Sunday, May 27, 2012

Trip Around The Sun - My Blog's Birthday

It's my blog's birthday.

She's four.

Instead of engaging in my usual platitudes of how this blog has brought so much joy and goodness into my world, because you've heard them all before, I'm going to play you a song.  And I want you to listen to it, okay?  Because, if you're like me, you think 'ugh, song' and click away. But this is a good one.  One of the all time bests.

I do want to say - because I can't say it enough and I mean it from the bottom of my soul - THANK YOU.  Thank you so all of you who read, comment, email me, facebook me and send your words of encouragement.  Without exaggeration, I don't know how I would have gotten through the past seven months without you.   You rock.

And thanks for supporting my shop.  After my last post I was so overwhelmed by the response, by people posting on the faeebook and twitter pages, that I cried.  And then the orders came pouring in.  THANK YOU.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy one of the wisest, truest songs ever written.  It was written by Al Anderson, so he deserves the credit (the You Tube video of him singing it isn't as good - but if you want to hear it sung by the original master, you can find it there).

This version is sung by Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride, and they're pretty cool, too.  This song has brought me through many dark days.  I think I had it on loop my first year of sobriety. when what I wanted more than anything was to have a year sober. And again these past seven months, when the perspective this song brings helped me so much.

Trip Around The Sun:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Surrender to Survive

Recently Greta had a homework assignment to do an acrostic poem.  Do you remember those?  You write the word vertically, and then come up with a word or phrase for each letter that flows cohesively.

She chose the word Survivor.

I've been thinking a lot about that word, lately.  I'll roll it around in my head; sometimes I'll even mutter it out loud:  I'm a cancer survivor.

I'm trying to have faith in the diagnosis, and I'm struggling.  My inflexible, controlling mind - the one controlled by the hyperactive squirrel in my brain - whispers in my ear and asks me scary questions:  yes, but are you SURE?   How do you KNOW?

The bottom line, I guess, is I'm having a hard time trusting the diagnosis, at least when I put my own bad self in charge and forget the very keys to surviving:  acceptance and surrender.

In the twelve steps of recovery, the third step reads like this:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.   I love this step, because it enables you to find your own God, your own Higher Power.  And for me it has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with spirituality.

There is a prayer that goes along with the Third Step, and it goes like this:

God, I offer myself to Thee- 
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.

Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always.

The key phrase, for me, in this prayer is this:  Relieve me of the bondage of self.

The third step helped me a lot when I was sick. When I found myself twisted up in fear and uncertainty, scared out of my wits and trying to make sense of it all on my own, I'd remember the third step prayer, which I modified to a kind of short hand in my head.  I would close my eyes, open my hands, and whisper:  Take it. Don't let me be in charge. Take this burden of self from me, and fill me with your will.

Now that I'm on the other side of the cancer, I am taking my will back more and more, and I'm suffering because of it.  I'm having a hard time with missing my Dad these days.  I always miss him, deeply, but we're coming up on anniversary of the last time I saw him alive (Memorial Day) and of his death (June 11th) and I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that he's gone. I play the day he died over and over in my head, trying to make sense of something that cannot be understood by my limited human brain.  I cry and long to turn back the clock, to have a second chance at telling him I love him. 

All impossible, of course.  There is no way-back machine.  I cannot ever change the past.  I cannot change the present or the future.  I am a cancer survivor, at the moment, and I will do everything in my power to stay that way, but ultimately it's not up to me.

Two days changed me forever:  June 11th when my Dad died so suddenly, so quickly and so unexpectedly, and October 4th, when I found the lump in my neck and knew - I just knew - it was cancer.  Both those mornings I woke up with no understanding my life would change forever in the span of a few short hours.  

It will happen again.  Those will not be the last two days in my life that are like that.  So I'm working on acceptance and surrender.  I'm trying to remember to ask God, as I understand Him, to relieve me of the bondage of self, and help me surrender to His will.

This doesn't mean, to me, that you throw your hands up and wait for signals from God to live your life.  One of my favorite quotes is:  "Call on God, but row away from the rocks" (Hunter S. Thompson).   I have to do the work, but I have to keep my heart and mind open and willing.  I have to have faith that things are happening for a reason I can't fathom, that I'm not supposed to understand.  Already, I can even look back on my cancer and understand the things I was supposed to learn from that experience; the ways it changed me that no other experience could have done.

But it's really, really hard.  Especially when things don't go the way I want them to at all.   But I'm working on it.

I decided to do my own acrostic poem for Survivor:

Surrendering to the 
Reaching for the 
Very sacred

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Real Life Seeps Back In

I'm feeling a little better day by day.  Each week brings a new milestone, something else I can eat, a little more energy.

I hope to have the feeding tube out at the end of the month. After that, I don't have to see a doctor for three months.

