862…

862. It’s 862 miles from our house to Montana State University in Bozeman. Our oldest son got accepted to MSU for this coming fall. He will graduate high school in June and have his welding certificate this summer from the Tech school. This fall, he will move 862 miles away to pursue an Ag education degree to become an Ag teacher and hopefully an FFA advisor.

This is not a piece of cake. He isn’t a 4.0 kid. He will have to work hard, ask for help and really get to know the tutoring department… but I know he can do it. We haven’t been saving for this since he was a baby, like is often suggested. The amount the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) suggested we should contribute is ridiculous. Why am I not stressed about this? It will work out. He will apply for scholarships, take out loans and get a side job welding or at a sporting goods store. It’s where is heart wants to go, and to have him settle for less because it is more convenient, cheaper or closer to me wouldn’t be fair. His one year of school will cost what almost 4 years cost when I went. The thought of moving to Norway did cross my mind. (Just joking – kind of).

He will be ok. He will have a high school diploma and a tech degree/certification and a 4 year degree. Since some of his tech classes will transfer, it should be less than 4 years. He has something that is difficult to teach…. communication skills. He isn’t afraid to talk to people. He is his father’s son. He’s getting better at asking for help and has seen the value in tutoring. He will be able to relate to the kids who have trouble focusing and who prefer hands-on learning. He can share his love of nature, outdoors, agriculture, welding and wildlife.

From Jaguar to Cardinal and now Bobcat, I’ll cheer him on wherever he goes. Part of my heart will move 862 miles away, but I’m so excited for his adventures. His journey is just beginning and there is so much more to his story. How does this relate to you? Don’t settle. Don’t sell yourself short. It’s not entitlement. It’s about knowing what you want and knowing what will bring you joy.

I wish you peace on your journey of enough. May you find what brings you joy, even if it is 862 miles from home.

When the elephant in the room sits on you…

“Horton Hears a Who” is a cute book & good movie. This lovable large elephant is what comes to mind when I think about anxiety. I’ve talked before about “the elephant in the room” being cancer… It makes people uncomfortable to talk about it. Anxiety is another elephant. This one can make it feel like the elephant is sitting on your chest. The pressure on your chest or throat can seem very real. It almost makes it hard to move. Sometimes the elephant’s trunk wraps around your throat while he’s sitting on you. It’s hard to be mad at such a cute elephant. I mean, look at that smile! 

Have you ever felt this way? If not, then please be thankful for that. It’s a crummy feeling. I switch between wanting to cry, scream or run away. Anxiety & depression aren’t talked about much, but they are getting more attention. For years, I thought it must be my fault. I should be able to just snap out of it. I would take medication and then think I was fine, so I could go off. Then I’d have anxiety attacks and realize I need some help keeping that harmony. My “tool box” (to keep my elephant in another room) is filled with support, medication, meditation, and grounding in nature.

Many people are feeling the weight of the elephant right now. If it’s not you, there is likely someone in your circle with an elephant they won’t talk about. Sit with them (even virtually)… hold space for them. I didn’t know what that phrase meant a few years ago. To me, “holding space” means to be there for someone without judgement… just to hold the space for them to process, and not try to fix it. When I reach out to my circle, letting them know I’m having a tough day, I’m acknowledging my feelings. It’s not a weakness and I don’t need to be fixed. I just need support that day.

Many of us are trying to hold it all together. Be kind, choose love and don’t assume you know someone else’s story. I wish you peace on your journey of enough. It’s a cute movie, but none of us want Horton on our chest!

Yabut …

My high school art teacher recently passed away. She was a cool lady. She told it like it is … no sugar coat at all. She didn’t like it when someone said, “Yeah, but….” She would stop you. “There is no yabut,” she would say. Either you agree or you don’t. I think that was her point.

There are lots of debates being waged on social media. Lots of yabuts. Lots of keyboard warriors on a crusade. I’m guessing the posts have changed very few minds. If I strongly believe something, some stranger yelling at me isn’t likely to make me suddenly switch. Instead of yabuts, what about “yes, and?”

