Thursday, August 30, 2012

Navel Gazing for Social Good

Please read to the end of this post. Because it takes me a while to get to my point. That's a head-scratcher, I know...

I have done a fair amount of speculating, sometimes even out loud here on this blog, about what is the point of blogging?  When the sound of my own voice sounds tiresome, even to me, and I wonder if this is all just narcissistic navel gazing.

By now most of you are familiar with the story: I started the blog to promote my jewelry business, wrote exactly two posts about jewelry (actually, art) and then started writing about addiction and recovery.  Within weeks a community had found me -  a community of women (and some men) who identified with my story, were struggling or sober, or just compassionate people who wanted to offer words of encouragement.

Being open about my recovery on this blog brought me many completely unexpected opportunities (like Oprah, USA Today and Redbook) and changed my life in ways I could never have dreamed possible. It also helped me build up a readership (impersonally referred to as a 'platform') that boggles my mind to this day. And the friendships?  OH, the friendships. I have found friends that are like oxygen to me; who fuel my soul.

I was running out of things to write about (at least in my mind) when my Dad died last June.  Writing about losing him, grief and trying to move on after such a staggering loss was so healing for me. And once again, a community of people came out of the woodwork to offer empathy and support.  It blew my mind, how many of you reached out to me, sent flowers, supportive emails, cards, words of hope.

I was this close to shutting the blog down last October. I was struggling personally, I was tired of my own voice, I just didn't feel that spark anymore.  It did feel like narcissistic navel-gazing, and the day I write just to hear my own voice is the day I stop writing.

Last October, as I was literally crafting a post saying I was shutting it down - I found the lump in my neck and wrote a post about it.   A few weeks later I was officially diagnosed with what I already knew was true:  I had cancer.

Once again, so many people came forward, offered words of hope, support, encouragement.  You offered your own stories; once again the community of people I needed to know found me.

Then it hit me, what makes my blog special, meaningful:  YOU.

I'm slowly figuring out why I have kept up this blog.  First, because it helps me. YOU help me.  So much. Second, because there are causes close to my heart that I want to bring awareness to - like recovery and cancer.

I worry - because that's what I do - that the people who come here to read about recovery roll their eyes at the cancer posts, and vice-versa.  I'm just going to get out of your heads and back into mine and write about what it meaningful to me.

Now that my youngest is heading into first grade, I'm thinking about what it is I want to "do" with my time. Building up my jewelry business is one.  But finding ways to support the recovery and cancer communities actually tops the list.  So you'll be hearing more about this - especially the cancer community - in the near future.

I'm hoping you'll support me in this.  Even if you haven't been directly touched by cancer in some way - the odds are (sadly) that someday you will.  Spreading the word about resources for those of us impacted by cancer helps everyone.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Executive Director of Friends Of Mel - a vibrant, inspiring woman who has helped so many with this organization. Local people (and, increasingly, across the country) are familiar with the story of the bracelet.  If you're not, please go here to read about it. It's incredible.

What started as one courageous, funny, giving woman making bracelets for friends, family and nurses while she battled cancer turned into a multi-million dollar organization that helps SO many people.  What many people don't know is where that money goes - for example, Friends of Mel is a sponsor of the Cancer Support Community I go to locally for yoga, for group therapy (and it offers SO many more resources than just those) - and it has literally saved my sanity.

There are so many more places like this that have received funds and support from Friends of Mel, and I will be writing more about them in the future, because this story just blows my mind; speaks to the difference just one person can make.

YOU are that just one person.  You've helped me survive the death of my Dad, cancer and the daily struggles of life. You've been there to celebrate the successes, the small victories that keep us going.

I hope you'll come along with me as I endeavor to support some causes that mean a lot to me.  I won't be asking you for money over and over. I'll be asking you to help raise awareness by spreading the word on your own facebook/twitter pages, help use social media for good.

And, of course, I'll still write about whatever is in my brain - kids, motherhood, serious, silly or navel gazing. I've come to terms with that.  I just love to write.

I have noticed that posts like this one don't get a lot of comments. For a while it devastated me (OH, my precious ego) but then I'd see you posting the links on your FB pages, tweeting about it, spreading the word, and that's what matters.  THANK YOU.

