Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Jewish Anniversary

It was 3 years ago today, one day before the start of Yom Kippur, that I heard the unbelievable news I had breast cancer. I remember crying off and on that entire day. By the next day, Erev Yom Kippur - Kol Nidrei, I was calmed down and not crying....until I saw my friends at services.

I'm always amazed by what happens in my life coinciding with the Jewish holidays. They seem to be like guide-points informing the course of my daily challenges, learning and growth. And this 10 days of Tshuva has been as Awakening as the one 3 years ago, though in a different way.

"Mindfulness" is all the rage right now in psychotherapy. Mindfulness, in it's simplest explanation, is observing what is going on around you and inside of you with no judgement - only curiosity and radical acceptance.

So I've been thinking about mindfulness as it addresses the challenges that I've been going through lately. It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that the story I tell myself about anything is usually more critical and hopeless/helpless than things really are. Truly whenever I get challenged and I go into that negative state, it always passes and something wonderful comes out of the challenge.

I see mindfulness as a way of observing the negative thoughts/feelings without creating more negative story. It's looking at your story with compassion and curiosity, "hmmm, this is stressful, what's that about? What am I thinking/feeling? Hmmm, that's interesting...What do I need? What can I do about it?" Mindfulness to me is gaining some distance from thoughts and feelings - a realization that they are separate from the You who never changes and is always there observing without judgement. That Observing You is eternal, compassionate and wise.

So why go into the negativity in the first place?

Well, we have to go into negativity and challenge in order to come out the other side. Challenge gives us the information we need to grow. I'm always looking for the hidden lessons in my experiences. I think that's what the Kabbalists mean when they speak about the world being created by a shattering of the vessels and that our job is searching for the sparks of light within the broken shards.

Yom Kippur takes brokenness and says there's always a repair. Did you know that it is the anniversary of the breaking of the first set of tablets that Moses came down to give the Jewish people when they built the golden calf? It's the 2nd set of tablets, after the broken ones, that are eternal. We can't repair unless we first break down. So Yom Kippur comes as a reminder that there is always hope for repair and return. When the vessel of our personality becomes too inflexible, we experience the challenge to open up and become more than what we thought we could be.

The world we are building is so much more than we can ever fathom! That is the promise to the Jewish people from G-d.

There is a beautiful prayer on Rosh Hashana that says "On Rosh Hashanah all of mankind pass before Him like sheep -they pass by Him one by one, one after the other, yet He scrutinizes them all with a single glance."
That prayer was written by a righteous Jewish rabbi who was constantly challenged by his Roman ruler to convert to Christianity. The one time he didn't come when the Roman called him, his punishment was cutting off his arms and legs. After that, he was still living and had someone record this prayer before he passed away.

There are many prayers we read on Yom Kippur about the martyrs of our holy sages and the ways they were tortured and killed - it's revolting! And yet, "R. Cruspedai said in the name of R. Yochanan: Three ledgers are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for those who are entirely wicked, one for those who are entirely righteous, and one for those who are in the middle. The entirely righteous are immediately inscribed and sealed to live. The entirely wicked are immediately inscribed and sealed to die. The fate of those in the middle is held in balance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." It doesn't make sense that our sacred, righteous and holy people were murdered and tortured!

So why do we read that the righteous die when they are supposed to live? I believe it is because "death" and "life" are not defined literally. A totally righteous rabbi can be tortured and die but his prayer can live on. There is no control over life and death in this world because there is free choice and the monsters and the polluters who cause cancers and the people in power who care only about money above humanity, have their free choice. When we are co-creators with G-d, what we create is eternal and will be part of the ultimate creation of the world to come.

The creations of the monsters will die along with them - they are only golden calves. But the righteous and "g-dly" LIVE. The challenges we have are passing and temporary. Look for what is eternal. So, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as I know I'm not entirely righteous or wicked but instead am a "benyoni", I am continually working on expanding the vessel so it can hold more light. And my work is in the vessel that holds myself, my career, my friends and my own family. I'm continually trying to find the light in my own tiny corner of this crazy world.

My you all find the light in your own tiny corners this year!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday and I'm 52. I'll never forget my 50th birthday party at Baily's right after my surgery. So it's easy for me to count how many years of survival that I've had so far.

