positivity

Thankful

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Today, and every day, I am thankful.

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!

Thank you!

Gratitude and Laughter

Rainbows and Unicorns!

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As in, Rainbows and Unicorns, the day has arrived!  It is my last day of my last week of chemo!  It's been a loong three years, but it's finally over. 

I can hardly believe it.  Especially since my body's not quite aware of a reason to celebrate just yet.  As special as this day is in my head and heart, as much as I feel like I've crossed some sort of finish line or reached the other side of some gianormous obstacle, it was just another typically yucky week of chemo for my poor tummy.  She doesn't know that last night's little white pill of digestive unhappiness (who we love for taking care of that Terrible Tuber of Brain-Unhappiness!) was the LAST ONE.  EVER!

So once we recover, you can bet we'll be ready to PARTY!  With Rainbows and Unicorns and CAKE!  The question is, who's going to bring the CAKE?  (Lemon Poppyseed is my current favorite!)

Lemon Poppyseed Deliciousness!

Flowers for Smiles

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I shop at the Trader Joe's on De la Vina in Santa Barbara, partly because it's on my way to the Cancer Center, so I drive by almost every time I'm in town, never mind that it has every thing I need to a real one-stop shop for all of my "Let food be thy medicine" needs.

Little-Known Girlbert Factoid: I like to play a game when I'm shopping in which I offer everyone I come upon a big, happy grin.  It feels great to get a smile back, and I always hope I can brighten a fellow shopper's day, but it's still gets me a giggle when they look at me as if thinking, "What the heck is that goon so happy about?"  You never know who really needs a smile, and they're so easy to give away!  I don't count smiles vs. funny looks, but I like to think that everybody wins.

Now that I've been playing the Smile Game at Trader Joe's for a few years now, I've made friends with many of the employees (some of whom read this blog!), and several of them know that I use food (from their aisles!) and happiness as "medicine" to overcome cancer and stay healthy.  Most of them have asked me why I'm so happy, and I tell them, "I'm shopping for yummy food at my favorite store - everyone here is so happy, and there's free coffee and snacks!"

So now that I'm a regular, many of the employees are friends I look forward to seeing, and my weekly grocery errand is more of a social event than a drudgerous task.

So when I went to grab a week's worth of sustenance at my favorite grocery store on Saturday, I got to see all of my friends, and when they asked me how I was, I got to tell them, "I only have TWO days of chemo left!"  Several hugs, high-fives, and thumbs-up later, I was on a big fluffy cloud of happy.  By the time I got through check-out with my cart full of yummies, my smile threatening to burst from my face, my friend Loren met me at the door with a bouquet of flowers!  Who knew a smile could bring so much love, or that there would be flowers at the end?

Five stars, Trader Joe's!  The proof is in your people!

We Love Trader Joe's!

Run, White Horse, Run!

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Okay, so I'm only going to walk, but Boyfriend and I are raising money with some friends as Team White Horse for the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara's 20th Anniversary Walk/Run Fundraiser on October 14, 2012.  All the donations for this event go directly to the Cancer Center's Clinical Research Programs.  In other words, directly to help develop new cancer treatments, just like the one that saved my life.

We're doing this because it's what we can do to support an organization that supported us when I needed it most.  When I first needed treatment, they gave it with no questions asked long before I was awarded Medi-Cal.

I'm also nearing the very last of 24 rounds of chemo so it's a big thing for us.  The Cancer Center's goal for this fundraiser is only $200,000, which is not much when you consider that today's best treatments are developed in clinics like CCSB.  As most of you know, radiation and chemo obliterated my tumor, but it's not like that for everyone.  While it sounds funny to say this, we feel a large part of my success was because of the positive attitude everyone at the Cancer Center has.  For us, that has as much to do with treating cancer as anything else, which is why we're asking for your help to support them.

The people of CCSB go above and beyond to treat everyone with the very best care possible and our support means they can continue to help develop better and less risky treatments.  They're a not-for-profit, so your donation will be tax-deductible. 

I will be walking with a group of friends as "Team White Horse".  Our goal is to raise $3500 for the Cancer Center; my personal goal is $500.  You can submit your pledge directly to Team White Horse on the Cancer Center website.  Click on the link "Support" at the bottom of our team's page and make sure you fill in the "participant" section with my name.

If you're more comfortable sending a check, make it out to Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and contact me as soon as possible for a mailing address, so I can turn in all the checks together on October 14th.

Please submit what you can, because every little bit helps people like me when they need it the most.  Of course, feel free to pass the word along if you know anyone else who would want to help.

Show your support with a Team White Horse t-shirt!  We have a limited number of shirts available - for every $20 shirt you purchase, $10 goes to the Cancer Center.  Please email me for details.

 

Team White Horse Tee

Today

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Today, I am happy.  Today, I am grateful.  I am grateful to cancer for showing me my own reality.  I am grateful for the Cancer Center for allowing me to uncover and discover myself, my gifts, and my happiness.

I am grateful for my family, my friends, my Love, and even my enemies, if there are such things.  I am grateful for everyone I've ever encountered, for they are all my teachers, and today, I remember that.

