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The power of voice

I stood in the hallway of an unfamiliar building, not sure where to go and noticing the time. No one was around.  “Darn it! I don’t want to be late. Managers get to meetings early.” As I shuffled through my notebook to find the printed Microsoft Outlook invitation hoping to find the room number, I saw a sentence instructing attendees to plan to provide a one minute introduction about themselves.  “Great (sarcasm)! How did I miss that? I didn’t prepare anything. I’m going to have to wing it AGAIN. It’ll be ok. One minute isn’t long. I’ll think of something on the elevator ride up.”

I got off the elevator to find 3 familiar faces and each appeared lost. No one knew how to get to the conference room. I felt relieved I wasn’t alone.  After a few minutes of confusion, another familiar, smiling face appeared and guided us to our destination.  At the entry to the room, I laid eyes on who will become my new tribe of professionals: managers, directors, and officials. “Do I belong here? Absolutely.”

There were about 30 of us crammed in a small conference room. This was the first meeting of its kind. The introductions commenced, and to my dread, they were starting at my table plus we each had to stand up.  As an introvert, I’m usually uncomfortable talking about myself. I decided, “I can do this” as I have many times. However, the stakes were higher this time because of who was in the room. I recalled my boss telling me in the past, “It’s time to shine.” I always resented her telling me that because I shine on my own accord, not by command or pressure. My boss was in the room, at my table. Even though I had my elevator speech ready, thankfully, the facilitator decided to go to the other tables, so I would almost be the last person to speak. I claimed my stake and told myself that I would be relaxed and make an impression. As I listened to the years of experience, wit, and honesty, I began to feel inspired and privileged to be in the room. 

With each person that spoke, I’d think of something else I wanted to say about myself and add it to my imaginary list. By the time they came to me, I was poised and relaxed. For a moment, I questioned my attire, particularly my top, because when I stood up eyes seemed to have laid on the tie at the base of my denim blouse.  I was imagining curious looks. I knew I needed to call attention to my words not my attire so I amped it up.  I blocked out the thought about my blouse because let’s face it, I couldn’t do anything about it at that point. It was a cute. It just didn’t look as conservative as shirts other people were wearing. I said a couple of things that made people laugh, even my boss. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I felt exhilarated after the meeting.

This true story is a snapshot of my Friday this week. The meeting lasted four hours.  I’m sharing because I want to emphasize how important a positive inner “voice” or “self-talk” is. What are you telling yourself? Sure, I have moments of insecurity and doubt, but they are fleeting moments.  Sure, I put pressure on myself, but I stay focused on the big picture. Overwhelmingly, I talk myself through until I get the positive outcome I, not only desire, but have already imagined in my mind.  If it doesn’t happen that moment, I work hard not to don’t beat myself up by saying “It’ll be ok.”  I try again the next day.

I believe that most people wouldn’t tell their best friends the negative things that many say to themselves. I view my internal voice as my best friend who is looking out for me and loves me. Now, I have to work on listening to ensure she (my voice/self-talk) is feeding me positive thoughts and telling me the truth.  For some, it can be oddly comfortable to wallow in negative emotions and self-talk.  We might not even notice the negative mumbles, which is why it takes self-awareness to do this work. It also takes courage. 

Be courageous and claim your stake in your life. Do the work of being the best version of yourself. Get to know yourself. Challenge yourself. You’re worth it.

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Breast Cancer: The Journey Continues

I studied her every move and expression as she walked into the office where my husband and I had been waiting. The nurse who took my vitals indicated that the doctor had been running behind every since the first patient showed up late. I wondered if that were really true or if that was a ploy to prolong telling us the inevitable. I’d been consumed in research and investigation for about a week now. With every appointment and test since 9/8, I had been studying the body language of the technicians, nurses, and doctors for clues. I had also been in utter anguish since I had gotten the voice message from the nurse that the doctor requested that I come in to see her the next day. I already knew the inevitable, but still hoping, I watched her face – her eyes and her mouth. I watched her hands as she slowly pulled out the papers from the pocket of her white jacket. She said they were the pathology results. I could sense the hesitancy. I braced myself. Finally, she said the words as her eyes welled up. It was on Wednesday, 9/28/16, that my doctor told my husband and I that the test results came back positive for breast cancer – invasive ductal carcinoma. Tears poured out of my eyes. My husband held his head down. 

Her final words before we would venture off into the unknown was to not google everything in the pathology report and to follow the “science” not the homemade “other” stuff you find on the internet. Too late…I had already become familiar with most everything on the pathology report. I had been following the science. My husband laughed and said, “You must know my wife.” Our laughter lifted the dread for about 2 seconds, then we left the office with instructions to see the surgeon that same afternoon. I cried as my husband held me as we walked to the car. I wanted to vomit. 

