Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Repost - How To Attend a Blogging Conference in 44 Easy Steps. AND info about the Serenity Suite!

NOTE: I'm resurrecting this old chestnut from last year, because - for better or for worse, all of this still applies...   

I have been to a grand total of four blogging conferences now - this one makes my fifth- and I'm starting to notice a trend in my pre-conference weirdness preparations.  For any of you attending your first conference, I thought it may be helpful to share them with you:


1) Make a well organized and lucid checklist of everything to bring to the conference.


1) Lose checklist.


1) Gaze thoughtfully into mirror and notice self for the first time since the last conference.
2) Frantically call every hairdresser in town to schedule an appointment to foil hair.
3) Buy expensive wrinkle cream.
4) Open cosmetic travel bag and find exact same cream purchased for last conference.
5) Stare into closet with glazed expression. Search for perfect outfit to present sleek, put-together look.
6) Realize you do not own one single "outfit".
7) Drag unhappy children to trendy boutique.  Pay too much for sexy top.
8) Hang sexy top next to last year's sexy top, which was never worn because it didn't feel like you.
9) Remember you are recovering people-pleaser and tell self people will have to accept you for who you are.  You are YOU.  You are authentic.
10) Notice wardrobe contains only black pants, black Capris, black shorts and earth tone tops. Wonder if you really have to be that authentic.
11) Apply wrinkle cream before bed.


1) Wake up and generously apply wrinkle cream.
2) Stare into closet with glazed expression.
3) Call blogging friend to talk about how you really should be packing.
4) Drag unhappy kids back to boutique to purchase trendy, uncomfortable shoes to draw attention away from black pants and earth tone tops.
5) Engage in pre-flying obsessive/compulsive thinking.
6) Kiss the kids goodnight and attempt to ignore thoughts of a fiery plane crash death.
7) Call blogging friend to talk about how you really should be packing.
8) Try on pointy uncomfortable shoes.
9) Fall down.
10) Stay up too late writing a blog post about going to blogging conferences.
11) Apply wrinkle cream.


1) Open empty suitcase.
2) Remember all the laundry is dirty.
3) Start laundry.
4) Call blogging friend to talk about how you really should be packing.
5) Take clean clothes from dryer and stuff into suitcase.
6) Pack enough shoes for a one month stay.
7) Ponder luggage weight limit.  Shrug and leave everything in suitcase.
8) Apply wrinkle cream generously.
9) Get into bed and lie with eyes open until alarm goes off.


1) Apply wrinkle cream.
2) Fend off flying jitters with thoughts of how much more talented/funny/popular everyone else is than you.
3) Totter off plane in trendy, uncomfortable shoes.
4) Purchase band-aids for blisters.
5) Enter hotel wearing mask of bored self-confidence.
6) Flee to room and apply wrinkle cream.
7) Stare with glazed expression at clothes in suitcase.
8) Try on sexy top.
9) Discard sexy top and pointy shoes.
10) Wear black pants, earth tone top and sensible shoes.
11) Take deep breath.
12) Enter conference with mask of bored self-confidence.
13) See a friend.
14) Realize it is all going to be okay.

ALSO - I want to remind everyone about the Serenity Suite - the brainchild of Maggie and Heather and a sanctuary for anyone looking for a quiet, safe, relaxing respite from the craziness of the conference.  As always, the Suite will be an alcohol-free zone, and I will be spending a LOT of time there, (along with several other hosts who are all talented, lovely engaging women); please come by and say hi if you're going to be at BlogHer12.  I'll tweet when I'm there!

Don't be shy about stopping by - whether this is your first conference or your millionth.. the Serenity Suite is a great place to kick back, relax and make a new friend or two.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Fighter

I had an appointment with my radiology team this past week; my first follow-up with them since the end of my treatment.

I've come to expect long waits in the waiting room, so it no longer irritates me.  But waiting in the radiology area is a different experience.  I'm just there for a check-up, but all around me are people in various stages of active radiation.  It brought me back to my own treatment, and, as usual, I think:  how on earth did I do that?