  • Yes, I believe in God, AND I think others can believe whatever they like.
  • Yes, I want to get back to normal, AND I worry about my high risk family members.
  • Yes, I support friends who are cops AND there are some changes that need to be made.
  • Yes, kids are missing school AND I have family who would be impacted because they are school staff.
  • Yes, I understand the desire to go back to work, AND I’m a wreck with anxiety.
  • Yes, I want to travel and explore AND I want to stay in my house.

It’s draining. The energy around people is almost visible right now. Tension, anger, frustration… if I could float down the river each night, I would. Tonight, I’m pressing pause. I’m sitting in a lawn chair on a gorgeous MN night… reading a book and writing to you. Asking you to pause. Put down the anger and frustration. Leave the “yabuts” for a while. Look for some miracles or inspiration or something positive. I almost didn’t write today because I was too overwhelmed… then I figured just maybe someone else needed to pause too.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. May you have more “yes and’s” and fewer “yabuts,” and take some time for o pause. People will still be angry online tomorrow.

Let me know how I can help…

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. This is never an easy thing to hear, but in the midst of a pandemic, it can be especially overwhelming. In the past 5 years, I’ve had many people reach out to me after a friend or loved one was diagnosed. They want to know what they can do to help their loved one. I don’t feel like an expert. I don’t have a medical or psychology degree. I’ve written about it before but it’s a good reminder. And, if you’re willing to share this post, it might help someone else too.

For the person diagnosed: This is scary. It doesn’t matter who you are. When you hear those words, your heart stops. The doctor may sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon show “wa wa, blah blah blah.” You can’t process those things. It’s all going to be a blur. Here is my humble advice. some of it I did and some I wish I would have.

  • Get a notebook. Take it with you to each appointment or treatment. Keep it in your purse or by your bed to write down questions- you will have a lot of them and you will forget 90% of them when you walk in the doctor’s office. Write down what the doctor or nurse says. It’s super helpful.
  • It is not your job to give people a “to do list.” People will say, “Let me know how I can help.” If you do think of something, great… but do not feel like you have to give a list or task to everyone. Also, some people just say that and don’t really mean it.
  • It is your job to accept help. This takes pressure off of you and lets your loved ones feel like they are contributing to your fight. If someone close to you can let people know what you need, it’s up to them to figure out the ‘how.’ My mom, sister and nieces came to clean my house before I started treatments. It was great. I’ll have some ideas for the helpers below. Just know you can and should accept help. It does not make you weak, it allows you to focus on getting better.
  • Find someone who does Reiki or Healing Touch. I learned about this later, but it’s really good, helpful and soothing. Also, yoga Nidra is like a deep relaxed state – not the yoga you’re thinking of. It will help keep you calm during treatments and ease some anxiety.
  • People around you will not know what to say. Some will fall away and you won’t hear from them. Others will show up at your door with a hot dish and a smile. I wasn’t prepared for the people who ignored me. I’m sure they were uncomfortable and they didn’t know the right words, but it was surprising. It’s ok. Focus on you, your health and recovery.
  • There will be expenses you aren’t prepared for. Even insurance companies who seem good will deny coverage for strange things. Accept financial help. It will ease some burden and worry. It’s also an easy way for people to help and support you.
  • Scan-xiety is a real thing. It’s also something they don’t prepare you for. You will likely be anxious or moody before a scan or test. It’s ok to talk about it. The Reiki/breathing techniques do help, but it’s still a real thing years later. It does get better!

For the people looking to support the patient, here again is some humble advice.

