Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sanctuaries


"Wherever we are content, that is our home.
There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.
Do not open your heart to the grim silent one, guard your tongue before the garrulous fool.
When a man finds no peace within himself, it is useless to seek it elsewhere." ~ L.A. Rouchefoliocauld




I have a confession. Despite that I grew up Catholic and went to CCD classes every Sunday, I never knew exactly what the term sanctuary meant in relation to a church. I just understood its meaning in a broader term. Not too long after I started going to a Protestant church (which if you continue to follow my blog, you will hear plenty about!), the term was used at my church in relation to where a group was meeting for an event. I wasn't sure exactly where that was, although I figured maybe it was the main area of the church. Is it the entrance to the church (come to find out, that is called the Narthex) or the main area of worship in the church (where the altar, pews, etc. are)? I asked someone and lo and behold, my suspicion was right about the location. I have since become more informed about my church!


One definition that Merriam Webster gives to the word sanctuary is "a place of refuge and protection." Well that makes perfect sense to me because my church has served as this for me for several years now. It is my place of refuge and protection. However I have been thinking a lot lately (I actually think a lot about a lot of things but that is another story!) about places in this world that feel like a sanctuary to me at this point in my life. The most obvious place that we would think of as a sanctuary would be our homes. Oftentimes though, this is not the case. For many people, home can serve as the complete opposite in our lives. It can become a place of discord, stress, and sadness. Sometimes the reason is related to conflict and issues with partners, children, parents; the list goes on and on. For me that is exactly what home became during the last few years of my marriage. It no longer represented peace and comfort. Oftentimes, I had to find my sanctuary elsewhere such as at my parent's home or church. I found other sanctuaries as well. There are very few places that I feel as content as in a library, bookstore, or the beach. As L.A. Rouchefoliocauld points out, it is where I find peace within myself. How can we really be content if we do not find peace within ourselves?


When my ex husband and I finally sold out house, things began to happen very fast. All of a sudden, I had 30 days to find a new home. I knew I was going to rent an apartment, but the task of finding a place that would work for me as much as possible in terms of the physical layout (due to mobility/breathing issues at times) was daunting. In addition, I had one of our dogs coming with me and if you have ever tried to find an apartment with a dog, you know what I mean! It was VERY important to me to stay in my same town as I had put down roots here. I had enough changes going on between health issues, losing my job, and the divorce. I needed some type of stability. I needed a place I could call home. I needed a sanctuary...


I was unbelievably lucky (although I do gripe about my landlord quite often-we can't have it all!). I had asked my church secretary to put a blurb in our weekly bulletin about how my dog and I were looking for a place in town. I was blessed enough to have a friend at church see a place for rent down the street from her and I went to check it out.


As soon as I walked through the apartment, I knew it would be home to me. It almost felt like God had set it down in front of me. It is a renovated farmhouse which has tons of charm and despite being on a busy road, has a yard that reminds me how much I love living in a country setting. The way it was set up was perfect for me because if I was really sick, I could access my very comfortable living room couch, bathroom, and kitchen all on one floor but yet it had 2 floors so it felt more like a condo than an apartment. There were some drawbacks. The rent was more than I had budgeted for but after working out my budget, I knew I could make it work. The front stairs might pose a big challenge for me in the winter but that too got resolved once I came up with a plan B. I knew it was a risk, but something just told me it was where I was supposed to be at this critical juncture in my life.


It turns out that the risk was worth it. My little farmhouse apartment has been home for me for nine months. I have definitely had some struggles in terms of getting things squared away (inadequate heating system, etc) but it has all been part of making this my home. Living here, I have found a place to heal emotionally and I am working my way towards healing physically. It has given me contentment and peace during a time where I have never needed those two things more. I know I won't live here for the rest of my life. I may not even live here more than another year or two. However for the time being, I am grateful to have find my personal sanctuary in the world.












Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy Anniversary to me!!

April 24, 1996...



I was 24 years old, 9 days before my 25th birthday...


I was busy working on my career, hanging out with new friends, and building a relationship...


I was told I had cancer...




