I started this blog with the intention of sharing fun things that I was learning and doing, along with a little insight into "Life after Divorce" and my subsequent Relocation to California. I wanted to send a message of hope to women going through similar circumstances, maybe wondering what do do next after such a Major Life Event. Because maybe they had friends who chose the "other half" of the relationship, as I did. Maybe they had family members who were confused and hurt after someone they considered to be a member of their family was suddenly extracted from their lives. Maybe they were feeling guilty that despite all of their best intentions, they just couldn't make it work. Or maybe they were the half of the couple left standing there, wondering, "Wait, what just happened?" I wanted to reassure fellow divorced gals that they'd get through it and be happy again. Because I was living proof of Life After Divorce. Right?
Then, a couple of months into blogging, I suddenly had a lot more to write about. A lot more to learn. A lot more to share. Suddenly, I needed reassuring that it was all going to be okay, that I would get through it, and be happy again. I wondered, "What does Life After Brain Cancer feel like?" I had already survived the Big D and Leaving Friends and Family in search of A New Start in California, so I was sure there must be life on the other side of a silly old brain tumor! Right?
The last couple of years have certainly presented a series of hurdles, from further divorce drama to crappy cancer to the latest blow: bankruptcy. Jeez, what's next, Universe? When could I get on with it, already?
But I was starting to notice a trend: Stuff just keeps happening! One obstacle after another, then another? Get to "the other side" of one hurdle and there's something else waiting? Wait a minute - that can't be right! Could it?
So it struck me that maybe I had it backwards: You don't get through Stuff to get to Life, but Stuff is what makes Life. Maybe instead of looking at it as a series of hurdles to overcome, why not think of it as all just ONE CRAZY EXPERIENCE. Sort of a winding, connect-the-dots path, leading me from one (sometimes BIG) experience to the next; ultimitely writing the story of my life, creating the ever-evolving, new-and-improved, latest version of ME. Right!
So I hate to break it to everybody, but Stuff is part of Life, and Life, well, it just continues. As people have begun to ask me, "How's Life After Cancer?" and "How does it feel to be Cancer-Free?", I get a little weirded out. I mean, the "After" implies something is Over. Done. The End. But Cancer is a chapter of the story of my life and the story continues. It's a part of who I am, a dot on my winding path, and will never be something that never happened.
Life after Divorce? Life after Cancer? Life after Bankruptcy? There is always life after anything and everything. Because as it turns out, it's all LIFE, and it's up to us to choose how to LIVE it. I choose to live in humility, health, and HAPPINESS. With a side of rainbows and a chocolate-covered cherry on top!
This weekend marks the "Birthday" of our fabulous feline friend, Truly. Behold, the story of that day:
It was the Saturday before Mother's Day, 2009. I'd been home from the hospital about a week since my brain cancer diagnosis.
There was no adjustment period, it was as though someone had flipped a switch; priorities instantly rearranged themselves. It was Time To Take Care of Myself and it was a full-time position. For Boyfriend, too.
Which is what we were doing that lovely spring morning: Boyfriend and I were sitting on the deck drinking our morning tea, enjoying the scenery, sunshine and fresh air. We noticed a tabby cat come around the neighbor's house, stalking a bird. I reached for my camera, but the sudden movement took the cat's attention away from her prey for a moment. She looked back to the bird, but it was gone. As was my photo-op. Suddenly the cat's eyes lit up, and she bounded over to us, jumping right up on the deck to introduce herself.
Hi! I'm your new cat!
"Well, hello, little one," said Boyfriend, and we reached down to stroke her her tiger-striped coat. She purred with enthusiasm as she rubbed against our legs and jumped up on our laps. I'd never met a cat so instantly sweet and friendly. "I wonder who she belongs to...," I thought aloud.
Why, you, of course! Silly humans!
As we continued our introductions, we couldn't help but notice how bony her little body was under her soft fur. We hadn't seen her around before - could she be a stray? Left to fend for herself in the woods? "Where do you live, little one?" questioned Boyfriend.
Right here - I'm home!
It was already warm and the weather had been hot all week, so I fetched the little cat a bowl of water, which she proceeded to lap up. Just as we were considering breaking open a can of chicken for her, something caught her eye and she leapt off the deck...
...and we turned just in time to watch her skillfully catching and downing a lizard! Nothing finicky about this feline, I thought, and what a hunter! She was clearly in need of groceries, so back in the house I went to get some chicken...
Humans are so easy to train!
We had been talking about getting a cat, but that was BBT - Before Brain Tumor. The whole world was different now. Everything was different. Nothing mattered, but suddenly everything did. Up was down. Black was white. Needless to say, taking on any uneccessary responsibility, such as choosing and caring for a new pet, had been removed from the New To-Do List. We didn't have time for any more responsibility...
You're not getting it...
