How to Love a Cancer Survivor

561471_4120740171826_1729181518_nIn 2009 my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Five years later, he’s cured, healthy, cancer-free.  And yet, he will always, forever, be a cancer survivor; and we will always forever be a survivor family.  The side effects will always be there, and that feeling of mortality will never go away.  Over the years we have learned to live with this new life with a fair amount of adjustment and a lot of patience on all accounts.  Every cancer is different, every survivor is different, but I think we can share a few things about loving a cancer survivor.

It’s Not Your Cancer:  I know that cancer effects your whole family, and we attack it as a team, but at the end of the day… this is not your disease.  There’s been countless times when I’ve watched Ed pop open another beer or order a burger and fries and I know that there’s no way that’s a good idea.  There are moments when I’ve wanted to chime in, make a suggestion, tell him to suck it up or take it easy.  And yet, I keep my mouth shut.

Because it’s not my cancer, they’re not my symptoms, it’s not my health.  I’m not the one that lost a foot of my colon.  I’m not the one that needs to monitor my food, and schedule my day, and deal with the discomfort.  It’s been a struggle for Ed to live a normal life with no health problems for 30+ years and then wake up from surgery with a host of chronic side effects and health problems.  I can have empathy, I can try to put myself in Ed’s shoes.  But, at the end of the day, I’ll never know how he feels.  My concern is appreciated, I think.  My advice, maybe not so much.  And sometimes, the survivor just wants things to be normal again.  To ignore the discomfort and the ramifications of making poor decisions.

That is, unquestionably, unequivocally, their decision to make.  You will never know what it feels like to live in their skin.  Your job as a partner is to be there for the journey to hang in there and love them unconditionally.

Things Will Never Be the Same:  The cancer is gone, all the scans are negative, it seems like a distant memory, and yet things will never be the same.  And, it’s not just the side effects, the ones that can be chronic and life-altering.  It’s the way things are just different then they were before. How a stomach bug can become a much bigger thing.  How the fear of reoccurrance is always there.  How you hold onto health differently then you did before.

So, You Might as Well Laugh About It:  For us, humor has been everything.  Empathy is huge, it’s important to try to picture yourself in their shoes.  But, it’s also important to have some levity; to realize the fact that things could be so much worse.  We try to laugh as much as possible, to lighten the mood, to make a joke about it.  The kids are in on the act.  They understand that dad was sick, and now he’s not, but his gas really stinks sometimes.  It just is what it is, we might as well laugh about it, it’s vastly better than the alternative.

And, Celebrate Life:  The fact is, Ed’s still with us.  We’re lucky and grateful and so blessed that he caught his cancer early and has amazing preventative care.  We’re lucky that the kids will be screened early and we’ll pay close attention to their health.  And, we hope that others can get the same quality care.

That’s why we started The Get Your Rear in Gear 5K three years ago.  We decided that we wanted to celebrate life, raise awareness, collect money for the cause.  My brother brought the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K to Boston to celebrate Ed’s health and every year more and more people join us to celebrate their loved ones.

And this year, we’ll celebrate again, on November 8th in South Boston, with our friends and family and hundreds of other people.  Please join us if you can or please donate to the cause (The Bum Rushers).  Please join us in celebrating Ed’s rear for another year!!!

http://events.getyourrearingear.com/site/TR/Boston2/General?team_id=14832&pg=team&fr_id=2000

Where were you when… (one year later)

IMG_1043Today I’m reposting my post from April 15th, 2013.  

It’s been a long year, full of so many amazing moments for myself, my family, and for my city.  And yet, as we come upon the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, I find myself struggling with the stories and the memories.  I remember that I didn’t cry.  There was so much coverage, it was so overwhelming, but I didn’t cry.  Until that one day, a week after the bombing when a little story on facebook caught me as I was drying off from my shower.  

And now, a year later, I find that I’m crying all the time.  I cried when I saw an old friend in a photo essay of the bombing victims.  I cried when I saw my neighbors interviewed as they run for the little Dorchester boy who died.  I cry for all the people who’s lives will never be the same.  And, I cry for the pride I feel for this city that I love so very much.

Today I was working in my yard when the bombs exploded two miles from my house.  I said to my eight year old.  Listen, pay attention, because some day someone will ask you where you were when the sounds of birds and spring were overcome by the sounds of sirens and helicopters.