I talk a lot on this blog about surrender. I practice surrender actively, when I meditate, when anxiety hits, when I wake up at night and the hamster gets on the wheel of doubt and fear.  I've gotten really good at it.   And there is no doubt that surrender helps; trying to deny my new normal, wish it away, or feel sorry for myself gets me exactly nowhere.

But something has shifted in me, and while it sounds like a move away from surrender, I think it is actually surrender's feisty cousin:  the fighter.  I'm tired of anxiety and fear, and sometimes the passivity of surrender just isn't enough.

There is a song by Gym Class Heroes called "The Fighter".  It's on my iPod (under a playlist I ironically named, years ago, Keep Coming Back) and I find myself singing it at the top of my lungs, or cranking the treadmill up faster and faster as I work out when I listen to this song.  It's about a young boxer, but the lyrics apply to anyone fighting any kind of adversary:

Until the referee rings the bell
Until both your eyes start to swell
Until the crowd goes home
What we gonna do ya'll?

Give em hell, turn their heads
Gonna live life 'til we're dead.
Give me scars, give me pain
Then they'll say to me, say to me, say to me
There goes the fighter, there goes the fighter
Here comes the fighter

Anxiety, fear and the paralysis of coming to terms with the ordeal I've been through for the past year (because, I'm learning, that's a huge part of it) robs me not just of my own peace of mind, but it steals me from my kids.  I'm there-but-not-there, absorbed in my own subconscious stream of thoughts:   that hip pain, does that mean something? I wonder how my appointment will go this week, why is my voice still so scratchy?  The doctor said 80% chance the cancer will never come back; that means is comes back for one in five...

I'm thinking this way as we play games, hang out at the beach cottage, drive to and from soccer camp.  It's exhausting and I'm sick of it.  I'm done.

And if I can last thirty rounds
There's no reason you should ever have your head down

It's gonna take a couple right hooks, a few left jabs
For you to recognize you really ain't got it bad

Because they know, the kids do, when you're not really there for them. Greta asked me the other day if I was tired, or mad at her.  

That stopped me in my tracks. I was honest; I told her I was struggling with anxiety, but that I'm getting help (she sees me heading out to group meetings, to yoga, etc.) and that I was going to be okay.  I want to set the example that it's okay to not be perfect, okay to ask for help.  Okay to fight back, but not at the people you love, or through self-hatred or guilt, but through action and surrender.

If you fall pick yourself up off the floor (get up)
And when your bones can't take no more (c'mon)

Just remember what you're here for

I picture fighting back, when I get those thoughts, like the old batman cartoons?  Remember those?  The big cartoonish letters "BAM!"  "ZAP"  "KA-POW!"  I picture my fist punching through the fear, the uncertainty, the doubt.

Some of us do it for the females
And others do it for the retail

But I do it for the kids, life threw the towel in on
Every time you fall it's only making your chin strong
And I'll be in your corner like Mick, baby, 'til the end
Or when you hear a song from that big lady


Last night we sat together as a family as the sun sank below the horizon and the stars popped out, one by one.  We started talking about those topics everyone talks about when staring at unfathomable distances, asking unanswerable questions: What's out there? the kids wanted to know.  Do you ever wonder, why am I here? said Finn.  Maybe there is an alien looking down on us, and to him we looks like bugs, said Greta.

We were quiet for a moment, contemplating all this, when Finn - out of nowhere - stands up, throws his arms out, and walks up to me, grinning.  

"Momma?  Gimme some sugar!" he said, throwing his arms around my neck.




To view the video for "The Fighter", go here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxV-OOIamyk

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Way It Is, Sometimes

I feel it around sundown, sometimes a little earlier.

A low rumbling in my chest, or an ache in my belly, a feeling of incompleteness, like I'm missing something.

I start to get cranky, short with the kids.  The idea of cooking dinner feels like an insurmountable task.

We're out at our beach cottage.  The weather is spectacular- the sunset fills the sky with hues of pink, purple and red.  A slight breeze comes in through the open kitchen window, bringing with it the smells of summer - honeysuckle, BBQs and suntan lotion.