Today, I am happy.  I have been dusted off, rinsed clean, and toweled dry.  I am clear; the world is sparkling and shiny, and there is so much to enjoy!  I am grateful for the ability to realize that everything I see is mine to enjoy.

The world is beautiful!  So much to appreciate - all the different greens in the trees, all the shades of gold in the grasses, and all the colors in the flowers!  Have you seen how blue the sky is today?  Do you know how amazing it is that the sun is shining on the mountains, but the clouds are keeping the lowlands cool and damp?

Today, I am happy.  I have a new appreciation for conflict, because without it there is nothing to learn, nowhere to grow.  I am grateful for growth, I am grateful for everything there is to learn.  I realize I know nothing, everything is NEW. 

Today, and every day.

View From Camp

Reminder

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I've lost five friends to cancer in as many months.  As heavy as that may be, I have written a (thankfully, brief!) reminder poem to help my friends and I through this time.

REMEMBER

It's easy to be overwhelmed,
but remember, dear friends,
there is another approach,
and I like to think it is the one
they would choose for us.

So, remember;

To celebrate a life
as we mourn a death.

To be grateful for the time we had
instead of regretting what we cannot change.

To smile as we remember a gift
instead of saddened by a loss.

To keep the memories;
lose the anger, guilt.

To carry on in honor of our friends,
inspired by lives well-lived.

To imagine them proudly smiling upon us
as we rejoice in what lies ahead - life.

Live.
Their joie de vivre lifts our hearts,
lightens our spirits,
even if their physical presence is no longer with us.

Cancer may have brought us together,
but joy, love, and laughter made us friends.

After The Rain

To Our Friend, Michael

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The following poem was written and read aloud by my friend and fellow painting classmate, Libby Whaley, at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara's "Art Heals" reception and art show on Friday night.

A twist of fate brought you to our door.
Welcomed, you came in and found a new family.
The teacher guided you with a message,
“You can paint whatever you want.”
And with that, you picked up a brush and
your creative legacy was born.

You didn’t know.
You had not been to this place, this space,
this moment in time.
And although your brain was under attack
by errant cells, your brush grew wings and the colors
of the paint danced upon your canvas.

Emotions caught within the tides of your life
began to flow. A wave washed over all of us.
We took notice of the compelling stories unfolding before us.
The colors of an emboldened life were set free to be,
to share love, to inspire, and live outside the lines.

As we painted our still life flowers, we watched
the evolving of an artist, unknown even to himself.
Your brushstrokes unveiled a personal style expressing
joy and movement, a happy heart danced.
And our hearts danced with you.

Although you could not outrun your fatal conclusion,
you knew just what to do.
You wrapped up your life and legacy with a beautiful
Art Exhibit, entitled, “Painting Toward Grace.”
How uncanny, as we had been privy to observe your
life already so full of grace.

Thank you Michael, for gracing us with your presence,
for inspiring us, for sharing your love and hugs.
In awe, we have watched you.
And now you have left us, but not without leaving
the essence of your spirit. It shall live on within the
joie de vivre of your paintings.
We are smiling with you now.

Thanks for allowing me share this, Libby.

"Baja Moon", by Libby Whaley

Legacy

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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.

Painting Toward Grace

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I've written about my friend, fellow brain cancer survivor, and watercolor classmate, Michael Orchowski, in a previous post, but I'm going to do it again.  I want you to have an opportunity to participate in the remarkable journey of one of the most fascinating people I've ever met.  Are you reading this, Barbara Walters?

The Dream Foundation is collaborating with Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and 33 Jewels at El Paseo to present an exhibition of Michael's work, "Painting Toward Grace", on Thursday, December 1, 5-8pm, at 33 Jewels gallery in downtown Santa Barbara as part of 1st Thursday

From the event flyer:

"Michael's art is rich with imagery, with each of his paintings detailing his journey through and beyond illness.  Michael hopes that others will benefit from his experience, and enjoy this exhibition of his work...

"In the advanced stages of ALS, Michael's wish is to have an exhibition of his work "which would expose many others to my joie de vivre in spite of this strong infirmity." Paralyzed on his right side, and only able to use his non-dominant left hand, he strives to express himself in "joyful colors, with my right brain and my left hand.  The colors which I applied in the various paintings are happy and express my positive outlook towards life."

Nearly every painting Michael has painted in class will be on display and for sale, so there should be a lot of opportunities to obtain some one-of-a-kind holiday gifts!  Michael and his equally inspiring wife, Doedy, are generously donating the proceeds from the event to be divided equally between the Dream Foundation and the CCSB Wellness Programs, to increase awareness for both organizations.

