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.
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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.
I am never quite sure to where time runs off. It has been nearly six weeks from my last post, which was not my own post, but a share of another’s blog. I really need to become better at consistency wherever I write, and in whatever I do.
I did, indeed, go to University of WA Medical Center for an MRI, and blood work. It was three months earlier than what the year out was to be. All the results came back and there were no surprises. Everything was relatively stable (again) after the nine months.
The liver lesions show virtually no growth and there a no new detectable lesions or new tumors in my system. My blood work came back as normal, though the levels in the Serum Serotonin and the Chromogranin A are elevated, as usual in someone living with carcinoid cancer/neuro-endocrine tumors.
So, the question becomes, “Why?” The attack that I had could be attributed to lesions in my intestine, healed from when they did the resection. Or it could be due to the one thing that I noticed on the report that I have never seen or paid attention to before: Gallstones.
I have had no other issues since my June issue, which concerned me, other than the “normal” pains and symptoms that I deal with living with this condition.
Sometimes, I get a bit frustrated, angry, depressed, and whiny about them, but I try to get through those moments as quickly as I can. I do not want to ever beseen as someone who cannot deal with whatever life throws my way.
Thankfully, I have a couple of trusted friends with whom I can be honest, and let them see the overly-human person. Although it is not pleasant for them, I am grateful that they accept me, love me, and (even) reach out to me in those moments.
With August right around the corner, my goal is to write daily. To all who read me, thank you for your continued support.
About four years ago, I began to have some episodes that I allowed to pass without consulting a physician. I was able to explain them away.
In April 2012, however, I found myself in the emergency room (ER) with an intestinal blockage, and thus began my journey with a new knowledge of what was going on with me. I had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Carcinoid Cancer/Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs).
The reality of the matter is that I had been living with this for years, probably several decades. The difference was that now I knew about it.
Knowledge can be a wonderful thing. It can also be something that we want to ignore, because what we know is not always pleasant. Then we make a choice to turn away, or face it head on. It is not an ideal that I always care to visit.
This weekend, I had a situation that was way too familiar to me. In fact, it is the second of episodes I have had in the past few months, with similar symptoms to what I experienced several years ago.
As much as I would like to “ignore it and hope it goes away,” I chose to write to my specialist and explain the situation. I suggested that we not wait until September for my next CT scan and follow-up appointment, which would have been a year since my last. I am awaiting a response.
I do not relish the idea of the possibility of having to go through more surgery, but I recognize that it may be necessary. I also realize that I have to face my life head-on, though sticking my head in the sand would be easier in some ways. Unfortunately, by ignoring it, I cannot guarantee that it will go away.
I have to keep reminding myself that I am LIVING with this disease. That will require me to be ever-vigilant in paying attention to what my body tells me, and not letting my mind lie to me. That is one familiar behavior I do not need to repeat.
It was Carl Jung who said, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
Three years ago was a very bleak time for me and for those who were closest to me. Much has transpired over these three years.
Yet, in the midst of the darkness came a flicker of light, which was not able to be extinguished. And for that, and the wonderful people in my life, I am truly grateful.
Why is it that people have so much trouble asking this question?
You know…the “H” question.
So many people avoid the utterance of the H-word like the plague.
Yet, they will freely litter their communication with S-words, B-words, C-words, R-words, and N-words. Of course, some also use every variation of the F-word known imaginable to man. I cannot discount the fact that the well-placed F-bomb can be highly effective. But we will leave that for another day.
Does spelling out this four-letter word make it easier for you to say?
Asking for help is not always easy, especially for those having been raised that it is a sign of weakness to do so.
Perhaps, early life lessons were taught that one should never “owe” another, so receiving any help obligates someone for life?
One must know the difference between need and want. The intention must not be to purposefully manipulate others to take advantage of them and their generosity. It requires humility, honesty, openness, and vulnerability.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when help, support, or assistance is needed. Even though it may be difficult, accepting occasional help is a reminder of humanness, and offers healing. It offers a way to show heart from the giver, as well as the receiver.
Yes, HELP is a four-letter word, but the utterance of this word does not mean that shame or guilt must accompany it.
Just like the F-word, it can be quite effective when used properly. Learn how to use it wisely.
This weekend I rented the movie 12 Years a Slave, based on an autobiographical account of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was sold into slavery and kept as a slave on the plantations of Louisiana.
Other than being a profoundly well-acted and directed film, which took Oscar’s 2013 Best Picture, Supporting Actress, and Screen Play awards, it was one of the most thought-provoking films I have ever seen.
