Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strongest Girl I Know

October 3rd, my life forever changed – yes, yet again.  I received a phone call from my best friend telling me she had just been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39.  The overwhelming feelings of that phone call nearly knocked me to my knees.  My heart broke into pieces that day.  My stomach hurt as if it were internally on fire and being pummeled by a heavyweight boxer.  My bowels seized.  My brain ran into overdrive and subsequently turned to mush at the very same moment.
We were in a parking lot getting food for the youngest while waiting to go to my eldest daughter’s varsity soccer game that night.  Suddenly, our car would not start.  However, my world had just ceased – totally stopped in time - with the utterance of a few short words from the girl I consider a sister.
As my frustrated husband started panicking about the car, I simply grabbed my youngest daughter’s hand, took off and started walking to the field about one-half mile away.  I was in the twilight zone.  Beyond the teary words my buddy had just voiced to me about leukemia, my ability to comprehend anything was non-existent and a total blur.
Karen and I became best friends our freshman year in high school.  We met the year prior, after I moved to Massachusetts from Oklahoma, but we solidified our bond during Mr. Morano’s freshman English class and during band practice. 

(She will likely kill me for sharing this picture, circa 1988.)
Prior to the internet and cell phones, Karen and I spent at least two hours on the old-fashioned telephones with the stretched out cords talking to one other every single day.  I cannot recall all that we talked about, but I do know the time was filled with non-stop laughter over boys, farts, music, sports and other then-relevant thirteen year old topics.
Karen was an athlete even back then, excelling in swimming by gliding through the water like the most aero-dynamic fish I had ever laid eyes on.  At the now defunct YMCA, I often tried to swim with her, even though my sport was running, and I literally sank to the bottom of the pool much like a runner would. 
Karen was also a champion at Tae Kwon Do.  I know this first-hand because she always practiced her non-contact sport on ME.  Countless times, I ended up on the ground nursing a striking blow from Karen as she practiced her karate chops using me as her “dummy” .  Her direct hits to me were always softened by her ensuing giggling at my subsequent ass-dropping.
The friendship between Karen and I has always been enhanced by the fact that we both do not like boring.  We both go all out when we tackle the facets of life; especially Karen.  The two of us friends have always pushed our personal limitations in our respective lives, a unique trait that always permits us to circle back to one another.  We both admit a sick sort of fascination in not only partaking in these adventurous experiences but in sharing the sordid details with one another.  We both recognize that the other one truly understands our respective insanities, without justification and explanation,  and we continue to cheer one another on in our escapades.

Karen was there for me during my own cancer battle.  A friend indeed, reminding me that I was a kick-ass warrior and there was nothing I could not do.  Karen was present during the actual birth of my third child, a miracle delivery placed smack dab in the middle of my treatments. 
In typical Karen-style, she fist pumped and yelled something like “rock on” after I pushed my baby out in two pushes.  She was disappointed that the birth happened so quickly that she had to stand by my stubble growing head instead of holding my leg and being upfront and center in the action. 
Moments after the exhausting and marvelous birth, Karen wasted no time to remind me – in between her now infamous aforementioned giggles – that I screamed “F^^^^^^^^CCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!” right into the doctor’s face in that last push.  Only Karen.  <Hey, I give birth with zero pain meds people……….something’s got to give!>