One last piece of business for you local people: there is an incredible conference called The Art of Life After Cancer coming up on September 15th at the Marriott, Quincy, in Massachusetts. But it's not just for survivors; if you have cancer, have had cancer, are a caregiver, were a caregiver or have been touched by cancer in some way, I can't recommend this conference enough.  Click here for the link for more info, and to register (only $25).  If this doesn't appeal to you personally will you please share this link on your FB pages? Especially if you're local?  I am finding the challenges of life after cancer to be as difficult in many ways as life fighting cancer.

You are an incredible, supportive community, and I am so grateful for you.  I am not turning this into a cancer blog, or a recovery blog.  It's just evolving into something bigger than me, and I'm grateful for that, too. We all have the opportunity to give back, and as Mel (please go read her story) proved one person can make a HUGE difference.  So please pass the word along.  If you can't go to the conference but want to help in some way, you can always buy a gorgeous bracelet for $20 to help their cause.

Thank you for all your help. Thank you for propping me up when I need it.

Thank you for being an incredible, supportive community with such huge hearts.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Life With Arms

My friend Heather and I have a running joke.  Especially after we've spent some time together, like we did over the first couple of weeks of August, when we part we talk about how not being with the other person feels like missing an arm.  I'll miss a call from her and then text her later asking if she's okay, and she'll reply "I'm fine. Just missing my arm."

Or after we parted from our trip to Kentucky, I texted her: "Having a hard time without my arm.  Miss you".

You get the picture.  I can manage without my arm, but it feels like I'm missing some important part of me.

I'm lucky, though.  I have two arms.  My friend Amanda (or Manda, as I call her) is my other arm.  Heather lives hundreds of miles away, and Manda is in the same state as me, but I don't see either of them nearly enough.  Some days I feel like I don't have any arms, and one of them will be there at the other end of the phone, or the email, or text, and then I can function again.  They are both friendships where I can go a long time without actually seeing them (or sometimes even speaking) and we can pick up right where we left off.

They are also my sober sisters, my touchstones.  They get me.  I've known Heather for three years but it feels like I've known her my whole life. Manda I have basically known my whole life - over thirty years.

This past weekend I had the honor of giving Manda her two year sobriety medallion. I've written before about how she helped me get sober, and then a few years later I was able to return the favor.

As I handed her her two year medallion and gave her a hug, I thought about all we've been through together.  We've each lost a parent to cancer. We've propped each other up through alcoholism and recovery, through my cancer.

A friendship that started in 1978 when she was new to the neighborhood and came over to help me rake my lawn blossomed into something way bigger than both of us.

As I sat in the audience and listened to her accept her medallion, I marveled at her strength, her radiance, her courage and her heart.  She was the party girl, the wise one, the fun one - she drank to have a good time.  I was the shy one, the nerdy jock, the people pleaser.  I drank to fit in.

Alcohol got us both for a while, but miraculously - and as I watched her up there at the podium I realized holy shit, sobriety is a miracle - we got sober.

Sometimes I forget to remember how lucky I am, that my best friend growing up, the woman who knows me better than I know myself, is also a sober sister.  That we both made it out.  At least for today.  And if we fall away, slip up, the odds of getting back on the beam are so much greater when there are arms out there to reach out to you, help you back up.

Sometimes I forget to remember how blessed I am to have two arms - Heather and Manda - two amazing sober sisters, friends, soul mates and touch stones.

Someday I will be able to post a picture of the three of us together.  Someday.

Who are your arms?  Have you called them lately?  Have you remembered to think about what a blessing they are?  Life without arms is possible, but it makes day-to-day life much more difficult.

If you feel like you don't have any arms, it's not hard to get some.

What I find is that the more open I am, the more willing I am to share pieces of myself - vulnerable or frightened pieces of me that I'd rather keep hidden - the more people will open up to me.  And some of those people become touch stones, best friends, soul mates.

It's the gift of opening your heart to others, shedding that voice in your head that keeps you from sharing your vulnerabilities or fears, that tells you people don't really want to be your friend, or makes you jealous or resentful.

