Grateful Living

How many times have you heard, “Be grateful for what you have.”? What happens when life seems to be going all wrong and gratitude isn’t what we are feeling? Can we find the reason to be grateful in what we perceive as negative?

Life can be challenging and I’m grateful for that. It is in those challenges that I learn who I truly am and gain strength.

Sadness comes into our lives and gives us reason to be grateful for the happier times. Without sadness we could not know happiness.

A feeling of powerlessness over our situation is cause for gratitude in the knowledge that in these times we can turn to others for a helping hand. It deepens our connection to those we love.

Fear is always something to be grateful for. Fear at a primal level will keep us out of harms way. Fear that doesn’t come from a place of survival will lead us to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and live life to the fullest.

Most of us would say it is easy to be grateful for family, food, and fun times. My challenge to you is to find something to be grateful for in every situation throughout your day and your life.

Enjoy the following video on Gratitude. I’m sure that in no time you will be singing along. Each day is filled with gifts waiting for you to untie the ribbons!

And the Emmy goes to..

This post is dedicated to the team at PBS and WITF Facing Cancer Together. Congratulations on the honor of being chosen for the Mid-Atlantic Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Service.  Facing Cancer Together embodies the spirit of survivorship and my current mission.  I am honored to have been a part of your tremendous community efforts.

There is an important lesson here for all of us.  Working together toward a common goal is much more effective than each of us struggling on our own to  reach the same goal.  We have a much greater impact on the world around us if we connect our energies and focus on the big picture.  We all play a part, we are all a piece of the bigger puzzle.  No matter how big or how small your contribution to community, the puzzle is not complete without all the pieces.  No matter what cause is close to your heart, you play a valuable role.

Think of yourself as an ongoing supply of energy, everything is energy, energy creates, the more you use, the more quickly you create.  Imagine the outlet on your wall, use it the way it is and you can plug in two appliances for charging.  Take that same outlet and put in an adapter to expand it’s use and you can double or even triple the amount of energy and electricity coming out of that same outlet. By focusing on yourself you limit the amount of energy that you output because there is only one of you.  By focusing on others you multiply the amount of energy you output by the number of others on who you focus.

There are so many wonderful organizations all working toward the same goal, quality of life for survivors and a cure for this disease that claims so many lives.  It is obvious that much thought and care went into making this campaign happen and getting it right.  If you are a cancer survivor, know someone who is, have been touched in any way by this disease, I’m sure that this campaign has something that will inspire you and I would encourage you to  check out all the wonderful online resources.

Begin each day by asking “What can I give to another?” and then “What can I give to myself?”  It is important to never reverse the order of these questions.  When you keep them in this order the 1st question always answers the second one.  What you give to someone else, you give to yourself.  Give a smile and serve with kindness each day!

 

Giving is Living!

How important is giving back to the community, your family, your friends, or even a complete stranger you meet on the street? Do you need to be wealthy to give back? Do you need to have hours of free time? Have you ever felt like you don’t have any skills that will be useful to someone else? Everyone has something they can contribute to the world around them. The tiniest acts of kindness can make the biggest difference in someone’s day. Just ask Kristin Pedemonti who has given away over 500 bottles of bubbles on the NYC subway and carries a “Free Hugs” sign wherever she goes, because we all need our daily quota of hugs.

It is important to the community as well as you to be actively giving back each day, even it is simply giving someone a hug to make their day a little brighter. I promise you that for every act of kindness you show not only will you bring joy to someone else but your day will be brighter and your body, mind and soul a bit healthier.

There are many ways to volunteer that don’t involve money in any way, not even a dime of gas. You don’t need hours of free time to bring a smile to someone’s face. Read a story to a child, compliment a stranger, give a hug to someone who may need one, share a meal with a neighbor, the list goes on and I am sure you can come up with a few of your own. Become a virtual volunteer, check out ways you can volunteer online, no special skills needed, if you are living, breathing and can do anything at all you have what it takes to make someone’s day better.

A 2005 Stanford University survey of 7000 older adults found that frequent volunteering and helping others is linked to a healthier, longer life. The study also showed it didn’t need to be giving on a grand scale, it could be anything meaningful.

Allen Luk’s 1991 survey of thousands of volunteers in the US found that people who helped others reported better health than peers in their age group who didn’t volunteer.