I appreciate films that make me think and ask more questions. This film did just that. It made me wonder about the fear that is in all of us and how we can become the epitome of that which we fear the most.
Of course, it goes back to the age-old notion of the thin line between courage and cowardice, strength and weakness, or sanity and madness, and when I asked this question at my other blog earlier this morning: Is Fear Your Master?
Fear is often used to manipulate us in order to control us. We do it to ourselves, and it is often done to us. Is there a reason for such fear, if it holds us back from experiencing life, as it is intended to be?
These are the many things that are on my mind today.
Three years ago today I was in an emergency room. It began a whirlwind of events over the next 30 days that led to a diagnosis that has drastically changed my life.
April 16th is also the birthday of RGD, someone I have known since 1981. We, too, have had our own whirlwind of events in the 34 years we have known each other. Thankfully, we have remained friends over the years. He was in the ER with me three years ago, and has been of great support since.
Today, I had an overdue diagnostic mammogram. It had been two-and-a-half years. And, as I waited for the results, I began to allow some fear to creep into my brain. Would this be another diagnosis (my third)?
I found myself planning in those few short minutes. Planning for the “what if.” I jump into the until it happens mode. It is difficult for me to let that go and not concern myself about it unless it happens. It is a subtle difference that makes all the difference in the world.
The good news is that things are fine and I am cleared for another year for breast health. Another small victory to celebrate.
There will be a birthday celebration for RGD, but it will wait for a few days. And there are a few other things that need to be celebrated, like LIFE itself.
As I grow older, it becomes more and more apparent that we need to learn to appreciate each moment, as it comes, instead of our once-a-year habits.
Getting through the pain and ugliness that comes with life so that we can get to a point where we might come to understand and feel peace is not an easy journey. Far too often, we stay stuck in old patterns of behavior or struggle with new ways of thinking.
If we continue to challenge ourselves, we can find moments of peacefulness, but only if we allow ourselves an opportunity to trust. Simply trust.
Trust others. Trust ourselves.
It requires such vulnerability and we often do not know how we can ever open ourselves up to others. Sometimes, we do not see it coming and we are in the throws of it, before we know it.
We allow someone to see the crack in our armor. Before we know it, they ask a question that touches the open wound and it begins to seep.
And then we bleed.
Oh, so carefully, that someone begins to dress our wounds, offers us a tissue or a shoulder as we cry, and allows us to be human in a space where we are safe to do so. Where we feel safe to be ourselves.
It is in these moments that we begin to experience love, connection, and peace. But we must be willing to let go of part of the pain and anguish that life has not just offered us, but dumped on us.
And we start anew.
We focus on something different. Something that might bring us some joy. We see the possibilities of what can be by letting go, even for just a moment.
Then we share our laughter, the gifts of new-found friendship and a bit more peace that when we begin. And we begin to realize what it is
…to have some fun.
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If you would like to “awaken your creativity, empower your life, (and) come play,” read below!
I have also dabbled in other art and creative forms–glass, jewelry, crochet, and more. Each time I try something new, I walk in with such fear. But it is a way for me to explore and learn what I find to be most enjoyable for me.
A week and a half ago, I took a workshop in Mixed Media with Nadine Hamil of Artful Dreamers Studio. I have not yet finished the project. The fact is that I barely started, but my goal is to work with Nadine and finish the piece before the end of the year month.
I have signed up to take an all-day retreat this Sunday, called “Intuitive Painting” with Nadine, who claims:
There is not a right or wrong way, no judgment and no criticism. When you let your intuition takes over, true creativity is allowed to bloom.
ANYONE and everyone can paint. If you can hold a paint brush you can paint! When you have no idea what you are doing… it is wonderful… That means you have let go of the mind… you are in the present moment touching the space in you that allows creativity to move through you.
She also asks her workshop participants to “LET chaos in and see what appears in your painting, (opening up to) a spiritual experience.”
As I look forward to this workshop in three days, I do so with some fear. Nadine asks me to let this chaos in.
Chaos has always seemed to be a part of my life. I seem to have been born into it, am accustomed to it, and I have most often felt a need to control the chaos that comes from within. It was a way for me to survive life and all that gets thrown back.
Perhaps, this intuitive painting workshop will be a way for me to release the chaos onto canvas.
Whatever the process becomes for me, Nadine has been placed in my path for me to learn something about myself that I have not yet discovered. She is a kind, loving, gentle leader who accepts me exactly as I am. I embrace this challenge, though it is certainly difficult for me, because I trust her.
