Still Active Here…

September 12, 2017

The summer of 2017 included water-skiing every weekend, and I progressed my form a lot from this photo through to late summer. Hips up!

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It continues to be a great joy to be physically active and strong. I celebrated 10 years post-ovarian cancer last April, and it was humbling and not without a few tears.

My book, Active Against Cancer, still continues to be available on Amazon, and people keep finding it useful, which is heartening, but also sometimes sad.

In the last couple of years, as I near 60 years old, more friends have had their struggles with cancer, and not each of the struggles end the way we would like. I quietly grieve, when needed, and am deeply humbled.

I wish that exercise did cure everything. It doesn’t, but it is still a good lifestyle choice. Being active does matter enormously. It doesn’t always trump cancer, sadly.

I have another relatively minor  health struggle right now, and part of my reality is that I have been more sedentary and more stressed in the last few years because of my work. I love my work, but maybe I love it a little too much because it has let me make excuses for not being as active as I want to or should be.

I used to ski race. I always said, “you can’t race on your reputation; you can only race on your training.”

So, without further ado, I’m going for a walk to see the fall foliage and count my blessings.

Wishing you each health, long life, and happy trails. And if the trail turns out to be challenging and difficult, wishing you outer support, inner courage and a heart full of love.

Peace,
Nancy

 

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Spring in Stowe: Weekend of Hope 2016

In Vermont, the daffodils are patiently waiting for the snow to stop falling and the migrating songbirds are keeping their distance, generally, until some warmer weather returns. But, based on the thawed dirt backroads (aka mud season) and the maple sap running, it’s spring in Vermont again–and that means Hope, the Stowe Weekend of Hope, more exactly.

This year’s Stowe Weekend of Hope is April 29 to May 1, and you can find all the details at www.stowehope.org. This year, a busy schedule with my own business kept me from scheduling my usual “Walk and Talk” on the Stowe Rec Path, Friday morning. Sorry! But I want to give a shout-out to loyal attendees: I’m fine, and I’ll miss seeing you there!

Hey: I’ve got an idea, if anyone is around, take each other for a walk by meeting at 10 a.m. behind the big white church in Stowe, and amble away on the Stowe Rec Path, talking with each other about your cancer recovery and your plans for the weekend of hope.

Hope. It’s the best choice that I made when I was in cancer treatment. I was scared, really scared, but I put my trust in the power of the medical treatment, the power of a positive attitude, and the power of a holistic approach to self-care and complementary care during my treatment. I included acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and counseling. And I included my daily dose of exercise.

And I followed my doctors’ treatment plans, although I admit I was a questioning and highly involved patient. (Okay, maybe I was even confrontational and a pain-in-the-neck at times, but I had read that patients of that ilk survived longer, so… sorry, I was going to ask all the questions I had.)

The best hours of my cancer treatment period (about 6 months of chemotherapy, post-surgery) were ones when I could forget that I was bald (yes!) and forget that I was sapped of my usual strength. I found enough strength to swim–or proto-swim, really just float. I found enough energy to walk outdoors and enjoy the fresh air and birds. I found enough energy to yell “hit it” which for a water-skier means “get going with that boat and let me ski along the lake surface like magic!”

Exercise, even a 10-minute walk, renewed my hope every time. I felt alive. I could sense the suffering, but it didn’t seem so bad if I could still move.

I remember reading about a cancer patient who visualized dancing, when too weak to dance. Did this raise her immune system function? I have to think so.

I found that I didn’t hope in proportion to my “percentage chance of recurrence”. I hoped wildly and thoroughly, every day, to get past cancer recovery into good health again. I leaned on other people’s hope, too. My husband was certain I would recover completely. Okay, let’s go with that hope.

There were sometimes doubters: I ignored them. “I don’t believe in being ‘realistic’.” I said. “I believe in optimism.”

Optimism is comforting. It’s encouraging. It rallies your will to eat those extra vegetables or nourish your yearning for a trip to the ocean to see the waves. Hope makes you walk another quarter of a mile to keep your heart strong. Hope makes you want to take every step with joy. The future is ahead, but in the present, there is always room for hope and for joy and for gratitude. The choice is ours.