A recent survey of 4500 American volunteers showed the following;

  • 73% reported that volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • 89% reported that volunteering improved their sense of well being
  • 92% reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and give some free hugs, blow some bubbles, give someone a smile..you have no excuse…I have given you links to some great opportunities and I’m sure you can create a few of your own…give to others and you will always be giving back to yourself.

For more on Kristen and her storytelling adventure as well as her literacy program please visit her site. To leave comments on her TED video click here.

Smile and others will smile with you…

Have you ever noticed that when someone yawns you immediately feel a yawn coming on? How about those moments of contagious laughter? I remember moments of laughter with my family and friends that went on so long that my cheeks hurt, I was crying, my stomach was cramping, and I thought we would never stop laughing.

Do you notice that when you are spending time with someone filled with doom and gloom you feel a bit blue? I suggest you pick a new color, after all there’s an entire rainbow. Have you ever cried simply because someone else was crying? Even if you had no idea why they were crying? Do you ever find yourself smiling when someone smiles at you? There is a correlation between your emotions and your facial expressions and a real smile is an emotional contagion.

So what is real? How do you differentiate between a real smile and a fake one? It’s all in the eyes, yes really it’s all in the eyes. The Duchenne Smile was first identified by French physician Guillaume Duchenne who discovered a clear anatomical difference between a real smile and a fake one. His research showed that a real smile activated not only the muscles that lift the corner of the mouth but the muscles around the eyes. You know the ones, those muscles that we lovingly call crows feet..so be proud if your crow’s feet are quite visible..it is a sign that you have had a long life filled with smiles.

Most often we associate a smile with first being happy, but did you know that if you are feeling down and you think of something that makes you smile, you now bring happiness to your day by first having the smile. Try this experiment, think of something that makes you smile, keep smiling and now change your thought to something sad and try to maintain your smile. If you are truly smiling and then think of something sad you can’t maintain that smile. Now, think of something that brings joy to you and try not to smile..not so easy is it?

Each of us have so many reason’s throughout our day to smile and if you can’t think of a reason just stop and think of all the things you have to be grateful for in your life. If you are still having a problem just look at the list of reasons to smile on this website and I bet you will come up with a few of your own.

Smiling improves your health and well-being. When you smile and feel the joy associated with a smile you can lower your blood pressure, reduce anxiety, increase positive energy, and enhance the life of those you meet throughout your day. A smile crosses language and cultural boundaries and is the best communication weapon you have and you carry it with you everywhere. Whoever may have said that the mouth is a very powerful weapon may have been speaking about what comes out of the mouth but I believe that the silent voice of our mouths is equally as important.

No matter the emotion or the facial expression, it is undeniable that what is written on your face and is in your heart effects those around you. The more genuine the expression, the more effective it is, so if you think faking a smile is going to make someone’s day..forget it…if you really want to make someone’s day, keep it real. Make today the day that you unleash your inner smile guru!

I’m Back

Hello to all my loyal readers and fellow survivors. I apologize for the lack of blog posts. Prepare yourselves to get some great weekly updates. For most of June I was on a very special trip across America as part of the crew for a wonderful racer in RAAM, Janet Christiansen. If you don’t know what RAAM is, please visit http://www.raceacrossamerica.org. The Race Across America is the world’s toughest bicycle race that most of you have never heard of. I would have to say that this race is as tough on the crew as it is the rider(s). There is no comparison to the Tour de France, unlike the tour, when the clock starts it never stops. Imagine riding 3,000 miles on the seat of a bicycle in 12 days or less. No monetary prize, and if you don’t finish in the allotted time frame you are considered a “did not finish” even if you ride the entire route. Stay tuned, I will be publishing a short story about this experience.

July has also come and gone spending time with family. Now August has arrived and it is time to work on getting those bicycle wheels turning again. It is time to resume the path of random acts of kindness.

Write to me, let me know what you would like to see here. I would love for you to leave a comment, tell me where your favorite cancer center is and what makes it unique. Why I should put it on my list of centers to visit.

Stay tuned, I am going to work on a video post for you about what I learned from my trip across country.

A Day of Healing Cranes…

Warm, sunny weather and warm, sunny greetings is how my day at Moffitt Cancer Center started. With each visit to a new place there is always an excitement and anticipation of the unknown. I do my research before deciding where to visit but there are still things you cannot anticipate. I have discovered that no matter how comprehensive the website you cannot fully understand all that you may experience when you finally arrive at a cancer center.

Whether you are there as a patient, a caregiver, or simply a guest, there are so many unseen experiences to be found.

