Tag Archive | positive attitude

Perk # 81: My First Breast Cancer Retreat

Brigadoon Village (as magical a place as it sounds)

On Friday, April 13th, Shawn and I traveled to Nova Scotia to attend the “Skills For Healing” breast cancer weekend retreat.   I was rather quiet on the drive, which prompted Shawn to ask, “Is everything okay?”   Suddenly an image came to mind of a plane landing, and a voice in my head said, “Ladies and Gentlemen we are making our final descent into the land of breast cancer.”   It was sort of like the feeling I got the first time I went to the cancer clinic.  Although I had been diagnosed for many months, there was a surreal quality about actually being there.  My mind was telling me, “You know Flo, you must really have breast cancer if you are sitting in a cancer clinic.”   But this time the voice said, “You know Flo, you must really be a breast cancer survivor if you are going to one of those retreats.”

Attending this retreat has been one of the most healing parts of my cancer journey (as well as one of the perks of having cancer!).  The wonderful facilitators, Dr. Rob Rutledge, and Dr. Timothy Walker (http://healingandcancer.org/)  simply exuded love and compassion as they taught skills such as meditation, yoga, how to re-frame our thoughts, and how to honour our bodies.  For me, these concepts were not new, and while it was a good opportunity for me to brush up on my existing skills, the real healing came from being part of the group: the healing circle.

While I have many “cyber-friends”  who share my diagnosis, this was the first time I was actually in a room full of women on various stages of their breast cancer journey.  It was so liberating to just be able to take off my wig and not worry about the shock value of others seeing me that way.  For the first time, having breast cancer did not make me different.  I was among kindred spirits.  Not only was I able to take off my hair, but I also took off my “Super Cancer Hero” cape and spilled my guts about my deepest fears and anxieties.   I cried.  Not one of those movie star cries, where a few tears creep down the cheek without ever disturbing the make-up.  No, this was more of a wounded animal howl accompanied by lots of snot and mascara-stained tears.  Oh, but it felt so good to open that floodgate!

I realized that I have been so intent on maintaining a positive attitude, that I have suppressed many of my “negative” emotions.  On this retreat I discovered that when it comes to feelings, it does not have to be one or the other.   In other words, allowing myself to feel anger, sadness and fear does not diminish my positive attitude.  As one lady said, “It is possible to experience joy amid suffering.”

I learned so much from this group of women, and I will carry their stories in my heart forever.  I have permission to share one of these stories with you.  Jody Cook is a 35 year old Paramedic from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.  The first time I saw Jody, I was mesmerized by her presence.  She has one of those smiles that just lights up a room and you can’t help but to smile back.  Her sparkling eyes hinted at a mischievous spirit, which even her recent chemo could not dim.

Jody is the single mom to 9 year old Olivia and 12 year old Rodney (she is also the owner of a deaf horse, which Shawn feels I should mention).   In February, Jody underwent a double mastectomy.  That did not make her any different from many of the other women at our retreat.  What did make her stand out however, is how she carried this new body of hers.   Man, she rocked the survivor look!    Seeing Jody, so confident and comfortable with her flat chest made me feel kind of sheepish about the wad of cotton batting that I had stuffed into the left side of my bra.  Rather than lament about the loss of her hair, Jody saw it as an opportunity to experiment with different hair colors and styles.  However, she was just as comfortable going bald.  What most impressed me about this beautiful woman was her incredible openness and honesty.   In a group discussion about stress, most of us were willing to open up a little and show our human side.  Jody told this story: “One day I was feeling really tired and stressed and the kids were just driving me nuts.  I got so frustrated I turned to them and yelled: WOULD THE BOTH OF YOU JUST F**K RIGHT OFF NOW!”   The group erupted in laughter.  That story opened the space for all of us to be honest and show our vulnerable side.  Thanks Jody!

Dark haired Jody

Blonde Jody

Medium-brown haired Jody

Tip: Allowing yourself to feel anger, sadness, fear and other “healing feelings”  does not diminish your positive attitude.

Perk # 78: Cancer Helped Me To See The World Through The Eyes Of A Child

I was about four years old the first time I recall seeing a house lit up with colourful Christmas lights.  I still remember the sound of the frosty snow crunching under my feet, and the feel of my mother’s warm hand in mine as the snowflakes softly swirled about us that cool December evening.   The sight of the lights reflected in the water filled me with such joy that it bubbled over to laughter.

