cancer · grief

Yes Think, Certainly Pray, but Also DO!

It’s been eight years since Ben was diagnosed with cancer. Much of that time has become hazy in my recollection. Sleepless nights combined with fear and grief has blurred those days into a giant blob of yuck in my mind.

But what I do remember is crystal clear.

I remember every single person who ever stepped foot in his hospital room to visit us.

I remember every kind soul who knocked on our door with a meal.

I’ll never forget even those who took the time to mail a card.

Some people went above and beyond, like my husband’s co-worker who made us meals every week for months, or his cousin who made projects of eBaying memorabilia and sent us the proceeds, she did that for years. And she made it sound like we did her a favor by giving her such a fun and rewarding project.

The doers.

No matter how small or big, I remember the doers.

I know that many people prayed for us. I know that time was not wasted, that praying is valuable, precious even.

But the ones who took the next step and took the initiative to be a part of the answer to the prayers, they’re the ones God is using.

I have always been a procrastinator. I have stellar intentons and mediocre follow through, so I have let that ship sail more than once.

But follow through matters.

Follow through can be as simple as a text or email or as creative as making beaucoup bucks on eBay and sending it off in the mail.

It needn’t be a burden if you lack time or resources.

But if you really want someone to know that their suffering matters, take the next step. Think or pray, then do.

running

A Not Running Runner

Hi, my name is Lee, and I am a not running runner. My knee is funky and my thyroid is wonky and running just isn’t in the cards lately.

I don’t know how many runners you know, but when a person transforms into a runner, truly a runner, it’s like getting a factory reset. It’s an identity change, which transcends everything. Being a runner changed the way I eat, sleep, drink, and think. It gave me community and a vision of myself that shifted my paradigm.

But mostly, running keeps my head on straight.

It doesn’t matter how long my to-do list, how frustrating my circumstances, how chaotic my environment, and how upheaved my emotions, if I can bang out a few miles on the pavement or trails, and especially if I can squeeze in a 10+ miler at some point, I can hold it together, no matter what life throws at me.

And when I’m not running, the opposite is true.

Just as my shoes sit in this disheveled pile, gathering dust and cobwebs, my mind stagnates for need of a run.

I wonder what the doctor would (will) say if (when) I tell him that I would let him sell a kidney on the black market if he can get me going again. I suspect that the sports medicine doctor has heard it all, the endocrinologist might be a bit appalled.

I try not to whine, I know it doesn’t help but I just want to run! When can I run again? Will someone please tell me?

Please tell me this condition isn’t terminal!

introvert · Uncategorized

Will That Be One Lump Or Ten?

Phone calls vex me.

Assertiveness is toward the bottom of my list of personality traits.

I would rather streak across the Super Bowl football field holding a neon sign over my head than confront anyone about anything ever.

But part of adulting is doing all of the above. And I do them often. In order to manage my home and family, I have to make uncomfortable phone calls, and with the high needs of my kids, I would bet those come more often than average.

For me, a socially anxious introvert, to move past this and be a somewhat effective human being, adult and parent, I developed a hack. The one social skill I actually do possess is the ability to find something my conversation partner will talk about. And in so doing, I throw in a handful or two of sugar, (or sometimes ten). I am great at getting people to feel good, or at least better about themselves, and getting a chuckle out of a mediocre joke.

For example, yesterday I had to call my son’s doctor three times for the same issue. Each time I spoke with a different person, someone who had contributed nothing to my frustrations. It would have been misplaced at best for me to act out the annoyance on person 3, who was doing her best to solve our problem, but at the same time, I was to the point where if the job didn’t get done right a supervisor would need to get involved. Yet I was acutely aware of the fact that if I was a jerk, things would only go downhill. So I started joking.

In my experience, at least two thirds of the time that you’re on the phone with a customer service representative, they will mention that the computer is slow. This is pretty much a freebie. I make fun of the computer, and suddenly we’re allies.

Then I thank them for just doing their job, even if they haven’t done it yet. There’s a good chance that the person I’m talking to has had a few frustrating conversations already that day, so if I can be the one that makes them feel like what they’re doing is worth it, it is that much more likely that they’ll get the job done quickly and well.

Then I find a reason to compliment them. This completes my trifecta.

I get great results with this formula, and hopefully leave the person I speak with in a little better place than I found them, which is a goal of mine in virtually every interaction ever. But the bottom line is that I do it for me. It’s a coping skill.

Having a set formula for phone interactions not only gets me the results I’m seeking, and gives the person I speak with a boost, it’s the ticket to dealing with what might otherwise derail me. I remind myself before dialing just what my steps should be, and having a plan empowers me to have an effective conversation.