But the Universe had another plan, and the cat chose us. Here was this spunky, sweet, starving, little bundle of love in need of a home. Literally falling into our laps! But why us?
Because you need me!
Just when we were contemplating where to keep our little friend safe while we made sure she wasn't one of the neighbors', she jumped off of our laps and trotted to the back door. She stood up and pawed at the door, right underneath the handle. After the latched door didn't budge, she sat down, facing it, and turned her little face to look back over her shoulder at us. Her perplexed expression seemed to ask, "Um, should we go inside?"
Humans can be a little slow to get the message, even the smart ones!
Suddenly we were struck by the blatant fact before us; here was a fur-covered, bursting-with-love, cat-shaped friend, staring up at us, with nowhere else to go. We needed her as much as she seemed to need us, and what were we waiting for, anyway? So inside we all went, a happy family of three ever since.
We named her Truly because we believe there are truly no accidents. That she was truly meant to be our cat, and that she truly appeared at exactly the right time: Just when we needed an on-call nurse, healer, and furry friend. And if the timing of her appearance in our lives weren't enough, it didn't take us long to determine she knew better than us what we needed; whether it be cuddling, warmth, love, someone to talk to, distraction from work or pain, or comic relief!
Don't forget about all the mice I catch...
Oh, right, and she's a terrific mouser - a real pro.
Thank YOU, Truly.
Note: We live off of Paradise Road, in the National Forest above Santa Barbara. None of our neighbors had ever seen her before, so we gather that she may have been dropped off to fend for herself in the wild. We have a lot of wildlife here, including raccoons, fox, wild pigs, mountain lions, bobcats, and wild turkeys. Truly sits on our screen porch and watches the turkeys go by nearly every day, but shows no desire to go after them. And she is completely disinterested in going outside. Happy to have her "wild" days behind her, she is a very contented housecat and feline healer!
I find it perfectly appropriate that Santa Barbara seems to be having the most cleansing powerwash of a Super Rainstorm today on the first day of Spring 2011. Seeing as how there's not much to do outside today, I'll sit inside, cozied up to the fire in my little cabin in the woods, listen to the rain on the roof (in the bucket under the skylight, too) and reflect on the messages of the changing season and cleansing rain.
Such a magnificent metaphor, Spring is, with the cleaning, renewal, rebirth, spring showers nourishing new growth, and fresh starts. I've been having a similar experience within myself, as persistent positivity continues to pay off in the way of increased opportunities thus far in 2011.
I'm preparing for my own rebirth of sorts as I approach my "cancer-versary". April marks two years since my brain cancer diagnosis, and while I continue monthly chemo as a precautionary measure, that nasty old tuber thankfully remains missing, nowhere to be found, in any of my scans since the December 2, 2010 MRI that had us all asking, "Where'd it go?" Best day ever...
So even though the posting has been light here on Girlbert.com, it simply means that I've had other things to do beside dwelling on that silly old tumor that isn't there! I'm finding myself getting wrapped up in other activities, you know, the stuff of life? Finding myself less hindered by health concerns (and the nasty anxiety that comes with them), I'm getting a fresh start with a new version of normal. Opportunities abound in 2011! It goes something like this...
I'm learning new things: taking watercolor and yoga classes at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. So important to keep my brain taking in new information, my mind happy, and my body active; as I continue on my healing journey.
I'm getting back on the horse: riding, teaching, and training. Very important that a horse girl have horses to ride, pamper, and learn from. Many opportunities to do just that have recently presented themselves, making me think I could find work doing what I love, just as soon as I'm ready!
I'm gaining control over my financial situation: tackling my ongoing credit issues and thinking about what kind of work I can do that will supplement our income.
I'm going places: I'm looking forward to my first trip abroad this week - I'll be traveling to England with my Mom to visit my brother for the next two weeks! I'm flying to Chicago first, then Mom and I leave the next day for London. A couple of days there with my bro and then we're taking the train to Paris for the weekend! The second weekend we'll get to see Stonehenge, which has long been on my "Must See Before I Die" list! I'm bursting with excitement about getting spend time my parents and brother, but I'm over-the-top-busting-at-the-seams-giddy about seeing England and Paris! Lifetime opportunity courtesy of my amazing parents. Love you guys!
I'm making more time for social activities: Boyfriend and I are making a point to take ourselves out for "Date Nights" after two years of putting "Us" on the backburner for my physical health. I'm making new friends through all of my classes, support groups and horse activities; and reconnecting with old friends, too. Interacting with people and putting myself out there as a soon-to-be-employable horse girl again has been good for my mind and spirit!
I'm happy: I see everything I've overcome in the last couple of years and I'm smiling. A lot. I'm letting the creative, interested, smart, curious horsegirl out to play! And she's having fun, even in the rain!
I'm grateful: I acknowledge all of the help and support I've received in the last couple of years, and I'm humbled by all the love and kindness that continues to flow in from friends, family, and even strangers. Virtual hugs!
