Surviving Cancer

I have one friend who is facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer while another friend is nearing the end of her fight with ovarian cancer. It seems to be all around me. And I’m struggling with survivor’s guilt.

Wikipedia defines survivor’s guilt as “a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.” Typically this refers to survivors of combat, terrorist attack, and natural disasters; and it can be a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But it is also a common feeling that cancer survivors face.

While I consider myself a fighter and not a survivor per se, I, too, am struggling with this issue. Since I have been re-diagnosed, I’ve had three friends pass away from their cancer battles. One was five years younger than me. I continue to see her mother regularly, and feel guilty every time I do. I was diagnosed with cancer the first time before her, had it come back, and yet still outlived her.

Fortunately I’m not alone in this struggle. A simple Google search for “cancer patients and survivor’s guilt” brings up a number of articles on the topic, and how it can be mitigated. In fact, when I brought it up with my social worker, she reassured me that it is a very common feeling. She also encouraged me to do/remember several things to ease the guilt:

  • Acknowledge the feeling by writing it down; but then write down why feeling is unrealistic and why those feelings don’t help those grieving the loss of their loved ones.
  • Think of those who would be devastated by my loss.
  • My survival is a gift. Share it with my loved ones.
  • Live in honor of those whose lives were taken by cancer. I deserve every moment of my life, just as they did.

As I mentioned in my last post, my social worker also gave me a list of suggestions of things to do with my family in the time I have left. Some ideas include:

  • Schedule a day long photo shoot in our favorite spots around town or any other family favorite destination.  These photos would be used in a photobook/scrapbook that could be a beautiful dedication to my family. Include letters to each other in the book, nick names, funny stories, etc.
  • Ask each family member and friend to choose an activity or fun place they want to go with me alone and set dates for these things.
  • Write down all of the things I feel like I want/need to see in the world.
  • Think of my ultimate family vacation (there are organizations willing to cover some or all of the costs associated with this).
  • Record lots of videos — pictures are amazing, but hearing voices is so incredibly soothing when you are missing someone.
  • Make a quilt/scrap blanket together as a family.  It will be memories made while making it and then it will keep everyone warm physically and emotionally for years to come.
  • Make a Family Recipe Book. Cook family dishes together, or find new dishes and cook them as a family. Take pictures and write-up the recipes. It can be passed on to my son’s wife someday.

These are all amazing suggestions, and I plan on carrying out most — if not all — of them. It will keep me busy and focused on my family and dear friends, which is what makes me happiest. Will I still feel survivor’s guilt? Probably. I know myself and my depression, and this is likely something my depression would eat up like candy. But I’ll continue to fight against it as I make memories with my family and friends.

So tell me, if you had the opportunity to spend time with me, what would you want to do?

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Time Left & How to Spend It

On Monday, I went to our shop for the last time. I haven’t been much since my diagnosis, but even though it was nearly empty, memories of my work there came flooding back. Helping customers old and new and creating ads and social media. Scrolling through hundreds of emails looking for potential new product.

One day, I was in the middle of revamping the stationery section, ordering new product, and the next I was in the hospital with a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. The decision was made fairly quickly that we would need to close the shop. Between the appointments, getting chemo started, and getting my pain managed, it was easy for me to avoid the store, or even thoughts of it. When I did get there, though, it was tough. I was sad that I was losing such a big part of my life because of cancer, but I pushed those feelings away because they were too painful.

Besides, when I received my diagnosis, I didn’t think I’d last as long as I have. It hit me Monday at the shop, that I’ve lived six months so far from my diagnosis. Not only that, but I’m thriving, really — responding phenomenally to treatment, feeling pretty good other than fatigue. It seems like I may be here for a while longer.

And while that’s really great to think, it’s also daunting in a way. I’m no longer content to just float along essentially waiting to get worse. I want to feel a sense of fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong — I’m proud of the hard work I put into teaching my son. It provides me with satisfaction to know that I’m contributing to his education. But I feel like I want more.

Between homeschooling the kid and my chemo recovery, I’m unable to get out in my Bible ministry much during the week — which I know would provide me the greatest sense of satisfaction and fulfillment I can find in this world. But, I do go when I can, and I try to arrange Bible studies that I can participate in after the kiddo is done with school for the day.