For me, birthdays have always been days of doing whatever I want to do. This was easy before having children but now that my kids are grown up, I get to focus more on myself again. It's not that every other day of the year is not for focusing on myself but there's something about birthdays that gives me more permission to do whatever I want to do with my day.

"It's your birthday, you get to choose where we go out to eat." "It's your birthday, you get to have cake!" "It's your birthday, did you have a happy one?"

So, on my birthday, I give myself this permission. It's a special day, as if all the others aren't. I get to make all the decisions, as if the rest of the time I don't? I get to eat sugary stuff guilt free, as if the guilt must be present every other day of the year? I get to ask myself, "what do I really want to do right now?" every moment of the day. It needs to be MY day! And if I don't want to do something, I don't!" - as if every moment is supposed to be somehow much more important than any other day.

Since diagnosis, I've been living my life, every day, like each day is my birthday. So this year's birthday is not so different actually, from any other day of my week. Whenever I remember it's my birthday today, I stop and ask myself if I'm really happy doing whatever it is I'm doing at the moment, like I do every other day.

So this birthday, I'm getting to learn about how far I've come since diagnosis with the task of living a life that's stress free and meaningful. Each day is special and every day is about living and loving the life I have and the people who share it with me.

These are the changes I've made to assist me with that task:

1. I've cut my client load down to 4 days a week with no more than 3-4 appointments a day. I've got a calendar online where people can schedule appointments that only shows my openings so it's easier for me to keep to my boundaries.

2. I give myself permission to sit in bed with a cup of tea and a golden retriever in my lap, watching TV whenever I'm tired. And it's ok to be tired. I'm a bit anemic right now and went through a big deal a few years ago and now have a 13 year old daughter while working!

3. I make time to connect with my kids, my husband and friends on a regular basis.

Etc. (I could go on and on but these things are the most important to me)

I have implemented now permissions and priorities in my life so I can keep my stress levels down. This way I can have a birth day 365 days of the year for the rest of the time I have coming to me.

Friday, February 4, 2011


My oncologist told me that I really didn't need to get scanned again unless I have a suspicious lump or pain. So that was a relief. I felt so happy and like, wow, it's really over. Then slowly, it creeped up on me: I started to worry and wonder what the heck I'm doing now with the rest of my life besides having the stress of parenting a 13 year old daughter.

Crazy. I couldn't just be happy with no scans anymore...

Then I noticed one night that my bra was really leaving a deep indentation on my left side, under my arm. Next day I looked in the mirror and discovered a red welt the size of a 3 x 5 card stretching from the little white scars left from my drains under my arm, across my bra line 5 inches and up toward my scapula 3 inches.

I had been feeling depressed and very tired, like whatever I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life, I really had no energy for. (And beating myself up for only wanting to watch TV all day). Then the red welt shows up and the doc tells me it's "cellulitis" which means antibiotics for a staph infection.

Called Dad because when I heard "staph", I got scared. He did too. Told me to do continuous wet heat on the welt and he called to check on me everyday to see if it was getting better.

So I learned that when I'm depressed and tired, maybe I'm not to blame and shouldn't push could be staph!

It forced me to stay in bed (what a good excuse) and watch TV day after day, as much as I could, so I could sit with continuous heat on my welt.

I am now 7 days out and the welt has receded and the doc gave me the ok but I'm still sitting with heat as much as I can until it disappears entirely. Plus, I've decided not to think about what else I need to be doing with the rest of my life.

Work has slowed down and I'm very busy with lots of healthy self-help. Two writing classes, one support group, and one life coaching for cancer survivors. The writing's been a blast and pretty soon I'll have the energy to post some of it online.

Anyway, just again realizing I'm needing to take good care of myself and possibly get used to my belly (which I can see when looking down now that I'm not wearing my bra (falsies) anymore. Hey, maybe I will start thinking this belly I inherited from my dad is really cute! I think his is! So why not mine?

Yes, enjoy your life Melissa. You have so much to be grateful for, not to mention Spring came in January here on the west coast... If you can find a plowed runway, catch a plane and come on out to visit! No snow!