Pausing, Slowing Down & Reducing the Noise

87WSyMSm

As featured on curetoday.com

In his book “Information Anxiety” (1989), Richard Wurman claims that the weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th-century England was likely to come across in a lifetime. I am curious how that statement would change given the speed of information and life in 2017. Of course, I am so grateful for the significant impact this surge of information has created in the cancer world. However, the biggest downside of the increased velocity is a world with so much noise.  Add cancer to this equation and it’s no wonder anxiety accompanies the disease.

Gandhi said, “There’s more to life than increasing it’s speed,” and it took a cancer diagnosis in September 2014 for me to understand the meaning of this quote. Information overload and busyness has become a chronic disease in our society. It seems as though everyone wants to move through life as fast as possible and news pours on us before we can formulate our own thoughts. I think it’s quite sad. None of us will be on our deathbed wishing we moved through this world more rapidly. Everybody and everything wants our time and attention, which are two of the most precious commodities for a cancer survivor.

Illness did not just force me to slow down – there was a chunk of time where it pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I went from endurance athlete to bed ridden in a matter of months, which was humbling and an experience filled with valuable lessons. As a result, I learned that the slower I go, the more I can actually accomplish well. Slowing down allows me to live with quality, in the moment.  And most importantly, decreasing my pace has made me acutely aware of the outside noise that distracts us from the life’s most important things, which aren’t things at all. They are our relationships and health.

I am very fortunate that I did not have (or want) to jump back into a busy life after going through active treatment. My life gives me the option to say, “no,” which I do often. When I’m in a particularly noisy period, I don’t just slow down the intake of information and activities, but do my best to pause all together in order to put all my time and attention into my personal self-care. I give myself the time and space to do my favorite things which include writing, yoga, reading, sleeping 8-9 hours, taking naps, meditating daily, writing my prayer and gratitude list, taking walks (gasp) without a device and reduce my time on the internet.

Whether you’re a cancer survivor or not, EVERYONE could benefit from slowing down, pausing and reducing the noise to enjoy the only guarantee any of us have, which is the present moment we are in.

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Review: ‘The Collateral Beauty’ of Illness

 

I’ve wanted to see the movie, “Collateral Beauty” since it’s release last year and finally watched it this weekend. There are times when a movie, song, writing, painting or another piece of art generate a profound impact in us and I would add this film into that category.

 

The main character, played by Will Smith, is suffering from tremendous grief. The movie tells the story of his business partners and friends going to great lengths to help him. These people also learn important life lessons as well. The underlying themes are love, time and death. Cancer also has a couple starring roles. The concept of collateral beauty is explained, when a character shares her feelings of an overwhelming and profound connection to everything after her own traumatic experience.

After this scene, I looked at my husband and said, “I totally get it.”

Without question, dealing with illness has made me more intensely aware of love, time and death. I remember not long after treatment, feeling so much love for everything and everyone around me. I had so much gratitude for time and deeply understood it’s fragility and temporariness.  I walked the line between life and death and saw how thin the line is.  These feelings were so intense to the point my face would be soaked with tears from a pretty sunset or when my eyes flicked open in the morning. It was then I learned how much beauty can exist in that deemed terrible. I think these feelings and awareness have been a gift and none of that would be possible without cancer.

“No matter how dark and no matter how difficult a time is, there is something beautiful that’s happening right there, you just have to look and see it.” -Will Smith

This Too Shall Pass: Healing After Cancer

87WSyMSm

As featured on curetoday.com

heal-winter-2016

Featured in Heal Magazine, Winter 2016

As I approach mile 10, the discomfort sets in. I’m surprised I made it this far without any pain, considering I didn’t prepare as I normally do. I found it very difficult to get up on a Saturday and run my tried-and-true training plan with a cancerous, symptomatic, metastatic, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Weeks before, I contemplated not doing the half marathon, but I could not let cancer take away my joy of competing after it had already robbed me of so much. So, out of pure defiance, here I am. My hips and hamstrings are tight, but what’s causing me the most discomfort is my stomach. Just past the mile marker, I reluctantly stop at a Porta Potty. In my previous life, I would never do this because it would affect my finishing time. I would have convinced myself three miles of discomfort was a blip in the grand scheme of life. I exit the bathroom, start running through the pain, tightness and soreness and I hear in my head wise words a dear friend says often: This too shall pass.

Days later, I find myself, once again, in an unrecognizable life. Saturday: half marathon. Sunday: MRI. On Tuesday, I was told I needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. On Wednesday, I lost my job. A year ago, I was physically stronger than any woman I knew my age, had a wonderful, lucrative job and was the epitome of health. Now, I find myself asking if this is real life countless times. “God only gives us what we can handle,” right? Well, God has greatly overestimated me because all of this — I can not handle. Not just the rug, but the entire floor has been pulled from under my feet. I wondered if this was the new normal or if this too shall pass. It’s my favorite season of summer, but the days have turned into the least favorite of my life. The disease has gotten ahead of the treatments and I’m scared to get out of bed each day. A good day is when I don’t spend several hours with nausea so severe I have to call my husband to take me to the hospital for fluids and intravenous meds. I’ve become a permanent fixture at the cancer center. Staff members greet me by name with a look of pity and a sick bag. My family, friends and I are shocked to see a beautiful, vain, active, social butterfly disintegrate into an reclusive, bald, shell of a person who wears pajamas and no make-up. They respond with cliche phrases such as, “Stay strong” and “You’re going to beat this.”

While I know these words are intended to comfort and encourage me, they only make my blood boil. As if I had a choice to be strong. As if beating it was my decision. I pretend to stay positive because I know the other option does not serve me and would make my supporters assume I have given up. Though there were many moments I wanted to quit, I desperately prayed to God instead — with every cell in my body — for these days to pass.

Getting out of the hospital bed after abdominal surgery is a process and an art. This being my second time around, I knew what to expect and how I should maneuver. Being cut in half was nothing compared to what I had already endured. Plus, the physical pain is minimized because it was preceded with the world’s most beautiful words, “We got all the cancer.”

I happily push the button to move the bed as upright as possible. Pull myself up using the trapeze. Lower the bed down. Sit up. At a snail’s pace, swing my left leg left. Gently rest it on the floor. Repeat with the right leg. Get my bearings. Grab my husband’s hands. Use my marathoner legs to stand up. Resist the urge to cough. Stand for a few seconds to gather my breath. Inch the right foot forward and then the left. Could it be that this season was finally passing?

I look up at the sky and see every existing color over the next twenty minutes. It makes me feel so small, but part of something so big at the same time, and I realize it’s because I am. It is the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced and tears drop from my eyes. I pass a woman unloading groceries from the trunk of her car. She’s completely oblivious to me and the pinks, blues, purples, oranges and yellows taking shape above her head. I feel both sad for and envious of her unawareness because the beauty of this moment is something only available to someone who has stared its fragility in face. I know I am blessed and cursed for my new eyes which have given me an aerial perspective of life’s most precious moments. I pray to God that these feelings, these thoughts and this awareness will not pass.

Read this on curetoday.com: This too shall pass: healing after cancer.

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