Christmas: A Time for Reflection

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The Christmas season has many meanings; for some it’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus; others enjoy the hustle and bustle of shopping for that perfect gift and going to the holiday “office” party. Christmas was never a huge deal for me; I like celebrating birthdays more. Most of my adult life was spent working on Christmas Eve as a waitress. I always volunteered to work so someone else could go home to see their relatives. For many, Christmas is the only time they see loved ones, although when my son was young, I did stay home so we could eat Christmas dinner with relatives and open presents.

Now, Christmas has a new meaning for me. For the past four years I think about the events that led up to my cancer diagnosis. I was working on a small boat dealing Black Jack for a Christmas party December 24th. I remember the exact moment I felt bad, although at the time I couldn’t explain my physical symptoms. All I knew was I felt bad. Real bad. I couldn’t wait to get off the boat and go home. Two days later I was admitted to the hospital and my journey back to wellness began.

For years I suffered bouts of constipation and diarrhea. Every year it was worse and the year before I was diagnosed, I stopped going to public places, like flea markets (my favorite place to go) or walking my dogs in the park. If it didn’t have a public bathroom I could reach within two minutes, I stayed home. Work was a whole other problem. I got up two hours earlier than necessary in hopes that my morning bowel movements were completely done before my morning commute. Freeways were off-limits, so I took surface streets instead, in case I had the urge to go. Fear of having an accident in my pants was always on my mind because it already happened several times before.

Today I have a colostomy bag. It makes my life better. Some people say they would rather die than have to wear one, but maybe if they were given the choices I had, they would change their minds. It doesn’t matter. We all have our own ideas of what “quality of life” means to us. As the years go by I am more and more grateful to not only be alive, but healthy as well. I have everything I need to live a comfortable life. There isn’t one single thing I would ask Santa for… except… to help those going through cancer treatments to experience peace, love and faith so they too will find healing.

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I hope you are spending this day doing exactly what you want. After I’m done with this post, I will walk my dogs, eat a healthy meal and curl up with a good book. Hubby has to work but will be home soon.

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Holidays!

Ingebird
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Christmas at the Hospital

Three years ago today, I was admitted to UCI Hospital and given an emergency blood transfusion. The last time I was hospitalized, I was in labor with my son. He is now 35. This post is not really about that time in my life, I only noticed the date when I was looking at my laptop, deciding on what to write about. It’s amazing though how time flies and how far I have come since that day.

I wanted to write about how I spent my Christmas this year. I am not a religious person, so the Christmas holiday for me is not about the birth of Jesus. I also don’t go for the idea of shopping myself into financial ruin in order to buy everyone I ever met the ‘perfect” Christmas gift. I have everything I need to live comfortably and most important I am healthy.

So for me, I like volunteering at the infusion center at UCI. There are no volunteers working there during the two-week holiday. I don’t have to be there either but I enjoy it. My job this year was to hand out Christmas gifts to patients getting treatment; knit hats, scarves, and book bags made by other volunteers specifically for our cancer patients. I even persuaded my friend, Bob, another volunteer and stage four cancer survivor, to help me out.

Bob helped take care of me when I was sick. I have a special bond with him. Actually, he helps me every Wednesday afternoon when he is finished helping out his doctor on another floor, so it wasn’t that hard to get him to join me Christmas eve.

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This is me and Bob making our Christmas faces. I have a friend who told me that she doesn’t have one single picture of me making a normal face — like smiling. I like making faces for the camera. Its hard to find people who will make faces with me. Bob is good that way. I am so lucky to have Bob as my friend.

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One of the patients who snagged a private room brought Christmas with her. You can’t see them in the picture (to ensure her privacy) but her friends were there along with food and presents to celebrate. People are so smart. Christmas can be anywhere you want.

We gave all the presents out and I think the patients were happy. That made me happy.

But before I left the hospital, I ran into a patient’s mom in the parking lot. I met the patient and his mom a few times before and I knew he was currently an inpatient. He was in ICU and it didn’t look good. His mom was upset that the hospital refused to allow him out for a few hours so he could eat Christmas dinner with the family. She was convinced he would feel better if he could be home.  I knew he was in no shape to be released. It broke my heart to see his mom so upset. Being a mom myself , I can’t imagine the pain this woman must have felt. I wondered though, if she knew how grave his situation was or was she in denial in order to cope with the situation. I never know what to say in those circumstances except that I am sorry.

I will admit, that part of my volunteering sucks.  And that’s when my Buddhist practice comes in handy. Nothing and no one is here forever. Its about impermanence. I do know that the short time I spent with that patient, I did my best to “water his seeds of happiness.”

