Sunday, November 30, 2014

50 Thankfuls

Today is the last day of November and the first day of Advent. Here in the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving in November. Many of my friends spend the month enumerating 30 Days of Thanksgiving in their social media posts, so I think this blog post is only fitting.

I turned 50 in July. I chose to make it a week-long event so that I could celebrate with loved ones. I was lucky enough to have two birthday parties. Each of them equally special because of the friends and family who were there. One of my sweetest friends that I’ve known for over 30 years gave me a card that explained “How to Turn 50.” One of the items is to make a list of 50 things you’re thankful for. So here goes:
1.     God.

2.     My faith. While it’s not always strong, it has always been there.

3.     My husband. He’s been there through it all. He has lived our marriage vows. I love him more today than I did yesterday.

4.     My parents. Not only did they give me life, they gave me adventures that can never be replaced.

5.     A road trip that took us from Connecticut to Oregon.

6.     My siblings. I have an older brother and a younger sister. Each is a friend. And I share a unique bond with each of them. Individually. There is nothing else like the bond I have with my brother. And there is nothing else like the bond I share with my sister.

7.     My cousins. They are my “other siblings.”

8.     My grandparents. I am fortunate enough to known all four of my biological grandparents. In addition to that, my father’s step-mother will always be Grandma Ellie.

9.     My in-laws. I actually like them. I have a friend in my mother-in-law. My father-in-law has been a father when I needed one after my own father passed away.

10.  Extended family. Whether related by blood or “adopted” along the way, you know who you are.

11.  My friends. I have friends that I have known since childhood. You know my secrets. I have others who are newer, but still equally loved.

12.  My BFFs over the years. One I’ve known since I was six. Another I met when we were in the 5th grade. Another I met in college. And still another I met in Law School.

13.  My animal companions. I grew up in a house filled with animals.

14.  Alexander Puff – the first cat who shared our home with me and my husband

15.  Horatio – cat number two. That one that touched my soul and I will never be the same.

16.  Maria – cat number three. While my husband is her “person” she took the time to take care of me while I was sick.

17.  Kiwi – the delightful kitty who has never grown up. We call her our forever kitten.

18.  Music.

19.  Playing the flute.

20.  Being a part of “Trinity Unlimited.”

21.  Drama. And Drama Club in high school.

22.   The ability to read. Which lead to:

23.  My education.

24.  My law degree.

25.  My law license. It took a little extra time, but was worth it.

26.  And along the lines of being able to read: my Bible.

27.  My career. I am fortunate enough to have a job that combines my experience, knowledge and passion.

28.  Consulting. I had the privilege of working at many different colleges and meeting many different people. And some lifelong friendships were made along the way.

29.  My colleagues. I work (and have worked) with some of the greatest people I know. They are caring, compassionate, and truly live what they believe.

30.  My home.

31.  A beautiful fireplace.

32.  A comfortable bed.

33.  A large refrigerator.

34.  An indoor grill.

35.  An in-home “gym.”

36.  Training for the Avon Walk.

37.  My history. I have no regrets because I would not be who I am today without the experiences I’ve had.

38.  Seeing a man not only land on the moon, but step on the moon.

39.  Living in the U.S. While we have our problems, it is still a country that allows me freedom.

40.  Travel. I have been as far west as Hawaii, as far east as England, as far north as Alaska and Canada, and as far south as Venezuela. There are still places to see on my bucket list, and I am lucky enough to think I may get to see them.

41.  Good food.

42.  My husband loves to cook.

43.  Enough money to cover our expenses.

44.  Television. Yes, I’m a TV junky. And I love having “on demand” media through my cable provider, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

45.  Social media. Not only am I able to stay connected with family and friends, I have reconnected with very special friends from high school.

46.  Fiber crafts – being able to knit, crochet, and do counted cross stitch.

47.  Of course, my health.

48.  Actually being 50.

49.  The twists and turns of fate (which brings me back to #1).

50.  And most of all, this journey.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Friday, November 21, 2014

National Caregiver Month

Dedicated to the true caregivers in my life.
Caregiver –

-       a person who gives help and protection to someone, such as a child, an older person, or someone who is sick. [Merriam-Webster]

-       a person who cares for someone who is sick or disabled. [The Free Dictionary]

-       a person who cares for someone requiring support due to a disability, frailty, mental health problem, learning disability or old age [Wikipedia]