Three days later and I’m at a much better place. That day was so surreal. I didn’t expect to cry that much because I had made peace with it already, or so I thought. The words were just hard to hear and made it oh so very real. I’m not a doctor, but I had a very strong suspicion based on my own research on the 4 or 5 charactertics of the mass that was found on my left breast as seen on the mammogram and ultrasound. When I suspected malignancy, I didn’t want to pray to God that it not be cancer because I thought if this was His will, then so be it. I honestly didn’t know what to pray for initially except that I be healed. I remember at one point saying out loud that I was already healed, even though I didn’t actually believe it like I do now.  Up until the diagnosis,  I had been talking to my two older sisters, who have each gone through the call back process and ended up with benign cysts. They kept reassuring me that it was likely benign and to refrain from the internet. My husband wouldn’t entertain me either and said the same thing.  I didn’t listen.

Over the summer, I noticed a dimple of sorts on my left breast. I didn’t know how long it had been there and it turned out to be the only noticeable symptom of my breast cancer. I would share a picture to educate other women, but that area is still slightly swollen from last Friday’s biopsy. You can do a google search to get more information. I thought to myself, and told my husband, “this is weird looking…I wonder if this change in shape has to do with getting older? I should make an appointment with my primary care physician.” I didn’t think that it had anything to do with cancer, but it caught my attention. I saw my pcp on 9/2, but forgot to mention it. I’ve been getting mammograms since I was 35 due to a family history of breast cancer, and most recently had one last year, so I knew she would request another. I had the initial on 9/8. I had the diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on my 19th wedding anniversary, 9/20, since I had scheduled the day off. I had a biopsy on 9/23 and was diagnosed on 9/28. September 2016 will be forever remembered.

After meeting with the surgeon and oncologist, they’ve assured us that the prognosis is very good and this type of cancer is treatable. No one wants to hear that they have cancer, and despite having a family history, I never thought that I would get it. However, there has been much progress in treatment and huge efforts in early detection. There’s a lot of information on breast cancer on the internet. I’m so glad that I was aware of changes in my body and I acted on them. I believe in prevention, so I’ve made it a priority to follow up with my doctors. I’m actually relieved to know what has been going on with my body. I’m thankful that I have good insurance and that my doctors have acted quickly to get me seen so that I can have a plan for treatment. Truth be told that I am not looking forward to treatment, which requires surgery in the next month, and possibly radiation and/or chemotherapy, depending on the genetic testing results and what’s found in the lymph nodes after surgery. It’s also possible that I may be placed on hormone therapy. There are still many unknowns. 

Once the breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed, I contacted the people who I can rely on for support (except my mom although she is also my support…a different post) because I recognize that I will need it. Ten to fifteen years ago, I probably would have gone on pretending that I was superwoman and would care about the appearance of being weak. I’m at a different place now. I sent texts to my supporters asking them to pray for me. I was too emotional to talk to anyone except my husband and my siblings. I notified my boss and some of my coworkers. They have been amazing.  My boss told me that she and another manager will offer their sick time I need it. One of her texts indicated that God is making provisions for me at home and they will make provisions at the office. When I spoke to her the next day, she said I will get to add “breast cancer survivor” to my list of many accomplishments. In 3 days, I learned of  3 other women that I’m connected to who have some form of cancer. I would not have known this had I not reached out to let others know what I was going through. The support has been phenomenal and I couldn’t ask for more.

On Thursday morning, I awakened rested and at peace. Even though I have a rough road ahead (considering that I am squeamish and don’t like needles), I can see that I have support and a good prognosis. Although my boss told me not to come in the rest of the week, I was scheduled to provide a presentation to a group of directors from across the state. The meeting was scheduled for Friday, but as it turns out, that was an error. It was taking place on Thursday, as in that day. My boss sent me a text indicating that they were looking for someone else to fill in for me, but I offered to do it as planned since I was only waiting to hear back from the oncologist. I’m so glad I made the presentation because for that hour and a half, I was in my element, and it took my mind off of breast cancer. I was told that nobody would have been able to present the information like me. In all humility, I knew that, which is why I went. Afterwards, my director told me that she couldn’t believe I was there, but she was glad I did it and directed me (as directors do) to “go home and take care of yourself”. The picture below is of me at home after the presentation. 

There are many unknowns in my breast cancer journey. I’m not going to lie, it’s scary, but not as scary as when it was initially confirmed (3 days ago).  Plus, I’ve had my supporters praying over me and offering encouraging words. My friend’s mom practically breathed life into me with her soul stirring words. She pointed it all back to God and reminded me to PRAISE Him for everything. I am strong and look at this as another temporary life challenge and opportunity for growth.

The main points here are to pay attention to changes in your body no matter how small. Regularly see a doctor for preventative care. If you don’t like your doctor or clinic for whatever reason, choose another one (I’ve done this in the past). Let a few people that you trust know what’s going on with you. It’s beneficial to educate yourself by exploring reputable resources, but recognize that if it’s not your area of expertise, that you likely won’t have the full picture. Maintain healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, eating more whole foods, and getting plenty of sleep (I’m still working on this).  Avoid smoking and minimize alcohol consumption because research shows that these lifestyle factors are huge cancer risks (google it) although these were not my risk factors. My plan is to incorporate more strength training in the next couple of weeks to have an even better surgery outcome. And finally, pray and praise. I left this out in the initial version of this post, but the spiritual really does supercede everything else.  I posted a message on my Facebook page on Thursday indicating that I was floating on other’s prayers for me. 