I hope your Christmas or whatever you chose to celebrate or not celebrate, was happy.

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Sat Nam,

Inge

How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

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It’s December 8th. There are 17 days left to get your Christmas shopping done — that is if you are one of those who procrastinate until Christmas eve. If not — you have 16 days.

I used to buy into the whole, ‘Christmas frenzy’. I had to find that perfect gift for that special someone. I would spend hours at malls, looking for parking and waiting in line…until a few years ago. I had an “a ha!” moment after getting into an argument over a parking spot (that I had been patiently waiting for and someone came from the other side and zipped into ahead of me). Before I knew it, I was out of my car and yelled at the woman who stole my parking spot, “I could hit you so hard it would kill your whole family!”

Of course the woman responded to my rant by running in to the Toy’s R Us store (yes that is the store I planned to shop in). I am lucky that cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. I would have been embarrassed to see myself added to the thousands of other misbehaving holiday shoppers on You Tube.

My dad was the passenger in my car that day and when I got back inside, he told me I was acting like my mother. Those words hit me like a glass of cold water. That was my wake up call. I never wanted to be seen as acting like my mother.

Sorry to the mother’s out there. I am sure most are wonderful but my mother has a track record for not so nice behavior.

I didn’t go in to Toys R Us, instead we went home. I decided that day to end the madness. I would cut down my Christmas list. I put myself on a budget. I stopped trying to be Super Mom and please everyone. That year I brought a ready-made pie to those homes I was invited to for the holidays. I did not cook a Christmas dinner. I stopped doing anything I felt obligated to do and only did things that I wanted.

My stress level has gone down considerably. At first it felt weird but then after listening to others complain how stressed out they were over Christmas, I knew I did the right thing.

Then the Internet came along and it has helped me a lot. I let my ‘fingers do the walking’.  I don’t even go to the malls and actually haven’t set foot in one in months. I definitely don’t go during the month of December. There is a local bakery a few blocks from my house that does a lovely job when it comes to baked goods. I buy individual treats for neighbors and friends and I save time.

These days time is the most important thing I focus on. Cancer taught me that. We all get the same number of hours in a day and its up to each of us how we spend it. It’s easy to can get caught up in the holiday frenzy. I choose to spend time with those I care about instead of fighting with strangers over parking spots..

I want to share a few tips that I do to stay sane during the holidays and still show those I care about how much they mean to me.

The first thing is quite simple. I send cards via snail mail… the Internet is good for some things — ok, many things, but if you think about it, it’s really impersonal. Wouldn’t you enjoy getting mail from someone who cares about you instead of the usual monthly bills? A card that is hand written by you, means more than a quick email, or some store-bought, over-priced junk you will ever find in Wal-Mart.

I buy from local small business bakeries. They take the time to create something fabulous and their baked goods taste much better than the ones you find in grocery stores. The treats can usually boxed as a gift if you tell them to.

I shop online small businesses. Etsy is my favorite because there are so many artists from around the world whose hand-made gifts are one of a kind.

I buy books from Amazon, especially children’s books. I used to read to my son every night when he was little. It was our time — away from distractions. I hope parents still take the time to do that with their kids. Having them read from their own IPAD or Kindle is just not the same. It goes back to that ‘time’ thing I mentioned earlier. Kids grow up fast and before we know it, they are out in the world doing their own thing with their own friends and family.

I like to shop in antique malls. You never know what treasure you’ll find in there. It’s also fun to reminisce over the vintage goodies. I feel so relaxed wandering in and out of the individual booths.

So that’s what I do for other people but I can’t forget about myself. Its Christmas and that means cold weather, even freezing, depending on where you live. Cold weather means cold and flu season.  I stay inside more and when I go outside I dress appropriately. I live in Southern California but that doesn’t mean we don’t get some cold snaps. We are in the midst of one right now. I am sitting here wearing my pajamas and leopard robe as I write this.

I eat more warm foods. I don’t cook them to death — I do quick stir-frys and steam vegetables. I add spicier herbs to my foods, like cayenne. I juice. I drink green smoothies. I eat tangerines and oranges — they are so much better than those orange juices you buy in the store. The pasteurization takes out all the good stuff that is supposed to keep you healthy. I get enough sleep. I meditate. I do yoga. I read.

That’s pretty much it. I think you get the idea. Don’t buy in to what the media tells us we should do. Do what feels good to you. Remember ‘Keep it simple.’ The best present you can give someone is your time, even if that means talking to them (not texting) on the phone.

photo credit: Cherie Roe Dirksen

photo credit: Cherie Roe Dirksen

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas,

Inge