Moffitt Cancer Center is located in Tampa, Florida on the campus of the University of Florida. The first thing I noticed was that just the building alone had a welcoming presence. It didn’t have a cold, clinical feel.

My day began with the Manager of Patient Relations. We dropped my bike and bags in the office and there is where the day began. I had a small audience to share my story of survivorship with and since that is what this trip is about I was happy to oblige. Sharing my story would end up being a theme throughout the visit.

I was taken to many parts of this wonderful facility and I will highlight a few of what I like to call the lesser known aspects of the day.

An early stop was in the Arts In Medicine department where I was introduced to several people and shared my story again. It was there that I learned the story of the healing cranes, inspired by the family of a patient. In Japan the crane is a symbol of peace and healing and the tradition is to fold a thousand “cranes,” for healing. There were cranes on display throughout the area and I would soon discover they were on the desks in other parts of the center. The Arts In Medicine department decided to put their own unique spin on this tradition so instead of having each patient fold a thousand cranes, their patients are instructed to write a healing message on the inside of the wing and hang the crane where it can be seen a thousand times and used as a reminder of peaceful, positive moments. They graciously offered me the instructions on how to make my own healing crane. I can’t wait to try it. Arts in healing is so very important, it can bring a sense of calm in the midst of the storm. Arts is a way to focus the mind on something positive, energy flows where attention goes and therefore focusing on the positive brings positive results.

I heard them make an announcement for a soon to begin meditation session for stress reduction. That was the next sign that this center was treating the person and not just the disease. The sentiment with patients and families seemed in agreement, as I heard them express they were glad that they were receiving their care at Moffitt.

As we made our way through the different parts of the building I got an explanation for the things I saw along the way and the next place I would share my story was in the patient library. That is where I left my gift of Livestrong wristbands. That would also be where I would be introduced to the hospital president. A very welcoming man, he was sincerely interested in my story and the fact that I had chosen to visit Moffitt along the way. We chatted for a bit and then it was time to move on. I now had a new tour guide.

I was thrilled when I was shown HER Place, a special place for women where they can research and get information on the illness they have. Her Place is complete with computers, written materials and so much more and it is quietly tucked in a corner away from the hustle and bustle of patient activity.

Another wonderful, relaxing feature was a fairly large rock display with a fountain. It was very serene and in the warm, sunny weather of Florida would be a plus for anyone needing to escape.

Next I would be shuttled off the main campus to meet with a woman who is doing some wonderful work in risk assessment, detection and intervention. She has an amazing story and the work she is doing focused on HPV is certainly near to my heart. I think we could have talked for hours. Needless to say, I will spread the word wherever I go, on the importance of her work.

I lost count of how many times I shared my story that day. To be honest, the time just seemed to slip away. Everyone at this facility went out of there way to make sure I had a successful visit. When the day was done, I was given a ride to my host’s home and all ended beautifully.

For more information on Moffitt Cancer Center click here.

Inspiration in the most unlikely places..

You may ask yourself, why I am visiting places along my journey that most people try to avoid. The answer would be a simple one, love and inspiration. I have learned that some of the most inspiring people are those you meet in some of the most typically uninspiring places. With my family history of cancer it is only fitting that these destinations be on my agenda. And I must say, using the Brompton is making that process a whole lot easier.

I received a very warm welcome to MD Anderson, Orlando from the moment I contacted them right through to the end of a wonderful tour. I was guided through the history of this premier health care facility and shown many unique features and programs by the centers Manager of Customer Relations. She has had an impressive 23 years with this organization and her dedication and pride show, not only in her smile, but in the wealth of information she imparts.

I arrived at about 10:15am and was greeted by two smiling happy women working the reception area. As I waited for my tour guide to arrive I watched and listened. This wasn’t about what I saw as much as what I didn’t see. Yes there were people who were very sick coming and going from their appointments and treatments. What was not present was sadness or an air of negativity. I would find later in my tour that it didn’t seem to exist anywhere in the building.

I won’t linger on the history of MD Anderson, for that you can visit their website www.mdacco.com
I will instead touch on things that I think go above and beyond in making this a stand out facility. The first thing you notice when looking at anything concerning MD Anderson is that the word Cancer in the name has a strike through it and underneath the name the words, “Making Cancer History”. This is one very powerful message.