On September 11th, I was in the Brockton High School cafeteria watching the coverage on the little TV in the corner with Kevin standing over my back shoulder strong and sturdy.

For Oklahoma City, I was in my apartment on Main St. in Worcester.  Looking forward to parties and Spree Day and all the celebration that should come with graduation.

For the shuttle explosion, I was in 7th grade, watching the coverage from Mr. Collin’s classroom.

But, then, on the day Ed asked me to marry him, I was sitting in EVOO eating molten chocolate cake on a pool of toasted marshmallow.

The day of our wedding was grey and misty, but the skies opened just long enough to take that perfect picture with my beloved Boston in the background.

When I found out I was pregnant, I drove to my husband, working at the house on Fuller Street, to show him the pink lines on the pregnancy test.

The day I went into labor I said to my Brookline spinning class, “Ladies, that’s it I won’t be seeing you for a few weeks.”

Let’s remember the good times as carefully and clearly as we remember the horrid.  Let’s hold onto the best of memories and let go of  the worst.  Let’s not let those who bargain in fear and hatred win.

One Year Later

photoAbout three years ago, a dear friend told he was going to start blogging.  “I’ll read a book a week and then blog about it for 52 weeks.  You should start blogging too.”  I laughed.  I laughed really hard.

“Sure, I’ll blog,” I said. “It’ll be called 52 Reasons Why I Don’t Have Time to Blog.  This is what I’ll write…  My four year old has worms and I have to pick up the prescription; A city bus broke down in Brigham Circle and I sat behind it for 73 minutes; a freshman told her science teacher to F off.”

But, check it out.  Fifty-two weeks later and I found time to blog.  Every. Single. Week.  And, I had something to share, and something to say.  It wasn’t always easy.  Some weeks I had no clue, some weeks I pressed delete and started all over, some weeks tears rolled down my cheeks the whole time I typed.  But, I did it.  Every thursday, no matter where I was, I took a moment to write it all down.

The lesson is one about time.  And priorities.  And commitment.  That, if you put your mind to something, no matter how daunting, you can accomplish what you set out to do.  That it’s important to make time for your own endeavors.  That you shouldn’t use your kids, your job, your mood, as an excuse to not reach your goals.

This has been a good year.  Dare  I say, a great year.  There were moments, definite moments, when it didn’t feel so great.  But, when I look back on the pictures, and the experiences, and the writing, I’m amazed by how much has changed.  And how happy I am.  How much I’ve grown, and how much I’ve learned about myself.

Cry Baby

1398793_10201542151850657_1338933224_oMovies that make my six year old cry:  Wreck it Ralph, Up, Real Steal, Home Alone, Transformers, any Toy Story movie, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and Return of the Jedi (But, Mom… Why did Luke’s daddy have to die??!??)  Add to that… any mention of the Muppet Movie makes Jalen well up.  In addition, some episodes of Pokemon and Ninjago, a few commercial featuring horses and puppies, the closing credits of Legend of Zelda, and the song Wrecking Ball.

J’s just a sensitive soul.  Has been since the day he was born.  From the earliest moments, a harsh word would make him reach for his eyes and try to push the tears back in.  We’re not talking wailing crying here, or temper tantrums, but soul rending, quiet, sad tears.

At the outset, this would drive us crazy.  “Come on J, toughen up!”  “Don’t be such a baby!”  “Hold it together, kid!”  But, we rapidly learned this parenting strategy was not working.

By no means is Jalen an unhappy child.   Quite the opposite, he’s one of the happiest, funniest kids I know.  He loves people and loves talking and loves playing and making jokes.  But, Jalen has big feelings.  Jalen doesn’t cry like a baby, he doesn’t cry because he’s not tough, it’s quite the opposite.

Jalen cries “grown up tears.”  Jalen cries for loss, regret, true friendship, love, family, raw human emotion.  He cries when friends are mean to each other, or when someone loses a loved one.  He understands the feelings behind these actions and is mature enough to know what is heartbreaking.

How do you embrace the emotions of a sensitive little boy?  Boys are supposed to be hard.  Boys aren’t supposed to cry.  How do we equip our child to have healthy feelings and good self-control?