Last Christmas I was blessed to experience once again, the feeling of seeing Christmas lights for the first time.  I had just completed my last chemo session and my family pitched in to help with the decorating.   It was just getting dark outside when I looked through the living room window to see my whole garden aglow.   To everyone around me, it looked no different than it had for the past eight Christmases at this house.  But lying on the couch in my chemo slumber, the sight filled me with such awe that it felt as if I was seeing these lights for the very first time.  In that instant I understood what it meant to see the world through the eyes of a child.

I wish I could say that the feeling stayed with me, but the harsh realities of life with cancer soon replaced my feelings of joy and awe with those of fear and foreboding.  While I strive to stay positive throughout my cancer journey, I will be the first to acknowledge that cancer has more “quirks“ than “perks“.  The most troublesome of these quirks is the worry that the cancer might return.  For the first few weeks of the new year, this thought became more of an obsession to me than a worry, and I found myself frantically searching the internet trying to find HOPE.  I weighed the stats, analyzed my prognosis, and considered my odds.  The more I researched, the more scared I became!

I soon discovered that the hope I was searching for was not to be found on the internet, but in the form of a letter I received in the mail.  Ireland is a seven year old little girl who is preparing to make her First Holy Communion.  Part of her preparation for this sacrament involved praying for the sick.  After her mother showed her my blog, she decided to draw me a picture and send me a letter to help cheer me up.  Ireland’s letter reads in part:  “You are very brave and strong, and you remind me of my very favorite horse in the whole world, Rosie O’Grady.  One time Rosie hurt her foot and she couldn’t walk very good but she tried every day to do her best….I prayed for Rosie when she was sick and she got better.  I will pray for you and soon you will be better and running and playing like Rosie.”

Ireland’s letter broke the cocoon that depression had wrapped around me.  She was sure that her prayers helped Rosie O’Grady to get well.  She was also certain that her prayers will make me well.  That is the faith of a child.  Those weeks I spent living in fear and doubt did nothing to help me on my road to recovery.   Those simple words from a wise seven year old did.  Thank you Ireland for giving me the gift of a child’s faith.


Rosie O'Grady, with Ireland and her Uncle

Tip: Believe that your prayers will be answered.

Perk # 57: Cancer Made Me Value Every Birthday

Well, here I am, 45 years old today.  Where does the time go?  Seems like only yesterday I was 44.   One thing cancer has done for me is make me really appreciate my birthdays!  Never again will I complain about getting older, and these lines and wrinkles…..I’ve earned every one of them.  While many women dread the big “Five-OH” I am sure it will be the happiest birthday of my life.   I will finally be able to say that I am cancer free.

Tip: Treasure every birthday, every day, and every breath.

Perk # 39: Cancer Has Given Me The Privilege Of Having My Words Of Wisdom Quoted By Another

Tree In My Front Yard

(OK, I was quoted by Lucy Cove on Facebook….but still, my words WERE quoted!)

Well, I have decided, after completing 6 rounds of chemo, with a radical mastectomy and 25 radiation treatments still to come, that I am just going to pack it all in and accept that I am doomed.    My positive attitude can’t do a thing to save me.  Well, that’s according to a study by Dr. Coyne of the University of Pennsylvania, which supposedly found that people with a positive outlook about their cancer did not survive better than those who were depressed about their cancer.

I have a message for Dr. Coyne: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.    And yes Dr. Coyne, there is a power greater than the physical body….call it a positive attitude, the power of prayer, hope, faith, or optimism.    Can it cure cancer?  Absolutely.   There are plenty of documented cases of medical miracles which cannot be explained by modern  science.  Will a positive attitude alone guarantee a long life?  Of course not.  It doesn’t matter how positive your attitude or how strong your faith, we simply have to accept that some things are beyond our control.

So, if a positive attitude can’t guarantee a cure for my cancer, then what’s the point of having one?   It takes a lot of work, ya know.  Well, the way I see it, even if I can’t  state for certain that having a positive attitude will allow me live a LONGER life (although I do believe it will),  I can say with 100% certainty that it will allow me to live a HAPPIER life!

And here are my words which were quoted on Facebook (because when you have cancer, people think you are suddenly full of wisdom):  “If I live another forty years and I can look back on this year and say that I stayed joyful, happy and positive, that would be a wonderful thing  to say.  If I live only one year, then it is even more important that I be able to say that.”

Tip:  Don’t listen to the naysayers who tell you that having a positive attitude won’t help your survival.  Instead, prove them wrong….live to be 90, that’ll show ‘em!

