Tag Archive | positive attitude cancer

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

Happy Cancer-Versary To ME!

Well, in just a few short hours I will officially be able to flash these words on a t-shirt:

FAKE

That’s right, mes amis, today is the day I have been waiting for since my mastectomy in 2011. Today the re-construction on my left breast, which started six months ago, will be completed. AND, as an added bonus, “rightie” will be fixed up to match the perky and youthful looking left breast.   I always wanted to get my boobs done. But this is not how I envisioned it happening!

This surgery will mark the end of a very long journey for me.  Tomorrow, April 7th, is my 5 year cancer-versary. It is hard to believe that five years have passed since my surgeon looked me in the eye and said those three little words that would forever change my life, “You have cancer.”  I burst into tears, “I’m going to die!” I yelled loud enough for everyone in the hospital to hear. Well, it has been a rough battle, but here I am, five years later, alive and kickin’………. and cancer free!

With stage 3, grade 3 cancer, my prognosis for surviving to the five year mark was sketchy; just over 50%. Even though I have made it this far, that does not mean that the cancer won’t ever come back. For the rest of my life, I have about a 30% chances of having a recurrence. That’s why I do whatever I can to reduce that risk, including clean eating, exercise and spiritual exercises like meditation and reiki. My battle with cancer did not end when my treatments ended.   Every day I continue to fight! Through my lifestyle choices, I aim to make my body an environment where cancer is not welcome.  (If you would like to learn how to do the same, hit the link to our book to the right.)

Five years. WOW! A lot has happened in five years:

-As of today, I will have had 4 surgeries.

-I suffered through four months of chemo.

-I endured 25 radiation treatments.

-I fell in love.

-I fell out of love.

-I fell back in love again (this time for keeps!)

-Both of my older children, Kaitlyn and Donovan have finished high school and are doing well in University. (I can’t believe I have two “grown children”!)

-My youngest, Ben, who has autism, continues to surprise me with his progress every day.

-I wrote a book, which became a best seller.

-I started a blog which has won several awards.

-I stepped WAY outside of my comfort zone and became a motivational speaker, with my TEDx Talk being one of the highlights of my life!

-I lost contact with two of my dearest friends.

-After four years, I reconciled with these friends, and learned the power of forgiveness.

-My sweet dog, Patches, died.

-I have traveled….to Nashville, Halifax, Ontario, Alberta, B.C, Boca Raton, New Orleans, Florida, and I have enjoyed many “stay-cays” in my own beautiful province of Newfoundland.

-I temporarily lost my breast, my hair, my health and for a while, my hope.

-I found my spirit.

Cancer took a lot from me, but it also helped me to find parts of me that otherwise may have gone undiscovered. I can’t say I am grateful for the cancer, but I am certainly grateful for the changes that have come about in my life because of it.

In my Psychology practice, I have this saying that I tell my clients: “We all have crappy things happen in our lives, and we all have happy things happen. Do you CHOOSE to focus on the crappy, or do you CHOOSE to focus your attention on the happy?” Happiness is a choice that I have made. Misery could equally be a choice for me, considering my many failed relationships, my diagnosis of cancer, my son’s diagnosis of autism, and the many challenges that brings. Of course I have had my share of miserable days, but for the most part, I consider myself to be a happy person.  Happiness is a choice, my friends…..do you choose to focus on the crappy or the happy?

 

 

My Very Own Little Christmas Miracle!

In a recent post, I made reference to my own little Christmas miracle, and with the permission of my friends, Natalie and Veronica, I would like to share this story with you.

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L to R: Veronica, Natalie and Flo, circa 1998

I have been blessed throughout my lifetime with wonderful friends, too numerous to mention. Natalie, Veronica and I share a friendship that spans nearly two decades. Over that time, we have supported each other through sickness and health; births and deaths; marriage and divorce. While we have been geographically separated for most of our friendship, we kept in touch through frequent emails, phone calls and about twice a year, we would come together to meet. In our younger years, these meetings were about eating junk food, drinking wine and dancing till the wee hours of the morning. However these days, we would be more likely to offer one another energy healing, as opposed to tequila shots.  Like me, these ladies can be described as spiritual seekers, meaning that we actively focus on our spiritual development by reading books, doing courses, and maintaining a spiritual practice of prayer, meditation and reiki, among other things. We can also be described as healers, not in the physical sense of the word, but rather healers of the emotional and spiritual bodies. Because of our shared love of spirituality and healing, I believe that we are connected on a soul level. Natalie and Veronica are my soul sisters.

