Gratitude

Most people are celebrating Thanksgiving today. I’ve been reflecting on my Native ancestors and in honoring them, I decided to live today in a place of gratitude. I enjoyed the morning with some of my local community, hugged a number of people who mean a lot to me, gifted essential oils to a friend, had a conversation with my brother about our mom’s health, and now am watching movies and working on pottery. Along the way I also messaged a few people to tell them I love them and appreciate them, and shared a blend of oils I researched for emotional support with others in my life.

I use essential oils every day. I only use one brand, because as a cancer survivor, it’s very important that I know what I put on or in my body. I will not use synthetic products if I can avoid them (in shampoos, lotions, soaps, and yes, scents I wear). I’ve done my research about where different companies source their oils from, who has consistent medicinal value and quality, and which company is not only environmentally responsible (they don’t take more than the plants and land can come back from) and socially responsible (they work with local farmers and families in each region they harvest oils from and are investing in improving every one of these areas for the people who live there), These things matter.

If you’d like to learn more about them, please visit this site. I am also happy to share information and research I’ve discovered and studied. They are the only company that John’s Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Sutter Heath, and other medical and cancer research facilities will work with, because of their quality, consistency, and ethics. I will be sharing more about my journey with the oils and how I’ve improved my health journey, and how we created a miracle using western, eastern, homeopathic, and natural medicine together.

My gift to you all today is this diffuser blend I created last night. It is meant to create a space that will allow you to sit in gratitude for the things in your life – large and small.

What do you have to be thankful for today? What brings joy into your life or allows you to give that gift to others? From having a roof over our heads, to knowing where our next meal is coming from, to a pet that gives us unconditional love, to friends and family who enrich our lives, we all have something to be grateful for.

Gratitude for what we do have is the first step in receiving the things we want more of. Today, or any day you want to reflect on things in your life, and open your heart to gratitude, this blend is a great one to diffuse. 💚

Emotions associated with these oils –

Lime – The ultimate gratitude oil. It helps you begin to appreciate even the little things.

Wild Orange – Helps us taste the sweetness of life. Reminds us that there is much to live for and supports gratitude and abundance.

Frankincense – Helps you see your beauty and value to the world.

Douglas Fir – Teaches us to learn from and value others’ experiences, especially from our elders.

Arborvitae – Helps us find balance in our lives, to know what we should hold close or release. Encourages peaceful surrender, relaxed grace, and trust in the flow of life.

Patchouli – Brings you into the present moment and deepens appreciation for what you have.

If you’d like to connect about essential oils and how they can help support you physically and emotionally, please connect with me. I’m happy to share what I used through treatment, and beyond.

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You Are and You Can

Are you familiar with Celeste Barber? I love following her work, as a comedian and social commentator. This delightful woman knows no fear when it comes to looking ridiculous and sharing it with the world.

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An example of Celeste’s work.

It’s time for women to stop worrying about looking silly, or not being polished and perfect. We burp and fart and eat and poop. We have pores and body hair. We are human. We have become so airbrushed and photoshopped in every representation we see that it’s impossible to achieve what society tells us to.

It’s time to be us, by embracing our wrinkles and muffin tops and scars and grey hair. That’s where true beauty lies. When we see women we admire, like perhaps Meryl Streep, or Kathy Bates, or Celeste, ask yourself why. I often hear, “I wish I could do that”, or “I wish I were brave enough to do that”. You are and you can.

You can take baby steps and start small or you can shave your head and stop shaving your legs. You are you and that is a beautiful thing. Embrace that.

•Dance without caring what you look like.

•Go out without makeup on.

•Take a day when you’d clean the house and stay in your bedroom with snacks and a journal.

•Take a nap, even if you have to cancel that non-vital meeting or appointment.

•Eat toast or cookies in bed without worrying about crumbs.

•Let your dog cuddle on the couch with you.

•Order the hamburger (or veggie burger) and eat it when you go out to a restaurant without worrying about people judging you. (I love salads, but too many women feel they have to appear to be eating tiny portions to “maintain their figure”. Just say no, unless you’re craving a salad.)

•Treat yourself to a desert when it sounds good.

•Don’t say, “but I couldn’t”, about anything you really do want to do/eat/achieve.

•Take time for yourself and things that feed your soul every day. Even five minutes will increase your joy.

Remember that you have one life and if you can’t find joy or peace in your existence, you need to step back and reevaluate. Simplify or step out of your box more. One thing I’ve learned is that once it’s over, there are no do-overs. When facing your mortality, please don’t find yourself saying you wished you’d done it all differently. Don’t wait. And definitely surround yourself with images of women like Celeste, who are doing it their way and succeeding. ❤️

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Another example of Celeste’s work. “Don’t Stop Believing” – perfection.

Where the Heck Have I Been?

I’m sitting in the chemo room at my oncology office. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I haven’t shared what’s happened with my last go around with cancer. I simply went quiet here. I have a private Facebook page for my friends and a public page under Fear is a 4-Letter Word, but I’ve neglected everything but my personal page for too long. It’s time to get back to writing and sharing with the world.

