Tag Archive | breast cancer positive attitude

Is Your Life Crappy, Or Happy?

The Crappy

 When you think about it, my life has been pretty crappy!  To begin with, I suffered through my childhood with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.  I don’t remember when I had my first panic attack, but by the time I started school, they were a regular occurrence, making my school years a living nightmare.  My teen and early adult years were not so bad. I got the anxiety under control and I met and married my high school sweetheart.  However that ended in a painful divorce.  It took me years to recover from that.   During the latter part of my marriage, the anxiety returned and I suffered a full blown nervous breakdown.  My anxiety and panic attacks were so intense that I could not go to work; I could not do simple chores, like banking or even get my hair styled.  I couldn’t even take care of my own kids.  What kind of a Psychologist has a nervous breakdown, anyway?   That doesn’t say much for my skills as a counsellor, don’t you agree? 

Following my divorce, I had not one, not two, but three….count them, THREE failed relationships, each one lasting four years.  I must be a sucker for punishment!   Can you just imagine how much heartache and suffering I have endured, just from breakups alone?  Jeeze, I must have endured 10 break ups and make ups in just one of those relationships.  Do you have any idea how many tears I have cried over men?  Sure, I am now in a relationship with a wonderful guy, but knowing my luck, that will probably end in disaster as well. 

Then, when I was 41, I got dealt one of the hardest blows of my life.  My youngest son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism.  It is not easy being a single parent to a child with autism.  Every day, there are challenges.  Just a few days ago, for example, we went to a store for him to buy a DVD.   The one he wanted was not there, which resulted in a complete meltdown.  For what felt like an hour, he screamed cried, jumped up and down and was completely inconsolable.  I felt so embarrassed as everyone in the store pointed and stared at us.  By the time I dragged him to the car, I was in tears myself.  That is just one of the challenges.  Trust me, there are plenty more. 

Life certainly didn’t improve during my forties…….a single mom of three kids, the youngest with autism, with a string of failed relationships.  Just when I was at the point of thinking “What else could possibly go wrong with my life?”  BAM….I get diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 44.  It has been five years of suffering; surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and constant fear of it coming back.  Cancer has scarred my body and it has scarred my soul.  I will never again be the person I was before my diagnosis.  Yes, folks, life has been crappy for me, that is for sure.

The Happy

When you think about it, my life has been pretty happy!  Sure, I had a rough start in life, with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.  However, I give credit to that experience for my decision to become a Psychologist.  I am now 26 years into my career and I can honestly say I have not had a single regret about my career choice.  Not many people can say that! I can thank my childhood anxiety disorder for helping to make me the woman I am today.  By the time I was a teen, the anxiety seemed to be under control and I really rocked the 80’s.  I had great friends and a wonderful boyfriend who later became my husband.  Sadly, that ended in divorce, but from it, I got two wonderful children, Kailtyn and Donovan.  While divorce is painful, I learned a lot about myself from that experience.

My anxiety returned when I was in my thirties, and eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown.  It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but I can honestly say, it has made me a better Psychologist.  When I am counseling clients with anxiety, I am not just talking the talk.  I have walked the walk. I know what a panic attack feels like, and what it is to battle an anxiety disorder. I also know that the techniques that I teach my clients really work.   After being nearly 10 years panic attack free, without medication, I am living proof of the success of these techniques.  I have had great success with treating anxiety, and as I write this, my services are in such high demand that I have a wait list of clients. 

When I look back over my love life, no doubt about it, it was a rocky road.  But I can honestly say that something good came from each of my failed relationships.  I hold no grudges and I have no regrets.   As the old saying goes, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  Each of these relationships taught me something about myself and what I am truly deserving of in a relationship.  And now, I have hit the jackpot!   Steve Robertson is the most kind, caring, loving, affectionate and attentive man that I have ever met.  (And I am NEVER letting him get away!)

