Cancer Spreads: Just Like Everything Else

82347b7dfddb5eb480c3a6b0b8ee7205After having cancer, I started noticing types of recurrence in my life.  Some recurrences are comfortable, while others are not.  Some of those are fear, anxiety, grief, anger, frustration, guilt, disappointment, joy, hope, courage, fun, friendships, kindness, and laughter.
My biggest fear of recurrence is cancer.  I can’t decide what to do with that fear.  I have wondered if it will come back, when it will come back, and how to stay optimistic when I know others who are experiencing it for the second, third and, sadly, last time. I know it only takes a single cell to make it spread.  One little cell that is stronger than any previous treatment.  That cell has the ability to take your life hostage all over again. I HAVE SEEN IT HAPPEN! It can fuel a disease that will spread in your body.

I’ve had a shift in my focus.  It isn’t just cancer that spreads.  All of the things I listed above have the ability to go viral.  My fear, anger, depression and anxiety can take me hostage as well. If permitted, these can cause just as much damage to my wellness. I will have more physical pain, my nutrition and exercise will be impacted, I will put less effort into my social life, and my energy will be drained. Now I know it is not just a single cell that has this huge impact.  It can be a single emotion, act, or life event.

Guess what else spreads and goes viral?? Love, friendship, hope, kindness, laughter, courage, and fun! If I hadn’t have had cancer, I would have missed out on so many of the positive experiences in my life.  I have met so many new, lifelong friends in all of this.  I have gone on adventures, tried new things, and increased my wellness in a way I never thought possible. I am well and SO alive and experiencing all of the parts of life that are both comfortable and uncomfortable.

In my support group, the leader once said that it is vital to understand the expression, “This too shall pass”.  This expression is most often used to comfort those in times of discomfort.  But what about the times of happiness, excitement, and comfort? Unfortunately, this too shall pass. Life is change. Experiences within that change develop our character, values, and the ways in which we face adversity. Change is constant.  It is what causes recurrence, comfort, discomfort, and viral activity. Fear and misunderstanding of that change removes the opportunity for development.  It paralyzes us and makes things stagnant.
These concepts are big, exciting, and scary for me. Life will keep happening and changing. I have decided to move with it.  What comes next is somewhat unpredictable. I must choose to experience the comfort and discomfort for this to work. Hopefully, the discomfort will recur less. I have to be ready for it and bring the strengths and values I have developed along the way. I invite you to join me in this choice.

Be Well

Hope Comes in All Colors

My website, my blog, and my business cards are all colorful. While fun and engaging to me, others have asked me if I worry that it’s not professional. To answer that, I am not worried at all! My world is full of color: sunsets, water, mountains, fall leaves, people, ribbons of hope, movies, music, crafts, headwraps, advocacy, learning, my social life, my family, my friends, my students, and my emotions. Actually, if people could see the color of my laugh, it would bring just as much joy, if not more.

When I wake up in the morning and I see a grey sky, my heart drops. My day is slower, I have less energy, and my mind is clouded. On these days, my chronic pain moves to the forefront, my depression shows its ugly face, and at times, I lose hope. I hate how I feel. Grey is the color of my illnesses. This is why I am a sun-seeker. This is the reason I live in Colorful Colorado where I enjoy having the sun shine most days. I will not be a slave to the gloomy grey.

To me, blogging in black and white is too dualistic. Don’t get me wrong, this works for most people and I honor that. I need the spectrum and choices of color. This reminds me of all of the opportunities life has to offer. This reminds me that I have seen and done so many extraordinary things. I have met beautiful, courageous people. This all happened when I was managing the grey: when I pushed away the parts of my identity that hurt.

Colors jump into my life and make meaning all of the time. While receiving acupuncture, I have very vivid images of powerful color. When I see rose quarts, I think of all of the love I have received from my mom throughout the years. Seeing yellow reminds me of a Swiss friend I traveled with 17 years ago. He used to wear bright yellow jeans and called them his “happy pants”. Purple is my favorite color and reminds me of my wonderful sister-in-law who dropped everything to come paint my entire room a wonderful color of purple while I was going through chemo. Green reminds me of the brave, empowered humans who face the challenge of mental illness every day. Teal is the color representing ovarian cancer warriors. We all have our colors that are near and dear to our hearts. We also all have grey.

Instead of inviting the grey, I forgot the obvious…grey can be made by mixing a bunch of colors. It’s actually quite beautiful. Grey is my ultimate AND. I am distressed AND blessed. I receive AND I give. I have felt helpless AND helpful. 