It is sinking in that I'm really, truly on the other side of this tough stretch.  I'm not a cancer patient anymore, although I'm still recovering from the after effects of the treatment.  I still get really tired at the end of the day, and I still have a fair amount of pain in my throat. I tend to be asleep by 8pm every night.  But I don't have cancer.

I don't have cancer.

I don't know why it's scary typing those words, but it is.  Having cancer has defined every breath I have taken for the past seven months.

Now regular life is starting to seep back in the cracks.  Shuffling the kids from activity to activity, helping with homework projects, watching sports games:  all the things I missed for so long.  It's such a gift to be able to do these things again.  I was humming as I folded laundry yesterday.  Humming.

Also seeping back in, though?  Worrying about money, my job, career.  There wasn't any room for this while I was sick.  But now we find ourselves on the other side of cancer with a pile of really scary bills.  Cancer, it turns out, is incredibly expensive.

One of my primary frustrations being sick was that I couldn't tend to my jewelry business the way I wanted. I kept up with orders - slowly - but I didn't have the energy to make new pieces, market the business, send out the monthly newsletter - in short, I didn't grow the business at all for more than half a year.

This makes me nervous, because I REALLY want Shining Stones to be what I do when Finn is finally in school full time next year.  Originally, this was to be the year of gang buster growth - of really spreading the words, participating in giveaways, blanketing the internet with cool new pieces, using Constant Contact and Pinterest and the blog to promote Shining Stones.

It didn't happen, because I was sick.

Now I'm worried, because if I can't get Shining Stones off the ground to be a meaningful financial contributor to our household income, I'm going to have to give up on that dream and go get a 'real' job.  One with hours and a boss and less time with my children.

Especially now, with the exorbitant cost of getting sick staring us in the face.

So I'm asking for your help.  When you can, can you help me promote my little business?  If you need a gift for someone, or if you know someone who does, can you spread the word about Shining Stones?

I'm making new stuff again, including these cool shamballa bracelets - they are one size fits all and make a GREAT gift:
Sparkling Shamballa Bracelet with Pave Beads (click on link to view in my shop)

Frost Glass Shamballa Bracelet (click on link or picture to see in my shop)

In fact, I have a whole section in my shop dedicated to these Shamballa bracelets, because I love them (and they are so trendy right now).

I also have a cool selection of customized teacher's gifts.

Here are a couple of the more popular styles (these can be customized with any message or word):

Customizable hand-stamped teacher's necklace
Customizable Teacher Necklace with two sterling silver discs and crystal adornment

I also have dozens more very affordable ringsearrings, necklaces , hand-stamped pieces, bracelets and recovery jewelry.

It makes me itchy to promote my business like this, but if I'm ever going to make it in this world, I'm going to have to get over that.  I don't write this blog to make money.  But I do write this blog, in part, to help spread the word about Shining Stones.

Plus, I was at a meeting last night, and the topic was asking for help.  I'm terrible at asking for help, whether it has to do with recovery, being ill (having cancer) or promoting my business.  But as someone said at the meeting - and it's so simple and obvious it's embarrassing - if you don't ask, people don't even have the opportunity to help you.  Some of you are already regular customers, and to you I give a hearty THANK YOU!

So here's me asking for help: if you could help me spread the word about Shining Stones, I'd be so very grateful.  I think there is a "share" bar at the bottom of each post?  By the comment section?  You can click on the icon for Twitter or Facebook and share that way, I think?  (I'm such a neophyte.  But I'm learning).

Thank you so much.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Letter To My Father

I lost my Dad suddenly on June 11, 2011 due to complications from an infection.  As we approach the one year anniversary of his death, I find myself wishing, desperately, that I could talk to him.  I keep thinking:  a year ago today, he was alive and we were doing such-and-such.  I can't talk to him, but he is constantly on my mind. So I decided to write him a letter.  (And just so this post makes sense, my maiden name is Strong).


Hi, Dad.

I don't know that you can read blogs from heaven.  If I had my way, you could.

I miss you.  I took a walk yesterday - it was a stunning, clear blue-sky day -  and I passed through the cemetery in our town.  It made me think of another clear blue-sky day almost a year ago, when we walked through this same cemetery together, after the Memorial Day parade, pensive, reading gravestones.

Who would have thought that less than two weeks later you'd be gone?

We've had quite a year.

I'd like to believe that you know, somehow, what is going on in our lives.  Did you know I had cancer?  I think maybe you did, because I felt your presence. A lot.

Remember our family motto?  I think we stole it from the Kennedys, but that's no matter:   When the going gets tough, the tough get going? 

Well, Dad, we got going.  We did it. Together, we made it through. You would be so proud of Mom.  She was a graceful, gentle warrior, constantly by my side.  She was so strong.   We all were.  We got that from you.