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I’m quietly celebrating 9 years of cancer-free survival this April, while watching a few dear ones in the midst of their own cancer challenges. I’m humbled by their grace and I’m ever grateful for my own good luck.

I wish you all a good weekend of Hope, and every day, thereafter, as much hope as you can embrace. I may even make it over to the Stowe Rec Path Friday morning myself. Just informally, but that’s okay. I’ll be the one with the binoculars, looking for birds! Please say hello if you see me.

Peace and love,
Nancy

P.S. In looking at the Stowe Weekend of Hope schedule, participants interested in movement, exercise and healing may be interested in the all-day Friday workshop, described this way: Enjoy!

Hope and Wellness Through Movement for the Mind and Body
LOCATION: STOWEFLAKE RESORT – Room: Atrium
David Dorfman, Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Cancer Fitness Coach, and Other Instructors. All levels and abilities welcome!

  • 9:00 am — Full-Day Session Begins with Welcome and Overview

Join us for a full day of healing activities including yoga, meditation, biking, and much more! Pick what’s right for you and join us for our Weekend of Hope exercise program. All levels and abilities welcome!

 

 

The Time of Forgetting, The Time of Remembering

I kept my wig. I kept it, at first, because I didn’t know if I would need again. Then, after some time, I kept it hoping that I would never need it again and thinking maybe that was realistic. Some time later, I kept it because it seemed like “good luck” to keep it.

I wanted to humble in the face of the threat of cancer. I didn’t want to toy with the threat of cancer recurrence. I wanted to bow to it, humbly, and run hard in the other direction as soon as it wasn’t looking.

I kept my wig in a hat box. A pretty hat box. I kept it in sight for a while, but now it’s in the closet. I took photos of my hair growing in: white and straight, then curly as Shirley Temple, then longer and more like my “real” hair.

I’m going gray–or maybe white. I won’t be coloring my hair. I’ll be celebrating. I’m lucky — to have hair, to be here, to keep going. To be past 8 years post-treatment, 8 1/2 years post-diagnosis. I expect another cancer free birthday in 10 days. I’ll be 57. I’ll be lucky.

Cancer does seem like it was a dream now. A nightmarish dream with lots of love in it. Suffering surrounded by love; fear surrounded by hope; appreciation surrounded by worry. It was a lot. It was not all awful. I was so happy to be alive. So very happy just to be alive.

That was the feeling that I wanted to preserve, but it is hard to preserve it when things get more routine. Now is the time of casually forgetting all that cancer meant to my life. Now is also the time when it’s important to look back, on purpose, and remember.

Because one thing is true for almost every cancer survivor that I know: Your priorities become very very clear. Get healthy. Enjoy living. Love. Be kind. Do good work. Make the most of it.

I went for a foliage walk today. I’ve been working too hard on a project for several years. For several years, I have been making excuses too often for not taking time for myself, for joy, for exercise, for renewal. I think I’ll change now. It’s time to remember that life is journey, and it’s not meant to be just for work.

I remember when I am out in nature. I remember how I healed and what I wanted: to live. To live fully.

Blessings, all. Peace,

Nancy

Walking for Hope in Stowe, May First

The Stowe Weekend of Hope begins on May first this year, and that’s when I’ll lead my “nearly annual” Walk and Talk for cancer survivors. May first is a holiday in many cultures. In my twenties, I used to dance at May pole dances with contradancing friends to celebrate the beginning of summer on May first, in the Celtic tradition. It was a time of merriment and anticipating spring.

As I write this, my Vermont home is still deeply enveloped by winter’s cold and snow. I was thinking how cancer survivorship has its own peculiar seasons. Although each person’s “weather” may differ, there are seasons that present challenges that seem never-ending, and there can be seasons of renewal and rebirth such as in a recovery that changes us from who we were to someone new.

My own seasons of cancer and cancer recovery seem to include the Season of Strong Coping, when I faced treatment with a courage that now seems, from a distance of eight years, rather surprising. Was I really that strong? I think when cornered by a health challenge, like cancer, we find strength (physical, emotional and mental–and spiritual) that we didn’t know we had.

