Rites of passage

As the day comes to a close and I prepare for bed, I remember the first night I spent on my own, property of the U.S. Government, in a bottom bunk in an old, wooden barracks at Lackland AFB, San Antonio.

I had no idea what the next day or month or year would hold, but I had made the decision. No one made it for me.

As I reflect on that first night, I recognize now that I knew very little about what it was to be in relationship to other people. I did not know what it was like to have very many friends. Nor did I realize that most of the women that were my “flight mates,” who were in the same basic training squadron that I was in,  had their own stories.  Perhaps, some of them were running away from the lives they had before the Air Force, just as I was doing.

Maybe they, like me, were just as clueless about who they really were outside of a family that did not really know them, as we tried to live up to (and break out of, simultaneously) the expectations of what we were supposed to be as women.

Forty-four years ago, I had a difficult time falling asleep in the old barracks with no air conditioning on a muggy Thursday night in San Antonio.  Two all-cotton flat sheets, a wool blanket, and a feather pillow with a cotton pillow case were all that separated me from the lumpy mattress on the bottom bunk of a metal bunk bed. The newness of being solely responsible now for my own decisions had my mind racing, and I thought back to earlier  that morning…

I had turned 18 just thirteen days earlier. I was now considered an adult. I remember not wanting her to go in with me. I told her that I did not. It was my way of letting her know I was a big girl and to cut the ties.
I wanted my mother to drop me off in front of the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Los Angeles, California. We got there before 7:30 a.m. and all I wanted to do is get out of the car, say a quick “Goodbye,” and pass through the doors…by myself.
All of the rest of the memories of the morning are foggy now, 44 years later. what I might say could very well hold some inaccuracies. I do remember that it felt awkward.
Today was the day that I pushed my mother away, declaring through my actions, that I was an adult now and did not need her…nor want her. Of course, I never said those words. Yet, is that not what we all do at some point in our lives when we “grow up”?
I was her firstborn, but now I was leaving. Abandoning the family…abandoning her, a 39-year-old single mother of four more children, ranging in ages of 14 down to 4. My father had left her only a year-and-a-half earlier for a younger woman who was only nine years my senior.
Today was also the day that I felt my mother gave her final push to get me out of her hair. I was an adult now and did not need her. She did not need me either…nor want me. Of course, she never said those words either.
In some ways, it felt like an emotional stand-down. Two generations of women, who had not yet learned how to say, “I need you. I want you. I love you. I am going to miss you.” It seemed so much easier to simply push away or push back.
Forty-four years ago today, I left home–my mother and my four siblings–to join the United States Air Force to serve my country. I loved my country.
I would not do things much differently than I did, except….I would have told my Mom that I was and always would be her little girl who needed and wanted her, and would always love her.
(Original story–“My rite of passage into adulthood”–as written by me and posted at MyLot, 23 August 2017 10:23 a.m. PDT )
As I prepare for bed tonight, many years later, it is still my racing mind that keeps me separated from the sleep that has always proved to elude me.
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Six months is too long…

Six months is too long to go without keeping up on a blog of any kind.  If this were a blog which was monetized and I were relying on its income, instead of simply as a way to share my silly thoughts, I would be in dire straits.

Since I last posted, I audited more Spanish classes at my local community college.  It has not done much for my ability to speak, but I can certainly understand more.  Admittedly, the tenses beyond the present and simple past kicked my butt.  I plan on re-auditing the both Spanish II and III again in the winter and spring quarters.  I am also bound and determined to find a place where I can volunteer that will keep me (at least) speaking occasionally.  The more I hear it, and attempt the communication in Spanish, the more I will retain.

In the late spring (May and June), I came up on an anniversary of my diagnosis of stage 4 Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)/Carcinoid Cancer.  It has been five years since the fiasco of 2012, when I was told that I “have six months to a year; two, if lucky.” Each year, I have a little “fight” with myself surrounding those memories.  I keep reminding myself that I am LIVING with stage 4 cancer, NOT dying of it!