This beautiful lady sits in the lobby/reception area, her name is Sophie and I was told she is the “Cower of Hope” and her name holds a special meaning. Rearrange the letters, have you figured it out? Hope Is! She is adorable and fun, loved her rain boots and beads. She helps to set the tone and lightened the mood of what could otherwise be a very somber environment.

I noticed a gentleman coming in with a wheeled cart filled to the brim with fresh citrus. He was immediately greeted at the reception area with a smile and a hug. He explained that this fruit was just a small token of his appreciation for the care his wife had been receiving. He went on to explain what all the things in the basket were and then talked a bit more about his story. I politely spoke up and said I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation and that I was grateful to hear such an inspiring story. He explained that he couldn’t express how grateful he was and that if it weren’t for the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson, he didn’t believe his wife would still be with him. This was just the beginning of the gratitude I sensed from so many people on this tour. If you are reading this sir, thank you for the grapefruit!

Up we go to a testing floor. The first thing you hear and see when you come off the elevator is Craig. He is playing a soft, soothing tune on his guitar, it was almost Zen like. I was told that he is part of the Arts Program and moves around to different areas to play as a way of additionally soothing the patients. It was amazing, thanks to Craig for taking his picture with me.
It turns out that music is only a small part of MD Anderson’s Arts Program and I would see some of that later in the morning.

The little touches that make a big difference didn’t end with the Arts Program. Even the art on the walls was carefully chosen. Next floor of the tour, I met a wonderful woman who had just come back from running with the Team Livestrong in Austin. It was clear that she loved what she was doing. Livestrong is a resounding message throughout this center.

One thing that stood out as I made my way around this facility was that they are treating the patient, not just the disease. I was taken to an area where integrative medicine or mind/body medicine is offered. The most fun for me with my massage therapy and Reiki background. Once again it was the little touches that stood out. Yes they offer presentations on healthy living, and nutrition, but who would have thought about a drum circle, tai chi, and a Labyrinth. Better yet, how about afternoon tea.

Or how about the small class we passed along the way learning how to make healthy dessert choices. I was introduced to the leaders in that class and I could immediately see they were very passionate about what they were doing. They certainly had everyone’s attention.

Just outside of this area where they held afternoon tea was a special bell hanging on the wall. This bell is for anyone who has finished their treatment. They are told to ring it in celebration of life and the end of treatment. How cool is that.

There are many more great things I could say about the couple of hours I spent at MD Anderson however I would just like to end this post with a thank you to all the wonderful people at MD Anderson. You are doing a spectacular job. I think this last picture sums up in one word what the atmosphere at MD Anderson speaks volumes to. So you see, many inspiring moments can come from the most unlikely places. Share your inspiring moments in an unlikely place in the comments below.

Blessings

Where do I begin this update? Every moment of the day I feel so blessed. I am blessed to have all of you, my followers and supporters. I am blessed to be able to do what I am doing. I am blessed by all the kind strangers I meet along this journey. I can’t begin to count all my blessings, I will start with the two newest.

The first came as a complete surprise. I was contacted via Say Hello which isn’t unusual but this time it was someone who was hired by a major university health system to do an educational infographic on cervical cancer risk factors and preventative measures. It was explained to me that this company found me while researching information for the work they were hired to do and that my story inspired the design for the infographic. Now how cool is that! In less than a 2 week period of online collaboration the project was finished and is now live. I am so honored to have been asked to be a part of this project that will be an educational tool for potentially thousands and thousands of women. Please check it out, it is interactive so drive the car and whatever you do, don’t forget to click on the bicycle. Follow this link; http://iuhealth.org/cancer/cervical-cancer-risk/

On to the second blessing. I do believe that everyone that enters our lives is a teacher and although we may not know the lesson at the time, we need to just be mindful and learn. Some of you know that one way I am able to keep spreading smiles and happiness to survivors is by taking on some freelance writing projects. I was searching through some ads and came across one that peaked my interest. I could feel the emotion in the ad. It was written by a father who lost his daughter to a little known disease. I replied to that ad offering my assistance. After exchanging a few email I was introduced to the founder of an organization that celebrates women. Just this week I was featured on that site; http://acelebrationofwomen.org/?p=76128

I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel for being asked to be part of these amazing projects. The exciting thing is there are more to come. I can’t share just yet but you will be the first to know.

Positive intent brings positive results. If you are struggling and not sure where you are going in life, set your intentions in the way you wish to go. See life as you want it to be and that is what you will soon create.