Several years ago, we decided to embark on a magnificent project; we would write a book together about our individual spiritual journeys and the life lessons learned along the way. In this book, Soul Steps, I poured out my heart and bared my soul about my many life challenges: a nervous breakdown, my divorce, my son Ben’s diagnosis of autism and my own diagnosis of cancer, and how each of these challenges helped me to grow as a spiritual being. Then, during the time that I was battling cancer, just when Soul Steps was about to be published, I was confronted with yet another heart-breaking challenge: the loss of this precious friendship. In retrospect, I can see the warning signs, but at that time it seemed to me that our friendship came to an abrupt end overnight. It does not matter who said what, or who did what, but each of us caused hurt to the others, which was never in any way malicious or intentional. Sadly, for nearly four years we lost our connection. These women disappeared from my life, and our book, while ready for publication, never made it to the press.

Just prior to Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised by an email from Veronica, inviting myself and Natalie to meet on December 23 at a central location, to reconcile our friendship and resurrect Soul Steps. I leaped at the opportunity to reconnect with my soul sisters! One might think that I felt nervous making the four hour drive to central Newfoundland to see these women after such a long time had passed. But all I felt was a sense of calm and peace. It just felt right to me. We cried when we embraced for the first time, and I felt nothing but pure, unconditional love. Instantly, the time separating us just seemed to dissolve, and we laughed and cried while sharing stories and catching up on each other’s lives.

Veronica shared with us the story of how she felt guided to reconnect by finding a picture of the three of us in an old book of hers. Even though she does not recall moving the picture, it just seemed to show up in different books over the following weeks, reminding her of the love we shared. She knew that this was a sign that it was time for us to reconcile our friendship. While I did not know about Veronica’s experience, “coincidently”, around the same time, I too stumbled upon a picture of the three of us in one of my old spiritual books that I felt guided to re-read. I was not surprised then, when Natalie shared with us that she too had come across a picture of the three of us in a book that she felt guided to open. What are the chances that each of us would have the same experience at around the same time?

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as coincidence, rather these signs are messages from the universe to guide us on our life paths. I also believe that the disruption in our friendship happened for a reason. In Soul Steps we talk about some deep topics, such as acceptance, unconditional love and forgiveness. We could talk that talk, but when it came right down to it, could we walk the walk? Could we allow ourselves to be vulnerable? It takes courage to let go of your story, to let go of the past, and to take a chance on healing. Unless we could put these ideals into practice, Soul Steps would lose its integrity. I am happy to say that we were successful! By letting go of the hurt, embracing forgiveness and feeling the love, we passed the test.  I look forward to the spring of 2016, when Soul Steps will come into the world in authenticity and I  look forward to sharing it with YOU!

 

 

The Best Presents

kaitlyn and shelby

My daughter Kaitlyn (L) and her friend Shelby (R)

These two young ladies have the Christmas thing figured out.  Rather than exchange presents each year, they gift each other with a rare treat: time spent together.  As Christmas approaches, they set aside an entire evening to go out to dinner and then just relax and catch up on each other’s news.  I am pretty sure that at their age, had one of my friends suggested just hanging out in lieu of exchanging gifts, I would have opted for the presents!  However, the older I get, the more I appreciate the PRESENCE of my family and friends, as opposed to the PRESENTS they give.

Of my 48 Christmases in this world, this has been the most precious one to me because of the presence of my family and friends. First of all, I have been blessed with three beautiful children. While I miss the days of playing Santa and wrapping dolls and toy cars, I now get to experience the excitement of waiting for my daughter, Kaitlyn to come home from University and have them once again all together under one roof. The presence of my three children in our home is by far, my greatest gift.

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L to R: Donovan, Ben, Flo and Kaitlyn

 

I am also thankful for the presence of my 95 year old grandmother. While Nan has enjoyed good health for most of her life, she suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and we worried that that Christmas might be her last. But I am very happy to say that she has mostly recovered, and continues to regale us with her stories and songs.

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Flo (L) and Nan (R)

While so many of my friends have lost one or both parents, I am very grateful to be able to share the Christmas season with both my mom and dad. This year, my sister Lynette came from Florida to spend Christmas with us in Newfoundland, bringing together all but one of my siblings.

