healing

With A Little Help From My Friends

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Okay, I'll admit it.  In between thankfully longer and longer stretches of positivity, I still have plenty of bouts of uncertainty.  So I keep a log of some of the best advice I receive from so many of the amazing people in my life, and check in with it when I need a boost.  Here are some of the gems I've collected so far:

On getting back to life:
Don't BE the disease.  Get back to life.  Get back to living.
Got it.

On going back to work:
Don't worry about going back to work just yet.  You've still got 11 rounds of chemo, and I don't think you could work full-time until that's over.  Just concentrate on staying well.
Check.

On money:
You will always have what you need, when you need it.
Okay...

On stress:
Cut yourself some slack - we've had a really hard couple of years.
Right.
It'll get better.
Thanks, Dad.

On what to do next:
You've been blessed with the opportunity to figure out what you really want in life.  Take it!
Yessir!
Now's the time to learn something new.  Take some classes, maybe go back to school.
Doing it!
Maybe you should write a book.
Been thinking about that, actually...

On my horse career:
You've got this crazy ability to read horses.  Use it!
Working on it!
Why aren't you teaching riding lessons?  You need to be teaching riding lessons!
Yes ma'am!

On spirituality:
When you remember who you are, and I remember who I am, we remember: We are ONE.
YES!

On blogging:
You might run out of stuff to write about on that blog of yours.
Never!

Life After?

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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!

On A Path

Both Sides of the Truly Story

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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.

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!

It was the Saturday before Mother's Day, 2009.  I'd been home from the hospital following my brain cancer diagnosis about a week.

 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 scenery and the 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.  We'd never met a cat so instantly friendly, we began to wonder who she

belonged to...  

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?  

I'm here for you! I won't be much trouble, I promise!

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.

 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.  

Not so fast!

But the Universe had another plan, and cat chose us.  What's that, you say?  You're too busy taking care of yourself to help anybody else?  We had taken it off the table, but here was this spunky, sweet, starving, little cat in need of a home.  Literally falling into our laps!  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 to look 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-shape 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 we all went

inside, 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 she truly

appeared at exactly the right time: Just when we needed an on-call nurse, healer, and furry friend.  She has a sense for what we

need when we need it whether it be cuddling, warmth, love, someone to talk to, meditation, grounding, 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.

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!

Happiness is a Cat with a Sense of Humor

Spring It On!

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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!

Welcome, Spring.  Thanks for another great year.

Over the Rainbow

Practice Makes Positive

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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 LimbLouise 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!

You'd better believe it.

Practice Positivity!

Believe It, Part Two.

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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.

You'd better believe it.

Dreams Really Do Come True!

Believe It.

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So yesterday was a monumental day.  Make that a tremenda-mental day.  Monumenta-mendous?  Never mind...

It was BIG. It was GOOD. BIG news, GOOD day.  GOOD news, BIG day.

What I'm getting at is: It's GONE!  I think it's been around the world three times already via Spacebook, but in case you haven't heard - the tuber is gone. G-O-N-E.  Gone

I really never thought I would see this day.  Ever.  But if I were to see it, it would be years down the road.  Years of struggling, waiting for the newest treatment, trying the next thing on my list of holistic therapies; before the day would come that my oncologist would speak the words, "the tumor is gone."

But it was yesterday, after a long week of chemo, not enough sleep, no Boyfriend to hold my hand during my appointment; that my Uber-Oncologist opened with, "Your MRI looks good - really good."  Looking up from the report, he smiled and continued, "At first, I thought I was looking at somebody else's MRI - there is no longer a mass, just some scar tissue from the radiation."

"Wait, what?" I'm sure the look on my face said it all - NO FREAKING WAY.

Dr. G confirmed that I had heard correctly: "The tumor is gone, what's left is basically just a scar."

"Wow - really?"  Dumbstruck.  Jaw resting on lap.

"Yep.  So your question from months ago about whether or not surgery would ever be an option - there's nothing to take out!"

"That's... "...words... " uh - mazing!  I can't believe it!"  

"Believe it."  He proceeded to go over the images from the scan of my brain taken earlier that day, pointing out any light areas as "just scarred blood vessels from the radiation.  Anybody's brain could have that - all we have is just have a guess of where the tumor was, at this point."  Then the previous year's worth of images, all rock-solidly "stable" with a 5cm X 2cm mass in my right temporal lobe. Wow - where did the little bugger go?

Then my (pre-treatment) scan from July 2009 was on the screen, and the tears started.  Point A to Point B was suddenly a blur, and reality struck - Will you look at that?  The difference between "now" and "then" was stupefying.  My poor little brain had been in bad shape, all squished off to one side, just over one year ago.  We've been through the war, and we've won!  I have a Super-Brain, and together, we kicked some tuber arse!  Buh-bye, brain-vader!

IMAGE NOTE: The images at right are yesterday's scan (top) and my July 2009 scan (bottom).  It was after the July 2009 scan that my Ninja Neurologist said to me quite frankly, "If you don't pursue treatment soon, you're going to die of brain cancer."

