fired for having chemo brain and then opened my own practice I found, as cliché as it sounds, a gift in it (I mean besides not having to work with really dysfunctional people anymore.) I made my own schedule, and likely worked 100 more hours a week but all the sudden one day I realized that my 20 years of amassed compassion fatigue had virtually disappeared. 

Now, statistics people could find all kinds of confounds in the causal nature of this phenomenon in my life, such as I was so focused on cancer that work ick seemed small next to it, or it was because I had a break from all the yuck during treatment. But because I know me better than anyone knows me, I will tell you my theory. In owning my practice, I can schedule cases as I like. I can review quite ugly photographs when I am ready and I can say no to the task when I am not ready. I can set boundaries about when and where and how I talk about the sometimes very violent/graphic details of sexual and physical abuse. I can set the pace of cases I see, and take breaks as needed (although I find I don’t need as many breaks as I thought I would.)

The compassion fatigue evaporated as the trauma was more in my control.  Work and trauma no longer controlled me; I controlled it. I could control the ebb and flow of kids and cases, and set boundaries about not talking about child abuse in the walls of my house or on weekends or at cocktail parties for that matter (and not look like a bad/rude/chemo brain employee for doing so.)

When I first got sick, my oh so wonderful Pop and bestest friend MJ called me at least once, if not twice, if not three times a day through diagnosis and in those early weeks of the crazy firehose of test results and treatment plans. Cancer was coming at me from all angles, as you all know it does when diagnosis is fresh, and tests and results are being done, and war strategy is being made. I talked cancer, and ate cancer, and I slept cancer, and like poor Jan Brady lamented with sister Marcia, “Cancer Cancer Cancer,” was all I heard.

One day I just got to where I wanted to talk about something else, anything else, but cancer. Heck, discussing toenail fungus or dead pets would have been infinitely better than talking about cancer at that point. I had to set the limit and say, “Look, I want to take a week off of talking about cancer okay?  Let’s take a break and talk about something else, anything else for a while when you call.” And because they are good people they did just that, and it helped. A lot.

The moral of the story here is that sometimes you just have to take control and set a boundary with cancer, even after five years. Sometimes, you have to place a moratorium on cancerspeak, and that goes for you, the people around you and for that neurotic little voice in your head.

One of my girlfriends told me that right after she was diagnosed and just before chemo started, she and her 12-year-old daughter (with her onc’s blessing) took a long before cancer came a knockin’ planned trip to Greece. My girlfriend really has the coolest kid; I adore that little cutie pie for her effervescent and eccentric grooviness. Don’t you know that girl took a piece of paper and wrote “CANCER” on it, put it in a box and placed it on the mantle in the house. As they left for the airport, this cool kid was pulling the front door shut and she turned back and said to the box, “Cancer, you are too heavy to carry all over Greece. We know you will be here when we get back and we will be ready for you.”

After five years, it is sometimes still all about cancer. Some months it’s worse than others (if you get my potentially ungrateful sounding drift.) So for the rest of this week, I am declaring a moratorium on cancer. I am instead painting my toenails a delightful shade of robin’s egg blue and with my sweet daughter, I am boarding a plane to Disneyworld.

And with that I will say, “Cancer, you are too heavy to carry all over Disneyworld…even in an elephant that can fly.”

Look out! Look out!
Pink elephants on parade
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety
They’re here and there
Pink elephants everywhere

Look out! Look out!
They’re walking around the bed
On their head
Clippety cloppety
Arrayed in braid
Pink elephants on parade

What’ll I do?
What’ll I do?
What an unusual view

I can stand the sight of worms
And look at microscopic germs
But technicolor pachyderms is really too much for me

I am not the type to faint
When things are odd or things are quaint
But seeing things you know that ain’t, can certainly give you an awful fright

What a sight!
Chase ’em away! Chase ’em away!
I’m afraid, need your aid
Pink elephants on parade
Pink elephants…
Pink elephants…
Pink elephants…

Pink Elephants on Parade~ Disney’s Dumbo

 

 

I am a woman of extremes. 

In Lauren’s world, there is very little middle ground; to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, no nix that, extreme reaction. I frequently find myself either somersaulting into a dead of black night chasm or leap frogging into dazzling Clorox white. Little Miss A or Z, I am. Like in Wonkaland, my emotional elevator doesn’t just go to the top floor; it explodes through the ceiling and into the stratosphere. Conversely there is no end to the rabbit hole into which I can tumble, plunging into the earth to depths unknown.