I won’t lie to you, it is not easy raising a child with autism.  There are so many challenges.  For example, I am always on alert for him to have a meltdown in a public place, like he recently did when he could not find the DVD he wanted.  However, because of that incident, I came up with a genius way to prevent further mishaps like that.  When we left the store that day, Ben could not be consoled.  He wanted to go to another store to look for the DVD.  I didn’t know what to do.  If the DVD was there, it would be the end of the upset.  But if it wasn’t, it would probably result in an even more severe meltdown.  That’s when I got my idea.  I sent my daughter, Kailtyn in to the store to take pictures of the DVD displays, while we waited in the car.  Sure, Ben got upset when he looked at the pictures and realized the one he wanted was not there.  But we were in the car, so it wasn’t so bad.  He eventually calmed down and choose another DVD from the pictures.  Soon he was smiling, laughing, and even singing a little song that made me smile, “Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory…..” Since Ben has so many communication challenges, hearing him sing is literally music to my ears.  As the saying goes, “All is well that ends well.”  Sure, there are challenges to being Ben’s mom, but I can assure you, the joys of being his mom far outweigh the challenges!

At 44 years old, I was shocked to discover that I had breast cancer.   I thought that my life was ending.  In retrospect, I can see that my life was only just beginning.   Not only did I face the challenge of battling the disease, but I did so with finesse, if I do say so myself.  Finding “The Perks of Having Cancer” has changed my life.  Five years ago, I would never have imagined myself as an award winning blogger, a best-selling author, and a sought after motivational speaker (I especially would not have believed the public speaking part!!!).  But here I am at 49, feeling more confident and accomplished than I ever dreamed possible.  Cancer has scarred my body and it has scarred my soul.  But like a phoenix who rises from its ashes, a new Flo has arisen from cancer.  I will never again be the person I was before my diagnosis!  I now realize that I am capable of accomplishing anything that I set my mind to.  I also know my own worth for the first time.   Yes, folks, life has been happy for me, that is for sure.

 The Truth

The truth is, we all have the crappy and we all have the happy.  It is where you choose to focus your attention that determines whether you live a crappy life, or you live a happy life. I believe that I am a happy person because I choose to focus on the good things in my life, and the life lessons that I have learned from the trials and tribulations.   Attitude is a choice.  Will you choose to focus on the crappy or the happy?  It’s completely up to you.

Crappy post

5 Minutes of Pleasure That Can Change Your Life

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Think of all the ways that your body experiences pleasure:

-feeling the intimate touch of a lover; the sensation of your tired body sinking into a hot bath; a relaxing massage or foot rub.

-hearing the sounds of birds singing in the spring; the ringing of children’s laughter; or your favorite song on the radio.

-seeing a beautiful work of art; a garden in full bloom; or the sun sparkling like a million diamonds on the water.

-smelling the first cut grass of the season; freshly baked cookies right out of the oven; or the milky sweetness of a baby’s breath.

-tasting ice cream on a hot day; that first sip of your morning coffee or tea; or savoring your favorite dessert.

Feeling. Hearing. Seeing. Smelling. Tasting. The way that your body experiences pleasure is through your senses. Tuning in to your five senses is not only a way to experience pleasure however, it is also a powerful tool for grounding you in the present moment.

I recently completed a course in Mindfulness Meditation, and one of the strategies that I learned for dealing with emotional distress is a technique called the 5 Senses Meditation. In my 25 years of practicing Psychology, this simple exercise is the most powerful tool that I have ever used with my clients.   In as little as five minutes, I have witnessed clients go from a state of distress, high agitation or profound sadness, to a state of well-being.

Before I tell you HOW this miraculous technique works, I will guide you through a simple exercise. Five minutes is all it will take, so get comfortable.

Stop whatever you are doing right now and take a look around you. (This exercise is best done outside, but it will work in any room.) What grabs your attention? Is it a certain color? A picture? A glimpse of nature? For about one minute, focus your full attention on what you see around you. If you find your mind wandering, that’s ok. Just let your thoughts go, and bring your attention back to your sense of seeing.

Next, take one minute to tune into the sounds around you. Close your eyes, if it is possible, to better able you to focus your attention on your hearing. What do you notice? The ticking of a clock? The sounds of traffic? Birdsong?   Just listen. Do not judge these sounds as good or bad. Just be aware of them. If you find your mind drifting, that’s ok. Just gently bring your attention back to the sounds around you.

