O Holy Night

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

This beautiful line, from the Christmas carol O Holy Night, speaks to me this season as I reflect on how the birth of Jesus had such an impact, not just on the world as a whole, but on individual lives as well.

Please know that you make an impact on individual lives, including mine and those in my family. I hope you feel, deep in your soul, contentment and joy in knowing your worth in this life.

Love to you, along with a blessed holiday and year ahead,


‘Tis the season

Zooming into Christmas, there is so much to appreciate. Mostly, I am giggly that I still get to hang out here!

For example, this is me and the boys in December 2007.

Polar Express 2007

I had recently recovered from surgery and sepsis (whew).  Our traditional plans to spend Christmas with my family in Pittsburgh were blown out of the water – we had to stay in town while I continued chemotherapy. Not much of a decorator under the best of circumstances, our holiday decorations were pitiful and I didn’t have presents to put under the tree.

It didn’t feel much like Christmas. We wanted something to make the holiday memorable in a happy way.

Friends told us about the Polar Express train ride in New Hampshire, where families board a train and get to wear pajamas for the ride, drink hot cocoa and eat chocolate with centers as white as snow. They disembark at the “North Pole,” where they are greeted by elves who walk them to a hut where the little boy who is now a man reads the book The Polar Express, telling his story. Santa makes an appearance, walking among the crowd, eventually selecting a little boy to pick the first gift of Christmas. That little boy asks for a bell from the reindeers’ harness, and asks for one for everyone. Then everyone boards the train for home, singing Christmas carols all the way.

We ordered tickets right away. My husband had to work so Dory-the-babysitter packed up the car, the boys and me and plowed for hours through a snowstorm, catching the train just before it departed. The photo shows me with the boys inside the hut at the North Pole, roughly six hours after I finished my first chemo session.

Every year, big-hearted friends from our church arrange a Polar Express weekend trip and, every year since 2008, we have been lucky enough to be invited to join their family. They are like a roving party, and my kids look forward our yearly Polar Express experience as much as they look forward to Christmas itself.

This is us, this year on the train:

Polar Express 2013

I look back and remember that first time on the Polar Express, not sure what we could look forward to but knowing that we could have a good time that night. I am simply gleeful that I get to do it all again!

We needed help from Dory to make it through that first weekend, and continue to rely on help from others, to various degrees and in various ways.

Thank you for being part of all that, for helping us to make wonderful memories, to be together as a family, to be with friends and to experience joy and love.

Blessings during this season and always,

One day, one moment, one prayer at a time

Your attitude, positive thoughts and prayers impact my life in a huge way, as I was reminded this past weekend.

Last week’s chemo went as chemo goes, bringing many of the usual side effects and a few bonus surprises. Luckily, by Saturday, I was on the upswing so my husband and I took the kids to find a Christmas tree.

As we walked among the trees, I was suddenly transported back in time. Six years ago, right before Christmas, I was diagnosed with cancer, healing from surgery (and sepsis) and about to start chemotherapy for the first time. Not only did the diagnosis unsettle everything I thought to be true in my life (i.e., that I could take good health for granted and actually make plans for the future), the treatment schedule upended our personal plans to spend the holidays with my family in Pittsburgh. In addition, I had already shipped all the gifts “from Santa” to Pittsburgh, and I was too overwhelmed to shop again for our one- and four-year-old boys, both of whom still enthusiastically believed in Santa Claus. I feared that would be my last Christmas with them, and it looked like it might be a disappointment all around.

But on this day, in 2013, wandering among the trees in the city lot, listening to my boys yell happily to each other and watching my husband measure various balsams and firs, I felt immensely grateful to be living and making preparations to celebrate another Christmas together.

After driving our tree home, I needed a rest so we draped ourselves over the sofa and watched Frosty the Snowman. Years ago, my psyche was filled with the words “…and we’ll have some fun now before I melt away.” (You can read about that here.)

This time, despite being tired, a different set of Frosty’s words slid happily into my heart:

“I’m all livin’! I AM alive! What a neat thing to happen to a nice guy like me!”

I was feeling lighter and coming out from under the chemo cloud.

On Sunday morning, due a confluence of circumstances, I went to church without the boys, and to a Mass at a church that I didn’t plan to attend. The priest began his homily talking about his seven-year-old niece and her dying father. Not an easy topic for me, but I hung in there while he made his way to his point. After that, he began to tell a story about a “dying stage 3 colon cancer patient.”

Those words put all my cells on high alert. As a stage 4 colorectal cancer patient, I don’t think of stage 3 as dying. In fact, I know both stage 3 AND stage 4 patients who are now cancer-free, so I don’t really think of either as dying. I thanked God that my kids weren’t there to hear this.