So, what happened to me? Well, I will try to summarize it for you. I completed full chemotherapy in June and waited for my doctor to order a PET scan to see what was going on in my body. We knew back in January/February that things looked grim. I was told to hope for a miracle.

It was the kind of news that is depressing, paralyzingly, horrifying, life-altering, and makes you want to scream and cry. Check to all of that. There’s much more attached to that news and how it affected my life, but I’ll write more about that later.

For now, let’s focus on that PET scan. I was expecting news that we had knocked back the cancer, but that it was still present. My wife did too. I’m not even sure what my doctor expected the results to be.

He called me on July 4th, while I was at a friend’s house. When I saw the name of the oncology office pop up on the screen, I thought it was just a reminder call about an appointment, so I didn’t answer. He left a voicemail asking me to return his call, that he had news for me. I was in the car on my way to see my wife when I listened to the voicemail. I started crying. I knew he wouldn’t call to give me bad news on a holiday. We were on speaker phone with him when he gave us the news, “You have no active cancer in your body”. We cried more and celebrated.

I have stayed on one chemo drug since June, as a preventative. Every three weeks my blood and urine are checked and I am given an IV with 30 minutes of the drug. My hair has grown back, although I’m now more comfortable with a shaved head. I don’t have nausea anymore, but I do have headaches. It’s tolerable and I’ve learned to manage/live with it.

I have returned to a somewhat normal life, although I have less energy and other physical issues that are taking a while to improve, mostly due to muscle weakness from so much inactivity. I have good and bad days. I was suffering from serious memory issues, but I’m regaining more ability in that department now. I am fortunate and am able to work around the remaining issues I have.

All of this has allowed me to focus on what I want to achieve with my life, and to lay the foundation for those things. I know what statistics show, but we achieved the miracle my doctor told me to hope for. I will not give up my life to worrying about this disease. If I expect it to return, what kind of life is that? I am staying positive and maintaining my natural health plan (more about that soon).

I am a survivor and am here to share my story and my journey. I have another chance and I’m going to use it.

❤️Love & Gratitude❤️ Kelly

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THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO GET A CLEAR SCAN.

The Things We Carry

Last night I attended an event where the speaker discussed how to use doTERRA essential oils to help you establish boundaries, let go of emotional and energetic “hooks” that are stuck in you, and how living your purpose is something we owe ourselves and the world. Desiree Mangandog is an inspirational human being. She is a vibrant and joyful person, without an ounce of fake concern. She shared openly with us all and welcomed us to join her in her place of joy.

After the event, I walked up to Desiree. I’ve been feeling so many things over the past few weeks and the fact that it can be completely overwhelming means I don’t always know what to say to people. Let’s face it, I’m an introvert much of the time, so even though I am able to be outgoing when I need to, there are some situations where I’m overwhelmed with emotion and words don’t come as easily. This was one of those times.

I was able to say hi and she hugged me. She immediately had me turn sideways next to her and she began tapping on my back and rubbing between my shoulders in a circular motion. She kept making gestures with her other hand, as if she were sweeping negative things away. She told me I am carrying a lot of spirits with me and kept working on me. I stood there, reflecting on what she was doing and saying. I am a grounded person who is pretty good at creating boundaries and keeping negative people out of my life. She then told me I need to work on my boundaries.

After she was finished, I reflected more on what she had said and it hit me, I am carrying the hopes, love, expectations, and fears of many people right now, as I move through treatment. It’s a road that I’m fortunate enough to be traveling with a wonderful support system. Many people are invested in my beating cancer. It’s a gift. At the same time, it’s a lot of pressure to survive and thrive, when people are behind you, wanting you to win. I want to live. I want to beat this and prove that I can do it. We are all waiting for good or more bad news. I want to deliver good news, but thinking about the entire situation is stressful.

When I’m enduring whatever treatment throws at me, scans and blood draws, nausea, etc., I am doing so alone. The pains and aches and need for endurance is all on me. When I think about it in the context of energy and what I am carrying with me every day, she was right. I am carrying spirits with me. I have been putting a lot of pressure on myself to do everything right this time and to not screw it up. I feel like I can’t let down my wife, my friends, and all of those rooting for me. My new job is to let that go, to the best of my ability. Believe me, I care about the feelings of all of these people I’m carrying with me, but I need to try to distance myself from the weight of the outcome.

I’ve been working on mindset and this is a solid next step in maintaining a positive attitude. When we keep carrying around old hurts, damage, abuse, and negative past events, we don’t give room for happiness and joy. Healthy boundaries and limiting access to your life, for those who make you feel bad, are crucial. Yes, cancer came in and threw me around with repeated doses of bad news and negativity recently. It’s not something that’s been easy to work through, but I’m refusing to let the negative hang over me every day. I may get a twinge, but then I want to reconcile it and get back to thinking my usual optimistic thoughts.

