I am thankful for a supportive, loving, and kind life partner/boyfriend/best friend. We've been through a lot in almost five years together, and I am grateful to have him by my side through storms, rainbows, and sunshine. Love you, Eric.
I am thankful for family, both my own loving and generous family and my wonderful Boyfriend's family. I miss them all and can't wait to see them again for a big hug! I love you! Thank you.
I am thankful for all my friends, both local and too far away. I am so grateful for the love I receive from all of you, and I'm so lucky to count some really amazing, wonderful people as dear friends. Thank you.
I am thankful for the fabulous, peaceful place in which we live. I am grateful for the beauty that surrounds us, whether it be breathtaking views, the wildlife that brings us so much joy, sun shining in my window, or the spider's masterpiece that is recreated every day over my kitchen sink. I am so blessed to learn and grow among supportive teachers and friends in art, yoga, tai chi, healing touch, horses, and well, LIFE.
Especially thankful this year for the gift of health and the freedom from cancer!
I painted this watercolor for my Mom for Mother's Day. She received them the Day After Mother's Day, because that's my style. She's a great Mom, a real original, so I thought she deserved a Girlbert original. They're beautiful flowers, just like her. She tells me she framed them and they're hanging in my old bedroom, now a den/guest room. I can't wait to see them again - Mom, Dad, and the room! The room that my Little Brother thinks that is actually his old room, which is just too silly, since my art is hanging in there.
They're only for her, so I won't be selling any prints, but I was too happy with them to not share.
I met Michael Orchowski and his wife, Doedy, at a brain cancer support group at CCSB in 2009. I was touched by their story of strength and love, and encouraged by Michael's triumph over brain cancer and paralysis. But it was the Cancer Center's wonderful wellness offering, "Painting the Pictures of Health", where I really got to become friends with Michael and Doedy and the rest of our art class "family".
We lost our brother and Archangel Michael on Friday, November 25, just a week before his dying wish, an exhibition of his work, "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity," was to open.
Michael's dream was realized on Thursday, and despite his physical absence, his spirit was undeniably present as people made their way through 33 Jewels Gallery, usually shoulder to shoulder, to view his lively paintings of positivity and hope. The energy was that of celebration and admiration. Michael would have been smiling with joy.
"Painting Toward Grace" was a fitting tribute to a man who inspired hope and healing in so many, myself included. I never doubted that Michael was a great man who had inspired many people or that he had a large circle of friends, but I was happily surprised at the turnout on Thursday. I knew Michael in the context of our art class, but as I made my way through the tightly packed crowd at 33 Jewels Gallery, listening to friends and admirers share stories and marvel at his paintings, I realized that our art group is just one of Michael's many families.
At right is a video of Michael describing some of his art and his process of painting through illness, taken by CCSB's Lisa Hashbarger. I'll let Michael take it from here:
"I fill my soul with love. The soul is much more encompassing than the mind, the mind is only a tool of the soul."
"This is how I want to finish my life - not in a bitter fashion, but in an uplifted fashion."
"This is what I want to acheive - the expression of the wish to live, and not giving in to complaints and doing things about the situation that we cannot change."
"It's difficult, but I'm not alone."
We'll all miss you, Michael. Thank you for leaving us with so much.
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!
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!
So there's more to the title of that last post - much more - but I opted to quit with just the facts last time. Just get everybody up to speed with the story, while taking a little more time to process and plan Part Two.
As I wrote the previous post, something struck me as I typed the words, "Believe It." They appeared on the screen before me, and I realized I had much more to share than "Just the facts, m'am". One of my mantras over my years of exploration into my own spirituality, my mission in this lifetime, on this planet; has been "If I believe it, well then it must be true," or "If you believe that, that it will be true for you." I'm always telling people: "There is so much power in what you think!" Also, "Write down what you want, and you'll have it."
I was really lucky to have this really great riding instructor, professor, and mentor in college whose mantra was, "There's no sense in practicing at all, if you're going to practice the wrong things. Practice correctly, or don't practice at all." She was, of course, talking about riding horses, but I've carried that mantra with me through all aspects of life. She's also one of the happiest, cheeriest people I know, so I'm pretty sure she applies this statement to her whole life, too.
I didn't realize how to apply it to more than riding then, but I see it so clearly now. I've been working for a long time toward the goal of being happy, and more recently, toward health. Obviously the two go hand in hand! So I practice happiness, instead of sadness. I practice making healthy choices, instead of unhealthy choices. This isn't to say I'm always happy or healthy, or that it's easy. But I make a conscious effort to practice correctly. If I get off course, I make a correction. And I learn from my mistakes. And I believe that I will achieve my goals. I write down what I want. I imagine myself succeeding. And I know anything is possible, as long as I believe it.
I struggle with doubt, sure. I have to fend off plenty of sadness. There will always be obstacles, but the point is to not let my mind be one of them. But I've made a practice of believing everything will work out in a positive way, provided that I stay focused on the positive outcome. I've had plenty of help from healers, shamans, and energy workers to help drive that point home throughout the years, and it's finally starting to stick. I'm still a student and life is one lesson after another, but practice makes perfect.