I hear the 'pshhhht' of a neighbor opening a cold beer, and the tinkling of some ice in a glass somewhere further off.  All around me, people relax on porches with sweating glasses of white wine, or a cocktail full of exotic juices.

The kids and I have had a fun-filled day on the beach, but now we have that sandy, itchy, sweaty feeling.  I need to give them showers, find something to eat, rummage around for some clean clothes for them to wear.

I don't want to do any of these things.  I realize, finally, that what I want is a drink.

This has been happening more this summer than it has in years.  I know, logically, that it's the trauma of the past year, the anxiety that plagues (and triggers) me.  Even though the anxiety is better, I self-medicated for it for years with alcohol.  Now that it's back, the siren call of a drink is louder.

I won't drink. I know where it leads.  But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

Later that night I sit on the porch with my husband, admiring the bright stars and enjoying the cool air.  The urge for a drink has passed; it always does.  I tell him about the cravings, how they are hitting me more frequently, and why.

He nods his head sympathetically.  "That makes sense," he says, and I'm relieved. "That would be hard for me, too, if I were in your shoes."

"Last year I was out here for two weeks and all I felt was gratitude for my sobriety," I say.  "This year, I'm not feeling it as much. I'm grateful I'm not drinking - I know where that leads - but I'm not head-over-heels in love with my recovery like I was last year."

It feels better to admit it. It feels smaller.

He nods again, this time his brow furrows a bit. "Is there anything I can do?" he asks.

"No," I reply.  "Just listen."

He puts an arm around me and we sit quietly.

That hollow feeling that something is missing evaporates, and I am grateful.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sacred Circles

We settle into a circle, in comfortable chairs.  There are six of us today; one member hasn't shown up for a couple of weeks and we're worried about her.

This week, like last week, and the week before that, there is a new member.  So we all go around and share our cancer stories, one by one, and then the new woman goes last.  She is newly diagnosed, crying, telling her truths, and we nod our heads in understanding and empathy.

I'm at my weekly cancer support group.  I struggled with whether or not I wanted to go. I didn't know if I wanted to meet women who are further down the line, who may not survive their disease, or who have had remissions after years of clear test results.  My anxiety is better - helped by yoga and meditation and reading lots and lots of books written by cancer survivors - but nothing compares to the gritty one-on-one with other women who understand exactly how you feel.

I decided to go because of recovery from alcoholism. I realized that one of the best benefits of recovery meetings is it gets it me out of my own head, even if only for a couple of hours. And just like in recovery meetings, some of the stories are scary.  Someone is waiting for a test result that will be the difference between living her life as it is now, and more grueling treatments for her. She has been waiting a whole week for the results, and I find myself waiting with her, saying prayers, sending all the positive energy I can her way.  We exchanged emails, made that first tentative step toward connection. It feels good, right.

When it's my turn to share I am surprised by the emotion in my voice, by the fear that bubbles up from deep inside. I hear myself saying things I didn't even realize I was feeling; just plunking my emotions on the floor in the middle of the circle - ker-plop - and I see their heads nodding in understanding and sympathy.  They get it.  The really, really get it.

It's exactly like recovery meetings. Exactly. Nothing compares to being in that safe circle of people who walk the path with you, or have walked it before you and can offer help, resources or a shoulder to cry on.  They were total strangers until we started talking.  Now we are a sisterhood.   Nothing compares to the feeling of wrapping my arms around the new girl, the one who is just now coming to terms with her diagnosis, who is waiting to start treatment.

The waiting is agony.  We all reassure her that despite the trials of treatment, it feels better to be in motion, to be doing something about the disease.

I leave feeling lighter, unburdened.  My thoughts during the week stray more often to the other members of my group than they do to myself.  I still have worries. I'm still struggling with anxiety, but I'm getting outside help, doing yoga daily, meditating as often as I can. I have to get babysitters to go to yoga, and to go to the cancer support group, and in the past I used this as an excuse not to go.

No more excuses.  It's self-love I'm trying to cultivate, and it's hard.  Yanking the kids off the beach because I have to go to therapy still feels selfish.  But I'm doing it anyway, because I have to.  I won't make it without the support.  I had to shake Finn off my leg as I left for group the other night (NO! Momma. Not another meeting!) but shake him off I did, with a lump in my throat and a determined set to my jaw.