I highly recommend finding a morning ritual or bedtime ritual (or both), where you start keeping a gratitude journal and spend a few minutes focusing on the good in your life. I have a ritual where I diffuse certain essential oils in my bedroom when it’s bedtime. I sit in bed and focus on positive things I’m grateful for. I then apply other oils that help support healthy rest and then I’m off to sleep with a happy heart and mind. We should all be letting go of the day before going to bed. Give your heart and face a lift, and focus on being grateful. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily cycle of complaints and judgements. I am guilty as well. The key is to recognize it and to start working on letting it go. We all deserve to cut ourselves some slack and find our joy. I’m determined to get myself to that place and to stay there as much as possible. You should join me. If you’d like more information about my rituals and what I use, feel free to message me. I am happy to share.

Week 1 in Chemo Town

Have you ever cried in front of a medical professional? Today that happened to me. Of course I’m being bombarded with emotions and craziness right now, but that wasn’t the direct cause. It had everything to do with horrible pain in my low back/hip, while laying on a hard surface for a CT scan. The pain became worse and worse until my hand started to shake and then the tears came. This is what I’ve been working with since the last time I wrote. The MRIs that were needed to diagnose my pelvic/low back pain brought on pain like I’d never experienced. I am able to tolerate a lot of things and have learned with medical procedures to just try to stay calm and go with it. This was different. I almost passed out during the first MRI and had to go home and come back the next day for the second one. They thought if I took oxycodone before the next session, it would all go smoothly. Nope. It did nothing and I had to stop three times to get through the entire process.

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My friend Rachel managed to capture this photo of me getting ready for my second MRI.

I will always be honest about what procedures are like. Every other person I’ve ever spoken with has cruised through an MRI without any incident. Apparently, there is a very small percentage of people who suffer excruciating pain during an MRI. The good news is that I’m one of those rare people, so the odds of it happening to you are much less likely. The bad news is if I ever have to have another MRI, they will probably have to sedate me for it. Sigh. Being rare isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Being rare and not having blood markers for cancer has definitely not helped, in terms of my recent diagnosis. It would have been great to have known sooner, but it couldn’t be helped. I’ve had to inform my brother of being rare and not having blood markers, so he and his kids will know to ask for further testing if anything seems suspicious.

My doctor placed my port a week ago. It’s implanted in the chest and runs up through a vein in your neck. It grosses me out, but it’s worth it to avoid suffering through constant IVs. The nurse just has to “plug in” to the port and you’re pretty much good to go. It’s sore, bothers me, and I wish I didn’t have to have it, but I do. I’m still watching bruises from the many IVs I’ve had over the past couple of weeks disappear. This is easier. I did have “weeping” after surgery, because I’ve had to stay on Advil to keep my pain levels down. Fortunately, it finally stopped. I’m including photos, so if you’re squeamish, I apologize.

Last Thursday I had my first chemo treatment of this cycle. My doctor has decided to give me the full dose of both drugs one week and then two weeks off. The cycle will repeat 5 times. Last time I had to go in every week and they gave me less drugs, more often. I had some nausea, but it only lasted a couple of days. I did okay with the full dose, until a couple of days later. The nausea started and I’ve had trouble getting food down without feeling like it might come back up. I haven’t vomited, but I have to be aware of what sights and smells will make me feel queasy. I tried CBD capsules for the nausea and it made me sleepy and did wonders for my low back.hip pain. It’s now been five days and I’m still really nauseous. My job right now is to make sure to feed myself.

Today I had my first appointment with the radiation doctor. The MRI did show that there is cancer present in my L5 vertebrae and sacral area. This means the cancer has metastasized and is present on the bone. They say it isn’t bone cancer if it starts as a different type of cancer and spreads to the bone. I just know it’s been painful and I want it gone. The plan is to hit the area with radiation every day, M-F, for two-three weeks. I’ll be doing it simultaneaously with chemo. The hope is that it will shrink the bad cells and give me less pain, while the chemo gets in there and kills them off. Makes sense. I just know this won’t be the easiest path. Chemo has it’s side effects and so does radiation. We shall see what happens.

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After today’s prep for radiation treatments. You can barely tell that I cried, but believe me, I was ready to go home. This is a nurse de-accessing my port.

I’ve definitely been pushed to and beyond my physical and emotional limits over the past few weeks. I admit it, it’s a challenge to stay positive all of the time and to not get dragged down when enduring some of this stuff. Today, when the doctor asked if Sam and I wanted to go over the films of where the cancer is located, she said yes and I said no. Why? I was feeling overwhelmed and knew I couldn’t see or hear any more bad news. She showed Sam and they discussed it all. I have the information I need, but was able to put off seing the extent of the cancer in my body until later. I am not in denial, it’s just been too much and I needed to keep my head clear as I headed in for my CT scan.

Right now I’m stressing a bit over “did I choose the right diet?”, while reading various research studies and testimonials. Who knows for sure? Keto or raw vegan were the two that seemed the most legit to me, from a cancer viewpoint. I feel like I have to choose everything correctly, or I may not have another chance. Things are much more serious this time around and it’s a lot of pressure. You truly can get caught up in all of the bullshit during something like this. In a moment, your hopes can be dashed, or you can feel elated. I’ve called it the rollercoaster before and that’s exactly what it is. I’m fortunate to have a wife who makes special foods for me to eat and supports me every step of the way, and friends who are invested in my survival. It can be difficult when you’re facing horrible things and you, alone, have to endure it. That said, having a supportive circle is priceless.