  • Just do something. Don’t wait around for the perfect thing to do – just reach out. Send a card, letter, gift card or care package. They will appreciate it, but they might be overwhelmed or exhausted & not get a thank you note sent.
  • Instead of asking what you can do, offer options. “I’d like to bring dinner on Tuesday. Does that night work for you? Would hotdish or meatballs be better?”
  • Ask if you can set up a Meal Train. It’s a great way for people to sign up for meals. The recipient can state how many people to feed, if there are allergies or foods they don’t like. Keep in mind, if someone is going through chemo, their tastebuds will be different. They may have family or caregivers though who still need to eat.
  • Care package ideas: notebooks, plain note cards, stamps, cash, gift or gas cards, books (Jesus Calling was one of my favorites), prayer blanket, movies, tea, lip balm, unscented lotion (my sense of smell went crazy and I couldn’t handle strong scents), something with meaning between the two of you, travel pillow, hard candies, water bottle, planner, comfy socks/slippers etc. I got button up pj’s for after surgery because it was difficult to raise my arms. If you know them well, make it personal & meaningful.
  • Ask if there is an errand you can run for them… “I’m going to get groceries, what can I get for you?” “What day could I fill your vehicle for you?”
  • This is difficult for them. Don’t make it about you. Don’t look at them like they’re broken or dying. Don’t leave them. They need your support and prayers.
  • Remember the caregiver and family. This is super hard on them also. They are scared too. Find ways to reach out and help, distract the kids etc. (this is more challenging now but you can get creative.)

This is probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s for sure not everything. Everyone is different, with different diagnoses, different personalities, and different needs. Maybe it will help someone going through cancer, their caregivers or their loved ones. Please share it if you feel it could help someone else.

Peace be with you on your journey of enough. You are not alone, and you are worth fighting for!

What to do or say…

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I had no idea how it would change my life. Writing a Caring Bridge update and then a regular blog has opened me up for questions. I get asked from friends, relatives and acquaintances about how they can help their newly diagnosed cancer friend. I am honored to answer such questions. I know everyone’s journey is different and not everyone appreciates the same things I do. I hope I am able to give some good advice and perhaps spark some joy for those who are traveling a scary path.

Here are some things I frequently tell people when I’m asked, “what can I do?!”

Do:

  • Reach out to them in some way.
  • Send a card or note – it doesn’t have to be big. (I kept all of the cards and notes)
    Journals or notebooks are helpful. There are lots of Dr appointments, things to remember or record. They may also want a journal to chronicle their journey.
    Start a meal train to make sure they don’t have to worry about supper.
    Support their family – their spouse/partner or kids. (Take the kids somewhere fun or just drive them to events, if needed.)
    Offer to do their grocery shopping, laundry or cleaning.
    Give some gift cards to the family.
    Offer a massage certificate.
    Tell positive stories about survivors.
    Give a good book, one you’ve enjoyed – it doesn’t need to be new.
    Hug or touch them, if appropriate. Cancer isn’t contagious.
    Pray intentionally for and/or with them.

Don’t:

  • Don’t tell them stories about people who died. They do not need to know about your neighbor’s aunt who had the same thing and died in 3 weeks.
  • Please don’t ignore them. This is hurtful. The people who left me during cancer were not really my friends.
  • Don’t ask them to “let me know what I can do to help.” They do not need to find a to-do list for you. They are seriously just trying to get by. I know people mean well by this, but it’s one of the least helpful things (in my opinion).
  • Don’t tell them, “I was going to stop by/call/do something etc.” This tells them you thought about it for a minute but you really weren’t worth their time. Sometimes it’s because they wanted to do the perfect or huge thing and didn’t get around to it.
    Please don’t judge how the spend their time or money. You probably don’t know their whole story.
    Don’t look at them like they are about to die. They can see the “oh this must be so difficult” look on your face.
    Don’t tell them it’s karma. (Seriously, someone said this to me.)

Some people love the word survivor, while others find it annoying. Some choose to go through their journey quietly, not wanting people to know. Everyone is different… but hopefully this gives you some ideas of what helped me. This applies to many situations, not just cancer – anyone who is struggling may benefit from the list above.

Go write the note, make the call or bring the hot dish. I believe God puts people in our path for a reason, so who am I to argue with that? On your journey of enough, there will be bumps along the way. Hopefully those bumps are also learning experiences and you have someone to love and support you. Peace be with you, and your friend.