As the priest continued speaking, I went into fight or flight.

Because I was at that Mass and that church on a fluke, and because I strongly believe in the power of coincidence, I considered staying. Maybe God had a message for me if I waited.

The instant that thought occurred to me, it felt wrong. I didn’t need to stay and absorb another negative assumption that this man had to share. I needed to leave, and leave right then. Every fiber in my body said that was the right thing to do.

Mulling over this experience afterwards, I realized that I am both accustomed to people being supportive and focusing on what is possible, and that I rely on it. I can’t even let other viewpoints into my energy field.

Hearing those words and tone from this priest reminded me that there are still people who equate cancer with death, and I am lucky they aren’t in my circle. It reminded me that I am most fortunate to know that, not only can someone live with cancer, one can actually gain a different lease on life as well as get rid of cancer altogether. It reminded me that I am infinitely fortunate to know people who share that experience and / or perspective.

Maybe I didn’t need to hear whatever point the priest was trying to make. Maybe I was simply meant to gain a new appreciation for what is already in my life.

I thank you deeply for always infusing me with positive thoughts, energy, and prayers through your presence, emails, actions, notes and countless other connections. What we say and do can move each other in one direction or another. I feel like I am here six years later by moving one day at a time, one moment at a time, one prayer at a time. I could not do it without you and all the positive power you share. I am living. I AM alive. Thank you.

Love and blessings and all that is good,

God is in the Details

Thank you for your cheerful support of my good news about the tumors shrinking. It helped to extend the good feelings, especially when the usual chemo side effects set in and my lowered white count enabled my cold to flare up again. Ugh.

Between my cold, the shortening daylight hours in the northeastern U.S. and the dreary weather we have been having, life felt grey and I felt tired. Though I consciously know that every day is precious and not to be wished away, I just wanted to sleep through winter.

It was more habit than passion that pulled me to Tong Ren on Sunday night. Once I am there, I typically receive energy when it is my turn and spend the rest of the hour sending energy to everyone else.

This time, I took a seat close to the back, closed my eyes, and promptly fell asleep. Tom Tam and his wonderfully generous crew of tappers stood in front, facing our rows of seats and asked, person by person and row by row, what their ailment was. I jerked awake often enough to revel in the good reports from others but kept falling asleep again. When he reached my row, I managed to stay awake until he and his crew of tappers were ready to work on me. I requested help in shrinking the tumors, and added that I would like to also be rid of my cold and my fatigue.

After they finished tapping for me, I closed my eyes again. This time, instead of sleeping, I thought about how everything felt blah. My morning routine came to mind: it can feel the same each day, but if I focus on the actual details, it really does vary in some small way and set that day apart from any other.

Maybe I could focus on some little details right now. Maybe those would help to set this moment apart and remind me that life does vary in some small exciting way. Maybe it would help me to know that there is a larger story to all this, that this is not all there is.

I opened my eyes and looked at the 8-10 volunteers standing in the front of the room, each tapping away on their doll. My eyes moved toward Janice, who has a special place in my heart. I focused on her outfit – she always wears something fun. But another object kept glittering at me, catching the light so that the reflection was almost blinding. Shifting my focus to see what was shining, I saw that Lynne, doing her healing tapping, wore a chunky gold necklace, a larger piece of jewelry than I’ve ever seen her wear. Well, that is interesting. But not exciting.

I strangely couldn’t pull my gaze from it so continued to examine it from afar. It had large gold links, and, wait, something was hanging from it, made from a different material and style than the chain, sort of artistic. A cross?

Lynne's necklace

A cross. A blinding light in the grey. A detail that set this moment apart. The larger story that helps to carry me. Okay, even in my blah mood, this felt a bit exciting.

The session ended shortly afterwards, and leaving the room, I passed by a book titled, The Body Electric, instantly inserting the song from the movie Fame into my head. In the finale, the high school kids together perform what they have worked so hard to learn. They show their growth in singing, dancing and musical instruments as well as their personal growth.

The way all their artistic parts come together to create one amazing performance reminds me of how we all exist together. We each bring aspects of ourselves we’ve worked on, sometimes for a long time, and can now do well – maybe not perfectly, but pretty darn well – and we joyously bring them all together with everyone’s else’s hard work and magic and possibly mistakes and in that joining, create something larger and more complex than our own piece.

I’m just so happy to have one small part in all this, to be together with all your dancing and singing and joy and continued growth.

But wait –there is more! When I was Googling I Sing the Body Electric, I came across this poem of the same name, by Walt Whitman. The whole poem was confusing to me, but I really liked this part:

I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
to pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her nech for a moment – what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight – I swim in it as a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul – but these please the soul well.

I hope your soul feels pleased today, and pleased well.

With gratitude and love,