Now take just one minute to tune in to your sense of touch. Pick up any object that is next to you and explore it with your hands. How does it feel? Smooth or rough? Cool or warm? Heavy or light? Prickly or soft? As you explore this object, also become aware of how your body feels right now. Quickly scan your body from head to toe, looking for places of tension and relaxation. Do not judge these feelings as good or bad. Just notice them. If you find any areas of tension, allow your muscles to relax. If your mind drifts away, gently bring it back to the activity.

Take one minute now to close your eyes, if possible, and focus your awareness on your sense of smell. If you are close to a scented object such as a candle, soap, or a food item, you may want to bring it to your nose to fully experience your sense of smell. Breathe it in deeply. What do you notice? How does this scent make you feel? Can you identify certain undertones, such as flowers, citrus or spice? Focus fully on your sense of smell, and if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to this exercise.

For the last part of this exercise, you will need a small food item: a raison, a candy, a cookie or a piece of fruit works well. Put the food in your mouth and for a few seconds, just roll it around, and experience how it tastes and feels on different parts of your tongue. Does the taste change depending on where it is located in your mouth? Now slowly bite into it. Sense how the flavor is released as it mixes with your saliva. What do you taste? Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Bitter? Notice how the texture changes as you chew it. Make it last for as long as possible before swallowing it. If you find your mind wandering just gently let go of your thoughts and bring your full attention back to the taste of your treat.

That’s it! Exercise is complete. Were you able to turn off your thoughts and tune in to your senses?

I had a client last week, a 16 year old girl who came to me in a state of high agitation and distress. She told me that her father had been in a bad car accident a few months ago and he is still in the hospital. Her eyes filled with tears as she relived the day that she heard the news. She recounted how her mother had cheerily picked up the phone, but then her face went pale and she fell to her knees, clutching the phone as she heard the bad news. She cried as she told me how she, her mother and two brothers hugged into each other and prayed that her father would still be alive when they got to the hospital.   Then her thoughts shifted to the future. She will be graduating from high school next year and she wondered whether her father would be well enough to attend her prom. She then went on to wonder if he would even be around to dance with her at her wedding.   With each “what if…..” she became more and more agitated.

After letting her talk for about 40 minutes, I guided her through the above exercise. The transformation was instant!   Her sadness, worry and fear vanished before my very eyes, and in its place I saw a young girl at peace. She even laughed a little when she tuned into the sounds of her classmates in the adjoining room.

When the exercise ended, she said, “Wow! I feel ok for the first time in a very long time.”

“That’s because you just spent 20 minutes in the past, reliving your father’s accident, and in doing so, you experienced all of the pain and sadness of that event. Then you went to the future for 20 minutes as you worried about the “what ifs”  of Dad not being around.   But you spent the last 5 minutes in the present moment. The present moment is where you find peace.”

It is as simple as that!   Most of the misery and suffering that we experience is because we allow our minds to go into the past and relive the hurt and trauma of loss and suffering. OR we project into the future and worry about the many bad things that might happen. Not every moment is a good moment……..but most of them are. Many times however, we take these perfectly good moments and make ourselves miserable by getting caught up in our thoughts. We can easily stop this needless suffering by simply bringing our attention to the present moment by focusing on our senses. All it takes is 5 minutes a day for you to access the Power of NOW!

 

 

Perk # 66: A Five Week Vacation

What would you call this:  five weeks away from cooking and cleaning; away from packing lunches and helping with homework; away from all the hum drum duties of running a household.   A vacation?  Yeah, that’s how I see it.   Yesterday I started my radiation therapy.  Since the nearest hospital which offers this treatment  is more than 300 kilometers away, I was “forced” to leave my small town and move to the city for five weeks (with Shawn!).  Whatever shall I do with myself for the next five weeks without my loveable kiddies and furry critter? (I will still see them on the weekends).   Here’s what I was thinking:

-Take up yoga (I have my first private session tonight)

-Go to the movies

-Dine out at nice restaurants

-Visit a spa

-Hang out at Chapters

-Shop for some new workout clothes at lululemon

-Walk/run in Bowring park

-Visit “The Rooms” Museum

-Go to the flea market

-Take in a dinner theatre

That should pretty much take care of the first week.  Any ideas to add?

