Finding Balance

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Getting well from cancer was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also my biggest “wake up call.” Oprah once said, “Difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper. Life always whispers to you first, but if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream”. Cancer was a symptom of how out of touch I was with my own body. Looking back, my body asked me on several occasions to change my behavior but I just wouldn’t listen. Finally when it screamed from the pain of cancer, I paid attention.

Some say getting cancer is a gift; I won’t go that far, but it was a valuable teacher. My lesson was a painful one though. My family says I’m one of those people who sometimes need to learn things the hard way. Maybe they’re right, but this time I got it. There is no going back. My life has changed forever and for the better.

Just think how many people sleep walk their way through life, always doing what they are told by others, without questioning anything. The past three plus years I have done a lot of self-reflection. I questioned everything and threw away those beliefs that never belonged to me, but were given to me by someone else. Growing up with an alcoholic mother who thrived on chaos taught me to keep the peace, even when it was detrimental to my well being. How many relationships and jobs had I stayed in far too long because those “anxious” feelings felt familiar? I was a victim and didn’t understand that I had the tools inside me to change that. By changing my views and attitudes, the kinds of people I encountered became different. It’s like I gave off a vibe that said, “Don’t mess with me.” Abusers stayed away.

Cancer gave me permission to put my needs first. For the first time in my life, others took care of me which was hard at first because I was always the caregiver. Now I take time out for myself everyday; before that, going to bed at night was the only time I had to rest. My days are still busy but I strive to find balance. If someone asks me to do something, I make sure I really want to do it. I stopped multi-tasking. Doing too many things at once just led to mistakes and for me not being “present.” I spent way too much time in the past, worrying about the future and not enjoying the present moment. My astrological sign is Libra and it’s all about balance.  My life had been out-of-balance for decades and it took a life crisis to change that.


Post cancer my life still has some ups and downs but I deal with the “downs” differently, meaning I no longer “freak out” when things don’t go the way I “think” they should. What usually happens is that things go better than what I expected anyway. If I get out of my own way, I always land on my feet. The word “should” is no longer part of my vocabulary. Ok, it is, but not as often. “Should” is to restrictive. It doesn’t allow for other possibilities and these days my world is full of possibilities.

Now I choose to listen to my inner voice, my intuition. It tells me when to slow down and seek balance.  Daily meditation and yoga keeps me grounded if things feel uncertain. Staying calm and centered helps me make better decisions.

Who knows if I would have eventually figured out a better way to live without having the cancer wake up call. It doesn’t matter anyway, but what does matter to me, is that I figured it out before it was too late.



Reality is Subjective


The other day I had a discussion with Bernie, a  70-something student in my writing class; about what, I can’t remember. I do remember saying he was thinking negatively and his response was, “I’m being realistic.” Instead of continuing the discussion I stopped talking. I knew it was a “no win” argument and I knew why; his reality is different than mine. Pretty much everyone’s is if you think about it. Most of us think in “absolutes.” We see the world our way and believe we are the rational one and anyone who sees things differently is irrational. I know because I used to think that way.

Cancer caused so many things in my life to change and a big one was how I saw the world or at least my small part of it. I started reading books about health and nutrition which led me to writings about how our minds play an important part. We are a whole being; body/mind/spirit. For example; if I am scared I can feel my heart beat faster and my breathing becomes shallow. My thoughts turn in to action. If I think someone is getting me angry, I feel angry or lash out (although, I am working hard to stop that behavior). Nobody makes me do anything, I just think they are. Its my choice if I decide to get angry or not, which brings me to the most important revelation I had (so far anyway)….  everything is a choice. If we choose to be angry then we can choose to be happy. I can choose to see the world a certain way, like “It’s a dangerous place” or I can choose to see it as “a beautiful place with new opportunities every day.”

Our news media bombards us with images and stories that make us believe the world is a dangerous place. Fear sells newspapers. It seems that we humans like drama, otherwise why are all those “reality” shows so popular? We seem to enjoy watching others fight and argue, but for me anyway, I change the channel. Realizing a few years ago that I might be dead sooner rather than later helped me decide how I wanted to see and express myself in the world. Don’t get me wrong there are days I think our current events really suck but I don’t allow myself to stay in that mindset for long. I don’t want to buy in to the “hype” anymore.

So back to my discussion with Bernie; he sees the world as a terrible place. I know because I’ve listened to him talk with others in the class during break time. I don’t like to label people, even though I do it all the time (don’t we all?) Bernie is what I call a “classic pessimist” and I am working hard to be an “optimist.”  Some days I seem to attract a lot of pessimists (I need to meditate more about why that is) and one of two things usually end up happening. But first, let me back track a minute.

Before I got sick I would dive right in to someone’s pity party. I was definitely part of the “ain’t that awful” crowd. These days, I don’t have much patience for that. Instead of “talking” something to death, I search for solutions. If someone is complaining about their situation to me, I offer a suggestion or ask them to look on the bright side which many times pisses them off, or they tell me they are being realistic, like Bernie did. In their view, being optimistic is somehow unrealistic, or Pollyannaish .

I remember now what Bernie and I were discussing. He told me he can’t be happy when there is so much misery in the world, specifically starving people in other countries. I told him that many of those people are happy in spite of their living situation. I’m sure he thinks I’m a selfish ass.

The teachings of Zen (as I understand them) does not distinguish between good and bad. It is what it is. It is up to each of us to determine how we respond to our life circumstances. We create our own world. I can choose to feel bad or hopeless about poverty or I can choose to do what I can to alleviate suffering by 1.) volunteering my time  2.) Donating money to an organization that helps the poor. If I can’t do either of those things I can do my best to not create more suffering to those around me, in other words, “Charity begins at home.” I can choose to bring positive energy to my sphere of influence.