More recently, we’ve tried something new.  We’re teaching Jalen to not be embarrassed by his tears.  To know that it’s safe to cry around family and friends.  To know that people will appreciate his sensitivity and compassion.  To tell him that some day he will be a great Daddy, because he will understand his child’s feelings.

But, we’re also teaching him when it’s appropriate to weep.  And when it’s not.  How to understand what triggers the tears, and how to expect them and prepare for the emotion. How to explain to grown ups why he’s crying without feeling embarrassed. And how to hold in the tears when it’s not the right time.

This has been good for J.  He’s learned to laugh about his sensitivity, and hold it together when he needs to.  When I heard they showed Wreck It Ralph in his K2 classroom, I was concerned. but then J beamed at me and said, “And, Mom, I made it through the whole thing!!!”  And, he’s able to tell us when enough is enough, or sit through the tough parts with tears in his eyes.  He’s aware enough to know that he’s not ready for E.T., and relishes sitting on my lap and bawling together through Toy Story 3.  He knows how to talk about his feelings, and put words to his emotions and he’s able to come out the other side cleansed and happy.

As a grown woman, this is all so fascinating to me.  I’m a woman who keeps my emotions under wraps, who prides herself on holding it together.  And this sweet little boy has taught me so much about emotions.  He’s taught me how to embrace your feelings, how to have a good cry, and how tears don’t show weakness but tremendous strength and compassion.

Loving the Skin You’re In

578114_10153465840730484_249916913_nI’m embarrassed by my body.  But, not in the way you’d expect.  I’ve worked hard on my fitness, and in fact, have made a career of it.  And yet, when people give me a complement about my body, I feel ashamed.  And, my go to response is, “I get paid to be in shape.”  Fact is, I often feel judged for being in shape.  People’s comments are often not complementary, somehow taking an accusatory tone.  There’s a suggestion that I should feel guilty for being strong.  That I am pompous and self-centered, and stuck up because I am in shape.  No one would ever accuse a man of these things if he spent time at the gym, sculpting his body.  He’d just be hot and attractive and self-assured.  As a woman, mother, wife we don’t give ourselves the right to be proud of our bodies.  Somehow, in my mind, if  I tell people I get paid for it, I have an excuse for dedicating my effort, time and focus to my health.

But, in fact, I’m not fit because someone pays me.  That’s categorically and philosophically untrue.  Firstly, my employer doesn’t pay me to be fit.  In fact, they pay me to help other women develop a great relationship with their body and their fitness.  They pay me to welcome new women to the gym and help steward members towards a better relationship with their own body.  But, secondly, and more importantly, I’m not fit because I’m paid to do so.  I got in shape and I stay in shape because I love it.  Because I have joy in my activity and I love being in my body.

My fitness is very personal to me, and yet I often feel judged for how I look.  People assume, that I sacrifice for my fitness. That I don’t enjoy life, that I don’t eat cookies, that I’m selfish because I find time for my own health instead of putting my family first every moment.  There’s an assumption that a fit woman is vain, rigid, selfish, unhappy.  That a mother and wife can’t be a great, liberated, altruistic, joyful person and still be in great shape.

I’ll admit that I am lucky enough to have an unique relationship to fitness.  That I rarely have an excuse not to work out.  That, it is my responsibility to show up at the gym four times a week and get after it.  I’m not embarrassed that I taught class on the day I gave birth… twice.  And, very few husbands would care for his newborn so that his wife could go back to the work that she loves.  Regardless, staying in shape is not merely a job for me, it’s one of the best parts of my day.  Every day.

Every woman has the right to love their body.  To take the time to feel their body get strong. To look in the mirror and see something that they love.  To see improvement and growth in their strength and speed.  To have pride in their health.  And yet so many woman feel guilty for going to the gym, feel too busy to take a walk, feel too needed to take five minutes for a sun salutation.

Fitness is so good for you, and what’s good for you is good for the people around you. The worst days can be turned around with a great workout.  Sweating energizes you and raises your endorphins.  A long run or walk help to focus your brain and organize your thoughts.   And, everyone benefits from taking time for themselves to focus on their own goals and health.