Because really we're all so similar inside.  If we start comparing our insides instead of our outsides, we can have as many arms as we need.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Wasn't Expecting This

I'm sitting at my computer, trying to think, but I'm distracted by the thumping of little feet upstairs.

They are playing some kind of game with their stuffed animals; elaborate skits that involve music and role-playing and can go on for hours.

I can't make out their words, but I can hear Greta's lilting voice, and Finn's lower, scratchier one (is it me, or is it already getting a little deeper?) as they laugh and argue good-naturedly about the rules of the game.

I didn't expect this.

I didn't expect that at almost 10 and almost 7 they would still play with stuffed animals, that they would still enjoy each other's company so much. I know I'm lucky; I know not all 10 and 7 years old get along like mine do. That's not bragging, because it has nothing to do with me.  It's all them, and their sweet souls.

There are changes in the air, though. A twinge of cool air in the evening, sometimes even carrying that distinctive smell of autumn.  Some leaves are changing (changing!) in patches, and some are starting to fall to the ground.

There are other changes, too.  As Greta approaches tween-hood, there is more eye rolling, more "Finn! Leave me alone!", more bursting into tears for no reason.  It's coming, I know it is, and so I'm wallowing in the mostly-sweet of the way things are right  now.  I try to stay in the moment - OH, I try - but a little voice in my brain whispers - is this the last sweet summer?  Is this the last summer of stuffed animals?  

Finn starts first grade, and so for the first time in ten years both my kids will be gone full time - all day, every day, at school.

I spent so many years longing for this day; mired down in diapers or whiny kids who couldn't speak well enough to articulate what they wanted.  Days when I couldn't just go to the gym, or visit with a friend, because my schedule was irrevocably intertwined with theirs.

Now that day is only a couple of weeks away, and I'm surprised by how my gut twists at the thought of them both being away for so long, every week.

I wasn't expecting this.

Again, I try to stay in the moment, not project, not have too many expectations, but I have to acknowledge that twisting.  I'm not great with a lot of unstructured time. My inclination is to start my plan for world domination - make HUGE plans, turn my jewelry business into something big, write that novel, get a full-time job - all to run from too many hours alone with me.

Instead, I'm going to try what I'm thinking of as mini-structure, and it's all about self-care, self-love, and peace of mind.  I'm six months past cancer - I have to keep reminding myself of that - and I need to take this time to take care of me.

Each morning I will do some form of exercise. Not in that over-the-top-train-for-a-marathon-hate-myself-if-I-don't-workout kind of way, but in a move-your-body-Ellie kind of way.  Yoga. A walk in the woods. A trip to the gym.  Low-key, gradual, simple.

Every day I'm going to make jewelry just for the sake of making jewelry, not because I need to make thousands of dollars immediately. I'm going to resist the urge to learn metal-smithing (something I really want to do) just for a while.

I'm going to meditate. Even if can't quiet my mind, I'm going to sit, with no noise, for a while each day.

I'm going to read for at least half an hour. Every day - right smack dab in the middle of the day. Force myself to stop and just read.

I'm going to take time to write - offline, in a notebook - start that journal up again.

I'm going to go to daytime recovery meetings.

The day will come (who knows when, maybe sooner than I think) when I have to either ramp up the jewelry business or get a job.  But not right now, not yet.

I'm going to spend some time with me, who - in the past - has been my least favorite person to hang around with.  I'm going to acknowledge that twist in my gut that will miss my kids.

I know I'll adjust. I know it will take time.  I'm glad that the deepest part of me doesn't want them to go.

That's love.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

In Which I Claim To Have No Answers and Then Give Answers. Kind Of.

This post has been bubbling up in me for weeks now. I keep sitting down to write it, stumbling and bumbling over my words, my thoughts, and giving up.

Even now - this is a true free-write, my friends.

I get a lot of email from people struggling to get sober, or people newly diagnosed with cancer, or people struggling with anxiety, and they ask me how do you do it?  Whether the 'it' is stay sober, get through cancer treatments or stave back anxiety, or depression - something in one of my posts will resonate with someone and they'll email me and ask me for advice.