Michael is a bright, shining light with an infectious smile, and an inspiration to everyone he meets.  But don't just take it from me - I've asked my classmates to contribute their thoughts on our friend Michael, too:

  • "What a pleasure it is being a painting comrade with Michael. He is an inspiration of love and hope and an artist to boot! His paintings exude joy and life filled with color and brush strokes that define his unique style, absolute "Michaelness". His art is a true expression of his life, his heart and his story, which is compelling and reaches out and touches the viewer. I'm glad that he found his brush." - Libby Whaley
  • "Michael is the kind of philosopher we need quoted in textbooks.  Upbeat, courageous, memorable, he smiles at himself and the capriciousness of life.  Michael has a droll sense of humor, and a gentle, loving and sensitive heart.  He’s a one-of-a-kind artist, and an inspiring member of our art class.  He’s a hero!" - Laurette Valentine
  • "Michael's art has always expressed to me his love of life in the face of challenges and pain. His good humor and whimsy belies strength founded in humility and kindness." - Michael Taylor
  • "When I first met Michael I felt an immediate bond with him. I know he felt it, too. It was only after my initial meeting and conversations with him that I was able to step back and appreciate his art. What a treat that was! He can somehow capture what is going on in his body with paint and paper in the most amazing way. His paintings are expressive, organic and extremely captivating. He is a remarkable person in many, many ways and an artist in the BEST sense. I am proud to know him." - Karen Westheimer
  • "I'm the girl that sat next to you most of the time at class. Your work there has been an authentic journey towards Heaven.  Your graceful attitude has inspired many a great deal. I looked forward for Mondays to come. I have enjoyed the comments, the interaction and the encouragement with you. I hope to see you at your coming exhibit. You leave behind you a work of love that I personally appreciate. Your presence will be real to me in my future work, and I hope will reflect what friendship and support can bring to a searching world for true goodness. Your positiveness gave me hope and then some.  Ma el salama, my dear friend......" - Natalie Khoury
  • "Watching Michael paint is an education in itself. Every brush stroke is loaded with meaning and is an integral part of the whole painting. In this way, each of us adds an integral part to the lives of those around us. Michael has shown us by example that, no matter what challenge arises, there is a way to express yourself and create beauty in your very own, wonderful style. Thank you, Michael, for blessing us with so many magical paintings--you can always tell an Orchowski!" - Tessa Flanagan
  • "Michael is our Archangel." - Rick Stich, Instructor
  • "The kindest blue eyes. Big blue and filled with love. His art is an extension of his love and the way he lives. Each piece is filled with bright colors, abstract, yes but his message is clear, live each moment in joy and hope. I love you Michael...you know that." - Charlene Hovey

Please join Michael's friends and help Michael fulfill his dream on this very special night.

  • Location: 33 JEWELS AT EL PASEO, 814 State Street, 805-957-9100
  • Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
  • Time: 5:00 - 8:00pm
  • Bonus: Wine and refreshments will be served.

The Artist and His Wife

One Year Ago

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A couple of years ago, I started carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went.  I mean everywhere - doctor's appointments, grocery stores, to the kitchen for every meal, next to my computer, next to my bed at night.  In my purse or in my hand in between. If I could have a holster made for it, I would.  It started out as a necessity - all of the medicine made me forgetful, so I'd make lists.  And lists and lists...I wrote down everything, there for a while, because I could remember anything without it!

Then it was a way of keeping myself sane, writing down thoughts and feelings to get them out of my head, so they'd stop spinning around in there and driving me nuts.  I suppose that's sort of a necessity, too.  Then it just became a habit to have it with me, and I'd get sort of lost without it.  I'd panic when I couldn't find it, tearing the house apart, only to discover that I had just left it in my bag by the front door!

I write something in it every day to keep track of things: ups and downs, highs and lows. I tell people this all the time - write something in a journal every day, to keep a record of where you're at, whether battling cancer, or just life in general.  I may not feeling like writing an elaborate account of each day, but I make myself write a sentence or two in my notebook every night before I turn out the light.  My bedtime ritual has turned thoughts into stories and sentences into a record of events in my personal journey.  

As I finished my journal entry last night, I realized I was at the last page.  I had no idea when I'd started, so I flipped to the front, and whoa:  November 3, 2010.  A year's worth of journaling in one book, how cool is that?  What was I doing a year ago, anyway?

I started reading and ah, yes, the crying.  Lots of crying.   I was pre-bankruptcy and the phone was ringing off the hook with angry creditors.  Boyfriend and I still had no income or work and bills needed to be paid.  How much longer would our landlord put up with us?  Not to mention I still had a good sized brain-tumor. I had scribbled on one of the pages, "When was all this positive thinking going to kick in and turn things around?"

Then December came and things started to break loose.  My December 2nd MRI was a pretty sweet Christmas gift.  A few weeks later we finally got the web contract we'd been vying for for over a year.  We caught up on our rent.  We paid our bills.  Then Christmas and the silly stresses that tend to go with it.  I was happy and grateful that I could afford gifts and cards for those I loved, but didn't realize I wasn't up for the full-time "job" that the holidays really are and I was still exhausted two weeks a month with chemo!   Hmmm... something to do better this year...

I kept going, so many ideas, stories, and lessons I may not have remembered without my little spiral-bound companion and trustworthy mechanical pencil!

When Boyfriend came to bed, I was still riveted.  "This is the best book I've ever read!"  

"What is it?"

"My journal."

He smiled, "It's a good story, isn't it?"

I'd better keep writing to see how it ends.

Ready for Writing
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