As I shared with you in my article about why I had problems with making art, digging into the artistic part of me has always been painful for me, especially when it comes to art forms such as drawing, painting, or creating some sort of “product,” that can be seen, felt and touched.
I have been much more comfortable with performance arts and writing, but still have a lack of confidence, when it comes to writing fiction and poetry, or getting on a stage to sing or put on a costume to portray someone else. The audition and submission process in both arenas scare me tremendously.
Most people do not realize the panic I feel when I am ready to take on an audience of some kind. In addition to my natural personality trait of wanting to please others, be liked and fit-in, I took on a lot of fear of rejection and abandonment or being made fun of in my early days. I still struggle with some of those issues of comparing myself to others, as my experiences throughout my life supported that struggle.
Yet, we get to a point in our lives when we realize that we must take the plunge and jump into whatever it is that scares us the most. Art seems to be it for me. The time is now for me to tackle my emotions around these types of art forms.
Jewelry-making, crocheting, fused glass, music and theatre, and many other things have been something in which I have dabbled here and there. I avoided painting and drawing like they were the plague, but I found myself in a Transformational Painting class with Nadine Hamil at Artful Dreamers Studio in Tacoma, Washington nearly three weeks ago.
As promised, here is my experience...
I was running late. I tend to do so anyway, but I think this was due more to my discomfort and dragging my feet a bit. I tried to justify calling Nadine up to cancel, but could not bring myself to do it on several levels.
Contrary to what others may think of me and my abilities to get to know people, I am not generally comfortable in groups of fewer than 20, due to the vulnerability I feel (going back to not fitting in). I felt that way walking in to the basement studio.
Other than the trepidation I felt between people and painting, I loved walking in to the space. There were so many things to see. There was a sense of color and awesome wonder, unlike what I would have expected from an artist gallery or studio. In actuality, there was a randomness and abstract quality to the room.
As much as I loved it and the freedom it represented to me, seeing the tables set up, each place setting with an easel and other things to make us comfortable, I had a sense of deep panic. I am not sure if it were due more to the anticipation of painting or having others see me in my vulnerability.
After Nadine took us through some relaxation and visualization exercises, it was time for us start the project.
Transformational painting, as I understood it, was a step-by-step process to start us on a journey on the canvas, that would (through each step) transform from one thing to completely another.
The 12″x12″ square canvas has already been prepared (primed with gesso) for painting. Using black acrylic paint, we were instructed to write “I am” statements. I decided to use a central theme of “I AM WOMAN” and added adjectives all around the centered words. I painted the adjectives in this order:
Yep. That just about sums me up. What you see is what you get. What you get is not always, however, the whole of the sum of me.
All the words staring back at me from the canvas made me feel exposed.
There were a series of steps now to take: Paint a light whitewash over the words; using a pastel, draw a spiral from the outside to the inside, then fill in with shape throughout the spiral; using three colors of paints that call out, dip finger in paints and dab in each of the spaces and let dry. Think about what the object of the painting will be and draw it on the canvas using a pencil to get the idea down before outlining it.
Before getting to the penciling stage, I had a breakdown about not knowing what to draw. I (literally) was in flight mode before that, which would have been okay, but I tried to remain in my seat to work through it.
Nadine sat down beside me and talked me through it. I was afraid I was taking away from the experience of the others by making them uncomfortable, but all I could do is give myself the space to feel uncomfortable, be vulnerable, and allow others to see. I sat there, crying, and telling the story of why art was difficult, and then showing my frustration and talking my way through what I wanted to draw. Nadine had suggested a butterfly. I was opposed to that and think I said, “I don’t LIKE butterflies!” I felt like a little kid throwing a fit.
Nadine was so kind. So were the others in the workshop. No one ostracized me or made fun of me. Nadine asked me what I wanted to draw. I think I said, “A heart. I need to show people my heart.”
As she coached me through that process, I found myself telling her (and the others, because they were there in the room) that many see the qualities that I had described on the canvas, and the tough parts of me, but rarely my heart. I shared with her how our mutual friend, Ronna, called me “a lightning bolt of instigation” and how most others are scared away by the power that they see in that or fearful or off-put by the storm that they initially see, that they never get to the big-hearted part of me when they walk away.
“I want people to see that I have a big heart.”
I knew then that I needed to draw a heart for the world to see. It somehow represented a part of me that others don’t take the time I do not always allow others to see.
I also wanted to own that part of me that is powerful and fierce in the face of all that life has dished out–the lightning bolt. The words on the canvas were still there, even though some were no longer visible. Yet, they are still words that describe my personality and character traits, a part of the whole.