I am grateful for this life, and am also grateful for the decades of other challenges throughout my life–family, military, my choices, failed relationships (romantic, friends, family, career)–that have prepared me to handle all that has been dropped in my lap.  Of course, I am ever-so-thankful for the good things that have also come from life. Sometimes, the challenge is staying focused on the good that comes from each and every situation, even though it is not always easy.

I truly believe it is a mindset that comes from releasing ourselves from the shame and guilt that has been heaped upon us by systems (family, school, religion, military, clubs, cliques, etc. ) that feel the need to control us…to make us “behave.”  I have become more and more aware this year of just how much I chose those paths over the years, because I somehow felt so damaged and in need of being fixed.

I have held onto a lot of “clutter” in my life, literally and figuratively.  I have used this to keep people “out”…to isolate myself. Honestly, I have done this much of my life, whether things, people, or thoughts.  I am working on the de-cluttering process in many facets. Whether things, thoughts or people, all can insidiously take over our lives, leaving us no room for taking care of ourselves first.  I am continuing to do some hard work surrounding some of those issues and, I am happy to say, with much less guilt.

Just 12 days ago, I had a birthday–my 62nd.  It has been a challenge to wrap my head around this number.  But it is just a number. Since I never believed that I would see 58, I am always surprised.  I do not dwell much on it, but try to wake up each day and simply say, “Thank you.”

There is always much more that I could say, but I will call it “a wrap,” for this evening.

I will simply end with one of my favorite quotes from Ann Landers.

Nobody gets to live life backward. Look ahead. That is where your future lies.

Remember, dear readers, we are all living with something.  Please do not allow it to keep you from enjoying life.

Love, joy and peace to you…

 

It’s the middle of February and Life seems to be moving at mach speed

Life seems to pass along so quickly any more.  There never seems to be enough time.  At least, that’s what I hear others say.

Earlier this month, I wrote a piece called “Out of sight, out of mind” ( click on the link to read) and noted that we do not pay much attention to those around us. I have to wonder just how much can be attributed to the fast pace by which we make our choices.

I also wonder why we want to include others in our lives, yet do not seem to have the time to do so.

The question remains:  Do we REALLY want them or do we simply feel obligated to say so?

Life continues to move day-by-day.  One day, it will come to an end for each of us.  But time will continue to move on for those who remain.  Are we ready to deal with the consequences of having so little time for those we say we care about?

Time is ticking away at record speed. Quality time spent is so important, that we must make some decisions to forego the things that rob us of joy, and seek out those moments where we do not settle. Time will not wait for us.

 

 

¡Viva la cebra!

I have been auditing a Spanish class this quarter, not to receive a grade but simply to learn. It has been decades since I have studied the language. We have our final exam on Thursday. It is difficult to believe that the quarter is over.

Yesterday, our final project was to be delivered.  It had both a written and oral component. Orally, we were to deliver it from memory, not read it.

We were to tell a story of “Una Fiesta.” It was to be in third person, in past tense. and between two and four minutes in length, using vocabulary and concepts that we have learned these past 10 weeks.

At the last minute and with my professor’s permission, I decided to do it a little differently than what I might have first considered. I pushed myself to tell a true story. My story. So, I did not write it until Monday night, which made memorization of it more difficult, considering the words I would have to research and speak.

I began by passing out “Zebra Awareness” ribbons that I made the night before. It actually gave me some time to get comfortable. One might say it was a “stalling technique.” (There are some effective strategies that I have learned as a presenter over the years!) At the end of the speech, I passed out information sheets with symptoms, misdiagnoses, and websites for more information on Neuroendocrine Tumors (Carcinoid Cancer).

This was my first “speech” that I have delivered in Spanish. Though it was not long, and it may not have been completely understandable to the other first-year college Spanish students who had to suffer through my stumbles and less-than-perfect pronunciation,  I completed it, and I was able to plant the seed of awareness for eight more people.  That was as important to me as writing and speaking this message in Spanish.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tres meses antes, la mujer de 56 años escuchó palabras que nadie debería escuchar.