I have an opportunity to mentor new cancer patients, and I really look forward to that. But I’ll need to be balanced in how involved I get. I have the tendency to want to help everyone, and that often leads to me stretching myself too thin.

My social worker has encouraged me to go ahead and start engaging in activities that will create memories for my family after I’m gone. It’s important to me too — because I want to do these things while I still feel pretty good. We have our trip to Alaska in June — which is going to be amazing — and my social worker has given me some other really great ideas. So I want to spend time on these important activities as well.

As you all know, I love to write. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this on the blog, but I am writing a novel, too. It was an accident, really. I started writing a short story, but it got too long. So I decided to stretch it out and beef it up and try my hand at a novel. It isn’t a goal I’ve ever had, but now I’m anxious to see if I could get it published. I’d also love to land a recurring gig on an online magazine or something like that, but I have no idea  how to get that ball rolling. I’d just like to write and to be read. And hopefully to help people through that writing.

I don’t know how much time I have left, but I’d like to use that time well. Reasonably, but well. Get out in the ministry when I can (which will increase this summer); work with first-time cancer patients, make memories with my family and friends; and write for a wider audience. Sounds do-able, right 😉

Tell me friends, what do you do to find self-fulfillment? What brings you the most satisfaction and joy? Please share!

xoxo

Creatures of Habit

Lately I have been craving routine. Not just planning my days, but routines that become part of my daily existence — almost rituals — that transition me to different parts of my day. I’m not sure if this is an age thing, or if its something we all are drawn to, but it’s funny to me since I’ve never been very good at maintaining habits.

I have a list of daily habits that I am trying to adopt that includes a morning and evening routine. Another habit I’m developing is called “Big Rocks” — comprised of reading the daily Bible text; reading at least one chapter in the Bible; and some sort of personal spiritual study. My goal is that between my morning routine (showering, brushing my teeth, washing up with a three-step regimen, taking my pills, getting dressed and putting on makeup) and my big rocks routine, I’ll be more awake physically and mentally; more ready for the day.

My evening routine includes washing up, brushing my teeth, applying lash serum (my lashes haven’t been right since my first chemo experience when I lost them), taking evening pills, and drinking Sleepy Time tea (I love the Celestial Seasonings one). Again, I hope this ritual will signal that it’s time to relax my body and mind and get ready for sleep. This is especially important with Daylight Saving Time upon us. It’s really been messing with my sleep.

The trick is establishing these routines so that they are habits, so that they accomplish what I want. All too often I allow distractions to get in my way. For instance, I’ve not been making time for my big rocks in the morning, and by the time we are finished with school (and errands on some days), I’m so exhausted I can’t focus anymore. So my big rocks haven’t been completed the last several days. This morning I got closer, but I still need to finish my personal study rock. Hopefully I’ll find some time while the Kiddo is doing school work that I can complete that (like I could be doing right now instead of writing my blog).

Tell me, friends, what tips do you have to create different habits? As a planner, my foremost way is to write it down in my planner. I also set reminders for some things in my phone. However, these have only been partly successful, so I’m wondering what works for you.

Friends and Facts

Last week I received the results of my latest scan. The great news is that my cancer is no longer detectable on the CT scan. This means that the chemo is working, and has shrunk it dramatically — to the point we can’t see it. What does that mean for me? Not much. I’ll continue on my chemotherapy schedule with Gemzar. I’ll have a little more flexibility if I need/want to take chemo breaks/vacations  — like when we travel to Alaska in June — but basically I will keep to my routine. Overall, I’m pleased at the progress.

We have these friends who we only get to see every year or two and lately only for a couple days at most. But it doesn’t really matter because we just pick up where we left off — like the time apart hasn’t been time apart — and spend virtually the entire time together talking. Literally not shutting up except to sleep. And we talk the four of us together, as our children play — picking up where they’ve left off, too — or husbands and wives separately. Catching up, discussing parenting, volunteering, and life in general. And laughing. Oh do we laugh. Great big belly laughs with tears running down our faces, making jokes out of almost anything and everything.

It is always, always a soul-refreshing time. No matter how short. This visit we spent less than 48 hours together. Because they love us so much that they were willing to drive more than 22 hours round-trip to spend a day and a half with us. I can only hope we provide half the refreshment they provide us.

