Sunday, September 30, 2018

Focusing Forward and Breaking Free of the Past

Every year, or maybe it's almost every year, I share the same post on this day but the times they are a'changin ...

September 19, 2006.

That was the day my body was forever altered, the day of my bilateral mastectomy. And this year, I am thinking about the ways in which my life changed as a direct result of a cancer diagnosis, the decisions that would come in the weeks and months after that first suspicious finding on my routine annual mammography, and the time after active treatment when I began to pick up the pieces and found myself first here, pouring out my heart and soul before a computer screen.

In a million years, I could never have expected the twists and turns my life would take as a direct result of hearing what has been referred to as the scariest word, bar none, in most, if not every language on the entire planet. Cancer.

There was the waiting. The waiting for the next set of tests, the waiting for the results of those tests, the waiting to see the next clinician in line, the anticipation of what might be said, could be said and in most cases, the reality of what I was told, which was almost always a thing I had not even considered. There is a lesson in there. It is a lesson for those currently in that place and really, a lesson that transcends cancer or any disease, to most every circumstance that life throws us.

As I sit today, more than twelve years after my date with two surgeons and countless of other medical professionals, I am different. I have grown. I am the woman I was always meant to be and yet, my life is still not my own.

I will be in Chicago next week, eager to roll up my sleeves at the SWOG meeting and to see so many of the people who mean so much to me. I will make a side trip to see a few of the people at the Lurie Cancer Center, some of whom I now work with, too. At the end of October, I'll be in Arizona for the Society of Integrative Oncology meeting where I was asked to address a group of advocates about how they might become more involved in research activities.

It's a bit humbling and depending upon what's happening, it can be time consuming. My writing has taken a back seat to more collaborative projects where the patient voice is essential and I'm happy to lend mine when invited. By the same token, I'm conscious of self-care and I strive to do my best to strike a proper balance. Constantly assessing the circumstances before committing to anything is a good tool. It helps prevent things from tumbling down on me while also making sure no emotion blind-sides me because I was too entrenched in a project to feel whatever I might be feeling in any given moment. I think that may have been one of my biggest take-aways from ...

this ... June, I had the absolute joy to attend a Commonweal retreat in Bolinas thanks in very large part to the generosity of a donor. That was a life changing event and that is something that Lori haunted me about for years. I can still hear her, "Just get on the waiting list, you NEED this." As usual, she was right. The week was a gift to my mind, to my body, to my soul, to my spirit. I arrived knowing no one and left with a dozen people I am connected to on such a deep level. It's a sacred space, an immersive experience on so many levels and when I find myself frustrated with any sort of nonsense or minutiae, I let my mind go back to Bolinas and I can feel myself surrounded by unconditional love and support. Yes, it was that powerful. Times a million.

On the heels of the retreat, I was home for just a few days before heading out to Durango, Colorado where wildfires were still raging but the hero firefighters saved every structure and managed to contain what seemed like it would be impossible. That allowed Blueprints of Hope to move forward with a survivorship event planned many months prior, where I was invited to share my experiences with chemobrain issues to a group of cancer patients.

In the midst of all of this, life is still happening. Much of it is wonderful. Weddings, new babies, showers to celebrate these life milestones ... each one fills my heart with joy. Some of it is a bit stressful - health issues surrounding loved ones, and a few of my own, too. I can't control any of that. All I can do is be the best helper for those who want my assistance, and deal with my own pesky health issues as they arise.

And then, there is this divorce. I hesitate to even use the word or mention anything relating to that. I know my words are parsed, pulled out of context, and I suppose might be used to turn a simple statement into something that was never intended. My words are, quite frankly, just as they appear. There is no hidden meaning or the need for anyone to attempt that proverbial reading between the lines nonsense. Sooner or later, that chapter will close and there will be no more lawyers, no more court appearances, no more anything and that part of my life will be fully and completely erased. 

Emotionally, I am whole again. The reality is in the knowledge that I became whole and true to myself the moment I decided to exit what I now know was an unhealthy relationship that went on for decades. I made misguided choices along the way, but I don't look back with regret at any of them.

If I'm guilty of anything, it is being being true to those I makes promises to, even as I turned a blind eye to the obvious. My actions were borne of authenticity and genuine concern because that's who I am - and when I commit myself to someone or something, I'm all in. Until I'm not. And when that "I'm not" lightbulb illuminates, I learned a bit about myself. I can detach myself without anger or bitterness or any other self-defeating feelings. Just detach, devoid of emotion, moving pragmatically toward resolution.

Being exposed to so many different people from all over the country, I've learned the difference between being valued for who I am and what I bring to any table vs. being used by another. With eyes wide open, I can safely and perhaps a bit defiantly say "NEVER AGAIN."

Life is good. I am grateful for every moment whether I'm doing something in the realm of advocacy, practicing yoga (thank you Apple for adding it as a workout in the update on my watch!), celebrating those life milestones with loved ones, meeting friends, or simply relaxing in my home and the beautiful space right outside my door. The power of healing and the ability to ground me in every sense of the word that I get from the ocean which is always within my sight will never cease to amaze me. Recently, I was asked if I've come to take the vast and magnificent ocean views for granted. And without hestitating for a single second I stated that it's been nearly two years and I still gaze upon the glistening sea every single day with wide-eyed wonderment, and a ton of gratitude that this is my home and that is my backyard.

Yes, I finally learned to leave what my buddy Jack always referred to as that "big bag of shit you're carrying with you" in a box unless and until it requires my attention. Surrounded by ladybugs and dragonflies, feathers and butterflies, and random Neil Young songs popping on the radio, my spirit is sustained every single day by those no longer walking this earth. And then, there is an army of people, some quite close to home, others clear across the country, and yes, even a few sprinkled around the globe, encouraging me to continue walking this path, reminding me that I still have much to accomplish.

So, with a nod to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper as I eagerly await the release of the fourth remake of A Star is Born, I suppose I too, am far from the shallow now.    

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  1. You sound so happy with your life, Annemarie! I'm so glad to her this!

    1. I really am, Ellen! So many things going on that fill my heart and soul - personal, professional, and everything in between. I feel like I'm juggling a lot and enjoying every minute <3

  2. So good to hear from you. I am so glad you are happy. And content.


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