“Lo siento, pero tienes el cáncer carcinoide neuroendocrino de la Etapa 4 en todo su sistema. No hay quimioterapia ni cura.”

El doctor continuó y dijo: “Tienes seis meses o un año.”

Nada la preparaba para esas palabras. Era surrealista. Se sentía afortunada de estar, pero tenía pocas esperanzas de vivir hasta el final del año con este raro cáncer, representado por una cinta de cebra.

Ella planeó su fiesta de cumpleaños final en agosto en su restaurante italiano preferido. Ella invitó a 200 personas. Por supuesto, no todos podían estar allí, pero 40 invitados celebraron a su amiga. Una amiga, a quien no había visto en 20 años, la sorprendió volando desde California para cenar con ella.

Todos los invitados comieron ensalada, pasta y pizza. Bebieron vino. Se rieron juntos y disfrutaron de la noche.

La mujer no murió en seis meses ni en un año. Ella no murió en dos años. Esa noche fue hace más de cuatro años y medio.

Yo soy esa mujer. Soy una cebra. Y estoy viviendo CON cáncer, no muriendo de él.

¡A la vida!  ¡Viva la cebra!

(To read the English translation, click here.)

carcinoid

Veterans Day Heartbreak and Plea to Younger Veterans

(Author’s note:  It is likely that there will be some or many who will disagree.  I ask only for us all to respect one another as we get into discussions.)

For anyone who has read my posts for the last several years, or who have known me for a few years or a lifetime, you know what I stand for, especially when it comes to service to others, patriotism, and my reasons for why I joined the military.  But today, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness because of what has transpired in these last few days since the Presidential election this year.

I know that half of you who voted are happy about the outcome.  The other half are not. It was certainly a shock to everyone that Donald Trump–never a politician–would win over Hillary Clinton, whose life-long dream was to take the political path to the White House.

In all elections, there is a winner and loser, where the candidates are concerned.  There are always going to be those who are happy about the outcome and those who are unhappy or, better said perhaps,  ecstatic and devastated.

I, too, am disheartened by what I’ve seen in these last few days. But, before you start making assumptions about how I cast my ballot, I suggest you continue reading.

First of all, I will start by saying that I voted my conscience, which is what I have always done, and encourage others to do. I, in good conscience, could not vote for either of the two major party candidates. (The reasons behind my decisions are not important to share in this post. If you would like to get into a respectful discussion about them, I would be glad to do it over a cup of coffee.)

So, the reason that I am so disheartened is not so much about the outcome of the election itself, but how people are responding and reacting.

What I am observing in many situations is this:  People who are very vocal about wanting the freedom to say what they want and do what they want and be who they want to be seem to be some of the major offenders of doing it at the expense of the freedoms of others.  They are rioting, burning, smashing, assaulting, and killing others just because they are angry, enraged, and (perhaps a bit) spoiled, with no regard for the sanctity of the process. Instead, they opt for the hateful destruction of anything or anyone who is in the path of the rage. Sometimes, this is effecting some of the very people who agree with them.

One of the most difficult things I have seen is: Known  veterans are out there in the streets protesting, and allowing the extreme ugliness.

They are not the remaining World War II veterans or the Korean War vets. I am not seeing too many Vietnam veterans.  Of these groups, we are certainly raising our voices in  disagreement with what has gone on in politics these last couple of years. We are not the ones seeking out media cameras to get our 15-minutes of fame by smashing storefronts or setting fire to monuments or destroying cars because they (the cars) are there to be destroyed.

I am saddened that some people, who have no understanding of the price of freedom, are doing, some of them who have been in uniform.

Several years ago, I started to see a major change in this country, as it related to service to others.  When I would thank a young veteran for serving, there were some people who would answer, “I didn’t do anything for you. The last thing in the world I joined for was for this country or the people in it.  I just did it for free college.”

I try to impress on many of these young veterans that, even though they do not  think they have served  or maybe that was not their intent, what they actually did was serve this country and its people. It may have “fallen on a lot of deaf ears,” but I believe there are some who realized it. There are even some who always knew it, even though it is not popular to admit it.

