Finding Beauty in the Ordinary
Barbara Burns Let Me Be BraveBarbara Burns waiting to see the oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
Yesterday I went for my blood tests and exam that I get before every chemotherapy session the following day.  Well, it seems that my infection is still hanging on, and they will be postponing my chemo until next week. I am disappointed with these results, but I know that they have my best interests at heart...and so, I wait and heal. This reminds me, once again, that the timeline I have in my head, is not necessarily the timeline of my body. 

So today, I slept in, ate chocolate, and was loved by friends through cards, texts, messages and hearts! Recovery is good!

Patience is a virtue they say. And at times, I have witnessed that as humans, we tend not to be the most patient people. I think it is because we have expectations. And with those expectations, well…we expect things to happen, or people to act a certain way. Sometimes it can feel that time is not on our side and we are standing behind the eight ball.

Not to sound bleak, but life is just one big timeline which is reduced to the dash between your actual birthday and the day you die. The key is to have ‘dashing’ moments (i.e. make them count!). You know, the expectations to your first kiss, graduation from school, the trip of a lifetime, the marriage / joining to your best friend and lover, the final mortgage payment and even retirement! These are the countdowns that make our heart sing, and there are so many others.

However, with a chronic condition or major illness, there are lots of ‘other’ countdowns (i.e. waiting for to get an appointment with a specialist… expecting the test results… waiting to have a treatment in hopes of feeling better… getting the ‘okay’ to go back to work… anticipating hair loss after having chemotherapy… waiting for the side effects to lessen.. wondering when will our body heal… and so on…).  The waiting game can seem like torture, since all you want to be is ‘normal;’ it seems like life is spent waiting for the next appointment or the next call. As much as you try to live a normal life, a chronic condition or illness consumes your life, because it is always there in your mind and in your body. And yet, living in the future doesn’t equate to quality living.

I share this because after my first chemotherapy treatment, I began waiting for two specific things. First of all, I began the countdown to baldness. It is written that one’s hair usually falls out on day twelve. I prepared myself by cutting my hair short, but I still waited with baited breath for my hair follicles to fall, kept touching my head, and looked intently at my pillow every morning. Well day twelve came and went. Yes, they did fall in clumps on day eighteen, and I survived (I cried, got buzzed (via clippers, not alcohol), went out and about with my bare head, went wig shopping and am fine).  Secondly, after a rough time with chemo side effects, I began the countdown to my second chemo session. As much as I wasn’t looking forward to chemo again, I was disappointed being told that the oncologist wanted another week for my body to heal. In my head, I was to have chemo on Friday, but my body (and the professionals) said ‘no, let’s wait a week.’

Disappointment comes when we expect things. The nature of this beast, and I’m sure your beast is similar, is wanting life to run like clockwork and to go how we want it to go. Well, it doesn’t…and so, what is one to do? Here are four things that have helped me when my expectations have not worked out:

1. Acknowledge your disappointment that things didn’t go according to plan. We care and that is why it bothers us. For me, I wanted to get through this chemo treatment schedule as quickly as possible. Mentally and emotionally I had banked on the timeline the oncologist wrote on the whiteboard for me. Now, it is going to be longer. Needless to say, this woman who rarely swears, was swearing.

2. Get over it… as quickly as you can…by being proactive. Holding onto disappointment over what didn’t happen or what someone did, or didn’t do, can be harmful. It can eat away at your joy, peace of mind and hope; it doesn’t serve you or makes things better. With me, I saw my hair fell out (I saw it in my hands and all over the shower). I cried, then cried some more and then knew I had to be proactive about the situation (thus the buzz cut and wig shopping). Getting over it doesn’t change the situation, but it makes living in the present a great deal easier. (Side note: be prepared to repeat #1 and this step as many times as needed. Feelings of grief and frustration don’t have a timeline and need to work themself out in their own time).

3. See it as it may be for the best. “What?!?!?”, you say. I wish I could say this point is 100% accurate, but sometimes it is. In my case, two days after the news of my delayed second chemo treatment, I saw that my body did need more time. I now know that my body will be stronger for this upcoming Friday’s session and weeks of effects.