I would think of you a lot when I had chemotherapy.  Hours just sitting, looking out the window at the view of Boston. I thought about how you beat cancer.  It gave me strength.

We're Strongs.  Damn straight.

Now we're on the other side of cancer, and life feels bright, shiny - almost surreal.   The other day Greta was talking to me earnestly about something, but I couldn't hear a word she said.  I couldn't take my eyes off the realness of her, how present she was, how beautiful.  I felt such a strong tug in my heart I almost cried.

That happens a lot these days.

Did you feel this way? When they gave you the "all clear"?   I wish I had asked you.  I wish I had asked you so much more about your own cancer journey.  I had no way of knowing I would be facing my own trial, in the not-so-distant future.

Sometimes, I find it hard to trust the diagnosis. Are they SURE?   Did that happen to you?

Mostly, though, I feel a gratitude so profound it almost hurts. It almost hurts to look at my life, at how blessed I am with my strong, healthy family, a roof over our heads and unbelievable friends.  How did we get so lucky?

I want to wrap my arms around everyone, pull them close, keep them safe and warm.

Finn crawled in my lap the other day, for no particular reason, and murmured:  I love you, Momma, you're so warm. 

I squeezed him tight, inhaled his salty boy-scent and told him I loved him, too.  Those words seem way too small for the love I feel, though.

I guess that's the gift surviving cancer gives you, if you let it.  The gift of lucky. The gift of blessed.  The gift of gratitude.  The gift of present.

I don't think too much about the future these days.  Partly, because I'm still a little scared.  I'm reeling from the one-two punch of losing you, then getting cancer.  It's hard to trust the quiet, but I'm trying.   I feel moments, now.  Individual moments that pass in the blink of an eye, but feel like they last so much longer to me.  Because I can taste them.  I can feel them.

It's so much easier this way.  Moment to moment. The bigger picture is just too much, you know?  And we have so little control over it.  For me, fear lives there, in the bigger picture.  So I'm staying here, in the moment, where it feels safe.

I love you.


P.S. - I keep listening to this song, because it sums up how I'm feeling better than I can.  Check it out, you'll like it: 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The third anniversary of this blog is coming up, which seems surreal to me.

I find myself without a lot to talk about these days, so I went back through the archives to see what on earth I used to prattle on about.  When I first started writing I would post up to twenty-two times a month!?!?

Sometimes I'd do a little post about the kids, or making jewelry, but mostly I talked about recovery.  And, for the past six months, I talked about cancer.

Which leaves me at a bit of a cross-roads.  I said last fall I wasn't going to talk about my recovery anymore, my cancer is in remission, and my kids are getting too old to talk about (especially Greta) too much on here anymore.

But I LOVE writing here. Being able to write my feelings down while I was going through cancer was life saving for me.  Being able to talk about recovery has been equally rewarding at a time when I needed it.

So what now?

As I read back through the posts, I realized there was a time where I felt a lot of existential angst/guilt about my parenting, whether or not to work in a real job, if I was spending too much/too little time with them, etc.   Now that they are both in school, it seems funny that I worried so much about that.  I was lucky enough to work from home and that should have been the end of that.

But my brain liked to worry about things, so that's what it worried about, I guess.

And then my Dad died suddenly, and I got cancer, and worrying about such things seems very, very silly.

I also chronicled my weight loss journey of 65 lbs here.  Now I'm down another 35 lbs -I started at the top of a healthy weight for a woman my height (5', 10") according to the BMI scale, and now I'm at the bottom (actually a little below).  I am trying to put ON weight. I don't know anyone on this planet that wants to read about that without wanting to punch the author.

So, again, what now?

Perhaps I should re-think my stance on not writing about my recovery here.  I made that choice because I found myself in a position of helping a lot of people, doling out LOTS of advice, sponsoring people and always reaching out my hand, but nobody was minding my store. I became the primary advice-giver in my life, and it got me in trouble.  Someday, maybe, I'll write about that.  Probably in a book, but not here.

I suppose I could write about recovery more generally, because it's still the most important thing in my life.  I couldn't go to recovery meetings for months, because I was too sick, so I'm back and I'm going to three or four a week.  It feels really good.  To be back in that sacred circle where we exchange our truths, and share our experience, strength and hope.  I've missed it, and my spirit is much inflated by being back in the fold.

Maybe you can help me. Are there things you want me to write about?  Even if it has to do with recovery, that's okay.  I don't want to be one of those egotistical prattle-on-about-my-life bloggers.  I want to have something substantial to say now and again.  If I can't find things I think are meaningful to write about, I will likely close up shop and focus my attention more on Crying Out Now (which desperately needs attention).

Or do you want to hear about my kids?  Do you want posts about daily life?  Would you read those?  REALLY?  I'm hoping I don't have a crisis for a while (I'm due a calm period, thank you very much), so if I'm not writing about daily life, I don't know that there's anything left?