Then there was the Season of Simmering Anxiety. My treatment had gone very very well, but five years of quarterly testing my biomarkers was exhausting to me. And I also suffered something of a let-down of the previous robustness. Everything seemed difficult: including getting enough sleep and keeping up routine exercise, which I had previously loved and had no trouble with.

After seven years, there came the Season of Celebration: My doctors agreed that I was no longer in need of testing. To me, that was the moment of victory. I had escaped!

At times, now, as I am eight years away from diagnosis, it is hard to remember that the whole of my cancer journey was real. I hesitate to say that aloud because I know when I heard people say that when I was struggling, I somehow felt a weird type of jealousy. It wasn’t really jealousy perhaps. It was a desire to achieve that status some day myself, I guess. And now I have.

It is remarkable how much the body can heal. I try to remember never to assume what others are going through in their cancer journey. So many similarities between our stories can come up, but so can many differences. This year, when I lead the Walk and Talk, I will try to be especially mindful of the fear and suffering that many people have, at some level, during the early or difficult parts of their journey.

May we walk together in celebration of the springtime and find solace in the fresh air and each other’s company.

Peace and strength to you on your journey,

Nancy

Still Active

I celebrated my 7th anniversary of my cancer surgery recently, and I’m humbled to say that I’m still healthy after all this time. Time: It’s such a gift.

I celebrated this year by buying a charm bracelet with a charm for each year that I have enjoyed since cancer surgery in 2007. Luckily, Danforth pewter is a Vermont business and I was able to make my bracelet at a Danforth store, choosing meaningful charms such as clover leaf, for the luck of the surgery going well, and a heart for the next year, where I married my boyfriend while still having hair-style challenges from the chemo. Other charms commemorated life events, and the joy that goes with being a long-term survivor.

Then, I celebrated the 4th anniversary of my book’s publication by meeting with two very special people at the Stowe Weekend of Hope. One is a local reader of my book, whom I’ve met and been in touch with. She’s an active cancer patient who humbles me with her compliments for the book and how it helps her now. And the other new friend is a personal trainer who is certified to work with cancer patients, and who is able to use the book’s approach with her clients. Doubly humbling. She’s including a copy of my book in the take-home package for a workshop on recovery.

We three wandered around the fields and trails in Stowe last Friday, and the weather was “interesting”. It drizzled, it poured, the sun shone, the wind picked up, and then it rained again: all this change in not a very large amount of time. Of course, that weather reminded me of life: as John Prine wrote in a song: “You’re up one day, the next you’re down; it’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re going to drown.”

John Prine is a cancer survivor, too. And so was the woman behind the counter at the Danforth jewelry shop who made my bracelet with me. Cancer survivors are not hard to find. They’re everywhere. We’re everywhere. We have been given the gift of more time.

We walk in the rain and smile. We have chemo and we go out to feed the horses even though we’re tired. We teach others how to exercise with meaning and joy. We show up at our doctors’ offices and wish for something to make all the little indignities or chronic pain go away. We wait for spring, we listen for birds, and we keep moving, still humble, still remembering the day we came to consciousness post-surgery and they said, “it was cancer”, and we replied, “what do I do next? how can I heal?”

Peace and strength to all,
Nancy

Do you want to b

Kindred Connections, Vermont

Today, I’m preparing to be the keynote speaker tomorrow at the annual meeting for Kindred Connections, a Vermont-based organizations that connects cancer survivors with cancer patients for informal, friendly peer relationships. That’s a long way of saying that the organization helps people going through cancer treatment talk with someone who has cleared that hurdle, so to speak.

I’ll be speaking to the group about my experiences with cancer treatment and exercise, as well as my book and some of my “take-home” points about exercise. Here’s one of my themes: Do Something Often: A Little Exercise Every Day, On Purpose, is Very Valuable.

I often wonder if people think that exercise has to be very precisely programmed. I know that I wondered during chemotherapy if I had enough guidance about what to do or not to do. I was told by my physician to “do what you feel like doing”, with the caveat that he didn’t expect I would feel like doing very much after a while.

