Offering hope to those on the path behind me

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Is it a New Normal or an Opportunity to Change your Sails?

What do you think of when you hear New Normal?

I will tell you, I really don’t like the term. I have used it to express myself in the past.

After my cancer diagnosis and all that entails, I told myself and others, I must find my “new normal.”

When I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, and the normal I had become accustomed to changed again. I had to figure out another “new normal.”

My husband died – “New Normal”

My hip replacement was removed – “New Normal”

Many people in the cancer realm talk about finding their “new normal” and I get it. I’ve done it too.

It seemed I was always discovering a New Normal

Now with the craziness that is 2020, the term is more mainstream. We have all had to come to terms with a “New Normal.”

It seems as if jobs have become either virtual or “essential.” Kids are learning from home virtually. We have become experts at using Zoom and interacting with friends and family in a new way. With the overlay of Covid, the whole country/world is learning and adapting to a “new normal.”

But what does New Normal really mean? And why do we say it as if we were happy with the Old Normal?

In 2020, even before the pandemic, I started a journey to discover who I am. I have a huge crush on (or at least a strong admiration for) Bob Goff right now. Last year I read 2 of his books. I have listened to almost every episode of his Dream Big Podcast. I am currently reading his latest book Dream Big and I also signed up for his Facebook Writing Class.

In his book Dream Big, he asks 3 very simple, yet very complex questions:

Who Are You?

Where Are You?

What Do You Want?

“Where you are today is simply the harbor from which your ship is about to sail.”

Bob goff, dream big

Some people might read that and name their ship “New Normal”

But after navigating the waters of so many waves and upheavals, I think I would rather name my ship “Great Expectations”.

I am choosing to not think of things in the terms of “new normal” anymore.

For me, that term implies I was satisfied, or maybe comfortable, with my “old” normal. When in fact, if I am honest about Who I am, Where I am and What I want, I would have to admit I have not always been happy with the “old” normal. So why would I think change or a new normal would be a bad thing?

I’m the first to admit that change is hard. And unless we are seeking change, it can hit us like a car careening out of control that crosses over into our lane and hits us head on – without much warning.

It has taken me a long time to understand that I haven’t always known what I wanted. I was too busy trying to understand what others wanted or expected me be – parents, teachers, friends, kids, bosses – and seeking their approval believing that was what I wanted also.

So…What do I want?

I’m still working on that answer. But I do know I want to have great expectations. I want to embrace the change and point my sails in the direction to allow the wind to take me on a new course where I can explore opportunities. Perhaps those opportunities were not on the horizon that I was gazing at for so long.

I am shifting where my eyes are looking, so I can see a new horizon, one that will likely include change. But I am going to trust that the wind that is guiding my sails will lead me to something beautiful. And if I have to pull into a harbor for some rest, that too, may lead to an opportunity to reset my sails before I relaunch.

Happy sailing from wherever you are launching from. If I see your ship sailing near mine, I will wave and say hello.

Writing the next chapter doesn’t make it final, does it?

Sitting at my desk, ready to start writing a new chapter, I snapped a picture.

I posted the picture on Instagram/Facebook with the caption “The view from my office chair. Ready to work on #writing that book.”

Computer open on desk, a large clock on the wall outside office doorway large
Everything I need to #write. Ready, set, GO!

I received several positive responses – especially since I posted this after a day or 2 after my last blog post.

One of the comments was from someone with whom I recently became friends on Facebook. We met in a support group. She replied, “instead of writing a book you should become a personal growth and development guide.”

Honest words usually come out when they are written or spoken quickly.

My own response to her comment surprised me and I have been thinking about it a lot for the last 48 hours.

I’ve had this book idea in my head a long time. It is an overdue final gift to my husband. 

my quick response to a comment on a photo on facebook

An overdue final gift to my husband. A FINAL…..GIFT……

I have been digesting those words and wondering “Is that true? Is this my final gift?”

NaNoWriMo Winner Badge
Official “winner’s badge” for NANOWRIMO 2018.

As many of my friends know I have been working, on again off again, on this book idea for 2 years now.

In fact, I started writing my novel during National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) in 2018. I even got the badge for “winning”. Meaning I wrote more than 50,000 words in one month. A feat I never thought would happen since I have never written a book before.

Everything about the book is a dedication to my husband. The names I use are intentional and have meaning. The main characters are so familiar to me that I have not had to sit down and list out their character traits. Every bit, down to the last page, has been written as if he were sitting in the chair across from me while I write.

Now, as I contemplate the words of this book being a “final gift” – setting aside the whole “I don’t know what I’m doing or how to write a book” fear that every beginning writer has – I understand why this book is an ongoing project that I can’t quite wrap up enough to send to an editor.

If this is a final gift, what does that really mean?

It has been over 4 years since my husband passed away. Sometimes it feels like a millennium ago (especially during 2020 and a pandemic), and other times it feels like yesterday. Even now there are mornings when I wake up and look over to the other side of the bed to see if he is still sleeping.

