2017: Overcoming Addiction & Being Present

It seems like many people were happy to bid adieu to 2016. As for me, not even the disappointment of a surprise surgery, putting my dog to sleep and the election outcome could trump the train wreck of my 2015, so I’m going to declare the year pretty darn awesome.  I travelled to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Spain where I walked 258 miles to fulfill a dream of completing the Camino de Santiago.  In April, I preformed at the Bluebird Cafe in a production called My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage. In July, I spent the month in Michigan completing 200 hours of yoga teacher training.  Then in September, I went to California and learned to surf with fifteen other cancer survivors through an organization called First Descents.  And in between all those adventures, I published several blogs, articles and wrote nearly everyday.  So, yes, I’d say 2016 was not so bad.

 

Of course, I’d like to continue and increase the adventures in 2017, so I spent some time thinking about my goals for this year.  I realized setting and accomplishing SMART* goals has always come easy for me, but what I want more than anything is something not so measurable.

Somewhere around when I got an iPhone, I developed an obsession to anything connected to my device.  The internet, social media, streaming TV, etc.  Then while I was going through treatment my addiction intensified because I would spend my days in bed watching the iPad. Now that I’m well, I can see the addiction has gotten out of control.

What bothers me most about my problem is how it distracts me from the activities and people I truly care about. It eats at precious time I could spend writing, doing yoga, reading, hiking, running, etc. and it steals my attention from my husband, friends and surroundings. Ultimately, I hope addressing this addiction will allow me to be more fully present in my own life, which is what I want more than any check box next to a goal.

One of the many life lessons cancer taught me is the only guarantee we have is the present moment – the one we are in right now.  I’ve realized in addition to my device addiction, I spend a lot of precious time reliving traumas of the past and the “what ifs” of the future.

This morning I came across a perfect passage in the book, The Artist’s Way:

“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.”

And there it is again – being present in my life as a method for coping with trauma of the past and uncertainty of the future.

I wish you all health, wealth, strength and whatever else you need to accomplish your measurable and immeasurable goals of 2017.  Also, I’d like to take this time to thank you for reading my blog. If someone you know has been affected by cancer and/or chronic illness, please feel free to share my site with them, or better yet, have them send me a message.  Below you’ll find my most popular blogs from 2016:

Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy – The fact that this was the number one post of the year doesn’t surprise me. When I was going through hair loss, I wasn’t able to find a lot of info on what the growing out process was like. I also did a follow-up to this post, One Year of Hair After Cancer. That has been a few months and I’m happy to report I have a ton of hair. It’s in a bit of an awkward stage right now, but whatevs, I’m happy to have hair.

Living Universal Truths on My Cancerversary – I really love this post and the seven universal truths.

Cancer Camp – Details on my week surfing with First Descents, an organization that takes young, adult cancer survivors on adventure trips.

 

*Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-Based

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Not the End of the World

Eek! I’m so excited – I put an obsessive amount of time and emotional energy into this essay.

 

 

This was published in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Momentum Magazine and tells the story of my four year journey to and on the Camino de Santiago.

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Kevin & I at the end of the world

I went to the Camino with a map and a plan to walk alone, but the universe conspired for something better. That something better goes by the name of Kevin Keystone. So, I’ll dedicate this to him and the universe for bringing me the medicine I needed most. My thank yous will be forever immeasurable.

Not the End of the World

To watch Kevin’s take on our voyage together, check out this YouTube video.

Living Universal Truths on My Cancerversary

 

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2014: Me & the “excited” med students

Yesterday, September 1st was my cancerversary.

In 2014 a parade of doctors came in and out of my hospital room using the word, excited, because of the 1 in 10 million diagnosis.  An intern asked if she could use my case as a homework project.  Looking back, it’s pretty fucked up to be doing to someone who was just diagnosed with cancer.

 

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2015: Post swim

September 1, 2015, was a blur along with the previous few months.  I was really sick, but it was my cancerversary and I forced myself to go to the gym for the first time in months to swim for 20 minutes. On the way to the gym and on the way home, I had to pull over to throw up. Also, fucked up.

And here we are  – September 1st of sweet 2016. This year has probably been the most rewarding ones ever and I’m fascinated how different life can be in 365 days, evidence that everything is impermanent.