I had been a competitive cross-country ski racer, before Cancer, and I was used to running half-marathons, training by running mountain trails, and ski racing 32-mile races in mountainous terrain. After surgery for ovarian cancer and in the midst of arduous chemotherapy, I threw my usual fitness routines and fitness goals out the window. I adjusted everything so that my activity served the purpose of recovering from cancer and building health. Fitness and competition could take a hike; I slowed down.

But I didn’t stop. Instead of running, I walked. Instead of swimming far, I swam less far. I swam more slowly. When I was anemic, my walking including stopping and sitting on stonewalls to rest.  I only water-skied a little. (Smiley face here. Yes, I water-skied a little–slalom (ie, one ski). It was a high-point and I chose to do it on the days when I had the best blood counts–and I had asked the MD for clearance to do it.

My point is that I stayed active, but I didn’t try to keep training as if I wasn’t in the middle of chemo. I adjusted. And I tried to do something outdoors, moving, every day as much for pleasure and normalcy as for the health value. I never tried to exhaust myself.

I would recommend this approach to anyone. 1) Do a little as often as daily if you can. 2) Adjust so that you are pursuing health not fitness. 3) Ask your MD or other medical professionals if you have questions about your choices. Let them know your overall exercise plans. 4) Don’t exhaust yourself. 5) Enjoy it! Get outdoors, hear the birds, feel the sunshine, and give yourself the permission to know that a little is often as meaningful to your healing as a lot!

And, every once in a while, indulge in something special. I hiked up my favorite mountain mid-way through treatment. I took it very slowly. Very very slowly, but reaching the summit was so special. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Sometimes you have to feel like Cancer is not winning, you are, and that’s how I felt on the summit that day. I was winning! The memory kept me going when treatment got more difficult near the end.

This is what I will tell people tomorrow: Make your exercise plans meaningful for you and you are very likely to aid your healing on many levels: the levels you can measure and the levels you can not. Exercise has immeasurable value to offer your health. Enjoy.

Peace  and Strength,

Nancy

Active Against Cancer Books Headed Home with Patients

50 copies of my book will soon be going home with cancer patients in Vermont thanks to a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation and the efforts of volunteers and others at the Franklin County Kindred Connections organization. Personally, I’m humbly very happy to know that the book will reach people free of charge when they may most find it useful to them.

My book will be given to patients in “Care Bags”, described as “fifty handmade cloth bags filled with thoughtful and caring gifts will be given to newly diagnosed cancer survivors”. The gifts will be given through a collaboration of the Northwestern Medical Center, Crafty Ladies, and various Vermont businesses. Special thanks to Sherry R. for thinking of my book and contacting me.

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I haven’t written as much on this blog lately as other endeavors have had my attention, but the book keeps on selling on Amazon. There was also another recent article for which I was interviewed–I need to track that one down.

Interestingly, I have been surprised, but it’s true, I have finally reached the part of survival that my doctor used to predict that I would: Where it all starts to seem like a long ago memory, no longer a part of life that overshadows everything else. I remember that I did not believe him that I would ever get back to “normal”. I didn’t admit that, but I was sure that I would always be as terrified as I was immediately after treatment ended. I think part of me thought that to remain vigilant against cancer, I would have to remain scared of it.

Well, no. Life has resumed feeling… for lack of a better term somewhat “ordinary.” But I mean that in a good way.

If you’re in the thick of it and you feel a weird disbelief when someone tells you you’ll get through it, it’s okay. I can promise you this: you’re on your own path and your own timeframe and you’ll adjust as you need to, when you need to.

And… on the other hand: If you need help to find peace of mind, ask for help. You deserve it. And meanwhile, hope you’ll stay as active as you can and enjoy being alive. There’s a great opportunity in cancer survivorship to realize how much you love being alive. It’s cliche, I suppose, but it’s true–and it’s the only part of the whole experience I occasionally miss when normal tasks let me forget how special our time on earth really is.

Peace,

Nancy