I was pretty emotional during this few minutes.
One of the participants, sitting next to me, slid her cell phone over to me without a word. She had searched for images of hearts with lightning bolts. Her kind gesture made me a bit weepy. What a caring group of women!!
I outlined the heart and bolt in black paint and then painted in the colors that spoke to me. You can still see some of the words come through.
The next step was to paint the background. I began to use my index and middle fingers to apply the paint. I took care not to get TOO messy.
I was heavier on the paint that others were. I am not sure if it was a conscious decision to not allow much to show through or not. Nonetheless, the paint won out over the words, but if you look closely, you can barely make out two words at the bottom of the heart–
sassy and instigative.
There was something missing for me. It looked okay, but it seemed bland to me. I found the glue and the gold glitter. Once I added the “bling,” I actually liked it felt a twinge that it was something I could hang on a wall.
Of course, artists always sign their work, right? I hardly felt like an artist, but having so many years in performance, I mustered up a sense of performance inside, acting as an artist. I added a signature–Coco 2014. I was not going to use my real name on this in case it found its way someday in a pile of stuff for the thrift store. (Coco is a nickname some have used for me for 30 years.)
By the time I finished, everyone else was gone. I felt that I had taken up way too much of Nadine’s time and was embarrassed and apologetic. Yet, she took a moment and sat down with me. We talked about many things, but this is what I remember of the conversation:
Me: “You know, I have to admit that I kind of like this. It’s the glitter that did it, that made it pop.”
Nadine: “I think so, too.”
Me: “This was extremely painful…the process of it, I mean.”
Nadine: “Did you, at least, have some fun?”
Hearing her words, I started to panic. I could tell her the truth and open myself up to being more vulnerable. I was also worried that I would hurt her feelings by doing so.
Me: “Honestly, no I didn’t. It was not fun for me, but it was necessary. And I actually do like the result.”
I sat for a moment in the echo of my brain having spoken my truth. Nadine did not flinch nor get up and walk away. She simply listened and I knew she cared enough to do so. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I were sharing my deepest secrets with a big sister. It felt a bit awkward to me, but I allowed myself that moment.
I decided to call this painting, “Hear Me Roar!” Perhaps it was due originally to the reference of the old Helen Reddy song, “I Am Woman.” It seemed appropriate at the time, and it has stuck.
Since that day, I have come to an understanding of a few simple truths about myself, as they came out in the painting.
I am woman under all that I show to the world, and am complex in what I feel and share. I share some of the qualities I possess, but do not always show them in a vulnerable way. I make choices, picking and choosing what I want the world to see.
I do have a heart that I want the world to see. A big heart. One that cares deeply that I often hide from others because I have felt so much pain. Yet, having a heart does not mean that I am weak.
The lightning bolt speaks to my fierceness. Much of the world has seen that part of me. It, like my heart, is often misunderstood. Fierceness does not mean that I am unapproachable or heartless, but it does mean I face fear with a determination that others do not easily or readily understand. I am willing to sacrifice a part of myself with an energy that is frightening for some.
When you marry up the big heart and the lightning bolt, it represents many emotions. It might appear to some that it is a broken heart. It certainly often feels that way in my life, my fierceness often scaring people away and leaving me feeling isolated. When alone, others do not see my heart. Or perhaps, they are also as afraid of my heart as I am.
Under all that I show (in this case both heart and lightning bolt), I am still the same woman, whether or not it is visible or not. I am made up of so many qualities. If others could peel away all the layers of paint, they would be able to read them.
Just as this process was transformational on the canvas, the experience was equally transforming for me. I am in a place of discovery that I cannot go through alone. I need others to walk beside me, at times. I also need them to understand that in my vulnerability, I am not weak, nor in my fierceness am I unapproachable.
I realize that it requires me to be honest with myself and others, and understand that will not always result in the same people I have known being able to be present. I may need to open myself up to the heartbreak of losing and also the discovery of new experiences and people.
Regardless, under it all and no matter the transformation, still I am woman. And still you will hear me roar.
Thanks, too, to my dear friend, Ronna Detrick (ronnadetrick.com), who has blessed me in more ways than she may even realize. Through her, I met Nadine. But without her, I would not have known how to acknowledge and accept the “lightning bolt” part of me.
Both of these women are instrumental to my learning how to accept and show my heart. I am eternally grateful and love both of these women.
I hope that others who may find themselves reading this blog will also check out the links to these women’s websites. May you be as blessed as I am to get to know each of them.