So - the messages of spring are reccurring, universal, and blatantly obvious. My brain tumor is gone, then my car breaks. My car is fixed, turned out not to be a big deal, but I have to file for bankruptcy. But that's life - your very own version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through a series of ups and downs, with the point being there is an up to every down. Realizing that is the biggest hurdle of all, so once you're there, the rest is easier and the lessons, clearer.
So weather the storm, because there's always something good on the other side. Waiting out the rain, no matter how torrential, is the only way to get to the rainbows, the flowers, the sparkling trees, green grass, and singing birds. And the storm passes more quickly if you learn to smile, laugh, and dance in the rain!
The last couple of weeks have been tough. Busy, busy, busy - like a hamster on a wheel. Going nowhere - really fast. Working all the time, feeling like I'll never catch up, and it was really getting me down. Last month I got this tremendously great news about my health, but I've been catching myself in the throes of negativity more often than I'd like to admit. I was certainly off-track of my normally positive outlook. How do you practice what you preach, Girlbert? The answer wasn't coming as quickly as I would have liked, so I wrote this little reminder for myself. Maybe it'll be helpful for some of you, too.
Here some of the tricks I use to stay on track in the practice of a happy, healthy life:
- I meditate. Every day - even if it's just for a few minutes. I try to stop and focus on my breathing: Inhale...Exhale. So simple, and does wonders for my stress level!
- I journal. I never know when I'll need to jot something down, so I keep a small notebook with me. I tell people that good or bad, it's better to get it out of your head and on paper than let it take over your mind. Then you can look at it on page and determine if it's worth more of your energy.
- I stop what I'm doing when I'm hungry and make food for myself. I make a point to consciously feed my body healthy food.
- I get outside and enjoy nature. I appreciate all of the earth's creatures and taking the time to admire them renews my sense of wonder and humility.
- Find the humor and laugh! There's something funny in every situation (I promise!), and if you can do that, you'll get through anything.
- I cry if I need to, then pick myself up and move on. But most importantly, don't bottle it up - let it OUT! It's okay to be angry/sad/whatever, as long as you address it and move on.
- I make time for the things I love to do. It's important to have a hobby or creative outlet. I started taking a watercolor class through the Cancer Center this fall, and I'm having a blast learning how to paint! Learning something new is so good for your mind, and being an art student reminds me that we're all students in the lesson that is life! I've also recently begun to take more time for my horse and my horse friends and that's been good for my spirit and to reconnect with the horse girl inside me. Reminds me that I'm still a horse girl, just waiting to get back in the saddle.
- I exercise. Okay, not every day, but I try to do something to get my blood pumping at least every other day. Then I yoga or do some pilates at home on days in between. I admit I'm not a big fan of exercising for exercising's sake, but I've seen the results of with vs. without: My blood counts (taken every week) are more stable, my mood is better, and I definitely have more energy with exercise. (Don't they have some research to prove that, somewhere, too?) Not to mention I look better with a little muscle on, and who doesn't like to look good? A shaman once told me, "if you look good, you feel good."
- I love to read, so I turn to the following authors when I need inspiration and support: I have to give credit to Shirley MacLaine for getting me started on my spiritual journey, so I consider anything of hers worth reading, but probably start with Out on a Limb. Louise Hay has written numerous inspirational books on self-healing and cured her own cancer. Deepak Chopra's Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is simple, yet eye-openingly profound. I go back to Richard Bach's Illusions, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Running From Safety again and again for inspiration. Not a big reader? I've come across several thought-provoking documentaries over the last couple of years, too: Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Cancer, Temple Grandin, and What The Bleep Do They Know? are a few of the most memorable.
- I keep a record of inspiring or thought-provoking quotations to refer to when I need a quick pick-me-up. When I come across an inspirational phrase, I write it down in a notebook. Here are a few:
"Whether you think you can or you can't; you are right." Henry Ford
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Emerson
"Make every day the best day of the year." Emerson
"Whether it is life or a horse that throws you, get right back on." Author Unknown
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Confucius
"Some succeed because they are destined to; others because they are determined to." Author Unknown
"Do unto others because they ARE us." Shirley MacLaine
"The only journey worth taking is the one through oneself." Yeats
"Argue for you limitations, and sure enough, they're yours." Richard Bach
"An uninvestigated life is not worth living." Socrates
I stole some of the quotations above from Gayle Lampe's book, Riding For Success. Gayle was my amazing professor and riding instructor at William Woods University. Lucky for me, she's a dear friend as well.
And I have to give credit to so many healers, friends (animals, too!), shamans, energy workers, family members, doctors, holistic practitioners, and some people I've never even met; for inspiring me to be better, learn more, and HEAL. So put yourself out there - you never know who you'll meet, what you'll learn, or what you'll get back. Know that your energy, love, and support will be returned, times ten!