BuiltaLife

Offering hope to those on the path behind me

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Goodbye Ann…Another friend lost to Metastatic Breast Cancer

Beth, Cathy, Ann and KIm attending Art Bra Austin 2019
L to R: Beth, Cathy, Ann and, Kim at the BCRC Art Bra Austin 2019 Fundraiser

This week I learned a new term. Anticipatory Grief. You may have already determined that anticipatory grief occurs while a loved one is still alive, but their death is imminent. 

This would have been helpful information 4 years ago as we watched JR and my dad both slip away. It certainly helps me understand the anger I had during June and July 2016. 

I learned the term this week while attending an online Breast Cancer conference hosted by Living Beyond Breast Cancer. There was a session called “Coping with Collective Grief” and the speaker, Kelly Grosklags, spoke about this “new to me” term. 

It helped me understand my feelings this week (as well as those feelings from 4 years ago). You see, today we lost another to Metastatic Breast Cancer. A beautiful, fun, brilliant, witty woman gone too soon.

I met Ann while attending a support group for women with metastatic breast cancer at the Breast Cancer Resource Center.  She was everything I am not: outspoken and loud. Not in an obnoxious way.

She had a sharp wit and a sense of humor that you couldn’t help but love. After going to meetings for a few months I became friends with Ann, Beth, and Cathy. Sometimes we would go to lunch after a meeting, go out for drinks or just sit out on my patio and enjoy a beverage and snacks (pre-Covid). 

I loved talking with Ann, she had stories that could make your belly hurt from laughing. Or she could bring you to tears. 

We have known this day was coming ever since she decided her body was tired from treatments. But until last Tuesday I was still in denial. I had seen her a couple of times since March (on Zoom calls) and she was holding her own. 

But when the text came last week to come see her it seemed urgent. When we arrived she was in bed, no energy to get up and the spark in her eyes, while still there was just a little dimmer. 

Thankfully we were able to see her while she was still coherent enough to recognize us and even engage for a bit. And for that, I will be forever grateful. 

Having watched JR go through the process of dying, I knew when I left that her time here was short. And I was glad I had dropped what I was doing to go spend a few hours with Ann and my other “bosom buddies” Later that week we received an update on her caringbridge site that she was not receiving any more visitors and she was sleeping most of the time. 

This week I have been anxious every time I open my email. Anticipating the final journal entry. Today, it came.

You will be missed, Ann. I’m so glad I got to know you, even if it was through this damn thing we call metastatic breast cancer

Imposter Syndrome – Is my story worth telling?

Every time someone suggests I should tell my story, I develop a case of Imposter Syndrome.

One definition of imposter syndrome states:

The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

psychology today

I thought I was supposed to “share my story” by writing. That is how this blog started. But I had no idea what I was doing (and I still don’t), or how to best go about sharing my story. I wasn’t even sure anyone really wanted to hear or read it other than the few friends who kept encouraging me.

My story never seemed like something that was really worth sharing, in my opinion. In fact, I felt like a fraud, or an imposter, every time it was suggested.

Recently, I was asked by one of my pastors if I would share my story of resilience (you can click here to watch the interview).

He was preaching on resilience and thought of me (“No one asks for resilience” he said in his sermon. I’m not sure it is a good thing I’m the first person someone thinks of when they hear the word resilient). I agreed, not really sure what would come of it. He was thinking it would be a 5 minute Q&A after his sermon.

During this time of the pandemic, Wednesday is the new Sunday at our church. At least it is for the filming staff and pastors. That is the day they record the service for the upcoming Sunday. So on Wednesday morning, using social distancing, Will (the pastor) and I sat in our Family Life Center, and he asked me questions and I answered him, telling my story, while trying to ignore the bright lights, microphones, and video cameras.

The lights, cameras, and microphones must have given me amnesia because afterward, I could not tell you what I said or if it was even coherent. I walked away thinking if they decided not to use it, no big deal.

As Sunday morning approached, I was anxious and nervous and apprehensive. The imposter talked me out of watching the video that morning.

The imposter’s voice kept asking me: What did I say in the interview? What if it didn’t make any sense? Who wanted to hear it anyway?

Sunday afternoon I received a couple of text messages. At first, the messages were from close friends. Those that have been there through the trials and have encouraged me all along to share my story.

Although I appreciated the messages of encouragement, I discounted them. They were from my cheerleaders, the ones who are still standing at the finish line after everyone else has given up and gone home.

Then I started getting messages from other friends. Friends I haven’t talked to in a while, but still know some of my story and have been in the trenches with me a time or two. They thanked me for being willing to open up, be vulnerable, and share my story.