I start radiation on Thursday. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’d love for my port area to not be so sore and to get my appetite back. Small steps and postive thoughts. I’m doing my best to focus on that.

Back in the Saddle Again

Today, I find myself writing this, after yet another whirlwind of appointments, upsets, and harsh realities. My cancer has spread. There’s no easy way to say that, so let’s just get to the point. It’s in the lymph nodes in my lungs and between my lungs. I’ve had a ct scan, a pet scan, a lung biopsy, and one MRI. We are doing MRIs of my lower lumbar and hip areas to determine if the original pain that is located in my SI/hip area is also cancerous. There are enlarged lymph nodes, but we don’t know if the bone is affected. No one wants to hear this news, certainly not someone who has already been through treatment and thought it was behind her.

We are wasting no time. On Monday I will get my port and on Thursday I will start chemo again. My oncologist has made it clear that this is serious. My wife and I sat across from him, hoping to hear better news, trying not to cry when it turned out to be worse. He went over everything and a game plan. Upon leaving the room, it was hard to see the staff looking back at me with what I call “cancer face”. It’s that sad face, where people can barely make eye contact, and feel sorry for you. I’ve experienced it before and will experience it again. It just happens, especially when people don’t know what to say.

We received our information for all of the upcoming appointments, walked out to the car, and then proceeded to sit there, crying and hugging each other. We certainly knew it was a possibility that it would come back. We knew it was aggressive and in my bloodstream and could resettle somewhere else. You know the facts, but you feel so good after finishing treatment that you move forward with your life and put it behind you. None of the typical symptoms occurred that would signal something is wrong. I had my checkups, and then something happened that made no sense until it lead to this new cancer diagnosis – pain in the SI/hip area. The pain has been going on for over 6 months now and I attributed it to a car accident I was involved in. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better. The pain happens when I lay down and I have discomfort in the same area and down the left leg the rest of the time. Advil has made it livable, although sleeping has been rough for months now. It’s easy to mistake that for an injury from a car accident.

I’m sharing this because I want people to practice self-care. I want them to be aware of what’s going on with their bodies. Something you keep excusing as nothing, could be something. Now, I don’t want to encourage people to think every pain is cancer. If you have symptoms that are persistent, especially if it gets worse, you should insist on being checked out. I had a chance to have an MRI 6 months ago, but I had to pay upfront for it. I couldn’t do it. If I’d had one then, I would have known what was going on and gotten a 6 month jump on treatment. Hindsight is 20/20, but it does no good to think that way. “If only I hadn’t eaten sugar”, “If only if I’d changed my diet sooner”, “If only I’d said something sooner” – none of this kind of thinking will heal you. It’s self-destructive and I’m putting it behind me.

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Feeling reflective

Now is the time for throwing everything at this. I’m at a crossroad and have to decide if I want to do everything I can to stick around, or if I want to half-ass it and hope for the best. If you’ve followed my journey thus far, I’m pretty sure you know what I’ve decided to do. I am starting back with chemo. I tolerated it well last time and the hope is that it will knock the cancer cells back. We now know it didn’t kill them off entirely last time, so I’m also starting the keto diet now. It’s a big switch from being a vegetarian, but the research I’ve done says it is the way to go. A side benefit of that is that it will knock down my blood sugar, which is awesome for any diabetic. I will be starting back with acupuncture, hypnosis, reiki, and massage. I am already using a combination of essential oils and supplements that will support my body, much like last time, except I’m increasing quantities. I’m going to be using hash oil and edibles to help with my appetite. So many things. It seems overwhelming at times, but trying everything together will leave me with no regrets.

At this point, I am only thinking of knocking this back and staying around. I am thinking about my nieces and nephew and my desire to watch them become fully functioning adults. I am thinking about the good things to come and my desire to be a apart of it. I am thinking about the plans I have with my wife and what I want to create through our artist’s studio and doTERRA business. I am thinking about the plans I have with my friends and wanting to establish our shared dream, Green Mountain Collective. At the end of the day, this project is my legacy. It encompasses my dreams and ideals and also benefits good people and our local community. I am thinking about what I have left to see, build, and experience, and the moments that take my breath away and make me appreciate being alive. I’m ready to keep fighting and you’re welcome to join me on this new, yet familiar journey.

The Day Before Tomorrow

This is the last day of not knowing. Tomorrow I will hear the results of my pet scan, and receive a diagnosis and a plan of action from my oncologist. It’s been a week since he called me in for my ct scan results – enlarged lymph nodes in my left pelvic area that appear to be cancerous.

The pain was assumed to be from a car accident I was in last April. We couldn’t figure out why the pain hadn’t been resolving and I assumed there was a tear in the joint or something similar. I was scheduled to see a physiatrist to determine a course of action. Before that could happen, I had my 6 month appointment with my oncologist. I went back and forth about mentioning the pain to him. He always says to be aware of new and persistent issues, so I described what was going on to him. He decided a ct scan should be done, even though it sounded like it was from the accident, just to be safe.