“Grayness,” I insist to those trying to reason with me, “lacks luster.” Middle ground is bland and ho-hum; unemotional and flat, passionless people perplex me at times, I mean, how could you exist in that way? Extremes feel passionate and remind me I am alive; stretching the rubber band as far as it can go, I say, go big or go home.

Oh I know, I know, it’s a little worrisome. Even the psychologist in me points out to the anxious me that the edges of the bell curve are often not good places to be. Grandmother Willow reminds me on a quite regular basis, as she reels me in like the expert fisherwoman that while I go back and forth, I always come to the middle and will every time.

“Pshaw…” I say.

Now before you start thinking bipolar nutcase here, I will assure you it is simply not so. In fact to observe a day in the life of me, you’d think, “boring old middle-aged woman.” Nope, no drama queen here, no erratic borderline-ish, histrionic-ish crazy cat lady stuff. My polarity is mostly covert, just a little seesaw endlessly seeing and sawing in my lil’ noggin.

I give 200% or nothing. I don’t just feel hurt, I feel crushed. I give and give and rarely take. I let people either kinda suck me dry or surprise them when I completely buck up and tell them to knock it off. I am in or out, on or off, too good or not good enough. I am either working full steam or being avoidant. This dichotomy is what makes me either a whole lotta fun depending on the circumstance, or a whole lotta exasperation and exhaustion.

Maybe it’s because I really have had an all or nothing adult life. Many, many really, really good things have happened to me, and many, many really, really bad things have happened to me. Little of my life has been just status quo and middle of the road. Perhaps because I know better what to do with extremes, I tend to jack things up or down a bit. Perhaps as is with my life, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Perhaps status quo is just uncomfortable and foreign to me. Perhaps…I dunno.

Ok so maybe I experience things a tad bit more extremely than others, but it just feels wholehearted to me is all. I feel life and passion in Technicolor; where the rest of the world has a box of 8 Crayola’s to feel and describe their world, I have the jumbo box of 64 and perhaps a box of the Metallics in my holster as well. Raw Umber and Maize just can’t do what Green With Twinkling Turquoise Glitter can do for me and I said good riddance when they were retired. And boy do I love to color.

In the Disney movie Tangled, Rapunzel runs free on the ground after living her whole life in the tower. We watch as she goes through the day; her feet feeling the tickle of the Aquamarine water and the Granny Smith Apple grass, yet she is continually voicing the tick and the tock of her internal tug of war between the guilt of leaving her mother yet the joy of experiencing her freedom. In a scene I just love, she teeter totters between the elation and guilt shouting, “This is the best day ever!” and then, “I am a despicable person!” 

I so get that, that tangle of stuff.

For me, if it’s not the best day ever, it’s what a client of mine cleverly and accurately coined, “The Catastrophic Death Spiral.” When you are in The Catastrophic Death Spiral, it’s never just gonna turn out bad, it’s gonna turn out very bad. It’s not going to be just an unfortunate outcome, it’s going to be the worst possible outcome ever and everyone is gonna die likely involving thumbtacks in your skin, weepy lesions and a horrible burning sensations in unfortunate places as well.

Here is how the spiral goes. Last week, Scout the Wonderdog had a back injury and I was in tears on the phone with a friend, explaining to him just how very very very bad it was. He calmly said, “Now stop. Don’t be putting him in the ground just yet,” and he added a bit snarkily, “Because we know that would be so unlike you to go there already.” He suggested perhaps a good idea would be to go to the vet for an opinion before I decided on a time for afternoon euthanasia. A wise man indeed; accurately assessing my parachute-less run toward the rim of the catastrophic death spiral, and lasso-ing me just before the jump. And voila! By that afternoon, a vet visit and couple of tranqs and pain killers later (for Scout, not me silly) there I was considering what Santa was going to bring Scout for Christmas this year. That is how it goes.

So it follows that when I got cancer, I was gonna die.  Not only was I gonna die, but die quickly and likely painfully. I didn’t just have breast cancer; I had bone cancer and mets in my brain and lungs for sure. I had body cancer.

In this Spiral O’ Tragedy the future was Granite Grey bleak, my motherless kids would be dressed in rags, chronically starved for home-made chocolate chip cookies…emotional orphans crying out in their sleep for their mommy for the rest of their lives. They would have no one to guard them from the Copper Penny evils in the world, and all types of peril would befall them from bad manners, to not having clean underwear, and chronically unsigned homework. They would have no more fantastic Christmases making cookies and finding wonderful gifts under a beautiful Green with Glittering Turquoise tree, and they would have to subsist on junk food. They would have eternally dirty Licorice Black fingernails and the worst part of all of it was that they would have to have store-bought Halloween costumes! They would go to proms where their Tumbleweed stained suits and Burnished Brown dresses were wrinkled, and of course, they would be forever scarred by losing their momma at a young age and would likely be unable to ever function as adults.