I have never thought of myself as a caregiver. I am a friend who can, and is able to, help out another friend in need. However, I was recently referred to as a “caregiver” by a volunteer at the hospital. At first I was startled by the description and almost protested. But I have learned to just accept the labels those around us have given me. Even one of the doctors refers to me as Linda’s daughter.
My mother often refers to me and my sister as her caregivers. I guess. I suppose. I think of my mother as my mother. And the time I get to spend with her is precious and limited due to our geographic distance. I am lucky enough to live within driving distance and we get to see each other about once a month.
But when I stop and think about my friends who are true caregivers I realize how little I know about their reality. My friend Linda (from law school) cares for her husband, Peter, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. My friend Tina is her mother’s primary contact for all of her medical needs. Even my own cousin is the caregiver for her parents; living with them so that their daily needs are met.
November is National Caregivers Month here in the United States. I encourage you to look around and see who in your community is a caregiver. Is there something you can do to lessen their burden? Maybe stay with their parent(s) or spouse so that they can have an afternoon at the spa to get a massage. Maybe make a meal for the family. Maybe do their grocery shopping and errands one day. Maybe clean their house. It doesn’t have to be any of these things, but you have a gift that you can share. Think about how you can use your gift to give that caregiver a well-deserved respite.
I still don’t think of myself as a caregiver. I think of myself as someone who can give of my time to help a caregiver. What can you do this month? Better yet, can you give of your time once a month? Caregivers need more than the month of November.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Older Than Disco

I’ve been reading a lot of “lists” about lifelong friends, soul mates, and BFFs. But they all reference 21st century friendships. The lists include Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. I’d like to take a moment and tell you what a true lifelong friendship looks like. I’ve taken the liberty of modifying several of these lists.
Let me start by telling you that my literal lifelong friend and I have known each other for 44 years. That’s right. Long before the turn of the century. Before social media. Even before cable TV and VCRs. So here goes:

1.     The fact that no matter how much time or distance separates us, we always pick up where we left off when we get together again.

2.     She has befriended my parents on a first-name basis. After all, we were adopted into each other’s family.

3.     We are able to communicate with just a look; finish each other’s sentence; or state a one-line movie quote from the 1970’s that has each other burst into laughter because we “understand” what that means. Yes, all the inside jokes are still funny.

4.     She has witnessed fashion faux pas and bad haircuts, and she still hung around. In fact, our friendship is “older than disco.”

5.     We hung out together when our parents had to drive us to the movies and before we could buy alcohol.

6.     We were there for each other through that one heartbreak that we made too big a deal over. And the one that we are embarrassed to admit we ever dated.

7.     We are comfortable with silence, and personal space is meaningless. We can sit cuddled up together on the couch not saying a word because we are just happy to be in each other’s presence.

8.     We never keep tabs on who owes what in terms of drinks or gifts. At the end of the day we know “it will all work out in the end.”

9.     Our husbands watch us with a bemused look on their face because we have known each other longer than we’ve known them. Plus, they are getting a look inside of who we were as children; someone that they will never truly know.

10.  She has never judged me when I made a bad decision. She was there to support me through my darkest times. She loves me no matter what.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Opposite Ends

On October 30, 2007 I sat in a surgeon’s office as she told me and my husband that I had breast cancer. Seven years later I found myself at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with my friends Linda and her daughter Tina as we navigated our way through appointments and difficult conversations. I watched as both nurses and doctors explained options and prognosis in neutral tones; explanations that palliative care does not cure. It only delays the inevitable.

I was impressed by the neurological oncologist who gently examined Linda and then discussed what was happening. While his voice was calm his face betrayed his concern. He listened with his eyes when Tina and I nodded our agreement to one of his suggestions.
The team is made up of at least three oncology doctors, one who is the primary team leader. The team also consists of two oncology nurses. One nurse is a nurse practitioner who works with the primary oncologist. She also works with my oncologist, so I have known her for almost seven years. She sat with Linda; completely focused on her while she delivered the most difficult news. In the end we all knew that the decision to move forward was the direction we will go. We will continue with the next round of treatments.
Before the nurse practitioner left Tina asked her how she could possibly do her job every day. As she shared that every patient is different, every journey and outcome unique, I was struck by the fact that in that room, at that moment, Nurse had two of her patients with her. Patients who are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Being involved in Linda’s life has changed me. I still love the pink ribbon and I smile at the “Save the Tata’s” teams during the Avon Walk because they bring hope. However, while my story is one of healing and hope, Linda’s is not. For me, it is no longer about saving a woman’s breasts. It is about saving a woman’s life.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.