How is it some five years later, I am there for Karen in HER cancer battle? 
STOP.  Right here.  Two best friends.  Both having to battle cancer?  This has got to be a nightmare.  There is no possible way this story, this version of events, can be true.
My emotions ran very rampant and very high this past month as my best buddy battles for her life.  I range from “WTF!” (rather frequently) to tears of utter sadness, to supreme confidence and back around again.  Part of the healing from my own cancer experience has witnessed me struggling with my emotions when those I know are battling a different variety of the disease.  Man, WTF.
After I completed my battle, I believed with an utmost confidence that no one close to me would have to battle cancer.  I felt like the token child, the sacrificial lamb….I went through this horrible suck-fest so that no one else I love would have to.  On October 3rd, life pulled that giant rug out from underneath me and I landed squarely face down on some pretty hard concrete terms of reality.
How could this be happening?  Karen is the strongest girl I know!  How is she now battling for her life?  Leukemia?  Bleeding internally?  Whoa.  I feel dizzy.  I am nauseous.  My heart aches.
Just a few months earlier this year, my personal superhero competed in the Patriot Half Ironman; she not only finished, but finished second overall for the women!  There’s NO way this girl has cancer. 
Nope.  Refusal to believe.   Denial.  Fine.
What I do know, what I firmly believe, without a figment of doubt is that Karen will not only beat cancer but she will kick the tarnation out of it and come through unlike anyone before her.  My heart continues to break into smithereens as I watch her suffer, yes, SUFFER through many of the similar side effects of cancer treatment that I dragged myself through.  I wish that I could take that pain away for her, even knowing how awful it was for me.  With her immune system depleted by chemotherapy, it takes every ounce of strength and will power for me to refrain from holding her, loving her and helping caress her through these dark days. 
My memory returns to the days of my bald head, the ugliness I felt when Karen’s husband Jeremy shaved my head in anticipation of the fall-out from my own chemotherapy.  I recall Karen crying and complimenting me on what a beautifully shaped head I had. 

Now, five years later, I sit here crying myself and complimenting Karen on what an absolutely beautiful woman she is and what a perfectly shaped dome she has.  Poor Jeremy, probably never comprehending his skills of shaving heads would apply not only to his wife’s best friend, but his own gorgeous wife.

In typical rock-star style, Karen reassures me through her spirit that the warrior IS deeply embedded within her very core and she will prevail in this latest challenge.  Karen will come out ahead and stand on the grandest podium there is – the grand podium of life and knowing she crossed that finish line in the race against cancer.  I will have long since moved aside from my spot on said podium, but I will remain very closely behind her every inch of the way.  I will cheer her through the fight of her lifetime.  As I fret, as I worry, and as I know that Karen’s latest competition is fierce, somehow with her indomitable spirit and in these dark days of cancer, Karen is still taking care of me.
She is the strongest girl I know.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Inspiration: Even You Can


noun \ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi-\

: something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something

: a good idea

(Source:  Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

We all have that ability to deliver a gift.  A gift -  you know - something given involuntarily without payment in return.  Please, continue reading – there are so many ways to deliver a gift and I hope you will engage me in considering what gift you will distribute today, this week, this month and this year. 
You are an inspiration!  Yes, you!  You have the ability to influence someone’s day, is that not empowering?  Imagine, for a moment, our world, our people filled with gift-giving.  It really IS that easy.  The question is why do we not do it more often?
A gift is not necessarily a purchase of a commercial product to present to someone as a present.  A gift may be in the form of a few choice words, wrapped with a figurative bow and transported to a deserving recipient.  Think about it, when is the last time you conveyed a message to someone that was kind, supportive, uplifting, and maybe just the very sentence that warmed that person’s heart that day?
There’s a favorite quote of mine:

Battle may be very loosely defined and may differ not only from person to person, but from day to day.  We are surrounded by those who are fighting for their lives from disease and it seems easier to step up the kindness at those times.  However, what about the other battles?  The mêlées of daily life that often knock us from the safety zone of comfort.  Often times, the individuals wading through the muck of life are the most perfect recipients for an inspirational gift from you. 
Humans, by default, seem to be keener on knocking each other down instead of lifting each other up.  Newspaper headlines reflect such cruel behavior on daily basis.  November elections clearly bring out the worst in people – when toxic verbiage spews from one political party to another and the mission shifts from rallying a favored candidate to being down-right, viciously malicious to another human being.  Such behavior that has me asking why?  Why do we publicly cast such irretrievable words at each other? 
The efforts to convey kind words take exactly the same energy that it takes to emit vile verbosity; in fact, it may be less effort on the former.  Are we that naïve?  Are we so hard-wired to swing to the negative side of verbal engagements that it takes a conscious action to engage on the positive end of the spectrum?  Are we seriously just pre-disposed to complaining (Seriously?) that it seems unnatural to focus on the positive of our discussions?
Circling back around, we all do have the ability to be an inspiration. YES, WE DO!   Being an inspiration is not unattainable nor does it require exhaustive measures to achieve the end result.  Embracing my best Uncle Sam, I am here to say, "I WANT YOU!"