So, if I finish writing this book that has been so lovingly written as a gift for him, and by some miracle I can talk a publisher into publishing the book…What happens next?

Will I continue to feel his presence in the chair across from me if I move on to a different project?

In all honesty, I have no idea what will happen. But I would like to think that every day as I continue to grow and become this new person without him here he is still my cheerleader sitting in that chair.

Maybe the real gift has no finality to it.

Perhaps it is to continue to move forward. And if one of those steps is completing this novel, then I hope he will unwrap it with all of the love that I will have poured into it, send me a little nod and say “That’s my girl. Keep going!”

What is holding you back from your calling?

I have mentioned to a few close friends that I have felt the calling to be a speaker and a writer. I mean, come on, as Elton John sings “I’m still standing after all this time, Picking up the pieces of my life…” But I’ve never really felt the time was right. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was not having the qualifications. Maybe it was something else altogether.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a book discussion group. We are reading It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst. The book has been on my GoodReads Want to Read list for a long time. In fact, it had been on there so long that I didn’t even remember that I had the Audible version so when I signed up for the group, I got the hardback book and the study guide.

I have heard of Lysa through some of the podcasts that I listen to and even some friends had mentioned her name and the book (which is why it was on my Want to Read list). But I did not know anything about her story. What I did know was the title of the book resonated with me.

She is right, I thought. It’s Not Supposed to be This Way.

Certainly, if someone asked me 25, 20, 15, 10, or even 5 years ago what I imagined my life would look like in 2020, never in a million years, would I have described what my life looks like right now. To be honest, I have had to make adjustments in a lot of areas in my life. But looking back over it, as Garth Brooks sings so well, ” Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Coffee on the deck at the beach
A fabulous way to start any beach vacation. Coffee, blue skies, and a view for days.

I will admit I still need to go back and read some chapters I skipped (I had an unexpected opportunity to sit on a beach for a week and relax and missed 2 of the book club meetings, but you would have made that choice too most likely).

This week, instead of playing catch up, I jumped right into the chapters we were going to discuss. I had errands and an appointment on Friday so I listened to chapter 7 via the Audible version I had purchased a long time ago. I really had no idea what would be in those chapters.

As I backed out of my driveway I heard Lysa say “Every syllable of the last chapter is true.” Hmm, ok, I will have to go back to that and read it I thought.

I continued listening while driving down the toll road on the way to my appointment at Texas Oncology. Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic, so I was headed for my monthly blood work, treatment, and appointment with the nurse practitioner.

“The ink hadn’t even dried from the last chapter when the need for another mammogram turned to the need for a biopsy. Everyone, including my doctor, assured me there was little reason for concern.”

Lysa Terkeurst

Seriously? Was I listening to my story or hers? I wasn’t sure at the moment. It sounded so familiar. I won’t spoil chapter 7 for you any further, but let me say I could have written a chapter very much like the one I was listening to if I had written my story in 2003.

As most of the people I know living with cancer can attest, cancer muggles (a term I have adopted after reading it on Twitter to refer to someone who has not had cancer) will say things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” when they are trying to comfort a newly diagnosed friend. Honestly, I think they say that because it makes them feel better, speaking from my own experience it does NOT help the person staring down the road of chemo and radiation.

I don’t subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy. I do, however, believe that we can turn our pains and scars into something that is helpful to others (which can then be mistakenly identified by those on the outside as a justification for the “everything happens for a reason” comments).

I often find myself wondering “Now What? Am I supposed to take these lessons and share them with others? And if so, how?” Or in more simplistic terms…What is my new calling?

Monday night the group watched the video and delved into the study guide that accompanies Lysa’s book for Chapters 7 and 8 (or Session 4 in the study guide). For the first time, I was beginning to understand why I have not pushed forward on this calling that has been lurking in the back of my mind.

In Chapter 8 (Letting Go of What’s Holding Me Back), the author walked through a passage from Psalm 51. Written by David, his words go through a progression of Confession, Cleansing, Creating and Calling.

As I sat and listened to Lysa’s discussion the proverbial light bulb started to light up. Although I had been going through these steps in my own way over the past year, it finally made sense why I

  • recently reached out to someone to say if she “needed a motivational speaker to talk about resilience, let me know” (and why I might have taken several deep breaths when she said “I might just take you up on that.”
  • reached out to another person to ask for help in “pulling together a talk about resilience from a true getting up and speaking perspective.”
  • finally “allowed” myself to sign up for a Writing Workshop that has been on my list (yes, I like lists – my Enneagram 1 wing showing) for several months.

The calling has been in the back of my mind for a long time, but I needed to process and walk through these other steps first.

The confession – Although she was talking about sin, I don’t believe that sin caused my cancer, or my husband’s cancer. But sin also means a separation from God, which means that I had been angry with the pains I had been through and had kept God at arm’s length for a long time. I hadn’t abandoned God, and I didn’t thing God had abandoned me, but there was a distance in our relationship. Several books, therapy sessions, and lunches/happy hours with friends has helped me to understand that God is still in my corner and is waiting for me to reclaim the relationship.