There are many of those who are in our younger age groups with the same attitudes of doing solely for self, without regard to the common good for others.  Some are a bit less of more ill-mannered. This is not to say that all Millennials fit into this profile, any more than all we Baby Boomers are  alike either.  I know many  good and rotten folks in both age groups, and many in-between.

I just can’t seem to get over this overwhelming black cloud that is not coming from one party or another, but is coming from people who are now becoming the largest in numbers.

And I cry for this country.  I cry for those who are hurting and fearful. And I cry for myself, as a veteran, who would be willing to lay down my life to protect their freedoms, yet most would not do the same for one another and, least of all, me.

We do not have a perfect country or system. There are many things that I wish that I could change over the last few days, weeks, years, and my lifetime.

But I also know that I live in a country where we are still free to vote, disagree, protest, and share so much more that others can not do, by the nature of their birth.  All that is asked of us is that we respect order and, if we are to dissent, we do it peaceably.

It is my hope that those young people who have served, and understand what it takes to work together with people who think differently than they do, step up as leaders to help heal this nation and its people.  It starts with each of of us, as we seek to understand one another by getting into dialogue, rather than breaking laws of order.

To all my fellow veterans–the younger ones–step up.  Take the lead. Do what is right.  Not just what is for right now. You will make the difference.  And I thank you for your continue service to this country by doing so.

The Importance of November 10th

Most, who have had a relationship with the United States Marine Corps (USMC), know that November 10th marks the USMC’s birthday. Today is their 241st birthday.  So, I begin by wishing all of you who are Marines–“Once a Marine, always a Marine”–a very happy birthday. Semper Fi!

November 10 also represents something very important to me.

November 10th is Neuroendocrine Tumor (NET)/Carcinoid Cancer Awareness Day. November is Awareness Month for this cancer that has been previously considered a rare cancer. It is now being recognized around the world  as the day and month to build awareness of this cancer.

As many know bits and piece of my story with this cancer,  I am living with Stage 4  Neuroendocrine (aka Carcinoid) cancer, having been diagnosed in May 2012. There is no cure (yet).

As I have been told by several in the medical field that I have known, there was not a lot of teaching of this cancer during their time in medical school.  “Under an hour,” and “15 minutes” are two answers that were shared with me.

This cancer is generally misdiagnosed on average of 10 years, and over 90% of us, who are called “Zebras,” are diagnosed in advanced Stage 4 levels.

In my case, some of the things that I had heard suggested, tested for, diagnosed with, and/or treated for over a period of over 20 years were (not necessarily at the same time and in no particular order) : Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diverticulitis, Asthma, and more.

I am not here today to rehash things that you can read elsewhere on my blog, but simply to let you know that today is a day that I want have you consider learning what you may not know.  I knew nothing (and I fear many medical professionals had no idea either) of this disease before my diagnoses in the spring of 2012.

I believe true learning comes from discovery, when we are challenged in some way to find out answers, rather than being force-fed the information.

So, my challenge you is to start by discovering a little today, by becoming curious enough to find out WHY we are called “zebras.” Let it begin there.

Then, I want you to encourage you to find some other bit of information that you find interesting about this disease, and then share this information on your social media sites. Begin by becoming aware, then by passing awareness along.

Feel free to share my story, if you wish, but I IMPLORE YOU to start by learning more yourself.  There are many people who are (were) walking around with this cancer and do  (did) not know it yet.

I am one of those people.

Please keep in mind that today, November 10th, is one day to remember to build awareness. Or to say, “Happy birthday!” to a Marine.  But we can have 365 days of building awareness. Or thanking a veteran.

It all starts with one day.  Today is the day to begin.

Check out these resources to start:

http://carcinoidawareness.org/  and  http://carcinoid.org

Zebra 1

 

Living with Intention or Wandering?

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There seems to have been a grand movement toward the “living with intention” ideology. Of course, every generation believes that they are the first ones to think of it. Some use traditional philosophies or religious teachings to take the step toward living intentionally. Others reject the traditional, as it feels stifling and rigid with “should” or “don’t” around ever corner, guilt and shame being the motivator.