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L to R: Mom, Juana, Sherry, Flo, Lynette and Dad

While my “Calgary sister”, Celeste, was not able to spend Christmas with us in Newfoundland, I was very fortunate this year to spend New Year’s Day with her in Alberta. I am so thankful that she made the three hour drive from Calgary to Sherwood Park with her son, Ryan, to spend a fun filled day together. This is the first Christmas season in many years that I have had the opportunity to spend time with all four of my sisters, and for that I give thanks.

 

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L to R: Celeste, Ryan and Flo

I have also been blessed this year with the gift of new love. I met Steve in May, and the past seven months have been a whirlwind of romance and adventure! Not only are Steve and I in a long distance relationship, but it is what I call a “double long distance relationship”.   Steve’s home is in Sherwood Park, Alberta, while I live nearly 7000 kilometers away in Newfoundland. He spends three weeks at home and three in Newfoundland where he works as a helicopter pilot. However, even when he is working in St. John’s, my home is 350 kilometers away in Lewin’s Cove. Despite the geographical challenges, Steve and I have somehow managed to spend a lot of good quality time together. Fortunately, I was able to spend a week of my Christmas vacation visiting him at his home in Sherwood Park, and meeting his beautiful family.   Thank you, God for the gift of this wonderful man whose presence in my life is more precious than any present I could ever receive.

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Flo and Steve

Finally, the good Lord has blessed me with the gift of good friends. With our busy lives, it is not always easy to carve out time to maintain our friendships, but I am happy to say that I managed to connect with most of my friends this Christmas season. I also experienced my own little Christmas miracle by reconnecting with two very dear friends, whom I had lost contact with for nearly four years.

As I reflect back on 2015, I have so many things to be grateful for. As a cancer survivor, good health will always top my gratitude list. Next to my health, it is the love that I share with my family and friends that means the most to me. Intellectually, I have always known that people are what matter most in life, however one of the perks of having cancer for me was the experience of knowing that truth on a deeper level. When I was too sick to care for myself, it did not matter how many degrees I had, the size of my house, or my bank account. My very survival depended on my loved ones taking care of me. While I always had an appreciation for my family and friends, I now make a more conscious effort to put time into my relationships, and I strive to be fully present with them when we are together.

Wishing you much health, happiness and the love of good friends and family in 2016!

Media Star!

Since launching our book in late August, Susan and I have been quite busy with interviews and book promotions.  This weekend alone, we had two radio interviews and one t.v. interview lined up.   We appreciate every opportunity to promote our message of HOPE, and many of our “gigs” are small productions, such as web radio shows.  So, when Susan mentioned a t.v. interview for Saturday morning, I didn’t get all excited, thinking it was perhaps a low budget cable show filmed in someone’s basement.  In fact, I kind of blew it off, saying, “Well, ya know my internet sucks, so my Skype might now work, perhaps it’s better for you to do this one on your own.”  What a surprise I got when I saw Miss Media Star, Susan, rock this interview on Good Day Sacramento!

Isn’t she something?!  (Click on link under the pic)

susan pic

http://gooddaysacramento.cbslocal.com/video/9383561-100-perks-of-cancer/

A Story For You….

I think I have developed a case of writer’s block.  I generally only post to my blog once a week now, so you would think it would be EASY to come up with an interesting topic.  Not so.  I have toyed with the ideas of blogging about:

-The bruise on my big toenail

-Almond milk (which, by the way, contains exactly the same amount of calcium as 1% cow’s milk!)

-My bed

But instead, I would like to tell you a story.  Whenever I am giving a public talk, I often will start with this story, as I see no better way of illustrating the POWER of having a positive attitude.

rocking chair

There was once an old man who lived on the outskirts of a small town.  He loved to sit outside on his porch each day, rock in his rocking chair, smoke his pipe and watch the people come and go from his town.  One day as he was sitting outside, he noticed a young man approaching him.  This man was walking slowly, head down, kicking rocks as he shuffled along. 

He stopped and spoke to the old man: “I come from the factory town up the road.  You may have heard about us, the factory just shut down and many of my townspeople are out of work.  We have to leave our town and try to find work elsewhere, but before I move to a town, I would like to know first what the people are like.  So old man, what are the people like in your town?”