Friendship can be a fickle and fleeting thing, so for me to count these two beautiful people as dear and precious friends makes me feel so blessed. I am not one who has a wide circle of close friends, but I’m so fortunate to have a few amazing people in my tribe. I have done nothing to deserve these stellar souls in my life, but they are and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Thank you both for making the sacrifice to come down to see us. Thank you for the laughs and the conversations and the encouragement. Thank you for your loyal and unwavering friendship. We love you more than we can ever express.

xoxo

A New Adventure

You may have noticed that in my last post I slipped in the fact that we were transitioning our son to online school. It’s an idea that my husband and I have tossed around for a while, but we’ve always ruled in favor of traditional school. Our son has been at a charter school since its first year (1st grade) and we’ve stuck with it in spite of their growing pains.

It’s on its fifth or sixth (I think) head of school; because of location of the buildings, the school’s been on lockdown at least once every school year; and our kiddo has had some issues with bullying. His second grade teacher was awful, and the teachers he had this year proved less than cooperative with Allen’s newer academic issues (finishing and turning in school work in a timely manner).

With all the work I was putting into helping him get school work turned in on time without the support of his teachers, I just decided it would be easier if we tried an online schooling program. We also figured that we would all continue to wonder about it until we tried it. So beginning last month, he started with an accredited online school. For now, I’ll withhold the name of it, since I’m still unsure of how I feel about it.

That’s not to say we don’t still have reservations about schooling him at home. I worry about socialization and his ability to stand up for his beliefs. And I worry about my own sanity. I worry about the health of our relationship, and whether being his “learning coach” will ruin our relationship.

At first, things were very confusing, as the teachers began to adjust his curriculum to fit with his peers and with his academic level. But we muddled through and now have a fairly smooth and regular schedule. Except on days like today when Math took the Kiddo three hours to complete. Yes, you read that right — three (3) hours.

Obviously, my patience has been tested. He’s easily distracted and consistently complains when he has an assignment that involves writing. He’s convinced that he can do math in his head, but gets frustrated every single time he tries it because he gets the wrong answer. Sometimes he aces his assessments and other times he has to retake them because he fails to read the question completely. My husband receives texts at least weekly from me, stating that I can’t do it.

But then I step back and look at the situation with less emotion. And I realize that I have a limited time left with my kid and this is a great opportunity for us to spend time together. And I watch the news to see yet another school shooting where 17 have been killed, and I think that maybe this wasn’t such an insane decision. That maybe, just maybe, my husband and I got it right.

So we will continue to work at it. We’ve committed to staying with the online program through the end of the school year before making a final decision. Maybe we will decide to stick with it as long as I’m able to “coach” him, and maybe we’ll decide to put him back into a public school next school year. But for now, we’re figuring it out and we’re making it work. And the Kiddo and I still like each other.

xoxo

Planner Girl Part II

As promised, I’m following up with more details on how I use and decorate my planner. Let’s dive right in, and take a look at my monthly page spread:

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This is actually where I begin my planning each month. Every appointment and event gets put here first. This includes school days off, weekend social engagements, and doctor’s appointments. I’m also counting down our family trip to Alaska which is what those little yellow circles are on Tuesday. And the purple heart sticker shows when I have my week off from chemo.

Usually, I include assignments my husband has at our Christian meetings on Thursday evenings and Sundays, but I didn’t do that for some reason here. I don’t have our meetings marked because they are so much a part of my life, I don’t need the reminders and I’m not tracking any aspect of them right now. But if I wanted to track my attendance or participation, I would probably add them back to my calendar.

You’ll see that I have included stickers where I could. The month will look much different by the end of the month when all my appointments are filled in. I try to make this spread as attractive as I can, but I’m not too concerned with stickers being all matchy-matchy.

Some other things I could/plan on including in my monthly spread are:

  • When to change my contacts
  • When to go to the gym (I know that sounds hilarious coming from me, but I’m really going to make an effort this year)
  • When my family has appointments. Kiddo’s already go on here, but I could add hubs’ too.
  • When I go in the Bible ministry and for how long

Basically, anything you want to track monthly can go on this spread. It’s entirely up to you.

Sometimes, we have tentative plans, but they aren’t set in stone. Me and My Big Ideas (MAMBI) makes the most adorable little post-it notes that are perfect for this. I simply write the information on the little paper and stick in on the appropriate date. I like their little post-its because they are sized just write and they stick really well.