Some struggle for a lifetime, unable to see the joys of life through the challenges faced, often going to their graves feeling that their lives had no meaning or purpose, as defined by others’ definitions. Others accept their plights, taking on martyrdom as their sole purpose so others will not have to suffer the same unpleasantness and can live happily.

Then there seems to be those who have it all, exempt from the tragedies that have befallen others. They are born with societal standards of beauty, health, and success. If (when) they do find themselves in tough times, it is often hidden and rarely shared for fear of judgement by others or tarnishing the image they have worked so hard to maintain in their attempts to protect the status that they enjoy.

Each and everyone of us struggles. We humans are the ones who decide (and define) who are more deserving of those struggles.

Because we are bombarded by the definitions that others have piled upon us, it is often difficult to know what living intentionally means to us, as individuals. We are too busy trying to follow others’ acceptable versions of those intentions.

Some will choose a different path altogether, one that is seen as a wanderer or “dancing to the beat of a different drummer.” They are often rejected by family, friends, and society for being an  embarrassment. Years or decades later, they are still talked about behind their backs, and discussed as pitiful creatures who have not found their way.

The trouble with this is that the basis of these discussions is on very old perception, based on limited knowledge. It is often accompanied by an active refusal to seek new knowledge and understanding.

For the person who finds him- or herself as the wanderer, living without the intention that others think is acceptable, it is rather easy to fall into a habit of feeling unworthy or lost. It can be a challenge to find the meaning and purpose.  Perhaps, it is not in finding it; rather, in recognizing it when it shows up.

In the last few days, I have experienced some of those recognizable moments, which are evidence that I am, indeed, living with intention.  I will share more of this in my next post.

Until then, please remember J.R.R. Tolkein’s words describing Aragon…

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
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Reference:

 Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), “Strider”, ISBN 0-395-08254-4

Photo credits:  Public domain photos via Pixabay

Copyright:  Author, Coral Levang, 2016. All rights reserved. May be used with permission and proper citation.

 

 

 

43 years…where did the time go?

Forty-three years. That is how long it has been since I left home. Barely 18. In fact, just 13 days after my 18th birthday.

I am still amazed that it has been that long. I do not feel as if so many years have passed. Yet, life’s clock does not lie.

Thirteen days ago, I spent my 61st birthday attending the 2016 Pierce County Cancer Survivor Conference. It was certainly not what I might have believed 43 years ago that I would be doing in 2016.

Yet, I am thankful for life. I am thankful for the life I have lived…and am continuing to life.

But I still, for the life of me, cannot figure out where the years went. It seems like just a few years ago that I was taking the oath of enlistment.

 

2

Rather than rehash old stories, if you are interested in reading the story of the day that I left for the Air Force, you can visit the link to my blog post from two years ago: 41 years later: Freedom and independence was bittersweet

 

Moving On from Toxic Relationships

There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on.  ~Zahn Malik

Over the years, people come and go throughout our lives. Friendships that once were close drift apart. We move jobs or locations. We move on.

Some of these friendships continue to be important to us. Though we may not be in contact for awhile, the connections never really cease to exist. When we make the occasional call or see one another decades later, it continues as if time never passed. Then we go back to our lives until our paths cross again, often years later, and for awhile…we move on.

We also have people in our lives from which we grow apart. We each change so much that we can no longer remain friends. What we had in common at one stage of life is no longer important, nor does it continue to bind us together. We wish them well, but then…we all decide to move on.

As we mature, we realize there are many friendships, which we can no longer try to maintain…that we SHOULD not maintain, if only to protect our own sanity. We know we must move on.

These may be with people who are extremely negative and try to drag you into their drama. Or they make you their scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong. Perhaps, they are unable to take ownership for their lives. Even when they reach out to you, there is a sense of blaming, control, or “woe-is-me,” and it has not changed in all the years you have known them. The handwriting on the wall. Yet, we struggle with knowing how to move on.