Moms have a hard time putting themselves first. But if I go down, it all goes down, and so I try to see it as the least selfish thing I could do.  But it's still hard.  Between cancer group and alcoholism recovery meetings I'm asking a lot from my kids and my husband, and there are days I shake my proverbial fist at needing so much help.

But it works.  And I tell myself everyday, during meditation, that I'm worth it.  Because my diseases of self-doubt, anxiety and addiction sneak in the back door when I tell myself I'm not worth it.  That's their trump card, and I'm using everything I have to keep that trump card away.

Being vulnerable, asking for so much help, talking about it here - it still makes me itchy.  I run into someone in the grocery store who says "I read your post - how're you doing?" and it makes me feel strange that she knows so much about me and I don't know anything about her.   But that's what being vulnerable is all about - it's not a quid pro quo - 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' - at least not as it pertains to blogging.

And I feel better when I write about it. People come out of the woodwork to share their own stories, struggles and successes with me because of it, and that's a blessing.


This post is part of Heather of the EO's Just Write series, and exercise in top-of-mind free writing.  To take part in this, come join us and click here to learn how.

Edited to add:  if you haven't read my post below about St. Agnes House and the keynote address Heather and I will be giving there (in Lexington, KY - if you live nearby please come!) on August 10th and 11th, please do.  We're asking for help with donations, however small, and help spreading the word about this worthy cause.  So please take a moment to check out that post if you haven't already done so.  THANK YOU).  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Heather and Ellie and A Beautiful Mess

When I was told that I would need radiation five days a week, for seven weeks, to treat my cancer, my heart sank - for a variety of reasons, of course - but first and foremost was logistical - how on earth was I going to get into the city every weekday for seven weeks?

I stressed and grumbled about it, until a friend pointed out how lucky I am to live within driving distance to world-class care.  Not just for cancer, but for my particular kind of cancer.  With Boston traffic, it was about an hour, one way, to get the care I needed.

Then my perspective really changed when I sat in the waiting room with the other patients, awaiting radiation, and learned that people come from all over the world - quite literally - just to receive care from the same team of doctors that were located 30 miles (as the crow flies) from my front door.

I began to wonder how on earth these families managed it - the expense of travel aside - how did they afford to stay in one of the most expensive cities in the US for the duration of their care?  I'm sure there are options locally I don't know about, but I heard many tales of woe as families struggled to stay with each other while a loved one received treatment.

So I was very honored when I was asked - along with Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary -  to be keynote speakers for a fundraising event at St. Agnes House in Lexington, Kentucky on August 10th and 11th that supports such a worthy cause.  St. Agnes House provides a place for patients and/or their families to stay while receiving any kind of long-term treatment, whether it's cancer, a NICU, a transplant, etc.

Just like in Boston, many families come from all around the world to receive the care they need, and St. Agnes House provides not only affordable accommodations ($10/night!) but also community and support, which is so desperately needed when going through a chronic illness.  The rooms are private, but there is communal living and kitchen space that encourages families to connect and share stories, resources and support.  This is just as critical as medical care, in my opinion, having just been through my own bout with cancer and relying heavily on local resources and people who had been through it before me, to help me through.

When you are chronically ill, many people rally to show support, but only other families going through a similar experience really understand.

So if you live in or near Lexington, Kentucky and are available on August 10th and 11th, we'd LOVE to have you attend!  You can read about the details and how to register here.  If you come in person, Heather has promised to do a happy dance for you in person, so I'll have to come up with something equally awesome, but it may end up being a hug.  But I give REALLY good hugs.

If you don't live in or near Lexington, Kentucky, there are still ways you can help. And while Heather and I would never be mistaken for really big influential bloggers, we know we have some of the most compassionate readers on the internet (I know, because I experienced this first-hand while I was sick).  It would mean so much to us if you could make a donation to St. Agnes House - any amount counts - and a little goes a long way:

$30.00 provides a weekend stay

$70.00 provides a week stay

$5.00 makes a difference.