It works in person too.

cancer

Dear Cancer

Dear Cancer,

It was 8 years ago today that you showed your ugly face to us in that decrepit hospital room. You had been ravaging our child for weeks before we found you out, and when you finally showed your despicable face we shuddered with despair.

We have long known you as a dirty-handed villain, we knew that you picked on babies, and hated the idea of you. Then you picked on our baby, and you went from a nameless, faceless boogeyman to our personal nemesis.

We were told that the only recourse was to go to war, and the battle began forthwith. Our son’s oncologist warned us of the cost, and how close the battle within would come to destroying your host, our child. In our haste to wreck destruction on you, we discounted those words, only to recall them when they so quickly came to fruition.

Yes, you almost stole my child, yes, you ravaged his body, his spirit and our whole family. You robbed him of more than we can itemize and there’s no recovering the loss.

You took him, and us, through shadowed valleys where every good thing was shrouded by your hideous, omnipresent veil. You pilfered our peace, joy, and hope. You took things you have no right to even touch.

Eight long years after you swept into our lives as a thief, we have repaired the gaping holes you left behind with patches lovingly crafted to cover the horrible gaps. We have used great diligence to restore the chaos you created.

Though we have repaired the outside, fortified our foundations and by most appearances we are whole, those scars remain.

Dear Cancer, as we close this letter it is with the resolve that we will not allow you to have any more plunder than what you’ve already taken. You will not reap bitterness, nor resentment; we will permit you not to perpetuate your ruination, you shall not taste the satisfaction of our rancour. Though the terror you wrought often threatens to creep in, we resolve that peace will win and fear will lose.

But we shan’t forget you. In your memory we will pay forward all manner of love, goodness, and Shalom. As a tribute we will share joy, peace and well-being; we will stand in solidarity with the many you continue to pillage.

Dear Cancer, we believe that Love wins, and we won’t allow you to take that from us too.

Sincerely, the fighters

parenting · special needs parenting

What a Load of Should

“What are you doing for you?” It was Ben’s caseworker checking in.

I cried.

I was ashamed.

I didn’t have an answer. I know I should be taking care of myself, but…it just seems like one more item on an overwhelming to-do list.

Sometimes, lately at least, taking care of myself feels like a burden.

It means something else doesn’t get done.

It means that the piece of me that I had earmarked for someone or something else has to be set aside.

It means one more thing to squeeze into my day.

It means guilt because I have put myself aside.

Can I win?

If I do this instead of that, am I really better off?

….

I have long advocated for self-care, but truth be told, self-care is the first thing to fly out the window when stuff gets chaotic…and chaotic happens a lot around here.

Instead of doing something for myself I stuff a couple of cookies in my face.

Instead of doing something for myself I sit on the toilet for an extra 57 seconds to scan my phone.

Instead of bothering to try, and just get interrupted, I skip doing something just for me for days at a time. Sometimes weeks.

….

Funny, it didn’t bother me until she mentioned it.

So

I spread this load of should all over the place, and that makes everything, and I do mean everything worse.

….

But maybe I can back that train up.

If I can’t squeeze in something to do for myself, can I manage some self compassion?

Kristen Neff (I haven’t read her book, but she defined self-compassion, which absolutely deserves a shout-out!) identified 3 parts of self-compassion; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

In other words, do unto yourself as you would do to others…

Whoa…

If I look at my situation through a lens of self-compassion, my shoulds magically clean themselves up.

The guilt I felt over my failure to make time for myself abates a bit. The burden of trying to be all things to all people lightens when viewed in light of my humanity, with some self-kindness and a dash of mindfulness.

If a friend of mine spilled her guts and they looked about like mine do right now, wouldn’t I tell her she’s enough? That it’s okay to put herself aside, as long as it isn’t for too long? I’d probably suggest that she seize any opportunity that arose to relax and enjoy some quiet, but until then… I would assure her that she’s going to be okay.

Because she will.

family · Uncategorized

The Mshar Family Christmas Letter

2017 has brought many changes for the Mshar family, though much remains the same. Early in the year Mike and Lee decided that he should throw his Conservation Officer Hat into the ring for a promotion. He applied for and accepted a Sergeant position which means now he can officially tell people what to do (instead of just for fun like usual). The promotion meant moving up north into the exact middle of nowhere, also known as Lewiston.

Upon accepting the position, the house hunt began, and we found the perfect recluse special and made our move. The whole family arrived up north after Hannah graduated from high school and had the world’s tiniest grad party.

Speaking of Hannah, she’s taking online courses as an English major, with the intention of moving overseas to teach English as a foreign language, hopefully in Asia. Yes, I get the irony of her studying at home with the goal of moving overseas, but if you know Hannah, it actually makes sense. She’s even been letting Lee teach her homemaker skills with an exceptional ability to keep her eyerolls camouflaged. She spends her time hiking, x-country skiing, Netflix binging and jumping into projects with her parents.