The old man took a long draw on his pipe and replied, “Well son, you tell me first.  What are the people like in the town you come from?”

“Oh they are a terrible lot of people”, replied the young man. “Thieves and cut-throats.  Not an honest man among them.  They would never do anything to help a person in need.  In fact, I am sort of glad I don’t have to live there anymore!” 

The old man nodded thoughtfully and said, “Son, I think you will find the people are the same in this town.”

The young man continued along the road out of town, and shortly after the old man saw another young man approaching him.  This young man however, was whistling a tune as he skipped along.  He stopped and spoke to the old man.

“Hello sir,” he said, “I come from the factory town up the road.  You probably know that our factory closed down and many people are looking for work and a place to move their families.  This looks like a good town, with plenty of work,but first sir, I would like to know, what are the people like in your town?”

Again, the old man paused and said, “Tell me son, what are the people like in the town you come from?”

“Oh they are a lovely lot of people!” said the young man, “so kind and neighbourly.  They would do anything to help you out in a time of need.  They are good, honest, hard- working people.  I really hate to leave that town, but I need to find work.”

The old man smiled and said, “Son, I think you will find the people are the same in this town.”

When I was blogging 100 perks of having cancer, I talked a lot about the power of positive thinking.  This is a topic which can be controversial in the world of cancer.  Some would say that the pressure from society to maintain a positive attitude while going through something as horrific as cancer can weigh heavily on those diagnosed.  Then there is the myth that a positive attitude can cure cancer, which implies that if you die from cancer, your attitude was not positive enough.  So I can see where the whole idea of a positive attitude with regards to cancer gets a bad rap.

That said I have never seen anyone be hurt by a positive attitude.  And while it does not guarantee a longer life, focusing on the positives in any situation will ensure a happier life.  The wise old man knew something.  He knew that these two young men, who were obviously from the same town, would take something with them wherever they went: their attitude.  One was sure to find happiness and goodness in any town, while the other would find only doom and gloom.  What would you find?

Awesome Weekend

Let me begin by saying, that while I recognize the word “awesome” to be one of the most over-used words in the English language, I just had an awesome weekend with Shawn and our friends, Don and Phyllis in beautiful Terra Nova Park.

Flo and Shawn on the Terra Nova River

Awesomeness, of course, is a very personal thing.  I am sure that for some, driving hundreds of kilometers in an ATV, hiking through insect infested trails, cooking beans on a Coleman stove, and peeing in an outhouse, would be more the stuff that nightmares are made of.  But for me, it was a totally awesome experience (sorry, there’s that word again).

It was a weekend of eating too much, drinking too much, and laughing….lots (you can never laugh too much).

The cook-up with Don and Phyllis

 

I had my trusty Nikon along to capture memories of the weekend, but some of the most poignant moments are recorded only in my heart.  One such moment was standing on an old bridge watching the sunset over the hills as Shawn fished in the river below.   Don walked up to me and said, “Ya know, Flo, this is what life is really all about, moments just like this.”

Those words really struck a chord, not only because of the obvious wisdom contained within, but also because of the respect I have for this man.  About ten years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia and given 3 to 5 years to live.  Don is a survivor.

The word “survivor”, like the word “awesome” means different things to different people. Recently I took part in a lively debate in the blogosphere about the term cancer survivor.  While some people proudly wear the label, others find it outright offensive.  I GET both sides of the argument.  If you take the term SURVIVOR to just mean someone who physically outlives cancer, then I have a problem with it.  It implies that those who outlive cancer, are somehow stronger, or fight a better fight than those who die from it.  That is utter nonsense.  If the will to live and putting up a good fight were all that it took to beat cancer, I can think of many people who would be alive right now.  On the other hand, if you take the term SURVIVOR to mean someone who uses all the resources within and around them to give the best fight that they possibly can give to beat this disease, then I proudly wear the label!

So when I call Don a survivor, I am not referring to the fact that he has outlived his original prognosis.  I am referring to the way that he has lived his life in the face of this diagnosis.  Don credits his survival in part to the fact that he did not stop living when the doctors passed him his death sentence.  Rather he took on new challenges, set new goals, and continued to fulfill lifelong dreams.  That is what makes him a survivor, and if the day ever comes that leukemia takes his life, then in my books he will die as he lived: A survivor!