A place like St. Agnes House relies on donations, and to donate go their website here (you will see a landing page that asks you to choose which device you are using - click on the appropriate device to get to their main page).   There is a simple "donation" button on their main page that makes it simple to donate through credit card or Paypal, and you can learn more about their mission there, too.   One of the best things is their location - they are within walking distance to one of five major hospitals in Lexington.

Usually, it makes me itchy to ask people to give money.  I have no such qualms about this one - I've gotten to know the people who are part of St. Agnes House and they are amazing.  Many people asked me, when I was sick, how they could help, and I never really knew what to say.  This is one way to help - not me personally, but people just like me who are fighting for their lives and need their family close.

If you simply can't donate, will you please share this link on your Facebook page or Twitter account?  Help spread the word - either to people who may be local and can attend, or who can donate or help spread the word.

And the theme we'll be speaking about?  It's called A Beautiful Mess, which is awesome, and something we can all relate to:

Life is messy. Life is beautiful.

Taking care of friends, families, loved ones and nurturing those we love all while being open to what life holds is awesome.......and sometimes makes us want to hide in a locked bathroom with a Diet Coke, Snickers bar and our favorite magazine. 

In the spirit of "putting your own oxygen mask on first" come and enjoy a day at A Beautiful MessUsing humor, conversation and material from their successful blogs, keynoters Heather and Ellie will provide a day designed to nurture the nurturer and invite us to live creatively into our full, beautiful and messy lives.

It's going to be fantastic, and I'm so honored to be part of it.

Thanks, everyone, for your support now and always.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Earning Forty Three

One side effect of cancer?

I will never take another birthday for granted again.

Yesterday I turned 43.  I've never been one to make a big deal about getting older. Birthdays don't bother me as far as the whole "don't tell anyone how old you are" thing. I wear my age like a badge of honor.  I've earned forty-three, and all the wisdom, scars and lessons that come with age.

Now birthdays feel like the gift they should have felt like all along, I suppose.  Now I get to turn forty-three.

It was an incredible day, full of fun, sun and family.  We are out at our beach cottage (it's totally off the grid, no electricity, only solar power and a generator and propane to run the appliances) so the kids aren't plugged into anything.  We play games, lounge on the beach, have frivolous and soulful conversations.  The kids can run freely outside with no worry of abductors or getting lost.  It's as close to what I remember childhood feeling like as we can get (barring the fact that I have wi-fi from a hotspot on my phone and can plug a computer into the generator to blog.  Cause a girl's gotta blog).

The cousins came out to celebrate, and watching them run wild through the wide open space fills my heart with happiness.

I spent a lot of time doing this:

And this:

At the end of the day, we had cake and ice cream.  And my throat is well enough now that I could eat them both. So I had three helpings:

And saw the most beautiful sunset - a big ball of fire sinking below the horizon:

Before dinner, there was a brief rainstorm, so we even had a rainbow (the only thing missing in these pictures is a unicorn, it was that unbelievably gorgeous):

There was this awesome card from Greta, too: 

"Thank you so much for doing all the nice things you do to us. Like make us dinner and mabe [sic] get 
us a pet goat?  You made it through all.   Love, Greta"

My favorite line? "You made it through all".

I did. And it would be easy to write about what a tough year it has been, how I deserved and wanted a terrific birthday.  But these days I try not to look back too much. I try not to look too far forward, either, wonder about forty-four, or think thoughts like "If I had known when I turned 42 what this year would be like...", but of course I sometimes do. 

Mostly, though, I try to lean into the moment.  And when I say "try", I really mean "try".  It's hard. I have a lot of work to do.

The self-care I'm focusing on is helping.  I'm still meditating, going to group counseling for cancer survivors, taking a yoga class for cancer patients/survivors, talking to safe people who understand. The anxiety is still there, peeking around the corner, waiting.  Instead of running from it or trying to pretend it's not there, I give it a little wave (hello, anxiety) and try to honor it as part of me. As much as joy, gratitude and hope are part of me, too.

The gratitude is coming back, and days like yesterday help a lot.  I am a lucky woman indeed.