To which I arrogantly replied,"I'm not going to die of brain cancer."

"Then what are you waiting for?" he shot back.

I didn't have an answer.  What was I waiting for?

So I stopped waiting and started healing and here I am, one year later, and it's GONE?  Already?

You'd better believe it.  Me, too.

Brain Scans: Then (July 2009, bottom) and Now (December 2010, top)

Much To Celebrate

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I just turned 34.  Yes, I know I'm not old - that's not where I'm going at all.  One of the benefits to this whole Brain Cancer Thing is newfound perspective - every day is a blessing, kids.  Birthdays have always been exciting, celebrated milestones for me, and this year was no exception: Boyfriend took me out to see Secretariat, brought me home and fed me delicious homemade pizza and some yummy red wine.  The next morning he whisked me away for a weekend of camping, hiking and hot springs. Double-super-extra-credit for him! 

Yay for another year well-lived...

I turned 33 shortly after starting radiation (seven weeks) and chemotherapy last year.  I can hardly believe that was over a year ago.  So if 32 was the year I was diagnosed with brain cancer, 33 was the year I began to beat the crap out of that little brain tumor!  Not to mention the year I won my battle with MediCal.  And got my ability to drive back.  Every year brings new adventures - just what will the next year bring?

But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

I realize that I haven't updated you (healthwise) in a while, and some of you (so sweet!) have been asking.  Others have made comments that they don't know if I want to talk about it, so they haven't wanted to ask.  Well, I haven't wanted to bore you with it, but here's the quick update, for those of you who wonder:

The latest photo shoot:  My most recent MRI was October 5th.  The images show further reduction in "enhancement" (fancy medical term for irritation in the tissue) surrounding the tumor and the tumor's size remains stable.  This might not sound that exciting, but they're both really good things.  It means my continued monthly chemo is working,  and it's keeping the tumor from growing back at all.  Which means my brain is happy.  Which means fewer seizures.  Which makes me happy. 

The chemo story:  My monthly chemo regimen continues.  I take five doses of the oral chemotherapy drug Temodar over five days, every four to six weeks, depending on how quickly my blood counts recover each round.  I seem to be managing my chemo weeks a little better all the time.  I didn't even need a day off or any naps this last round (last week).  I just finished my eighth round of at least twelve rounds ("one year").  I may or may not continue for another year (or two...) after that, depending on what my doctors and I determine to be the best course of action.

Hello, hair:  Have you noticed?  My fabulous follicles are beginning to need regular taming!  Washing and drying!  Styling and product!  I started growing it back this spring, so you're looking at about six months worth of grow, baby, grow!  I kinda liked the pixie, but alas, this Girlbert has a few too many cowlicks to pull it off without just as much effort as having regular girl-hair, so I let it keep growing.  Might stop soon, though - short hair is fun!

In other news: Boyfriend turned 40 in September.  I threw him a nice little Birthday-Party-On-A-Budget at our Little Cabin in the Woods.  Lots of his friends came, brought food and/or helped me stay organized; making it a really wonderful day for him.  Thank you all!

Y'all keep asking: We're not moving to Marin County until I'm finished with chemo treatment, and that could be years.  I like (okay, so I LOVE them!) my doctors too much, and they know my case too well, to change providers mid-treatment.  I would also have to reapply for MediCal in Marin County if we moved, and I feel like I just finished that battle here in Santa Barbara!  Oh, and we're really happy in Santa Barbara: we have lots of friends here, and our cat and horse are happy here, too.  So we will stay.

Did I miss anything?

More answers to your most burning questions here, as well.

What's Not To Celebrate?

The Healing Power of Animals

Post: 

I've been meaning to write about this for a long time, but it always seems too big a subject to tackle in a single blog post.  And so it is.  But I'll touch on it, anyway, as an introduction of sorts to my next few posts.  In which I'll be writing about my animals: two old horses and a cat, and their incredible gifts.  I may even get into some of the animals from my past, too - I still carry their lessons with me today, and they'll always be a part of my story.

Why now?  Several things came together for me recently to finally motivate me to take on the GIANORMOUS subject of animal healing:

First; October is Adopt-A-Pet Month.  (It's still October, right?)

Then; while flipping through the Santa Barbara Independent's Annual Animal Issue, I came across an ad for "The Cutest Pet in Santa Barbara" Photo Contest.  Deadline was a few days off, why not take the photo-op to brag about my wonderful, healing, feline friend?  Game on!  Hundreds of the cutest photos of Truly later, I submitted my final (it was tough!) choice, along with her "cutest" story, to the paper for the contest.  But I realized that writing about her "cuteness" was merely scratching the surface of all there is to the Truly story, inspiring me to get to the rest of it!