I received a call the Monday following the ct scan and was told he wanted to see me that afternoon. It triggered a red flag, but I tried my best to not think the worst. In his office, he told me I have enlarged lymph nodes and that it appears to be cancerous. The enlarged lymph nodes are located by the nerves in that area and are pushing on them, resulting in the pain that has been keeping me from sleeping and doing much physical activity. I also appeared to have some spotting near my lungs and he wanted more testing to determine if it’s scarring or something worse. A pet scan was ordered to see what in my body would “light up”, so he could decide a plan of action. A needle biopsy is possible as well.

I appreciate how thorough he is and I trust him with my life. He hugged us and I know he felt awful. I don’t have blood markers. That means even with stage 3 cancer, my blood never showed it was there. Because of this we were unable to do blood draws to look for abnormal signs. We had to wait until I exhibited symptoms. It also kept us from catching this earlier. He mentioned doing another round of chemo with the same drugs to us. That I know how to do, so I’m hopeful that it’s the worst case scenario. I’ll know soon enough.

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Radioactive sugar injection. It’s in a tungsten tube to keep the exposure to a minimum for the person giving the injection.

I went in for my pet scan in Friday. The pet scan involves an injection of sugar based liquid dye that has radioactive tracers. You sit for 45 minutes while it moves through your body. You then lie down and are moved through a tube, much like an MRI. I experienced a moment of panic in the tube. It felt like a coffin. I closed my eyes and repeated to myself, ‘I’m surrounded by stars”, thinking of the darkness behind my eyelids as the desert night sky that I grew up with. It helped and I made it through. I highly recommend finding a comforting mantra to repeat in times of stress like that

That was Friday. Today is Monday. Tomorrow I find out the results. I’ve distracted myself this weekend with outings with friends, a concert, and a dinner and movie date with my wife. Today I went to the gym. I walked the treadmill for a little while and then ended by doing 5 minutes on the elliptical – a first. It may be nothing to others, but it was a milestone.

My body is weak, from years of recovering from car accidents and cancer treatment. I should have worked out more before now, but like many, I got busy living my post-cancer life. I don’t play the shame game and am doing what I can, where I’m at. Soon enough, I’ll know what new path I’m on and we will make a plan. I will keep doing my best to move my body and stay positive. It’s where I’m at. I will communicate with you soon, from the other side of tomorrow.

 

This is Why I March

Yesterday I participated in the Women’s March in Portland, Oregon. They estimate 100,000 people attended and it was an amazing sight to behold. There were people of all genders and ages, everywhere you looked, holding signs, playing drums, chanting, and parading around in impressive costumes, pussyhats in many colors, and rain gear.

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I chose to carry a sign I made that addressed the reality of losing my healthcare through the ACA, aka Obamacare. 18 million people, including myself will lose health coverage in the first year if the ACA is repealed. This includes children, elderly people, and some of the most vulnerable among us. The new movement in our government to eliminate rights and protections from those who are not wealthy goes against what our country was founded on. It certainly doesn’t represent the religious values those same politicians keep saying they represent. Jesus did not turn away those in need. He did not call them moochers and tell them to “get over it”. We are at a crossroads ethically and spiritually.

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This country is a place built on welcoming immigrants, lifting up the oppressed, and offering opportunities to those who are seeking a better life. The most well known quote from the Statue of Liberty sums it up:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Emma Lazarus

Yesterday, around the world, women and those who support them, gathered, marched, and shared a message of hope and unity. Since November 7th, many have felt lost, alone, frustrated, and angry. The message coming from the GOP and especially from the newly elected President has been one of aggression, division, exclusion, lies, oppression, and all under the threat of violence and repercussions for speaking out against the new rule. The people that gathered were strong, proud, determined, and most of all, supportive of one another. They also were happy. Happy to be out expressing all of the frustration and emotions we had been suffocating under since November.

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There were so many signs, saying so many important things – everything from “women’s rights are human rights” to “viva la vulva” to “black lives matter”. There were men carrying signs that said, “It’s time for white men to listen to women”, “feminist”, and, “I’m with her”, the words surrounded by arrows pointing to others around them. Children carried signs they made themselves, one of which said, “I’d make a better President because I care about ALL people.” The feeling in the air was joyous and emotional, and the crowd seemed to be endless.

We were towards the front of the march and when we reached the end, we stopped and stood and watched the crowd walk by for over an hour. As I kept holding up my sign, many people’s eyes met mine and I could feel the moment of recognition of me being a cancer survivor. There is something in the faces of those who see me as a cancer survivor, a softness, an empathetic look in their eyes. It’s emotional, seeing those faces looking back at me, acknowledging me and what I’ve been through. There is a strength to being seen and acknowledged.