As the day progressed (and I still hadn’t been able to bring myself to watch the interview), I got more messages. Some from people I hadn’t talked to in years, others from people that I have never met. They were all grateful that I had shared my story.

The voice in my began to change “Maybe my story is worth sharing?”

Perhaps the most limiting part of dealing with imposter syndrome is that it can limit our courage to go after new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, and put ourselves out there in a meaningful way. 

psychology today

By sharing this blog and sitting down having the discussion (on video) with my pastor, I am trying to overcome that Imposter Syndrome by not letting it limit my courage to put myself out there in a meaningful way.

It is still a struggle. And I’m sure it will be for a long time. But if I don’t tell the story, who will?

What I learned about myself watching a MasterClass on Chess

Yesterday I was feeling like the walls were closing in on me. Anyone else feeling that way these days?

It was a dreary day at my house, threatening rain all day and chilly (at least chilly compared to what it had been earlier in the week – in Texas, you never really know what the weather will be – Yesterday the high was in the low 60’s, today it is going to be 88).

Tired of reading, Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime/Cable TV, and the puzzle that had been sitting on my table for a week (or more), it felt like the walls were closing in.

From past experiences, when that feeling comes over me, I know I need to do something productive.

I put on my walking shoes, grabbed the dog’s leash and we headed to the mailboxes to get out of the house. My mailbox is a community mailbox area, so a walk to the mailbox can be as short as half a mile roundtrip or I can find another way home and make it as long as I want.

Before I headed out the door on my walk, I did what most people would do, I reached out to Social Media and asked what others are doing to keep their sanity. While on my walk, my friends did not disappoint with coming up with ideas. Here are just a few of their suggestions:

  • Learn to play a musical instrument
  • Learn to crochet
  • Color
  • Take a walk
  • Organize family photos
  • Learn to cook a new dish
  • Listen to audiobooks
  • Take a drive through the country
  • Play online games such as Words with Friends
  • Watch Ted Talks (here is one of my favorites)
  • Paint the house
  • Video or audio record family stories for kids/grandkids to enjoy later
  • Learn Morse Code (.-.. — .-.. you can go here to decipher this code)
  • Take a MasterClass

Since I already have a MasterClass subscription, I turned to the online learning website and decided to try something new. I found Garry Kasparov’s class on Chess.

I’ve never really been a chess player, so to speak. I know the names of the pieces and how they can each move (at least I used to, it has been a while since I played). Learning something new would be a good use of this time.

I was expecting to learn from one of the greatest chess players, about chess. But I learned so much more.

Sitting on my back porch, thinking about life and this “new normal” people keep talking about (but that is an entirely different blog post) I listened to Garry speak about the fundamentals of chess.

When it registered what Garry said in the first sentence of the second video I had to go back and replay it several times to let it sink in.

“I like an old chess saying. Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. While strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.”

GArry kasparov

Let that sink in for a minute. Read it again if you need to. It made me pause and think about how true this rings in life as well.

I have developed a lot of tactics over the past several years for dealing with life. Like going for a walk when the walls are closing in or taking an online class to learn something new.

These are tactics. Tactics that get me through the next hour or two. And that I can pull out again when I need them.

As I continued to listen and ponder “what is my strategy? Do I even have a strategy?” he slipped another nugget out.

“Unless you know who you are, it is difficult to know the best strategy.”

garry kasparov

While he was talking about chess, I could not help but think about the life application. In order to have a strategy in the game of life, you must first know who you are, or perhaps you must know who you want to become.

Currently, I am working on discovering who I am. It is like meeting a new friend and finding out who they are.

My life has changed in many ways over the past several years. Who I was is no longer who I am. And yet, I now have the chance to become who I was always meant to be. Kim.

This is my new strategy in life. Maybe I will even discover some new tactics along the way.

Chess anyone?

Cancer, Grief, and COVID19 – The Isolation Trifecta

Isolation. A feeling we most certainly can all understand in our current circumstance. #StayHomeStaySafe #CoronaVirus #COVID19

It seems every post on social media these days is a reminder of what is going on in the world. And rightfully so. Everyone is scared and feeling the walls closing in.

Cancer

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2003, I was not prepared for the feeling of isolation. Even when people were surrounding me, there was still that feeling of isolation. The words “you have cancer” floated around my brain constantly. And while others tried to share their own experiences with cancer, this new path was one I had to walk alone. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and many friends were there. But it felt like I was running a marathon by myself and they were all on the sidewalks, behind barricades cheering me on. The treatments were mine alone to bear.

In 2010, when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, the feeling of isolation came back with a vengeance. This time the isolation was more tangible. I was unable to walk because of where the cancer had attacked. My husband would get me situated on the couch or in one of the recliners before he would leave for work. At lunch, either he would come or he would make arrangements for a friend or family member to come over and keep me company for a while. But then it was back to work. I was alone, while the kids were at school and he was at work, left to wonder what this new life was going to look like.