We have returned. What's that? You didn't know we were gone? Great.
Our trip had been in the works for months, with the primary purpose being to visit Boyfriend's brother, sister-in-law, and new nephew, James. Road tripping inevitably involves side trips and unexpected delays, but the plan, as loosely defined as it were, was to get out of California and do something different! No doctor appointments, nothing concrete, no obligations. Just drive and see. Sweet flexibility!
We didn't make a big deal prior to our departure, because my platelets were scary low, throwing my chemo schedule for a loop because "there's really nothing you can do, but wait for them to go back up again." I wasn't going anywhere until those platelets went back up again. So much for flexible.
Our first big road trip, our first vacation in, err... two years, all up in the air - because I needed more platelets?
Nobody was going to tell Girlbert there was nothing I could do, so I took those uncooperative little platelets into my own hands. I opened my mind, Googled, asked my cancer support group friends, took my vitamins, exercised, and I ate and ate the biggest variety of foods I could come up with in five days. On day five I took my next blood test and marched it upstairs to oncology.
"This is better - whatever you're doing is working!" My uber-oncologist smiled and shook his head as he flipped through the results of my blood tests, past and present. I'd done my homework, listened to my body, and more than doubled my platelets in five days. Whew for a flexible mind!
I started my chemo that night. We packed up and left the next day.
More on the Flexible Adventures of Girlbert and Boyfriend coming soon!
It's been over a year since the event that led to my diagnosis. Apparently this blogging thing is hard to keep up with when you're not all hopped up on steroids, so I haven't been keeping you all as up-to-date as well as I would like. Not to mention the fact that all of my excess energy has been channeled toward growing a brand-new head of hair! (Evidence in the picture!)
So - I've compiled a list of questions that I find myself answering. Frequently. I've added a NEW PAGE (a link in the menu above, as well) to this site for those questions, but here's a little teaser: What and when was your diagnosis? I was diagnosed with a type 2 astrocytoma in my right temporal lobe - brain cancer - April 27th, 2009. I'll never forget the date, because I had to make sure and write a blog post honoring my little brother on his 30th birthday (April 26th) before I went to the hospital for what seemed like a possible concussion. It's important to have priorities. How did you discover your brain tumor? I had a seizure while home alone April 24, 2009. I had been getting ready for bed, it was late, and I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Then suddenly, I found myself, 'coming to' at my desk, in front of my computer, which had been shut down already. "Huh - I thought I already went to bed," I thought, and went to bed. I had no history of fainting or seizures.
The next morning I had a headache. And a fat lip. And when I got up to pee, I noticed the bathroom rug was all wadded up in the middle of the bathroom floor. Something wasn't normal, but maybe I just tripped and fell in the night and hit my head and didn't remember. When Boyfriend returned home later that night, and I told him what happened. The headache persisted.
The following morning the headache was worse. We talked about going to the ER to see if I had a concussion, but I didn't have insurance and we were broke. I'd had a head injury before - I knew they'd want to do a scan - cha-ching! So I decided to take a nap. After I laid down, the left side of my body began to tingle, my ears began to ring and I detected a horrible taste in my mouth. (I now refer to these feelings as my 'conscious seizures'.) I was scared, so I called for Boyfriend, and described what was happening. It was very uncomfortable, something was definitely wrong with me. It was time to go.
Boyfriend called his boss about getting his payment for work early so that we could go to the ER. His boss said, "You just take her, and I'll take care of it."
So we went. As soon as we got to the ER, and the words "hit my head" escaped my mouth, I was put in a neck brace and strapped to a gurney. Here we go, I thought. I had a CT scan and was brought back to a waiting room with Boyfriend. I had another 'pins and needles' episode, telling Boyfriend, "It's happening again, I'm having that feeling again!" He called the nurse and she gave me an anti-seizure drug. She explained to me that what I was feeling was a mini-seizure, that I'd probably had a grand mal seizure at home two days ago and hit my head.
Then the doctor came in. "We looked at your scan. I'm so sorry, but you have a very large tumor in the right side of your brain. That is probably what is causing the seizures. But you need to go to the other hospital for observation and to have an MRI."
Boyfriend was holding my hand, so I squeezed it, looked at him and the tears started. "I'm so sorry," was all I could think to say.
His face was already even with mine, his eyes locked on my teary ones, "We'll get through this, don't worry."
One wipe with the back of my hand, and the tears were gone. Of course we will.
We spoke with Boyfriend's 95-year-old Grandma in Chicago the other day. She came over to the U.S. from Poland when she was just sixteen. By herself. She didn't know a word of English when she got off the boat in America. So, she taught herself English by reading the dictionary.
Boyfriend: "Do you still read the dictionary, Grandma?" Grandma: "You bet! It's my bible!"
You go, Grandma.
(Grandma Chowanski in the center at the baby shower in March. My mom and I on her left. Kurt and Isabel on her right. Eric's parents, Wanda and Walter, on the far left and far right.)