Like many other facets in our lives, any action that is done regularly certainly becomes habit.  Let us use our ability to inspire, to provide the gift of kind words to one another on a regular basis.  Start by casting a smile at those you encounter on a daily basis.  Expand those smiles into affirmative words.  Instead of staring at the Dunkin Donuts menu while you wait your place in line, give the person next to you a warm smile.  You will be surprised at their reaction and often times get a gift of a smile in return.  (You may possibly be deemed crazy, but that is good fun as well).  From that smile, perhaps you may compliment that person on their cute sweater or their hair-do.  Stop laughing at the thought and do it.  I promise you, it is so very worth-while.  Your kind words may start that person’s day on a better note and you will feel so good about delivering such a gift; a gift that cost you absolutely nothing.
Toss the stone of kindness.  Watch the ripples as your friends mimic your behavior.  Be proud as your children exhibit compassion to their peers.  Receive the benevolence as it comes back around to you.

Be an inspiration.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Never Too Old

Halloween 2013 in my home was greeted with a nearly sixteen year old, a thirteen year old (who looks sixteen) and a five year old.  Halloween is great fun in our family, as it is my favorite and we cover much of the inside of our residence with a variety of decorations to reflect the season.
Our fall was so overly packed with extra-curricular activities and an international wedding, that it was October 28th before it dawned on me we had yet to get costumes.  We were one of those – the cluster of people in the local Halloween store the night before the event itself.  My usually organized self has been way behind the eight ball these past few months.
Throughout the store, all three of my children were oohing, ahhing, laughing and being grossed out by the left-over, picked through assortment of costumes remaining.  Wait, a minute.....what?  A thought crossed my mind:  are my oldest two children too old to partake in the candy mooching this year?
A sophomore in high school and her brother, who in 7th grade is climbing just shy of six feet tall and sprouting facial hair.
No.  No, they are not. 
I used the excuse that we were going to our old neighborhood for Trick-or-Treating, therefore, they both could “get away” with walking the streets and collecting candy.  You see, it was not about the candy collection for my kids.  Honestly.  As I watched my children pick their respective costumes, their eyes were lit up with that innocent child-like behavior.  I understand this joy as their own Momma loves the excuse to dress up as something we would otherwise never be.  I watched the exuberance come from their bedrooms as they slid the polyester over their growing bodies.  I reveled in the laughter as they checked one another out and tried to decide what the orange skin-suit on my newly minted teenage boy really made him look like. 


As we watched the collections of kids that made their rounds through the neighborhood last night, I realized that my children are not too old.  I will not tell them they cannot trick-or-treat.  I will respect them when they decide they have outgrown the custom, but I will not issue a cease and desist. 
Life goes by way too fast as it is, why should we encourage our young ones to stop doing something they enjoy?  Should this not apply to us adults as well?
Lately, I find myself saying certain behaviors of mine or certain actions of mine are perchance unbecoming of someone about to be my age (that fortieth birthday is looming just over the horizon).  However, upon a moment of consideration, I realize if it’s something I enjoy who says I should stop doing it?
Are we so caught up in our adult-hood that we are missing out on the very moments that we enjoy, that keep us young at heart and bring grins to our faces?
So what that those awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle knee socks are marketed towards kids/tweens/teens – I like them!  Michelangelo was my favorite (yes, because he was orange) and I want a pair!
Who cares if snow angels were meant for over-bundled little kids who fall and cannot get up?  The world needs life-sized angels, too!
Tell me you do not enjoy trying to count how many licks a Tootsie Pop takes!  (*I lose count after three…)
Does it matter if during a long run, a particular song just forces you to break out into a little jiggity-jig in your pace down Pleasant Street?  Maybe that passerby just needs a little giggle/smile today after your running bust a move!
Speaking of a run, experiencing the Electric Run (a 5k “race” throughout Gillette Stadium) wearing loads of glowing things:  glow sticks, glow necklaces, glow bracelets, glowing fiber optic mohawks, and more affirmed for me that no one is ever too old for fun.
Never ever too old for fun. 
There has got to be something you enjoy that is perhaps not age-appropriate...so tell me....what is it?
Disclaimer:  Yes, I did, in fact, try on my son’s orange skin suit.  No, it was not the least bit flattering (when is spandex EVER?) but the ensuing laughter from each respective member of my family made me consider going Trick-or-Treating myself next year (no, I will not but the thought was fun).