Next; I'm due to start my 7th round of chemo next week. Chemo weeks always remind me of how powerful our connection to our animals really is: mine each mirror my pain in some way, reminding me that I'm not doing anything alone.  As it is every month: Truly is my on-call bed and couch-mate, cuddling with her mom for all the extra naptime; my horse Stevie tends to take a hit to his own health, clearly reflecting my distress; and Reggie, twelve hundred miles away in Colorado, causes my friend Jenny to call me up and ask, "You doing okay?  Is this a chemo week?  'Cause Reggie's really droopy today."   Yep, I've got a pair of horse-shaped pillars on either side of me and a cat purring on my lap - my own personal team of energy boosting, pain-absorbing, animal healers to pick me up when I'm down.

And finally; I received the following email from one of my greatest animal healing (human!) friends, who lives entirely too far away in Switzerland.  Warning: get out the tissue!

I RESCUED A HUMAN TODAY*
                
Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels.  I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her.  I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid.
        
As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage.  I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.
        
As she read my kennel card I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past.  I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life.
        
She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me.  I shoved my shoulder and side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship.
        
 A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well. Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms.  I would promise to keep her safe.  I would promise to always be by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes.  I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor.  So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors.  So many more to be saved.  At least I could save one.
        
I rescued a human today.

May you be blessed enough to be rescued by an animal in your lifetime.  If you have already, I welcome your stories in the comments. 

*Written by Janine Allen CPDT, Rescue Me Dog's professional dog trainer. Janine's passion is working with people and their dogs. She provides demonstrations for those who have adopted shelter dogs, lends email support to adopted dog owners that need information beyond our Training Support Pages, and aids shelter staff and volunteers in understanding dog behavior to increase their adoptability. Copyright 2010 Rescue Me Dog; www.rescuemedog.org.

Adopt A Pet

To Be...

Post: 

Okay, I admit it.  Yesterday, I was way depressed.  The calendar had turned over into October, and I realized: 2010 is three-quarters over.  I must write something - I only have three months to catch up on most of a year of not writing as much as I'd wanted all year!  How's that for a glass-half-empty kinda 'tude? 

Panicked over the thought of providing my readers with another month of not much, I'd cleared my schedule with the intention to write.  And not just anything, but something INSPIRED.  Something GREAT.  SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT!  I'd finally made the time, and... nothing.  At.  All.  Just staring at a blank, white text box on my super-deluxe-widescreen.  Blink, blink.  Struggling to flow was having exactly the opposite effect.  As it always does.  I was left with no choice, but to abandon the effort.  Start fresh tomorrow, Girlbert.

This morning I was determined not to let it happen again.  No expectations, combined with some good music, and a couple of cups of COFFEE, have my fingers dancing around the keyboard like a gay chorus line!  Yay for COFFEE!  And TALKING HEADS!  HAPPY OCTOBER, EVERYBODY!

Sorry - I'll reel it in a notch...

So, October really is my favorite month of the year, and I want to sincerely welcome everyone to the month in which Girlbert was put onto this earth, 34 years ago.  And I want to make sure that those who are interested realize how grateful I am to have enjoyed another year on this planet, even while feeling as though the battle was uphill some most of the way.  I guess if the earth were flat, my calves wouldn't be nearly as defined, would they?

But back to my point - freaking out about not being inspired to write whilst feeling obligated to provide content is really not the point of this website, now is it?  I was reminded of this earlier this week, when a friend emailed me to tell me how inspiring I am.  I wrote back to tell her thank you, but I certainly wasn't feeling very inspired at the moment.  She replied: "I know, I get the same way, too - but we shouldn't write unless we're feeling it."  Ding ding!  This website won't inspire anyone, unless the writer is inspired.

Which reminds me of something I read earlier this year: "Are you a human being, or a human doing?"  Most people DO spend their time DOING things: rushing from place to place, checking things off their all-important "To-DO" List.  When the point of life is to BE.  Be in the moment.  Be present.  Just BE.

Ah, so, do I practice what I preach?  Nearly never.  Especially now that I have the ability, finally, to DO.  With the reinstatement of my driver's license, in particular, I can actually get myself places and DO things.

So this week of frustration and self-imposed anxiety brought with it the realization that I really need to get back to BEING.  Straight away!  Chop-chop!  I mean, Om...

I'd like to promise that I'll be posting more often, now that I've been reminded the importance of doing what I love, which is writing, creating, and being.  But I can't, because despite the fact that I know how important it is to BE, I still have much to DO.  As the work week begins, I'll be hitting the ground running with many items on the Girlbert Schedule: blood tests, an MRI (Tuesday, positive vibes are being accepted now!), an appointment with my oncologist to discuss aforementioned MRI, prescriptions to be called in, prescriptions to be picked up, and bills to pay (with what, I don't know).

But I'm going to make a greater effort to BE present, as I fit in some fun stuff, too: free painting and yoga classes at the Cancer Center, breakfast with my cancer girlfriends, biking with Boyfriend, and some hang-time with my horse.

It's still Sunday - plenty of time left to BE today.  I think I'll brush up on the Art of Doing Nothing.

READERS:  Please share your struggles with, or tips for, BE-ing in the comments.  Any stories about being present or advice you have for those who can't stop 'doing', would be so greatly appreciated.  I could use all the help I can get, and couldn't we all!  Thank you in advance.

Om
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