A woman approached me and told me that she was in the same situation, that she had received healthcare through the ACA just before being diagnosed with breast cancer. If she hadn’t had coverage, she would have ended up homeless. She gestured towards the city behind us, where so many are homeless, as she made that statement. She took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and nodded, “But we are still here and we are okay”, I said and I felt myself getting teary eyed. “May I hug you? I feel like I need to hug you.”, I asked. We hugged one another and then she was off, to chant and join back into the march.

 

A number of people in the crowd stopped and hugged me. Some gave me a hi-five. Others looked directly at me and raised their fist in the air in solidarity as they marched by. Some women stopped long enough to take my hand and tell me they too were cancer survivors. There was such connection there, and I will never be able to describe the magnitude of emotions I felt. Another woman stopped and hugged me tightly, as if she were my mom and she hadn’t seen me in a while. There was such unconditional and genuine caring involved in this gesture that I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes. She let go of me and we nodded and smiled at each other. In that moment, a person stopped to ask if they could take a photo of me with my sign. I turned and smiled, with tears in my eyes. Little did they know what they actually captured in that moment.

So, back to the title of this blog, why do I march? I march because girls are learning younger and younger what it is like to be treated as sexual objects by our society, while being told repeatedly that their looks determine their worth and their future. Younger and younger, they are becoming the victims of sexual predators and sex trafficking. Because society tends to blame the victims who report sexual assault of any kind and say they did something to deserve it. Because white males are serving little or no time for heinous crimes against girls and women. Because athletes are seen as more valuable than the girls they take advantage of at parties.  Because even with video evidence and witnesses, judges are giving minimal sentences and saying “boys will be boys”.

I march because I have two high school aged nieces and when I look at Donald Trump, I see a person who was going to court on child rape charges, until his followers used threats of violence to silence the victim. I see a person who has sexually assaulted more women than I can count, and then bad mouthed them all and forced them to back down through intimidation or payoffs. I see a person who has bragged about getting away with these activities and then called the women liars and whores. I see a person who has used fraud as a way of doing business, costing many small businesses to go under. I see a person who has used religion and lies to further a dark agenda against those who are in need and the most vulnerable within our society. I see someone so insecure that he is willing to throw away segments of the population to gain more money and power over his enemies. Someone who uses that power to crush anyone who questions his actions. I cannot stand idly by when this is considered the “new normal”.

 

I march for the oppressed, for those without a voice. I will not watch as a government majority unites against the people, against women, and against minorities. I am speaking up on my own behalf and for those who need and deserve respect. We all deserve to be treated equally. The open racism and bigotry that has come with the election and now the inauguration is frightening. The reemergence of swastikas, the normalization of Nazi worship and the KKK, and the rise of anti-lgtbq and anti-women movements is alarming, to say the least. We need to raise our voices against this new dark direction.

Back to talking about the ACA. We all deserve healthcare. The loss of dignity that comes from not being able to afford healthcare in the wealthiest country in the world is something no one should have to endure. Had I been diagnosed earlier, which I couldn’t be, because I could not afford insurance because of a pre-existing condition, I would not have had to go through chemo. Because getting diagnosed was delayed for years, my cancer spread. Had I gone another year without care, I would have been in “end of life” care with no options. This is the reality of not having access to preventative care.

People seem to think you can just show up at the ER or a clinic somewhere and get the testing and care you need. Nope. You cannot walk into the ER and say, “something is wrong and I think I may have cancer or something else horribly wrong with me.” They will send you home. That is the reality people like me lived with before the ACA and what we are facing once again. There are people who will die without continual treatment for cancer, diabetes, and so on, and this includes children and people of all backgrounds.

I will speak up for them and I will march every chance I get, because it’s what needs to be done. I am still alive and I have a voice. I will stand up for future generations of girls and minorities, who deserve better than what our society offers them today. We need to fight the darkness and stand up for what’s right. I believe in love and I want to make this a better world for future generations. Hope can be restored, if we look for it and work towards it. Yesterday was a good start. Compassion and empathy are the true measure of a person’s character and we are up against it right now. We are being tested. United we can answer the call and change the path we are on. I truly do believe this. Join me?

What Did You Learn Today?

Today I was out working in my backyard, cutting down invasive blackberries and pruning trees and roses. My dog Gertrude barked at people hanging out in the cemetery behind my house, as they drank beer and caroused, like they tend to do on sunny days. My newly adopted chicken, Geraldine, watched us from the chicken yard. I had previously contemplated letting her roam the yard freely, while leaving the gate open to her yard, so she could get food and water and have access to her coop. I decided it was the right time to let her out, while I was there, just so I could see how she would handle it.

There are very real fears and dangers attached to owning chickens, as well as the joys. I knew there were no gaps in the fence or gates, but I also knew there were ways that she could hop up onto things in the yard, if she really wanted to get out and escape. The other threat is predators – usually raccoons or large birds, like hawks. During the day, it’s not uncommon to see hawks in my neighborhood. Geraldine is a medium-sized chicken, so she hopefully wouldn’t be as appealing to hawks as smaller prey.Raccoons on the other hand, are bold and unafraid. I once had a nighttime face off with one in my backyard, even after I had closed my chicken coop for the night. It didn’t retreat until I picked up a log and threw it at it. No, I didn’t hit it, I just wanted it to back off and leave my chicken yard alone.