Alex has adjusted well to his new home and school. He is working on developing his singing voice, which is something he faithfully practices every day. Though he sings with heart and gusto, he will be continuing his education in anything other than vocal music for the benefit of music listeners everywhere. He is fueled by coffee these days, and is growing his hair out with the lofty goal of being able to flip it back when he flicks his head just right.

Ben is still strengthening his determination and will, which is quite impressive. I expect any day now to see him actually moving objects with his mind by sheer force of desire, much like a Jedi. Our primary goal is to keep him using the good side of the force. He enjoys any rough and tumble activity, being in charge, sliding down the stairs on his butt or belly, and Hot Wheels Cars.

Lee has been busy pretending she’s in the book “Little House on the Prairie” and dabbling in any number of quaint homemaking hobbies like gardening, breadmaking and playing with the fires in the fireplaces. She prefers to do these things while texting her family, blogging and Facebooking, thus blowing the prairie image. Although Caroline Ingalls would have rocked the hoodie dress and leggings look that Lee loves.

Mike has completed roughly 1,683,270 projects since moving here. (Oops, add 3 more during this writing). He is in his glory any day that he can use his tractor, and has even mown about 3 miles of trails through 10 acres of woods while leaving the woods largely intact. He comes inside mostly to eat, sleep and watch football, which is why Lee spends so much time cooking (it’s a lure). We’re pretty sure he’s happy, he always seems to be smiling when he drives off on the tractor.

Abbi fearlessly protects the house from all feathered beasts as her sworn duty. Her duty is more serious these days as the feathered fiends are more numerous and many are quite large, but never fear, she has established her patrol area and singlehandedly manages her duties with aplomb. She takes Lee and Hannah out for hikes to ensure her perimeter is secure, and occasionally gets a serious hunt in with Mike. She has a data log on all small mammal activity as seen from the upstairs bedroom window from the comfort of the bed she’s forced to share with Mike and Lee.

Meg’s interests include laps, blankeys and pestering Abbi. She manages to carry the appeal of a puppy well into her second year, and though she’s spoiled rotten, she has been known to earn her tough and tiny trophy by taking hikes through the woods, roughly the equivalent of 20 Meg miles on her 3 inch legs. Her 12 pound weight earns her the status of Tweeny dog, AKA a miniature dachshund, but she seems quite unaware of her diminutive size as she protects her girls (Hannah and Lee) with the demeanor of a Doberman.

We added a perfectly wonderful grandchild, Brailyn, to our family in January, by our oldest child, Chelsea. In August Chelsea passed away. Our hearts are filled with a strange commingling of joy and grief over the gain and loss we have experienced, but we adore Brailyn who is a delightful, beautiful baby.

May you enjoy shalom (peace, good health, prosperity, rest and harmony) and invest in the shalom of others.

With Love, The Mshars

P.S. I know the paragraphs about the dogs are the longest.

Aphantasia

Everyday Life Without Any Visualization

I’ve written before about Aphantasia, the condition of lacking a mind’s eye or ability to visualize.

For me, having Aphantasia means any number of things, but since I was unaware of the dichotomy between me and most people until I paid attention to my daughter, who has more acute visualization than average, I’ve never felt like I was missing out on much until I realized that this inability is actually a thing and is now described by science. Reading about and connecting with others who experience life without visualization has granted me better understanding of myself, and the pros and cons of having no mind’s eye.

After working for years as a paramedic, I saw numerous gruesome scenes. Never once have I flashed back on one of them, no matter how traumatic they were, because I’m incapable of flashbacks. I remember them, and returning to the scene can be emotional (driving by accident locations, or a rest area where a violent injury occurred for example), but though I can describe what I saw, I cannot picture it at all.

In daily life I don’t miss visualization, I have a running narrative constantly going in my head, and as a primarily auditory person, I focus on sounds far more than sights anyway. I lack a frame of reference for going through life with mental pictures, and it’s hard to miss what you’ve never had.

What I would enjoy, though, is being able to remember the faces of departed loved ones. I can remember details like eye color and face shape, but having an image come to mind sounds so lovely. At best I can bring up a vague phantom of a silhouette which immediately dissipates. Such as below.

My dreams are hazy and largely experiential with the running narrative which is the constant background to my waking mind. Any imagery involved is scant and indistinct.

But truly, as far as variations in the human experience go, this is just being at one end of a spectrum of ability. Other than finding visualization exercises tedious and fruitless and a complete failure to be hypnotized at my high school graduate party, I’m not actually missing out.