I hate giving advice, because what works for me may not work for someone else. Usually, all I do is tell my story, what worked, what didn't.  Mostly, I just encourage them to keep going, and compliment them on having the courage to reach out to a stranger, to put their pain into words.

Because honestly?  Whether it's sobriety or cancer or depression or anxiety? The answer to how do you do it, is basically I don't know.

Wait, that's not totally true. I do know that I don't feel like the one doing it - whatever it is - because I'm surrounded by people who pick me up when I fall (and I fall frequently), and I feel connected to my God, my faith, in ways that are new and exciting to me. So I'm not the only one doing it.  Never alone.


Let's take recovery as an example. When someone asks for an answer to how to get or stay sober, I don't have one.  What I know is only what I went through, what I continue to go through.  Here are a few things, though, I believe to be true:

Nobody is going to do it for you. If you're waiting for someone to ride in on a white horse and save you, it's going to be a long wait.

Everyone has their own bottom. Some people wake up one morning sick and tired of being sick and tired, reach out for help, and stop. Others (like me) need to crash into a wall at 100 mph before they'll ask for help. But I don't know anyone who has ever gotten sober without asking for help, and then letting that help come.

I don't know whether you are an alcoholic or not. I do know that it doesn't matter how much you drink, or how often, it's what it does to you that counts.  Do you think about it earlier in the day?  Do you plan your activities around drinking? When you have one do you usually (or always) want more?  Do you have a list in your head of all the ways you cannot possibly be an alcoholic? These are signposts that you may have a problem. Whether you choose to listen to them is up to you.  I believe, though, that if you're wondering about you're drinking, you're probably an alcoholic, and it's just a matter of how far down the road of self-destruction you want to go.

When you are full of shame and remorse about your drinking, or something you did (or didn't do) while drinking, and you feel that little tug, that voice that whispers maybe there's a better way - listen to that voice, because it could save your life. Listen to it before the louder voices of shame and guilt tell you to have a drink or a drug to make you forget how badly you feel.  Use your shame like a little fuse of hope; ignite that light and fan those flames until they burn bright with promise.

Ask for help, ask for help, ask for help. And then DO something about it.  Just asking isn't enough; action is what counts.

Be proud of yourself. Beat back the shame and guilt by understanding that asking for help, getting sober, takes a ton of courage.  Many people live their whole lives and never have to dig that deep, find that kind of bravery.

You will get to know who you really are.  You will understand more about yourself and life than you ever thought possible.  You will experience moments of grace and beauty that non-alcoholics (or people who haven't deeply suffered) don't get to see.

You will not do this recovery thing perfectly.  You will make mistakes.  You may relapse.  You may shake your fists at the heavens in anger and shame for months.  You may ask why me? over and over and over.  You may not love your sobriety for a while.  You will look around and all you will see are people who can drink and stop, you will feel like a victim, singled out.  Other-than.

You will fall down. A lot. You will want to give up. You may actually give up, and have to use what little strength you have left to drag your carcass back to the surface, back to the world.  You will have to ask for help over and over.

Sometimes - most of the time, actually - you will have your biggest breakthroughs in your darkest hour(s). Suffering is a phenomenal teacher; all you have to do is survive.  Put one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes the only thing you have to do is NOT do something: don't drink.

And if you do drink? Come back. Light that little fuse and fan those flames.  Do that until your light shines so bright the shame and guilt can't get through.  And don't do it alone.

Getting through cancer is much the same way. You can't do it alone. You need to reach out to people, ask for help, and let them help you. It's humbling.  And for me, it was hard.

You will have moments where you don't think you can go on. Where the pain, depression and fear will be so bad you can't stand it another second.  And then you do.  You stand it another second, and then another, and eventually the clouds part and you feel better and you think you have it licked. And then  the clouds gather again and there you are with your face pressed into the floor wanting to give up.

You will shake your fists at the heavens and ask why me? over and over.   You will look around and feel like a victim; all you will see are people who don't have cancer. You will feel other-than, singled out, different.

Sometimes the only thing you have to do is NOT do something: give up.