4. Make countdowns for things that make your heart sing. Often times we can be so focused on our ‘to do’ lists and schedules, that we can bypass the moments that can be really amazing.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t have countdowns with chronic conditions, as remembering appointments and treatments are very important, but try to focus on the special things in life. There are people to see (or have over, even if your house is a mess), trips to be had (even if they are daytrips to the park), concerts to hear (even if it is on iTunes) and so on. With my recent baldness, I am counting the days until I get my head hennaed by a talented artist. Something, or someone, to look forward to does wonders for the soul.

So, whether you have a chronic condition, illness, or just dealing with the ups and downs of life, I hope this helped you with your own countdown woes and expectation disappointments. The key is to feel what you are feeling, get the help you need, and to focus on what makes you happy. Be on the lookout for the good things, people and situations in life.
P.S. Here are a few shots of my chemo hair loss to date...from an 'artsy fartsy' self portrait shot just after I got my hair buzzed (by Vanessa), to my first day in the city after the cut and to how it is today. In upcoming posts, I will share my wigs AND the comparison bald shots of when I was one years old to now. Stay tuned! :)

So what do you think? Do you have any other steps that have helped you with the disappointment of unrealized happenings or being consumed with countdowns? Please share with me. I’m interested in hearing what works for you.

And if you think someone can benefit from this post, please share it with your family, friends and coworkers.
Life can be tough. Everyone struggles and has pain in their lives. Physically, mentally and emotionally we can be challenged, and sometimes, it can be to the breaking point.
I have been there. Presently I am being treated for breast cancer. In addition to this, for ten years, I have had a chronic condition (a growth on my spine) that has altered my life. To top it all off, at various times, depression has knocked the legs out from me with thoughts of hopelessness and desperation.
Let Me Be Brave is where I reveal my story and the steps I took, and continue to take, to reclaim my life. In dealing with the uncertainty that life presents, I have found keys to help me live a productive and happy life.  I share to bring  Light to chronic conditions, as well as Love to help in the healing (living) process. 

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, but it happened today. Being mentally prepared, is one thing, but physically holding clumps of your hair in your hand is another story.

During my recovery from breast cancer surgery, I wanted to begin a new section of my blog called Let Me Be Brave, but didn’t know how to start it.  Today’s fallout (literally!!) provided the impetus.

Despite cutting my hair short, to help me with the chemotherapy hair loss transition, I stood in the shower and cried. Handful after handful stuck to my hands, my body and the sides of the shower. Even in the midst of this tear duct and follicle release, I kept thinking, “Make sure this doesn’t go down the drain and clog up the pipes!”

I finally stepped out of the shower but was conscious enough to remind myself to be kind and nurturing to myself. I knew this was a traumatic event for me as I was emotionally and mentally vulnerable for a part of my femininity washed away. With that said, nurturing came to me in many forms. Thankfully, my nausea from smells had subsided, so along with lotion to soothe my body, I put on my favorite Jo Malone perfume. Secondly, I hadn’t gotten the courage to collect the hair that had covered the opening to the drain and the bottom of the shower stall, but Suheel came home and gently collected my hair. Thirdly, I put make up on. As strange as this may seem, putting makeup on has been a way that I have always dealt with not feeling well. To me, it was an act of of self-care and preservation, because whenever I looked in the mirror, and didn’t feel well, I still thought to myself, “You look good! You got this!” And then finally, an earth angel named Vanessa, came over to my house, despite this being this Hair Salon owner’s day off, and cut the remainder of my hair off.  When I stood in the shower, an hour earlier, I said to myself, “I don’t want to go through this again. It will be too hard.” So, I texted her, and she responded without hesitation. Despite buzzing my hair right down, she helped me feel stronger. What a gift.

With this strength, I went to the pharmacy. I needed to pick up a few things because I was experiencing various effects from chemotherapy. I went with a head covering, but didn’t wear it as I felt solid. As I was backing up out of my driveway, another earth angel caught my eye and stopped my car. Hand delivered, via breast cancer survivor Dorothy Baker’s mom, with a smile and kind words, was a Chemo Chick Head Henna kit. Little did she know what perfect timing, physically and emotionally, she had! Once in the pharmacy, I sat down and awaited my prescription to be filled. A stranger looked at me, stopped and sat down in the seating area with me. She asked me how I was. While I waited, we talked about kindness and hope.

I lost it today, but I also gained so much more. So, if you find yourself in a tough situation, allow yourself to feel the pain but remember to nurture yourself. For, I find that when we are open and allow ourselves to be helped, we find that we aren’t alone; angels and blessings come in so many forms.