Perk # 38: Cancer Really Makes Me Appreciate The Good Days.

Wake me up for Christmas!

I am now lying in bed….in full chemo attack mode…..fondly reminiscing about the pre cancer days when my BFF, Jackie, would call me up to compare hangover symptoms.   She would say something like, “I’m perishing here,” and I would respond, “I’m sick enough to be prayed for in church.”  Well, not to sound morbid (since this is meant to be an up-lifting blog), but if you take your worst hangover day and multiply it by 100, then you’ve got a bad chemo day.

The thing that helps me through the rough days is my favourite mantra: This too shall pass.  It will pass, and I will feel good again!  Even on the days when I feel “normal-ish”  I can almost hear the  Alleluia chorus singing: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alll-eee—luuuuu—IAAAAAA!  So I can only imagine how grateful I will be when this sickness is behind me.  I will never again take another “good day” for granted.

p.s. Wednesday, December 7th was my LAST chemo!

Tip:  When times get rough, just remember:  This too shall pass.

Perk # 37: Cancer Has Intrduced Me to Many Phonomenal Women

Meet Beck: An amazing young cancer warrior who is inspiring me to live each day to the fullest

Through my journey with cancer, and my experiences with blogging, I have had the privilege of meeting other strong Newfoundland women, who are living happy, and fulfilling lives while facing cancer.

Rather than focus on the negatives of having cancer, Linda, blogs about her favourite beautiful things at www.beautifulideas.wordpress.com  And her site is truly beautiful (especially if you are looking for Christmas decorating ideas.)

Deb, another remarkable woman, blogs about caring for her “Miracle Man”, who was given only three months to live….and that was more than 5 years ago.  She shares tips and words of encouragement on her blog www.myhusbandskidneycancer.com

Dana, with the voice of an angel, shares her experiences with breast cancer in a moving song, “No Time For You.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EhzENwLI2k

But the young woman whose words moved me to tears, is Beck, a nineteen year old fighting a fierce battle with cancer.  She shared these words with me:

“I fight because I’m finally happy. I love living life… A lot of people when they’re diagnosed look at it as “I’m dying,” the way I look at it, I’m living until the day I die. I’m trying my hardest to stay strong and keep the people that matter to me, happy. You just have to live each day to the fullest.

Being diagnosed was the best, but worst thing that’s ever happened to me. It made me open my eyes fully and realize how important the simplicity of life is. It’s not about money or fancy things, it’s the simple things like watching my brother grow older, teaching him about the things I’ve learned throughout my lifetime, making my mom smile,  and making the best of every day so that if the day comes that  I pass away, my loved ones are left with the best of memories.

When people say half the battle is your attitude, it’s so true!  When a lot of people are diagnosed, they give up. They’re discouraged, fearful and it’s completely understandable.  But if you keep a positive attitude, I believe anyone can beat this, even if the doctor’s say there’s no chance of curing the illness. There ARE miracles!”

What amazing wisdom from one so young!  I am blessed that our paths crossed in this lifetime.  Thank you, Beck, you are a true inspiration to me.  Keep believing in miracles!

Tip:  I remember when my little two year old cousin, Amy, was sent home to die from leukemia.  The doctors said there was no hope.  She is now a happily married 34 year old.  BELIEVE IN MIRACLES!

NOTE: Since this blog was posted, Beck has started her own blog: http://notoriousbeck.tumblr.com/

Perk # 34: Cancer Made Me Realize My Own Strength

My Motto: Don't Ever Give Up!

There is nothing like a battle with cancer to prove to yourself just how strong you really are. (I am sure all of the warriors and survivors who are reading this are nodding their heads in agreement).  Ten years ago, if I could have looked into the future and saw 44 year old Florence: divorced, single parenting three children, dealing with the many challenges of having a child with Autism, and then facing cancer on top of that, well I probably would have said, “Hand me a rope, would ya?”  But I would have been underestimating the strength of 44 year old Florence.  Not only am I handling this, but I am experiencing some of the happiest and most joyful moments of my life in the process!  It is true, God never gives us more than we can handle.  But God, if you are listening, I GET IT!  I’M STRONG!!! Now go pick on someone your own size.

Tip:  Celebrate your own strength!  When I need to be reminded of how strong I am, I like to play this song and really belt out the words: “I’M A FIGHTEEEEEERRRR” (while pretending I’m a country superstar).