And if you do give up?  If you have paralyzing, crippling anxiety, or anesthetize yourself with drugs or alcohol or food, or succumb to the darkness and fall so deeply into the pit and decide you never want to get out.   What then?

When (not if) one (or all) of these things happen, use that fear, pain and doubt and make that little fuse. Forgive yourself, love yourself enough to ignite that light and fan those flames.  Use the last of your strength to raise your hand and say help.

And just like with recovery, you will get to know who you really are. You will experience moments of grace, beauty and truth that people who never have cancer don't get to see.

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that it is all about self-forgiveness.  There is no perfect recovery - from anything.  That may sound obvious or trite, but I get all these emails from people saying: why can't I get this? And I think, oh, I understand how you feel.  Stop trying to get it.  You can't. Surrender - that's not the same as giving up.  You won't ever do anything perfectly so start forgiving yourself NOW.

We're really bad at that, whether we realize it our not. We're bad at self-forgiveness. We're so used to the voice in our head that tells that that mother does it better, or that person has better sobriety, or that person does a better job than me, etc. It feels arrogant to praise ourselves, forgive our mistakes, pat ourselves on the back and say damn, I'm proud of myself for getting through that.  We search for ways we could have done better.  At least I do.  All the time.

I find peace when I remember to love myself, to light my fuse, fan my flames and tell myself  good job on finding your truth, asking for help, getting through this un-get-through-able day. Even during my spectacular failures.

Especially during my spectacular failures.

Over the past year and a half ... the one people keep emailing about and asking me how I got through?  I fell, over and over, and I sometimes I fell hard. Some of those falls I talked about here, some of them are stories I have yet to share publicly.  But my people know.  They are the ones that pick me up and love me until I'm ready to love myself again.

It's all about getting up. And knowing that you will fall again, and it's okay, as long as you keep that fuse lit, take a deep breath and say help.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Push Pull

I'm back on the 7th floor of Massachusetts General Hospital, the Cancer Center.  I haven't been here in a while; it's a six-month post treatment check-up.

I don't want to be here, I think.  I wish cancer was one of those things you could just check off your list and be done with forever.  I'm pushing, pushing the reality of my situation away.

A 93 year old woman I met while receiving chemo is rolled into the reception area in her wheelchair.  She wears her usual beaming smile.  She has been coming here so long she knows all the staff by name:  receptionists, phlebotomists, interns, doctors.  They all beam back at her, loving her spirit - as I do - to fight breast cancer for the fourth time at 93 years old.  I pull her energy towards me, into me.  Pull, pull, pull.

The check-up goes well.  My voice is getting scratchier, which causes my oncologist's eyebrows to briefly furrow (scary - push, push away) but a quick scope of my throat reveals nothing unusual.  We set the date for my first set of CT scans, and I take a deep breath and vow not to allow myself to think about it until I get there.

He smiles at me, compliments me on my humor and strength. I tell him I'm a good actress.  He tells me he doesn't believe me.  I beam inside.  Pull, pull.


I haven't seen my kids much in the past two weeks, what with the trip to NYC and then Kentucky.  Monday they had play dates all day so I could clear my decks.  Yesterday was mostly used up with doctor's appointments, so as I drove home I couldn't wait to see them, to have an afternoon just for us.  Pull, pull.

Within twenty minutes of my arrival home, they were whiny, hot, tired, and didn't want to do anything.  The sitter said they were "perfectly behaved" and I grumbled inside about how they save the icky stuff for me.  Push, push.

Finally, I suggested mini-golf (LAST on my list of fun things to do) and their eyes lit up, they jumped up and down and hugged me. Pull, pull.

Twenty minutes into mini-golf they were arguing and calling each other names I didn't know they knew. Finn whacked his ball into the parking lot and it went down the sewer drain.  Greta had a headache.  I just wanted to do something fun together and it's already unraveling, I thought.  I daydreamed about being alone in a hotel room with a book, and then felt a twinge of mother guilt.  Push, push.

We ended up at the local ice cream shop, the kids full of creamy smiles and giggles.  Pull.