Being negative all the time leads to stress, which weakens the immune system, which leads to disease and I’ve been down that road before and I can’t go back. There was a time not to long ago that my reality was; taking pain meds, getting poked with needles, enduring physical pain and allowing myself to be poisoned (with chemo and radiation), but I was willing to go through all that to end up with something better. I had to keep my mind straight and focus on a positive outcome. I’m sure if I worried and complained my way through treatment my story might not have turned out so good. I’m happy with the choices I made.

Someone else might not be happy with my new reality (a walker and colostomy bag) and choose to be depressed about it, but I choose to be happy. Choosing to be optimistic is my reality. It works for me. Maybe Bernie’s reality works for him and that’s ok too. Henry Ford said, ” If you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

Be Well and Be Happy… or not. It’s up to you


It’s My Birthday!

bday cake

I turn 59 years young today, although I act like I’m 12 most of the time. When I look at myself in the mirror I see a 40 year old face looking back at me, unless it’s one of those magnifying mirrors, then I see an old tortoise (whoever invented that mirror should be shot!)

Birthdays weren’t that big a deal for me before I got cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I like birthdays. I celebrated other people’s birthdays but I never wanted to make a big deal about my own. Surviving stage 4 cancer changed that. I finally understand how fortunate I am to be alive, celebrating another year, and living cancer free. There are so many who are not. Every morning before my feet hit the floor to start my day, I take a few moments to give thanks for being alive and for being healthy.

So what did I do to celebrate today? Hubby and I went to Long Beach. It’s only a twenty minute drive from my house.  We ate a tasty buffet lunch at Natraj Cuisine of India . It’s the first time we ate there and has been added to our favorite restaurant list. We will definitely be back. Then we headed across the street to a local bookstore, Apostrophe Books. I LOVE books and could spend hours snooping at all the book titles. For the last few years book stores are having a tough time keeping their doors open, especially independent ones. That makes me sad. I have no use for Ebooks. I don’t want to hold a computer device to read; my laptop gets too much of my precious time as it is. Other readers tell me the same thing. There is something wonderful about a “real” book. I like looking at my book collection sitting on my shelf. A Kindle isn’t the same. A paperback will never shut off because the battery died and if I drop it, it won’t break.

kids book

My oncologist gave birth to a girl about four months ago. I have been thinking about what to buy her. Today on the bookstore shelf, I found it. Shel Silverstein’s book, Where the Sidewalk Ends , sat there as if it were waiting for me. Instantly, I was transported back to when James was a child. I read to him since the day he was born. I couldn’t always buy him books, but we had a library card that helped him go on so many adventures. James used to ask me to insert his name in place of the main character. Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite children’s authors, so I bought the book. My hope is that Dr. S. will enjoy spending time, reading to her daughter before bedtime as much as I did to my son.  Those memories are so precious to me. The next time I talk to him I will ask him if he ever thinks about that time.

After the bookstore we were off to a Buddhist temple. I found it on Google search and it looked interesting, even though it only had a few pictures. There wasn’t a website to give me an idea of what type of Buddhism they practiced. That’s ok, It’s my birthday, I’m up for an adventure! The temple seemed farther than I thought. We almost drove past it because their sign was covered by a large tree. Luckily one of the pictures online, was of their building or we may never have found it. It’s called The Khemara Buddhikaram Buddhist Temple. When we drove in to the parking people were milling about, bring in large bags of rice. Were they having some sort of celebration? Could we come inside to see their temple deities? I am always careful to not offend those whom spiritual practice I don’t quite understand, but are still curious about. I’ve written before that I am not drawn to traditional mainstream religions, but I do like Buddhist philosophy. I am always looking for temples to photograph.

Luckily a woman asked if we needed some help.

“Would it be ok to go inside to see the deities?” ( I remembered to call them deities. Years ago I visited a Krishna temple and called them “dolls.” The person who gave me a tour quickly corrected me “they are deities!”)

“Do you want to pray?”
“Sure. That sounds good.”

Hubby and I left our shoes at the door and went inside the large room. I would have liked taking pictures of all the fresh flowers and Buddhas but it didn’t feel right. The picture below is from a Yelp review.


After lighting an incense stick and looking at the many Buddhas, we went back to where the people were. Two monks in orange robes had joined them. I asked another women if she could tell me more about the temple; she motioned to an older man to come over. She didn’t speak English. He explained in broken English, they  got together four times a month, whenever the moon’s cycle changed. They had just finished celebrating the full moon (I didn’t even know it was another full moon already!).

On the way back home we went a different route and discovered an old cemetery. I LOVE walking around old cemeteries! The new ones are soooo boring. I know it’s easier to maintain the lawn if there are no headstones to deal with, but a “flat” cemetery is just grass and has no character! My plan was to take lots of pictures of my day and so far I had zero. I forgot to ask the waitress in the Indian restaurant to take our picture and it was disrespectful to just show up at a Buddhist temple I had never been to and start snapping photos. Maybe I could find some interesting headstones. Angels are my favorite. Sunnyside Cemetery is over a 100 years old. There are hundreds of old headstones and only one angel outside the office. She would have to do.

september 23 2014 birthday 002

It turns out that Sunnyside Cemetery is more interesting and fun than I first thought. It may not have religious statues but it does have movie night! (That’s right, you read that correctly). I was looking online while I wrote this to look for some historical information and found out the Long Beach Cinematheque shows outdoor movies right there among the tombstones! I’m talking Psycho and The Shining. Next month, the original Halloween movie will play there. This has taken outdoor movies to a whole new level!

My birthday is almost over and I am smiling, thinking about my day. It feels so good to be alive.