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Every Sunday afternoon, I plan out my weekly schedule. All events that have been recorded in my monthly section get marked in my weekly layout as well. These get written in first. When I can, I use a sticker, of course. I split my days into three different categories: Today, To Go, To Do.

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The “Today” section includes my daily checklist items, such as Bible reading, as well as events that happen that don’t involve leaving the house. For instance, I conduct a Bible study with someone and she comes to my house. So that gets noted in my “Today” section.

“To Go” is fairly obvious. This includes appointments and errands. It’s particularly important for me to write all these things down because I am not driving right now. Having all my errands and appointments written down makes it easier for me to negotiate who can drive me.

Once again, “To Do” is self-explanatory as well. This is my daily to do list. I find this section to be extremely important as well. Spending most of my time at home can get lonely, so when I write down things to accomplish throughout the day, it helps me to feel productive.

You may have noticed from the side-by-side photos I shared in the last post, that my week seems to be front-loaded. That’s because the beginning of my week is when I feel well enough to get things done, while Thursdays and Fridays are my chemo recovery days. Because my week is imbalanced like that, I find it extremely important to write down everything I need to get done during the week. That way I can make sure I get everything accomplished prior to Thursday.

On my sidebar is the meal plan for the week. Hubs does 99% of the cooking here, but he has trouble deciding what to make. So I am trying to help plan out our meals. It’s not going as well as I’d like, so suggestions are welcome. The sidebar is also useful for habit tracker stickers, running to-do lists, and weekly goals.

So that’s how I plan in my Happy Planner. Tell me, what planner do you use, and how do you use it?

xoxo

Planner Girl

I’ve always been a planner. My childhood best friend and I would write out elaborate schedules when she spent the night at my house, detailing when to wake up all the way to when to go to sleep. We loved nothing more than to be able to check off each scheduled event.

As a student in high school, I had a planner in which I documented all my homework and after school and weekend events. The planner I used had stickers in the back (it wasn’t Lisa Frank; I don’t remember the brand), which reignited my childhood love of stickers.

For awhile in the corporate world I used a Franklin Covey planner and even read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I was a total planner geek. But then I left the corporate world for the world of retail and the slower pace of the South, and I left my planner life behind.

Until my life became overwhelming again and I discovered Erin Condren. This planner also came with stickers and opened up the grown up planner world to me. If you type in planner stickers on Etsy, you’ll see what I mean. Same thing if you search Instagram for #planner. There is a huge community out there.

Erin Condren planners are beautiful and wonderful. You can choose a customized and personalized cover, and even order personalized stickers from them. They have fabulous high-quality stickers that you can purchase separately from the ones that come bound in the planner, plus an array of other accessories from pens to note cards. They offer three different layouts, too. It’s a planner’s dream, really. But for me, now being unemployed, it’s a little pricey.

That’s why I purchased The Happy Planner from Me and My Big Ideas (MAMBI) to use as my planner this year. While still using my Erin Condren planner, I discovered stickers from (MAMBI) that I fell in love with, so when shopping for this year’s planner, it was kind of a no-brainer.

If you happened to click on the Instagram link and scroll through some of the planner pictures, you may have discovered that planner decorating is a HUGE trend right now. And decorating styles vary greatly. Some prefer a minimalistic approach, while others cover their entire weekly spreads with stickers. Some people work with multiple planners for different aspects of their lives. For others, their planner is used almost as a scrapbook or memory keeper.

As for me, I need my planner to make sure I get where I’m supposed to be and do what I’m supposed to do. Between an already bad memory and chemo, unless I’ve written it down, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I prefer to use one planner for all aspects of my life, rather than splitting my life into categories; however as I transition my son to online schooling, I may be adding a school planner as well.

Since my planner is kind of my life line as to where to go and what to do, functionality comes before beauty. While I love (big puffy heart love) stickers and washi tape, these must also serve a purpose in my planner other than being adorable. Therefore, I am not much of a “before the pen” decorator, meaning I don’t decorate my planner prior to filling it in with my appointments and to-dos.

Here’s an example of what my weekly page spread typically looks like:

As you can see above, I do utilize stickers, but my pages are not covered with them.

In my next post, I’ll explain how I divide my planner (see those three different sections up there), what I include in my planner, and how I use my monthly page spread.

Stay tuned!

xoxo