Several times this summer I found myself saying, kind of tongue-in-cheek, with another mother, "Is summer done yet?" as we did an exaggerated eye roll and laughed about how we're fantasizing about the big yellow school bus.  Push.

But then the next day I'm talking with a friend about how much I'm looking forward to the final few weeks of summer, where I don't have any trips, the kids don't have any camps or activities, just us and some wide-open days.  Pull.


Yesterday I was hit with an idea for a post and I settled into my chair to write.  Within seconds they were at my side (when for the past half hour they had been playing quietly, and nicely, together) saying they are bored.  Is it the sound of my keyboard?  Do they have some sixth sense that knows when my Muse (such as she is) shows up?  PUSH.

I raised my fingers from the keyboard, reluctantly, turned and asked them what they wanted to do. They blinked at me ... blink, blink... and said "We dunno".  I ignored (mostly) the flash of irritation and suggested a walk.  They jumped up and down and said "HOORAY" and I felt like mother of the year.  PULL.

Last night, I snuggled in with them and read books, gave back scratches.  Thoughts of the hotel room, alone with  a book, were far, far away.  They nestled into me, smelling of summer; a sour/sweet kid scent.  My mind flashed to the 7th floor cancer center, of the 93 year old woman with a big smile on her face, of the man wrapped in bandages and speaking through a hole in his throat, of the small, bald child holding her mother's hand, and I gave thanks, from the deepest part of me, that I'm here. Now.



**This post was inspired by my friend Heather's post today, called (hopefully).   It's awesome. Go read it. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Can I Say

This past weekend Heather and I went to Lexington, Kentucky to do our keynote speech to help raise funds for St. Agnes House.  I've talked a lot here about their mission - to provide a comfortable and affordable place for patients and their caregivers to stay while undergoing treatments of all kinds, but mainly cancer - but to see it firsthand was very moving for me.  Each room appointed like a bedroom in a home, not in a clinical, medicinal way.  Lovely, inviting common areas, where people can connect, console and share their journey together.  

The doors each have a dry-erase board with the name of the person staying there. I couldn't help but notice several of them had drawn smiley faces under their name.

It is a hopeful place. I wanted more than ever to do it justice, raise funds and awareness for such a worthy cause.


I'm not sure what to say about the keynote itself.  I'm still processing it all, really. 

The Ego is a fragile thing, oh so easily cracked and bruised. Heather and I wrote the keynote not from our heads, but from our hearts, infusing it with humor, truth and faith and not holding back. I won't speak for her, but I'm proud of it. 

So when we realized the turnout for the event itself would be lower - a lot lower - than expected, my Ego threw a major toddlery tantrum, and then curled into the fetal position and felt sorry for itself.  Heather and I sat on a bench outside the hall looking at each other with a kind of glazed expression - did we fail?

We hadn't even started, hadn't uttered a word, and I was grappling with the voice in my head that tells me I'm small, insignificant, that I'm not interesting/talented/compelling enough to draw a crowd.

Thankfully, Heather and I were there together, and we took a deep breath, reminded each other it was God's event - not ours - and that sometimes the Universe has plans you can't see.  Maybe there was one person in there who really needed to hear our message.  Maybe that one person was me.  

By the time we got rolling, I was fine.  I put my Ego into a time-out, and reached into my heart, my soul, with abandon.  We shared our truths, got the audience members to share some of theirs, made some new friendships. 

After, as I was thinking it all through, I realized that it didn't matter if we were talking to one person or one thousand.  Just the privilege of being there to speak our truths, to deepen my connection with Heather and meet new and interesting people was enough.  More than enough.  

A part of me still felt sheepish, small, in that insecure place in my brain - that mad, drunken monkey that I can never really get rid of and who cackles at me, makes me feel badly.  I've stopped pretending I'll ever make that monkey completely go away.

The Ego is a fragile thing.

Holli, Me and Heather
Thankfully, we were going to a Brandi Carlile concert that night -Heather, Holli and me.  Holli is someone who was a complete stranger to me (other than tweets and emails to plan this event) before Kentucky.  Over the course of three days we became friends - had a soul-clink that resonates right through me and makes me smile.  She is a rabid Brandi Carlile fan, and emailed us beforehand to say she could get us tickets.  I remember thinking:  I think I like Brandi Carlile?  I kept meaning to go to You Tube and listen to her songs before I left, but never got around to it.