Because we care about these people, and once were close in our friendships, we give them chance-after-chance, time-after-time.  At some point, you are slapped upside the head and see that they are stuck in the loop of “same-old-shit-different-day/circumstance.”  You know instinctively that you cannot help them. They need the kind of help that you are not equipped to give them. You are not a trained psychotherapist.

When you try to set boundaries, they push back hard and become abusive in their language, blaming you for not understanding. They accuse you of turning your  back on a friend in need. Now you know that you must run as fast as you can to move on.

The only way out of this type of unhealthy relationship is to let them know that you no longer wish to be in relationship to them. They are toxic to you, and you realize that it is time for you to take care of yourself. You do it kindly, but directly. And then you block them from email, social media, and do not answer the phone calls.  You finally move on.

For a time, you may not hear anything anymore.  Life is peaceful. You recognize that your stress level is greatly reduced. You no longer take on their drama. You think they have moved on.

You develop healthy relationships with people who give you life, and affirm the value you hold in relationship to them. Being around these friends energizes you. There is reciprocity in the relational dynamic. You begin to grow and develop well-rounded friendships/relationships with people who who breathe life into you, and do not suck the very breath from you. You are able to move in similar directions, and celebrate life with one another, even through the difficult tests of time.

Then one day, you hear from someone you told years ago to not contact you. He/she reaches out in order to “move on” past what was. The boundaries you set forth a few years earlier are held in complete disregard.

The language becomes confusing, guilt-inducing, and the methods  feel creepy:

  • “I don’t know why you won’t call me me back.” 
  • “You misunderstood what I meant.”  
  • “I don’t think you understand what I was going through.”
  • Sometimes, there will be a suggestion that this is a return call, when (in fact) you have chosen not to call, but to ignore the attempted contacts.
  • Calls will come several times throughout the week,  late at night when you are sleeping, sometimes to your work numbers. The messages are nearly always the same.

All of these seem to be attempts to manipulate the situation in order to get you to respond to  with a return phone conversation or email exchange. You have seen this before, and you know what the end result will be. Nothing good will come of this, because their behavior has not changed over the years. You recognize the patterns.

It is not always easy to know how to deal with situations, such as this.  Each situation is unique. At some point, you need to be direct and say, “This is enough.”  

But when these toxic people start to resurface, what do you do? Do you entertain them? Do you call them back?  Do you email them? I think not. But there might come a time when you must discern what to do, dependent on the gravity of the situation.

It may require you to give one last message:

 “I HAVE moved on. Do NOT contact me again. Any further contact in any format will be considered harassment/stalking.”

You moved on. They need to move on, too. 

Until you let go of ALL the toxic people in your life, you will NEVER be able to grow into your fullest potential. Let them go so you can grow.  (LIVELIFEHAPPY.com)

A Conversation with My Mother

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my mother. Today was no different, except that I talked to her today…a lot.

If you were able to ask her about me, she would tell you that I would talk to anyone who would listen. She might even tell you that she was a bit concerned that I was talking to myself, and blaming her for me talking to myself today!

Today marked five years since she has been gone.

Mom always told me to keep looking forward…“you can’t go back in time.” Sometimes, even remembering or talking about the past, she would call, “living in the past.”  We never did agree on that point.

I thought a lot about Mom today, but not only because it was this anniversary. I went to visit my dear friend, who has been in the hospital since last Wednesday. I call him “my brother from another mother.” 

I think that my mother would have liked him.  He doesn’t talk too much, and he has the same rapier wit that she had.  They both deliver those zingers like no other.  They may have become rather competitive. They would both get a chuckle at who could come up with the best ones.

I asked my Mom to put a good word in for my friend, and let whatever “Big Guy Upstairs” there is to find something else for him to do here.

Soon after I had that talk with Mom, he reached for my hand on the railing, and took it to squeeze it. Though he’s very ill and not coherent, he is still showing signs of responding to voice commands. A day earlier, this was not the case.

Having dealt with this situation with him, and losing another friend, Pam, to carcinoid cancer/neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) on Saturday, I am glad that I was able to spend some quiet time while remembering Mom and feeling her presence.  But yet…

Mom, I miss you so very much.