Midday, with me nearby, I knew she would be safe. I opened the gate and watched Geraldine cautiously step outside, while pecking at the grass. She wasn’t sure what to make of the dog, but otherwise, was really happy with her option to wander. As I kept working, I could occasionally hear her scratching for insects and kicking up grass. It was a happy sound and made me look up and smile. As I watched and listened to her, I couldn’t help but think about my other chickens, who had never been allowed to freely wander the yard. Part of the reason was that more than one chicken can destroy vegetable gardens and things pretty quickly. The other is that I had two Old English game hens who were much smaller than the full-sized chickens. One was the size of a pigeon. They would have been easy prey for a hawk.

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Geraldine and Gertrude (my dog)

I should explain that Nugget, the one who was the size of a pigeon, was a very special bird. She was found on the streets of Portland and was outgoing, talkative, sweet, and befriended anyone she met. She also ran my chicken yard with her head held high. She could just take a few hops towards anyone who was out of line and they would obey her. Tiny, but mighty. It’s hard to explain to some people, but as much as I love my other pets, she had built a tiny little nest in my heart and will forever live there. Recently, Nugget disappeared. I came home one evening, two weeks ago, and there clearly had been a disruption because none of my three chickens were in their coop. There were no feathers or signs of a predator attack.

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Nugget and I – studio portrait

In the past, when a raccoon had come through, Nugget always escaped into the cemetery behind my house and survived. She would hide and then in the morning reappear at the fence, asking to be let back in. This time, she didn’t come back. It’s been hard adjusting to having her gone, especially since there has been no closure. I hate to say it, but it would be easier to know that a predator had gotten her. Instead, there is a very real possibility that someone took her. Friends of mine helped me ask around and put up flyers, but no one knew anything. I was devastated. I’ll admit it, I don’t know when or if I will ever be okay with her disappearing.

I was texting with a friend who was checking in on me a few days after Nugget disappeared. I sat in my car, typing on my phone and openly weeping. I was realizing that day that I would probably have to move my two remaining chickens over to Sam’s house. My other game hen had become despondent without Nugget and it was in their best interest to integrate them with a new flock. We were discussing this when I told her, “She really was one of the loves of my life. At least she had a good life. It was time for her to move on. I think I’m being challenged to let go of her. I just have to redirect that love someplace else.”

My friend replied, “I think so too. Maybe you’ve been neglecting something else? Or yourself?” I thought about it and if there was any truth to that. I had been neglecting other things, mostly myself. We went on to talk about how change can be good. I don’t believe that Nugget was the reason I had been neglecting things in my life. Instead, I believe I was supposed to let her go, to embrace a change. She had come into my life at a time when we both needed each other. She needed a home and I needed to hear her talking in my backyard, to see her joyfully run over to the fence every time I was in the backyard, making my heart happy. Every day when I walk out into my yard, I look for her. I scan the cemetery and listen for her, hoping she will one day reappear. That said, I knew I needed to get out of the depressed state I was in.

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Mr. T and Nugget with Sam and I

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Mr. T, Nugget, and Marty Jr.

This week, another friend emailed me, telling me about a found chicken, thinking it might be Nugget. When I spoke with the woman who had the chicken, it was obvious it wasn’t her. She asked if I could take her, because she was not set up to keep a chicken. I hesitated for a second, but then said I would come and get her. I took my cat carrier and drove over to get the mystery chicken. As I entered the house, she told me she was a very sweet chicken and would let me pick her up. Sure enough, on her deck was a calm hen who let me pick her up and bring her home.

I put her in my chicken yard, not knowing what I was going to do with her. She was quiet and cooperative – easy and quite happy alone, which is not the norm for chickens. I had watched a documentary about Geraldine Ferraro a month or so earlier and told myself I would one day name a chicken after her. I knew I had found my Geraldine. I decided for now, I would keep her as an only chicken. She lets me pick her up at the end of the day, so I can lock her in the coop to keep her safe. She doesn’t fuss. She is laying eggs and clearly not stressed. And today, she was a perfect angel in my yard, as if she had lived there for years. She is even talking a bit, which is something I was missing.

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Geraldine and I

I watched her move around the yard and thought about life lessons. Everywhere around us, every day, are life lessons. What am I to learn from abruptly losing Nugget, only to gain Geraldine a week and a half later? Had Nugget taught me everything I could learn from her and then moved on? Was I supposed to bring this new being into my life, so that I could learn new things? Was it as simple as I rescued Nugget, gave her a good life, and now it was time for me to rescue another? I believe everything happening around us is an opportunity to experience things and learn. It may not be obvious or easy, and may break your heart, but what are you supposed to learn from it? Maybe you will choose to ignore the lesson, so it will keep returning to you in different forms. Maybe you’ll get it right the first time around.