It didn't take long into the concert (first song, in fact) for me to realize exactly who she is, and marvel at her extraordinary talent.  

It was a stunning, clear night, and we were sitting in an amphitheater under the stars. I took deep breaths of the of cool evening air, felt the music pulse through my chest, and felt such gratitude to be in the company of such soulful, funny, lovely women.  

Brandi Carlile Concert

It wasn't until she played her third song 'What Can I Say' that I felt my chest crack wide open, and the tears came pouring down my face. Pent up tears of two weeks of stress, fun, missing my family, going on adventures.  But also? This song makes me think of my Dad and how much I miss him.  What a blessing to be with safe people to hug.  

Look to the clock on the wall,
Hands hardly moving at all.
Can't stand the state that I'm in 
Sometimes it feels like the walls closing in

Oh lord what can I say
I am so sad since you went away
time, time ticking on me
Alone is the last place I wanted to be
Lord, what can I say?

I cried and I let it all go, at least for that moment.  I wallowed in the gifts of friendship, of souls clinking together under a starry Kentucky sky. 


If you haven't already done so, will you please consider donating to St. Agnes House?  Not to preserve my precious ego, or make me feel less sheepish, but because it's a very worthy cause.  I promise - this will be the last time I ask. But after having met these incredible people in person - Holli, Laurie, Susan and so many others - I want more than ever to help them keep St. Agnes House going.  

OH - and please go read Laurie's post about the evening.  Laurie is the Priest at St. Michael's - the church that hosted the event - and she is a wise, insightful and oh-so-funny woman.  Hers is one of the most powerful posts I've ever read on Beautiful Messiness (the theme of the evening), truth, and God.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Cost of Cancer

Hearing you have cancer is one of those moments in life that you never forget.  Like when you hear about the assassination of a President or the tragic events of 9/11 - the moment is forever emblazoned in your brain.  Where you were, what you were wearing, what trivial thing you had been thinking about moments before your world turned upside down.

What happens next is a whirlwind of scary newness. Meetings with countless doctors, second opinions (if you're lucky enough to live near choices of health care), coming to terms with ugly terms like 'chemotherapy', 'radiation', 'hair loss', 'survival odds'.

You form a treatment plan with your doctor, you tuck in and you fight.  You fight with everything you've got. You pray.  You ask for help.  And then you pray some more.

There are so many things that you could never know about cancer until you've been through it, though.

How powerless it makes your loved ones feel.  How expensive it is. How where you receive treatment has a lot to do with your odds of survival, especially if you have a rarer form of cancer.

Sometimes to get the care you need you have to uproot your whole life and head to where the right care for you is located.  If you're lucky you can afford to do this, hopefully bringing at least one loved one along.  If you're lucky, you can afford to have your kids come visit.  If you're lucky.

If you're like most of America, though, the cost of cancer, even under the best of circumstances, is mind-boggling.  For those who have to travel to save their lives, the cost is staggering.

I wrote already about how Heather and I are giving a keynote speech at a fund raiser for St. Agnes House in Lexington, KY this weekend.

I'm writing about it again, because I know from first hand experience how meaningful it is to hear about resources like St. Agnes House when your head is swimming with fear, logistics, expenses, doctors and treatment plans.  Having an affordable place to stay while you're receiving treatment allows you to focus on what is most important:  the fight.

It also provides a community space to meet other patients or family members who understand how you feel.  I cannot stress enough how important this is; most everyone is supportive when they learn you have cancer, but unless you've been through it yourself you can't totally understand.  Like losing a parent, or having an addiction, or being a parent - the people who understand the most are the ones who are walking the path with you.

So I'm putting out one last plea for donations to St. Agnes House.  What they are doing to help is so important. I'm one of the lucky ones - I live near world class care.  I'm not exaggerating when I say I cannot imagine going through what I went through in a foreign city, adding more expense and fear to what was already an expensive and frightening experience.