Take a mindful moment and explore your grey.

Be Well

What is Happening to my Body? Understanding Functional Neurological Disorder


January 4, 2016 was a day I will never forget.  This is saying a lot for someone who has already been through some pretty drastic treatments for 2 existing chronic illnesses. I had already learned to live with a mental health condition and survived Ovarian cancer.  I thought that besides the chronic pain and side effects from chemo, I was off the hook for a little while.  I was wrong.

That morning, I was talking to my mom on the phone and told her I had been feeling strange like my body was having baby seizures. Mind you, I have never had a seizure, so I had no idea what I was talking about. Shortly into the conversation, I stopped being able to speak.  I laid on the floor and my body started convulsing.  I was still able to text my mom and let her know I was conscious, but I didn’t know what was going on. I told her I didn’t want her to call the ambulance because of the cost. (Yes, I was very aware that it was the beginning of the year and my deductible had just reset.) I already had a very expensive medical history.

My mom got into her car to come to me an hour away and had me on speakerphone.  After a few minutes of me convulsing and her having to hear me gasp for air, she told me she was going to call 911.  I managed to slowly drag myself to the front door to unlock it, all the while, convulsing on speakerphone with my mom.  I was about to go on my first ride in an ambulance; I found out this is the fastest way to receive care.  My symptoms were similar to those of a stroke, so I had some scans and was evaluated by a stroke specialist.

I spent a few hours in the emergency department with no answers that made sense.  I was frustrated and felt like no one else believed me about what was happening.  I left the hospital feeling judged because my symptoms seemed to decrease after given anti anxiety medication. Over the next 24 hours, I had over 20 of these “pseudo seizures” and was not able to speak.  I returned to another hospital and was told that I had Conversion Disorder, which is an outdated term and is now referred to as Functional Neurological Disorder (FND).

After not being able to speak for 9 days, It was definitely time to take action.  After a lot of research, I found a few steps to take.  I found a therapist who specializes in connecting the mind to the body  through EMDR, Tapping, and other techniques for dissociating.  Having a background in counseling, I was wary, but I gave him a chance and continue to see him a year later and have a full shed of easy and accessible tools to make my world a lot easier.  I also joined an intensive therapy group and went 3 times a week for 3 hours each visit.

The woman who led the group opened my eyes to concepts I had never considered before.  She referenced mindfulness, helped me stay out of the emotional extremes,  and gave me confidence that I would be ok.  Between the two therapy experiences, my confidence in taking on everyday challenges increased. This did not, by any means, “fix” me.

At the time, I would have done anything to feel better.  I started using essential oils, changing my diet, and going to acupuncture on a weekly basis.  I  currently receive massage and physical therapy to help manage my chronic pain. I am incredibly lucky to have decided to pair western medicine with “alternative” care.  I have built myself an incredible support system with loving caregivers, friends, and most importantly, family members.

My battle with this uncomfortable, unpredictable condition is far from over.  Just this morning, I had to ask my roommate to help my body get “unstuck”.  It is embarrassing to ask people for help when I can’t talk, have limb paralysis, get dizzy and have blurred vision. I have even more memory loss than I already had, and struggle to move. My body thinks it is funny to trick me and presents slightly different symptoms each time to keep me on my toes.  After four visits to the emergency room, and two ambulance rides, I finally have figured out that I am not, in fact, dying and I know what to do to make things manageable. I have also installed a medical emergency app on my phone for when I am not able to talk.

I want more than anything to make this all stop.  I hate getting stressed and knowing it will catch up with me in the next few days at an unpredictable time.  It is hard to be in situations where I don’t feel like I have control.  It has been a struggle to go back to work knowing I am not able to have control over my environment and interactions at all times. The people in my life know I make jokes about my conditions so I can keep moving forward.  I have started reading articles on The Mighty and have found a place where I can relate to other people’s experiences through their writing.

When Your Brain Stops Talking to Your Body was written by Cathy O’Brien who also struggles with FND. She links a number of informative articles and websites to her article and it feels so good to know there are resources out there and people who actually believe this is a thing that is happening in my mind, body, and spirit. I am not making it up and I am not leaning on it as a way to get out of something or get attention. Listen people, I know the struggle is real, but we are all in this life together and need to educate ourselves, form support tribes, and listen to our bodies when they are asking for help or attention. You are not in this alone!

Be Well