I do think I was supposed to get off of my butt and stop being okay with things in my life that were making me feel down or sent me into bouts of depression. Yes, I am a positive, optimistic person, but I also go down the rabbit hole from time to time. I’m working on those things now. I’m still hopeful one day Nugget will reappear, as if nothing ever happened, but in my heart I know she is most likely gone for good. People will say, “but it’s just a chicken.” I was made to feel a bit extreme about putting out fliers and knocking on doors. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks – a connection to another living being is just that. Moving forward with Geraldine feels right for now. She needed me and I needed her. Every time I walked out to a silent, empty chicken yard, I felt sad. Now, I see her little face looking back at me and it is enough. More than enough. I’m looking forward to whatever she has to teach me and many more sunny days in the yard together.

A Day of Reflection (You Only Turn 48 Once)

Today is my birthday. The birthday wishes started last night via text and social media. I woke up to 68 birthday wishes on Facebook, which has now jumped to 127+. Seeing all of the well wishes and comments, and feeling the love, it’s priceless. It is beautiful, uplifting, and makes me realize how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people in my life who want to reach out to me today. This day also reminds me that my doctor told me that if I hadn’t been diagnosed and rushed into treatment, I probably would not have survived another year. Above all things today, I am extremely grateful.

Last week I found myself trying to answer the question, “What are you doing for your birthday?” I looked at my calendar and realized there was nothing planned. It was a bit odd, to not have anything to do, after the crazy cancer fundraiser/birthday party that was planned last year. In contrast, today has been a quiet and uneventful day, which has made me reflect on where I was last year and how much things have changed.

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My 2014 birthday party.

I look back at the photographs of me, bald and smiling, being embraced and held up by my friends, family, and community. It makes me realize how fortunate I am, both for the people I am surrounded by, but also to be here today, feeling relatively healthy. I am asked often by people, when the subject of my treatment last year comes up, “Are you in remission?” or “How are things?” (which usually leads to people asking if I’m done with treatment). I welcome these questions and know that it simply means people want to know how my health is. I look at their faces and see how awkward it is for them to ask me about it. I see the worry, the concern. I tell them, as I’m now telling you, my doctor says my type of cancer, aggressive endometrial cancer that had traveled out of the uterus to the lymph nodes, will usually come back within 2-3 years if chemo didn’t zap all of the remaining cells. If I make it past the 3 year mark, it probably won’t return. I finished chemo in September of last year. I’m looking forward to celebrating my one year anniversary and every time I see my oncologist for my 3 month checkups, he says time passing without any changes is what we want.

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2014 birthday love from friends and family.

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Making a wish and blowing out the candles.

I should tell you that I am rare, both for being diagnosed with endometrial cancer so young and for not having any blood markers. That means they cannot draw blood to check to see if the cancer has returned. Instead, I am the gauge. It scared me a bit when my doctor told me that. If I start to feel “off”, I am supposed to report it immediately, so a CAT scan can be performed to see what’s going on inside. We are trying to avoid exposing me to more radiation, unless necessary, so we are erring on the side of caution. To be honest, I really don’t think about this on a daily basis. I don’t want to. If I did, it would affect my life and my peace of mind. Instead, I choose to wake up and be grateful. I look for what makes me happy and I focus on that instead. Focusing on the possible return of a cancer diagnosis seems like it would be exactly what cancer cells would want. I won’t give it to them.

Simplicity is something I appreciate these days. For my birthday my wife asked what I wanted for brunch (blueberry pancakes, veggie sausage, and fresh peaches). We took the dogs for a little ride in our new/used car that has made my life much less stressful. I went and got a haircut. For dinner we shared my freebie birthday veggie burger from Red Robin and a vanilla milkshake and then went to a place we hadn’t been in a while and enjoyed a soak and sauna under the stars. While I was there, sitting in silence and staring at the big dipper, I tried to make a list of things I’m grateful for in my head. I came to the conclusion that it would take an entire blog post to say everything I would want to say and even then, I’d miss something and want to revise it later. Instead, I will just say that I am grateful for everything around me that makes up my life. You can’t have the good without the bad or the light without the dark. To me, the point of waking up every morning is to keep breathing, trying, learning, and moving forward.

Today I am 48 years old. I am married to someone who would do most anything to make my life better or easier. We know what unconditional love is and appreciate one another. We know what it is to endure a life-threatening situation together while keeping each other smiling and sane. I run two businesses doing what I love – creating art and helping people with health and nutritional support. Both things make others (and myself) happy and I get to work with people I genuinely like. I “beat cancer”.  I am surrounded by love and compassion. People in my life are constantly rooting for me and that feels pretty darned good. I feel comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life and I like who I am. It’s taken me most of my life to get here and I am not finished. We are all a work in progress. I believe we have to do the work to accept ourselves, to find our purpose, and then to give of ourselves with kindness and gratitude. The rest will come.

I will never take for granted that I am still here, alive and kicking. I’m thinking today of two beloved friends we lost to cancer. Both of these people contributed so much to our community and their presence is greatly missed. It’s hard to process it all. I really wish we could be celebrating together today. Cancer is a jerk. I am painfully aware that every day is a gift. I am thankful that they graced this world with their presence and left a mark on so many hearts, including mine. Happy Birthday indeed. ❤

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Birthday self-portrait, 2015