 

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Perhaps, I am stronger than I think. Thomas Merton

Yesterday, I woke up and for a few minutes I didn’t remember.  I laid in bed, playing on my phone. I checked Facebook and saw my yoga teacher, Tommy, posted a picture of the quote I gave him on our last day of teacher training, with a caption, Perhaps, I am stronger than I think.  He had no idea of the day’s significance.  Everything is connected.

I decided to spend the day contemplating and living the seven universal truths, a concept that really resonated with me during training. A universal truth or axiom is something that is true no matter the time, space or situation.

As I got ready, I blasted, Starlight by Muse and danced around and sang to my dog, Bear. He already knows I’m crazy and he was not amused.  His disinterest only made me laugh, which, I know, deep down, makes him happy.  Laughter and play are the fountains of youth.

Unfortunately, yesterday was the day I had to get my monthly check-up at the hospital. Fortunately, I got one of my favorite nurses, who is Canadian and loves to talk with me in French.  We caught up and completely out of the blue, she asked me if I meditate, which prompted a conversation about the inner capacity for healing, a concept not generally accepted by the western medical community. A coincidence?  No, it’s all connected.  After our long discussion, she gave me my monthly injection of Lanreotide, the $16,000 medication that keeps me healthy.  Can we all just take a moment and be grateful for health insurance?

I finished at the hospital early, which never happens, so I walked down to Jeni’s Ice Cream.  This was the place I went after nearly every chemo treatment because I was obsessed with anything and everything cold. Coincidently (or totally not), my 2nd cousin was working behind the counter. Last August I met her for dinner after a chemo treatment with my freshly shaved head and haven’t seen her since. I repeat, everything is connected.

Exercise and rest are the keys to vibrant health. From Jeni’s, I walked over to the yoga studio for a 75-minute class and coincidently ran into another person who impacted my journey over the past two years. It was Liz, who I was introduced to by a mutual friend and met for coffee last June.  She was the one who told me I should go to the Center for Yoga to do my yoga teacher training. I have not seen her since then and loved how the universe plopped her in my path on today of all days giving me the chance to thank her and chat about possible opportunities for teaching.

As I walked back, I thought about how cool it was to run into these people today.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be today and for the last two years – a hard concept to accept. However, I know this axiom to be true due to the steady stream of opportunities that come my way because of cancer.  A few examples: I’m living my dream of being a writer. I’ve met several people who inspire me through having overcome their own challenges with cancer, mental illness and addiction. I performed at the Bluebird Cafe. I finished the Camino. I graduated yoga teacher training and will start teaching next month.  Heck, just this week, I was approached with an opportunity to share my experience to aid in bringing new drugs and treatments to neuroendocrine cancer patients in the United States. All of this would have never happened if cancer did not enter my life. So, am I exactly where I’m suppose to be? Yes, I think so.

I arrived home to find my favorite person. The one who held my hand through it all and whose positivity never, ever wavers.  We did what we do every evening – greet each other with hugs and kisses and snuggle on the couch as we talk about our days.  Touch and intimacy are basic human needs.

As September 1st drew to a close on the 2 year anniversary of the scariest day of my life, I laid in bed thinking about the most powerful universal truth for me. Fear and pain are life’s greatest teachers. It’s hard to say I’m grateful for cancer, but I am so grateful for the innumerable lessons cancer has taught me, many of which revealed themselves in moments of fear and pain. I’ll share the most important one – All we have is the moment we are in right now. The present. None of us are guaranteed the future.  And yesterday I didn’t spend my time worrying about the future. I just enjoyed and was grateful for the day and the angels who resurfaced to bring life full circle and reminded me that over the last two years I’ve learned, I am stronger than I thought.

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My 1st head stand. I used the wall to get up, but, as you’ll see in the mirror, the rest is all me.

 

The Seven Universal Truths:
1. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
2. Fear and pain are life’s greatest teachers.
3. Laughter and play are the fountains of youth.
4. Exercise and rest are the keys to vibrant health.
5. Touch and intimacy are basic human needs.
6. Everything is impermanent.
7. Everything is connected.
Bonus truth: You are stronger than you think.