For me, I’m entirely committed to my health and fitness.  Through my biggest struggles, fitness has been there for me.  From quitting smoking (so, so many years ago), to the first weeks of raising a preemie, to supporting a husband with cancer, to starting a new career, to turning 40, fitness has been there for me.  It’s something that’s all mine.  And, something I can share with others.  It clears my head, fills me with energy, and gives me immeasurable joy.  I love sharing this passion with others, with my friends, with my family, and with my children.

But, more than anything, I love sharing this joy with people who are new to this world.  With women who aren’t sure where to start and aren’t sure they can do it and don’t believe they will love it.  More than anything, I hope that I can share this hope and joy with more women so that we can all share in the pride and joy of loving the skin we’re in.

Just a Lil’ Bit

photoThis was one of those weeks.  A week where everything would have been so much better if everything was just a lil’ bit easier.  If only there was parking in front of X’s school on that rainy day.  If only there were grapes at Trader Joes.  If only I had one coffee filter instead of a paper towel.  If only I had packed a shirt for the gym.  If only everything was just slightly easier my life would be infinitely improved.

The ripple effect that’s caused by slight inconveniences can start to feel catastrophic.  Where no pita at the supermarket, leads to having to shuffle your schedule to go to a different market, that leads to getting stuck behind that trash truck, that leads to being late for that meeting, that leads to you feeling like shit about your life.  Damn, that craving for a sandwich in a pocket!!

But, is it the little hiccups that spiral out of control, or is it how we look at these stumbling blocks.  Because on the flip side, things aren’t really all that bad.  Thank god I have a car and the time that allows me to run around town hitting up three different supermarkets.  Thank god there’s meetings to be late to.  Thank god there’s responsibilities and duties and friends that fill up my life with passion and love every day.

And, then I wake up this morning, and the kids get out of the house with no drama.  And Xavier tells me he thinks I’m funny.  And there’s parking right in front of the bakery and I have quarters for the meter.  And I get to have a cup of coffee with a lovely new contact.  And things all of the sudden don’t look so bad any longer.  All of the sudden the little things are going my way, and it just feels like smooth sailing.  For just a lil’ bit.

2013 Should’ve Sucked…

IMG_0826It started with a blizzard.  A horrible storm that rendered our city paralyzed for nearly a week.  By the time the snow had melted, my whole life had changed.  And it should have sucked.  I should have sat in my pajamas, watching soap operas, crying into my sleeve.  But, somehow I didn’t.  I should have been hopeless, and angry, and bitter.  And, for a time I was.  But, somehow, as the year comes to an end, I can comfortably say that this has been the most important, exciting, invigorating, and (dear I say) fun year of my life.  I almost don’t want to see it go.

I’ve spent the last 18 years of my life throwing everything into my career.  It was nothing to me to wait for the 111 Bus under the bridge at 10:00pm on a cold Tuesday night, or answer texts that woke me up at 3:00 in the morning, or drag myself to work with a blazing fever because I just had to be at that meeting.  Work made me feel important.  Work made me feel essential.

What would I commit my energy to if I didn’t have Work.  I mean work with a capital W.  The 9 to bedtime daily grind.  The meeting on top of meeting work.  The “I hate it when my job gets in the way of my job” work.  The” let me check my e-mail one more time” work.  How would I spend my time? Where would I find my worth?

imageWho would have thought that my favorite childhood movie would inform my adult life so much.  Just like Dorothy, “if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”  Amazing.  It was there all along.  And I didn’t even know I was missing it.

This was the year I got to know my children better.  The year I drove them to baseball practice and helped them with their homework.  This was the year we made dinner together as a family and talked about our days.  This was the year, that I sat on the back porch with my love drinking a glass of wine and listening to music.  This was the year when vacation was really a vacation.  When I lost track of time and turned off my phone.

im1.shutterfly-2This was the year of fun and adventure.  The year of saying, “yes.”  The year of climbing rocks, and trees, and mountains.  This was the year of baking treats and doing projects and having time.  The year of attacking new endeavors and catching up with the things I love.

 

This was the year that I learned about balance.  That I can find meaningful work without working my fingers to the bone.  That my skills and passions can be best utilized when I have the time to choose my projects.  This was the year that I learned that my true worth doesn’t lie with my titles or my responsibilities.  This was the year that I learned that there’s no place like home.

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