And poor Scout! He wouldn’t have a home either! He’d be wandering the streets with his matted dirty coat, (instead of his current Baby Powder White fur) an empty dog food bowl in his mouth, begging for milkbones with hungry children trailing behind him eating milkbone crumbs and…. OH MY GOD, it would was all gonna be just awful because I didn’t just have cancer, I had BBBAAAADDDD cancer. This scenario of course, unfolded before any diagnostic testing was done. In fact this was all worked out and settled in my head before the phone was back in the cradle after the call where I was told that unfortunately, I had cancer.

The catastrophic death spiral makes us think a lump in our thigh is thigh cancer, a headache is brain cancer, and shortness of breath after running is surely announcing lung cancer.

The catastrophic death spiral is the vortex that is cancer.

Is there any value or good in extremes? Do extremes serve any function? Sometimes. Without them life doesn’t break loose and move like it should. I once heard a story of the Sequoia and the forest ranger’s efforts to save and protect them. For years, they did all they could to keep forest fires away from the giants, guarding them from being burned like a human firewall. But one day they realized that no little baby Sequoia trees were sprouting anywhere, as it seemed no fertile seeds were being launched from the way up yonder cones in the Jungle Green canopy. It was then they realized it takes extreme heat to cause the pinecones to launch and release fertile seeds, and without the heat, nothing happened. So the next fire they let burn as nature intended, and what do ya know, the trees lived, able to withstand heat they never thought possible. And soon, new baby Sequoia sprouted; new Sheen Green leaves, and Illuminated Emerald shoots and tiny Blast Off Bronze trunks emerging from the Milky Way black charred ground where once it seemed, all was lost.

Yes, sometimes a good old butt burning makes us grow and move and release what is needed and yes, sometimes we all deserve and thrive with wide open fantastic Technicolor joy. Sometimes yes, extremes serve us well, sometimes.  Not all the time.

Life is rarely A or Z . I must fight myself to stay in LMNOP, and trust that LMNOP  is how life most often is, and that despite the initial blast off or leap into, LMNOP will find me, if I just wait.

If it sounds too good to be true it likely is, and nothing is as bad as it seems. LMNOP. This will be on my tombstone.

This old Sequoia has learned a lot in life, through some wicked Wild Blue Yonder storms and trials by Burnt Orange fire, and by living through many joyful Laser Lemon days. The tonic of time simply passing finds balance. Stretching the band of that extreme reaction, I ride it out like a wave, and it passes. Middle ground and balance always finds me in a day or two. I arrive at LMNOP just like that, perhaps a day late, perhaps a dollar short, but better late than never.

Things always do look better in the morning, maybe not an Atomic Tangerine, Metallic Sunburst morning, but good old Yellow sunrise for sure. And who could ask for more than that?

There is inherent mental comfort and calming in the rubber band snapping back.

Taking pause before selecting the color of the crayon with which to color my life may not yield the most stunning and exciting picture, but likely it will produce the most accurate one. And it’s infinitely easier to stay within the lines that way.

I don’t think that even after five years I have reached the opposite extreme of the “I’m gonna die” vortex-like Catastrophic Death Spiral that is cancer; I have not gotten to where I am blasting into the stratosphere of “I am gonna live a long and happy life.” Truth is, the reality of what will unfold in my life is likely somewhere in between, somewhere in the LMNOP range, simply because that is life.

Still, some days Red Violet With Glitzy Gold Glitter, Inchworm Green and Deep Space Sparkle remind me I am alive and that life is better than good, and some days life is still just a reckless back and forth aggressive scribble of Onyx Black. But most often, the box of 8 is really all I need to get by. To crack open the tiny box and breathe in their fresh smell, and see the optimistic faces of the ordinary colors of life all lined up expectantly waiting, that is LMNOP. 

Everything in moderation. Walls and lines keep us safe inside, but wow it’s a big world when we let our hair down and go over them…once in a while….once…in a great while.

Stay in center and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion. 

Embrace the possibility of death and you will endure. 

Embrace the possibility of life and you will endure.

~tao te ching~

I don’t want to talk about 9/11. Not here, not now. Sometimes intense emotional experiences are so private, so personal, and when people around us launch into their own personal narrative of how it unfolded for them, it flavors it for us. And that is not what I want to do. It is not fair to you. Read the rest of this entry »

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