I know most of us don't have extra money lying around.  I hate asking for money, and I only do it for causes that I believe in with all my heart.

Did you know that the statistics about cancer are getting really scary?  I heard recently that one in three people will be afflicted with some form of cancer in their lifetime.  So even if cancer has never touched your life directly; odds are that someday it will (either yourself or a loved one), so donating to cancer causes and cancer research organizations is something that impacts all of us.

So please consider going to St. Agnes House's website and donating (at the splash page it will ask you to click on the device you're using, and then it will take you to their home page, where there is a "donate" button).  $70 pays for a family to stay for a week. $30 pays for a weekend.  $5 makes a difference.


And  if you can't afford to donate; will you please share this post on your facebook page or twitter account?  Will you please help me get the word out about St. Agnes House?  They rely on donations, so every bit of help matters.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for helping in some way - whether you donate or spread the word. I appreciate it so much, and you are literally helping to save the life of someone suffering from cancer.

Here is the link to St. Agnes House's home page:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bright Lights, Backyards and Blogher12

The train to NYC is clacking along, and I press my forehead to the window to watch the scenery fly by.

I'm on my way to BlogHer12, in New York City.  I love traveling by train.  

In an airplane, from the sky, the world below seems too organized, parceled out in neat sections of houses, roads, buildings.  You can't see any of the nitty gritty of life; from the air the world looks scrubbed clean.

Not so on a train.  On a train you see the back sides of things; backyards, junkyards, objects and people who live outside the scrutiny of the public eye.

We travel so close to some houses that I feel I could reach out  and touch their back porches.  I see a tired looking mother, hair disheveled, smoking a cigarette on her back porch while her toddler screams in fear as the train rushes by.  

Two homeless women pass a bottle back and forth behind an auto-parts store, and I take a moment to give thanks and remember: there but for the Grace of God go I.

Amazingly, there is a dirty tent pitched in some scrub bushes between the rushing highway and the train tracks; it couldn't be more than 15 feet from either one.  A threadbare American flag flies from a stick in the ground outside the tent.  This is somebody's home.

As we pass through a residential district, I watch, enthralled, as on the far side of the street we pass neat row houses: hedges trimmed, lawns mowed, toys put neatly away.  But on the near side of the street the passengers on the train are privy to the backside of these houses: backyards piled with rotting junk, moldy old toys, dogs chained to posts, looking despondent.  A mother pushes her kid on an ancient metal swing set, looking bored.  The child wears a beaming smile.  Next to her is a rotting picnic table and a rusted out car.  The detritus of life we don't want people to see.

Someone posted this on their Facebook page this week, and I loved it:

On this blog I'm all about behind-the-scenes.  I have no patience or inclination to talk about highlight reels (not that they are numerous).  I don't share everything here, of course I don't, but I love to write about the tucked-away places, the backyards and hidden closets of the mind.  The things most of us don't want to talk about, because we're too busy trying to people-please or impress.

As a recovering people-pleaser, I know how hard it is to resist these comparisons.  Every time I get my college alumni magazine (I went to an ivy league school - see? that's a highlight reel, I've never mentioned it here before) and reading about all the impressive things my fellow alumni are doing I want to curl up into the fetal position, or start brainstorming about what it is exactly I'm going to do to take over the world.

The people, and the writing, I'm drawn to are all about the vulnerable places, the tender spots, the thoughts we tuck away because we wonder if we're the only ones who think them.

I'm contemplating all this as I head to my third BlogHer conference.  The first one, three years ago, was also in New York, and I spent the whole time comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else's highlight reel.  

I don't do that anymore.

It helps that I have an incredible group of very real, very back-yardish friends with whom I feel as safe as I do anywhere in the world.  Some of them have impressive highlight reels, too, and I love to bask in their light, cheer them on, knowing that if they can do it, I can do it, too, someday.

If I decide that's what I want to do, that is.  I used to want to shine my light brightly from center stage.

Now I'm happier sitting in the backyard, soaking up the sun, sipping coffee and exploring the tender places of the mind.

It's pleasant back here.  Come on in.