Tip:  If your cancer treatments take you to new cities and towns, why not treat it like a vacation?  If your medical appointments are nearby, you can still plan an outing, such as going to a favourite restaurant or seeing a show.  Give yourself something to look forward to.

Perk # 61: Treats In The Mail

Before cancer, my  visits to the post office normally yielded only unwanted flyers, and even more unwanted bills.  Since being diagnosed however, I empty my mailbox each day like a child would empty a stocking on Christmas morning.  Many days embedded among the flyers and (sigh…) bills, I find a gold nugget:  a card, a note,  or a gift sent to cheer me through my recovery.    A few days ago, I was very fortunate to find not one, but two of these nuggets in the mail, both very personal and thoughtful gifts.   Then later in the day, some of my former colleagues showed up at the door with a big bouquet of flowers, to share a cup of tea and a few laughs.   Ahhhhhh, life is good!

Tip:  If you are fortunate enough to have people in your life who send a card, a gift, a wish for your recovery, a prayer, or to visit with you, REJOICE!

Perk # 60: Early Menopause

 

Hey, I know what you are thinking, Ladies, “What is so perky about early menopause?”  Those were my thoughts exactly when my Oncologist told me about “chemopause”: a side effect of chemo which causes the womanly cycle to come to an abrupt halt.  Sitting in the pretty young doctor’s office with Shawn by my side,( just three months into our relationship), I couldn’t help but blush as she told us the likely side effects:  mood swings, hot flashes, loss of libido, weight gain, and no more monthly periods (well, that part I was looking forward to).    I would not have been surprised if my new love had suddenly bolted out the door, but I’m glad he decided to stick around.    Sure enough, menopause kicked in soon after chemo, but fortunately my only unpleasant symptom has been hot flashes…..a small price to pay to get rid of the dreaded monthly visitor.

Many moons ago, while I was still married, I whined to my best friend that my hubbie turned into a complete villain once a month,  purposely doing things like slurping his soup in an attempt to drive me bonkers.  In fact, when I thought about it, it seemed that everyone around me got kind of crazy at that time.  “Does this happen at the same time every month?” my wise friend asked.  “Yeah, usually just before my period”, I confided.  Ahhhhh, it suddenly dawned on me;  they weren’t trying to make me crazy,  I had PMS.  But those days are behind me now.  As an added perk of chemopause, I no longer turn into a demon once a month.

Tip:  Early menopause is not all bad, just think of the perks: no more periods and no more PMS.  A few hot flashes is a small price to pay.

 

 

Perk # 21: Cancer Helped Me To Find My Soul Mate

As serendipity would have it, at almost exactly the same time that I found “my lump”, I also found my soul mate.  How do I know for sure that he is my soul mate?  Well, who else but a soul mate would commit to a new relationship with someone just diagnosed with cancer?  If having cancer did not help you find your soul mate, it will certainly let you know if he or she is by your side.  If you are still looking for that special someone, don’t let cancer hold you back.

Tip:  Even cancer cannot put a damper on the feeling of being in love.  If you are fortunate enough to have a special someone by your side, treat yourself to a little romance.

Perk # 19: Cancer Helped Me To Stop And Smell The Roses

I just returned from a walk with my dog, Patches.  It is a beautiful fall day, the sky is cloudless, and there is just enough chill in the air to put a spring in your step.  Before cancer, I probably would not have taken the opportunity to go outside and enjoy this perfect day.  Even if I was not at work, I would be looking around the house at the mounds of laundry, mutuant dust bunnies, and stacks of unopened mail all vying for my attention.  But today I said, “The housework will always be here, but this beautiful day won’t.  I’m going for a walk!”….and I am glad I did.

Tip:  Even if you do not feel well enough to take a walk, get outside and enjoy the fresh air.  There is something about being outdoors that revs the spirit and makes you happy just to be alive.