The cleansing – For me, this has mostly been tied up in grief. Allowing myself to fully experience the stages – and being ok with them not being in any kind of order (that 1 wing again) – recognizing them when they happen and allowing the feelings to process. Unfortunately, there is not a timeline for processing grief. And when you continue to see friends die from a disease that you have been living with for 10 years, the process can begin all over again.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me
Grant me a willing spirit

The creating – In grief terms, this has been reaching a level of acceptance. It has taken me a long time to accept what my new life looks like. I have asked God to help me accept and love who and where I am. A new creation based on the ashes of the past. And I’m grateful He has had the patience to show me how to love the person I have become.

The calling – I am placing this in God’s hands. Now that I am ready to listen and heed the calling, I feel certain, God will put the people in my path that will lead and guide me to wherever this calling is taking me.

What is holding you back from pursuing what God is calling you to do?

Maybe It’s Not Supposed to be This Way. Maybe, just maybe, if we embrace it, life can be better once we get to the other side.

What I learned creating an online dating profile…

Recently I set up an online dating profile. It was an attempt to entertain a friend who was dying from metastatic breast cancer. She was outgoing and full of life, and she had been suggesting, in her own unique way, that I should put myself back out there.

I didn’t take it seriously but I shared some stories and pictures with her and a couple of other metastatic friends (wow there are some interesting people on dating sites). She passed away not long after that.

I kept the dating profile up and was intrigued (in more of a research kind of way than an “ohh, he would be nice to date” kind of way) by the kind of men my profile was attracting. 

I ended up deleting the profile after about a week.

A couple of weeks ago I decided maybe it was worth trying again and one of my daughters “helped” me create a new profile. I will be honest, I have not found anyone that I am ready to date but I have found that reading other people’s profiles and then swiping left (or right on occasion) is more entertaining than spending the evening scrolling Facebook. 

What I learned about myself (and others) through online dating:

  • I’m not sure I’m ready to date (or if I will ever be ready to date);
  • There really is someone out there for everyone or every type; and
  • Creating a dating profile is one of the best ways to figure out who you really are. Not necessarily for finding a date. It is a way to tell your story.

Since I haven’t “dated” in 30 years, this was a completely new experience. I never used an online dating site before and it is rather intimidating.

How much do you put on a profile and how much of your story do you tell? Everyone is different, there are some that will post one picture and 3 lines of “description” – if you can even call it that – and others will write a book.

Not many men write “seeking a widow who is living with metastatic breast cancer” in their profile. In fact, about 80% (yes, I made that number up) want a woman who is physically fit, loves to bike ride, goes hiking and/or dancing every weekend, and “takes care of themselves mentally and physically”.

For those who follow my story, I thought about writing “likes short walks on flat surfaces” on my profile but since I have been working out and increasing my distance on walks I decided to let it go (although it still gets a good laugh in my circle of friends).

So how much of my story do I share? After reading what these men really want, I started to delete the online dating app. I mean, I am happy with where I am in my life; I have good friends and 2 great kids.

Will I keep swiping left/right or will I delete the app? Only time will tell. But after 4 years (yes, tomorrow, July 24th will be four years since J.R. passed away), I believe if you don’t have a story to tell by the time you are in your 50’s (yeah, I’m not embarrassed to say I am 54 years old) have you really lived? I’m going to own my story.

Like everyone who has Disney+ I recently watched Hamilton. The last song in the musical is “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” 

Our stories, or our experiences, are those things that have shaped us into who we are right now, as well as allows us to grow into who we are becoming. 

In order to love who you are you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you - Andrea Dykstra

A friend sent me this quote from  Andrea Dykstra this week and it completely resonated with me. “In order to love who you are you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you.”

If you have ever lost a loved one, you can relate to how that experience can shape you. I have moved beyond the anger phase of grief, at least mostly – there are still a few triggers that bring that anger to the surface but I have finally allowed myself to feel the anger then move forward again. I have found that if I try to bury the anger it just tends to linger longer (probably true in a lot of situations). 

We each have a story. Some are more interesting than others. And it may have taken me a few years, some therapy, and finally listening to what God has been telling me, but I have reached a place where I can Love who I am because I do not hate the experiences that have gotten me here. 

During this pandemic, I shared my story with my church family, and recently I was asked to share my story with another group. God has been nudging me to tell my story (well nudging may not be a strong enough word, but you get the picture).

As I think about the lyrics from Hamilton, I want to be the one to tell my story. I am the only one with the unique perspective of having lived every part of it. My story is still being written but that makes it that much more interesting.

I may not find someone on a dating site who is looking for a widow living with metastatic breast cancer, but I am comfortable owning my story and telling it to others.

Who is going to tell your story?

“And when you’re gone, who remembers your name?

Who keeps your flame?

Who tells your story?

Who tells your story?

Who tells your story?”

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

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