Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Another Auld Lang Syne

In his 1980 hit song, "Same Auld Lang Syne," the late singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg offers up a melancholic nostalgia. The autobiographical lyrics detail a chance encounter with an old girlfriend over the holidays. The pair catch up over beer and compare what's gone right in their lives and what's gone wrong. In the end, they part ways. If you listen closely to the song, the final chord in the lyrics never resolves. We are left with the picture of the singer standing in the rain, longing for what once was and wondering about what could have been.

I have often felt this way on New Year's Eve. I think about what is over and done with. I think about things left undone, words left unsaid, and loved ones who didn't make  it to ring in the new year.

But this year gives me the opportunity to try something different. It's not only the end of the year, but the end of a decade. Time to take stock and look at accomplishments. To be sure, the 2010s is not a decade I'd care to repeat, but along with the struggles came triumphs.

The middle of the decade found me fighting for my health. In 2013, I was suffering from an infection that necessitated the removal of part of my large intestine. I thought I was on the path to good health, but a year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer (you can read more about that by clicking on the topics in the left menu of the blog).

Over the next two years, I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. What I remember vividly is the hot, sharp pain I was in for months. But just as vivid is the late fall morning when I woke up feeling just a little bit better. The lesson: Nothing lasts forever, not pain, not bad times. Life is a circle.I learned just how strong I am, and I'm currently set up to meet any challenge that lies ahead.

By 2017 I was dissatisfied in the job I'd held since 2005, a scary place to be in your late 50s. I decided to try something new. I was scared. I thought a lot about the adage about old dogs and new tricks. I did it anyway and now do work that fulfills me in ways I didn't expect. The lesson: Jump in. The water's fine. I just needed to remind myself that I'm a good swimmer.

My husband and me in Paris, July 2019
The past 10 years have taught me to hold my family tighter. My stepfather died in 2011 and my mother now lives with me. It was a big adjustment for both of us, but this is the season of life we are in. I've watched other family members struggle with serious illnesses, heartbreak, and career challenges. The lesson: Take no day for granted. Do it now, whatever it is. Celebrate today. In my case, it meant taking a trip to Europe. Nike is right - Just Do It.

Midnight tonight will find me ringing in the new year with the same friends I've been doing this with for the past 20 years. We saw the millennium together. We partied like it was 1999 and wondered if it was the end of the world as we know it. It wasn't. We are lucky. We are all still here and in good health. Tonight "we'll take a cup of kindness yet/For Auld Lang Syne."

I will not wish you a happy new year. I wish you a new year that is filled with challenges met, strength, and contentment. Peace.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Life Goes On ...

If you had told me five years ago that cancer wouldn't dominate my every waking moment, I would have told you that you were crazy.

If you had told me I wouldn't be constantly planning and recovering from surgeries to heal and repair the damage cancer had done to my body, I wouldn't have believed you. If you had told me that pain and pain management wouldn't be an ongoing part of life, I would have said that's impossible.

But here I am. Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day I got the diagnosis of breast cancer. It was a bright, sunny summer day, but it quickly turned dark when I received the phone call from my doctor and then had to sit my family down and tell them that life was about to get very complicated.

I honor this day because the five-year mark is an important milestone in cancer recovery. With each passing year, the likelihood of the cancer returning diminishes. I'll celebrate on Oct. 21, the fifth anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy. That was the day I began to get well.

The months that followed were trying ones. Pain and fear are terrible weights to carry. I still vividly remember removing the bandages from my chest to take my first shower after surgery. What I saw made me feel ugly and deformed. "This is what healthy looks like," my husband reassured me. The subsequent reconstruction confirmed what he already knew - I am strong and beautiful. (For more about my husband, click here. ) The surgeon who performed my reconstructive surgeries told me that in about 18 months, my new implants would feel like a regular part of my body.

Here I am.

I got through it.

My reconstructive surgery has long been completed. The scars have faded. In fact, if you saw me changing in the gym locker room, you would have to get very, very close to me to realize I have implants. I see my surgeons annually, my oncologist every six months. I am vigilant in taking the anti-cancer drugs she has prescribed. I eat a plant-based diet, I exercise most days. In short, I am living my life.

During those early months, writing this blog was therapeutic for me and, I hope, helpful to some readers. I drew much strength from reading similar blogs of women who had gone before me. But I have been quiet for some time. As I said, I've been living my life.

But as I reflect, I wonder how I had the strength to get through that experience. "You did what you had to do," a friend told me. Everything since then has seemed easier, changes easier to cope with.

Me seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. The smile says it all.

There have been many changes.

  •  I've gone from parenting a teenager to parenting an adult. I saw my son off to college, where he is thriving.
  •  I took a new position in my job, one that is very challenging, but extremely rewarding. My colleagues are the best group of people and I am blessed to work with them.
  •  I met a group of refugees from Bhutan who now live in my area. Together we started a community garden at my church.
  •  I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting London and Paris. I wasn't sure I was ever going to see these beautiful cities, so it was an emotional experience to be able to see Buckingham Palace, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.  

A magical last night in Paris
I will continue to look for new challenges in life. All of us will face obstacles and hardships in the future. But my message is this: You will get through this.