For me, metastatic cancer came with a new set of physical challenges. But also mental challenges. At home with nothing but time on my hands, I discovered the average life expectancy was 36 months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (thankfully I have far exceeded that life expectancy, but I had no way to know that at the time). Friends and family once again rallied around us, but the isolation sat heavy in my soul.

Grief

Similarly, when my father passed away and then four days later my husband passed away, I was surrounded by friends and family. There to lift me up, to give me a shoulder to cry on, or to make sure that I had food to eat. But again, it was the times in the middle of the night, when I was unable to sleep that I found so isolating. Even going out with friends was hard. Most of my friends are happily married. I never felt more isolated than going to dinner with a group of happily married couples when I was now a widow. I have gotten better at being in those situations, but there are still times when that pain of isolation will rise up and make me understand what I lost when I see the looks that pass between husbands and wives who have known each other for decades.

COVID 19 – The trifecta of Isolation

In some way, I feel like I have been in preparation for the isolation brought on by COVID. But, it is just a little different. This one is being felt by everyone in some way.

And yet, even this new circumstance brings about a different feeling about grief and isolation.

During each of the previous life events, there were people around me. Helping me. Comforting me. Bringing me meals, sitting with me at doctor’s appointments, in the hospital, at the funerals, driving me to appointments, cleaning my house. They were sharing in my isolation as much as I would allow.

COVID 19 has reignited the feeling of isolation that I have struggled to overcome in the last few years. The isolation and grief from a cancer diagnosis, to loss of my father and my husband.

I have discovered I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my connection to the outside world right now, however, the posts also remind me of the other things I have lost: my husband; my limited mobility (makes it really hard to do things I used to be able to do easily), even my healthy immune system.

Thanks to my metastatic cancer and a compromised immune system, I have not left my house, other than to take the dog for a walk or go to my oncologist appointment, since March 18th. Days upon days of no contact with friends and family except via phones/computers.

The physical isolation is hard. But the reminders of the emotional isolation of past experiences is like ripping a bandaid off a wound that hasn’t finished healing.

If you, like me, are feeling the isolation from cancer, grief, or COVID I have found the following help me get out of my isolation funk:

Papers burning in fire pit
After writing down the things causing anxiety, burn them and let them go
  • Keep a pen and paper or some kind of notebook on your nightstand. When I can’t sleep it is usually because I need to process what is going on, no better way to do that than to write it down.
    • If what you have written is something you don’t want others to read, I have also found that burning the pages in my fire pit is very therapeutic.
  • Go for a walk or run (I don’t run, but you might enjoy it)
  • Find a good exercise video or sign up with a virtual trainer (I just signed up with Camp Gladiator for a 6-week challenge – all classes are on Zoom). Sweating out the frustrations has always helped reset my mind.

What have you found to help you not feel so isolated?

Good News – it needs to be shared not just during a pandemic

Tell me something good! (Who remembers Shaka Khan signing this? Because everyone has heard of Shaka Khan after Season 3 of The Masked Singer)

We seem to all be looking for the good news these days. If you don’t believe me, just ask John Krasinski. He made a video about “Some Good News” and he even speaks with his friend Steve Carell which made us all happy. If you haven’t seen the video, click here (I promise it is worth your time).

This week I also shared some of my own good news. And for those of you who follow me, yes, it has to do with my latest scan results.

I shared this post on my personal Facebook page.

Even though I shared this news during the #StayHomeStaySafe pandemic, I was still shocked at the number of likes and comments I received.

Granted, people are usually happy for me when I post good news about my scans. But this week I heard from people who I haven’t heard from in years even though we are friends on Facebook.

It doesn’t bother me that most people on my friend list don’t comment on my posts. I have close to 500 “Facebook friends”, but honestly I probably interact with about 75-80 regularly. I usually receive a lot of likes when I post good news regarding my cancer. But this time I got over 150 likes and about 50 or more comments.

After 9 plus years of living with metastatic cancer, I understand not everyone is as concerned as I am about my latest scans, especially since I get them every 3-4 months.

Since last June my two previous scans had both shown progression. The results from my latest scan showed some of the spots from the past 2 scans were actually smaller, which means the new medication is working. Yes, I am doing my own happy dance (I even pulled out Just Dance 2016 on Xbox to do some at-home exercise – whew, it’s a good thing no one is recording that).

I would postulate good news is not just what we need today, but we need to do a better job of celebrating good news on a daily basis. Now and going forward.

So tell me something good! I really do want to celebrate with you.

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