It has been 14 years since my diagnosis and I am considered cured from Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and every April 24th, I take a few minutes to remember that. I take a few minutes to remember how cancer has affected every member of my family from my paternal uncle who died from pancreatic cancer to my mom who has survived both ovarian and breast cancer.

The cancer diagnosis was pretty much my first experience at learning how to listen to my body. I can visualize the day I felt a small pea-sized lump in my collarbone and how fatigued I was all the time. I saw a doctor insisting that something was wrong with me. To be honest, cancer was the last thought on my mind. I just knew I didn't feel right. I would come home from work and was in bed by 6 or 7pm at night. It was pretty much chalked up to a viral infection, mono was ruled out. My primary care doctor at the time dismissed my concerns with a lengthy explanation about how viral infections and enlarged lymph nodes take a while to heal. I guess he forgot that he was talking to a nurse; like that was something I didn't already know!


So months go by and at this point, I had changed jobs, health insurance, and along with that I got a new primary care doctor. I had been trying to convince myself for months that it was nothing because I had after all, seen my old doctor several times and he assured me that everything was fine.. But it just did not seem right. I had enlarged lymph nodes before with a cold, etc. and being a nurse, I knew this was not normal. My new doctor agreed. He did the standard treatment for a possible infection, ruled out tuberculosis and a few other minor things and then looked at me and said he just wasn't sure what was wrong and he wanted me to see an ENT specialist (ear, nose, and throat doc) so off I went...

Well, the ENT doc took this whole growing lump in my neck thing pretty seriously too and next thing I knew, I was getting a CT scan. The results were shocking. I had not only that nodule in my neck, but they were all scattered throughout my neck and chest. I remember looking at the film he put up for me to see and thinking "Oh my God, what the hell is that?" He said because of the pattern, it looked like Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lymphoma? Cancer? You have got to be kidding me. I am 24 years old. I can't have cancer! Next thing I knew, a week later I was getting a biopsy...


There is something very surreal about going to a doctor's appointment where you are getting biopsy results. It was relatively certain that I had lymphoma (not that I had accepted that at the time) but the biopsy was to know for sure and to diagnosis exactly which type as there are several different types of Hodgkin's Disease. I was pretty lucky. There had been a lot of advances in the treatment of Hodgkin's Disease at that point and really, if you had to have cancer, Hodgkin's was the way to go because of its high remission rate.


After a few weeks of more testing to determine what stage I was at and what the appropriate treatment would be, it was decided that I was a candidate for 3 months of radiation only. I was blessed to have an incredible radiation oncologist (Dr. Linda Bornstein) who was seriously one of the biggest perfectionists I had ever met...she put me to shame! I had hit the jackpot because if you are going to have that amount of radiation pumped into your body, you want someone like her to make sure everything is exact. You definitely want that radiation hitting more cancer cells then healthy cells! Because I didn't receive chemotherapy, I thought the cancer treatment wouldn't be that bad. I was seriously wrong about that. Radiation was a nightmare: treatments Mon-Fri for 3 months to my neck, chest and abdomen. I had radiation burns, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, no salivia, lost 1/2 head of hair, the list goes on.


She did it though. I did it. On August 27, 1996, I had my last radiation treatment (Dr. B. considers THAT date my anniversary date!) and have been cancer free since then. I wish I could say that since that date, I have lived every day fully because of that experience but the truth is, I have not. As the years went by, I took my cancer free body and my cancer free life for granted many times. I think that is why I always remember this date. It reminds me of how strong and courageous I can be, it reminds me of the importance of trying to get the most out of each day, and it reminds me of the fragility of life.

The hat in the picture that goes with today's posting was given to me this morning. I had to run to the post office to mail a package and there was a table set up outside by a business in town who was doing a fundraiser for The Jimmy Fund. I found this quite ironic because not only is April 24th my cancer diagnosis anniversary, but it is also the date that my mom's brother, Donald, passed away from leukemia at the tender age of 5. So I gave my donation and put on my Jimmy Fund hat and remembered how good it is to be a survivor...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stay positive ~ attitude is everything...

I saw an advertisement on Facebook for these bracelets; they are called "bandz" bracelets and I figured at $6.00 each, why not? They have all kinds of different ones with a variety of inspirational statements imprinted on them. This particular one says "Stay positive" on one side and "Attitude is everything" on the other side. Yes, I know its a little dorky but despite the fact that they are cheap and tarnish very easily, they have been a godsend. I wear them all the time. By the way, my answer to the tarnish problem is when they start to get like that, you soak them overnight and then all the silver plating wears off revealing a cool worn copper look!

Anyways, I digress. Why do I wear them? I wear them because they are a tangible reminder of the positive attitude that I try to keep at all times. I have to. Once I let myself get caught up in a cycle of negative thinking about all the ways in which my life has turned out so differently than I planned, it goes downhill from there. Of course I have days (actually I try to limit it to hours) where I say "my life really sucks", but I can tell you the fastest way to guarantee yourself day after day of discontentment and disappointment is by seeing the glass as half empty.

Is life full of pain, illness, broken hearts, lost jobs, and lost homes? Yes. However I truly believe it is how we approach these different events that determines the outcome. Here is an example: I lost my job of 10 years as a pediatric nurse due to my autoimmune disorder and not being able to return from my medical leave. I was devastated. I had given everything I had to my patients and to the hospital. I did not realize how much of my identity as a person was tied to my work as a nurse. Even though I had been out of work for 6 months already at that point, all of a sudden I was more lost than I had ever been. Someone took away a core aspect of my identity.

It seemed like not much could get worse, but then after a month or two, I realized that as much as I loved being a nurse and taking care of kids, I wasn't actually happy working there for a variety of reasons. So the glass half empty view that I had lost my job, was on disability, had no purpose in life, lost a whole social network of co-workers, etc. all of a sudden changed when I started looking at it in a different way. The glass half full attitude showed me a different perspective. I had to establish an identity for myself that didn't include having a vocation. This was a lesson in self discovery that I never have been through before. I realized I no longer had to face every day terrified about losing my job because well, it was done! I could concentrate more on getting well and finding a treatment. I looked at it as a new beginning. Although my returning to the workforce is still an undecided issue at the moment, I keep the attitude that someday I will be returning to a job of some sorts and the possibilities may be endless!

I have been asked on several occasions how I, for the most part, keep such an optimistic view on life. Well, I wear bracelets! OK, seriously that is just a part of it. I surround myself with as many positive people as possible. I never let a pity party go on for more than a few hours. I pray. I make a list of what I have in my life that I am grateful for and trust me, its a long list! I forgive other people more easily so the world doesn't seem so bad. I read, a lot. I read inspirational books, quotes, whatever I can get my hands on. I listen to upbeat music. I engage myself in activities that help other people especially those who are in much worse situations that I am in. I try to look at the world from a child's perspective; one that is usually (although not always) unscathed by our world.

I know that people experience more tragic events in their lives than losing a job and not all loss (especially the loss of a loved one) can have a positive spin to it. In general though, it seems to me that we as human beings oftentimes get caught up in a perpetual cycle of pessimism. I know, I spent years in it. It was amazing though that when I changed my attitude about events happening to me and around me, how differently the world looked. I have to tell you, it looks a lot better from this view....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here we go....

So...to be honest, I have absolutely no freaking idea how to start this whole blog thing but I am going to give it my best shot!

I guess the blog title really says it all. I was originally going to have it be only about my experience with having an autoimmune disorder. Yes, that has been the catalyst for really changing my life and learning so many valuable life lessons, but one of the biggest lessons has been this: I am not my illness. There is so much more to me than that. So I guess then my goal is going to be to pick a topic every day that I think is important to me and may very well be important to someone else. It is going to vary from how to survive the medical system/having a chronic illness to how to start your life over (which I have much experience with) to what it is like to be the mother of a crazy dog. I guess there really are no limits!

Hopfully, anyone who reads it will not be totally bored to death, but that is provided that someone DOES read it. I figure worse case scenario is that at least I won't be annoying my 118 Facebook friends with all my random thoughts unless any of them actually chose to follow the link here (hint hint).

It is a pretty scary thought though to think that whatever I write is out there for the world to see, but I guess that is kind of the point, no?

OK, I have to go play again with all the settings and stuff on here and try to figure out more what I am doing!