My pcp said to stick with the “science” and avoid the other questionable stuff. For the most part, I plan to do that. I’ve already been to Barnes & Nobles and picked up a breast cancer “smoothie” recipe book. It was written by a nutritionist and there is some science in it. Update: the book indicates that it has researched based science to support the recipes. I’m not sure if this what my doctor had in mind, but I couldn’t help myself because I love green smoothies so much and consume at least one daily. I can’t wait to try the new smoothie recipes. In the coming weeks, I plan to research foods that help relieve symptoms and/or prevent cancer. More blog posts to come.

Access road

In my last post, “On the road again…”, I wrote about some ingredients that help me to deal with judgmental people such as courage, confidence, persistence, perseverance, and downright stubbornness. I thought of another essential ingredient that pulls it all together.  

I have a small window before I take my shower, wash and comb my daughter’s hair, and get us ready for work and school tomorrow, so of course, I will write (there really is not a window…ha!).  Let’s just hope that 3 hours doesn’t slip by which tends to happen when I’m on my blog.  I had an inkling that I was missing a key ingredient, but I couldn’t quite get it until I was at the grocery store.

It goes without saying that I love my mom with all of my heart. She loves me and has instilled in all of her children a work ethic that I think is rare nowadays.  She is beyond humble….humble times 22.  As much as I try to reason with her, challenge her, impart my stance on issues based on my life, mental health and social work experiences, she is going to hold onto to her deeply held beliefs. Those beliefs are based on her experiences as a woman who has learned English as a second language, was born on an island, grew up devastatingly poor, raised 4 children in the U.S. as a single parent, and retired as a janitorial staff member at a hospital. That is not all that she is, but my point here is that on some things, we will not see eye to eye. She may even find me as amusing as I find her. Seriously, it’s not always amusing. It has become apparent that I have my judgments as well. I do think it’s vital to seek understanding on opposing points of view, especially pertaining to the people that mean the most to you.

The other ingredient that I will add to my list is acceptance. I accept myself including my imperfections, which is difficult for a recovering perfectionist like me. I accept failure even though it’s painful. I accept love, joy, and abundance. I accept people for who they are, but I acknowledge that I’ve tried to change family members’ mindset to a degree. Ultimately, I’ve learned to accept that I will not win everyone over on my hot button issues,  even the most important people in my life. I am ok with that because my goal is to live in my truth, not any one else’s. 

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On the road again…which road?

My mother does not approve of my work travel. She doesn’t understand how a wife and mother of 2 children can be away from her family for even 1 night.  One of my routine trips which I’ve made many times in 3 years is from Austin to Huntsville.  I recently returned from that trip the day before she arrived from Chicago last weekend. What my mom does not know is that traveling is my favorite part of work because it changes the work pace, allows me to meet new people or get re-acquainted with other colleagues, make new discoveries, visit new cities or revisit familiar ones, and provides me with some alone time that is definitely beneficial to my self-care.  I especially enjoy the drive to Huntsville, leaving before dawn, because I have the space to think about family, my personal life and work.  As mostly an introvert, I relish in the time alone with my thoughts.  I also use that time to seek clarity and guidance from God.

Speaking of roads, I’m thinking about the long, hard road of judgement I’ve endured throughout my whole life, particularly growing up.  Yes, I’m even surprising myself with how bleak this sounds as I type, but it’s the truth.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel…I promise.  I’ve mentioned before that I come from a very judgmental family and the judgement continues depending on the topic.  With my mom’s recent visit, I’m having some empathy for myself right now. What is it that has allowed me to live in my truth despite all of the judgement and disapproval over the years?

Some ingredients that I think are necessary for living in your own truth despite the naysayers (i.e., haters…although I don’t particularly prefer that term), including your family, are courage, confidence, persistence, perseverance, and downright stubbornness.  It takes great courage to stand up for yourself. Fear usually accompanies courage, so you’ll often have to act in spite of your fears.  When you realize that no one else will stand up for you like you, it becomes easier.  It might even make you angry, which is useful fuel in this case because it will push you to use your voice and make any necessary changes.

I believe that confidence comes from learning about, practicing, and believing in whatever your truth is. I’m also confident and have comfort in knowing that God is leading me to be the best that I can be and no one else can compete with God. I’m persistent and have great faith that things will work out as long as I stay the course.  I’ve seen some fruits of my persistence and faith, which simply encourages me to keep going.  If I ever feel like giving up, I think about how far I’ve come and what has come to fruition thus far.

Patience is important with perseverance because it can be a long road depending on who the naysayers are in your life and what power they have, or think they have, over you. You may be your own naysayer. There may be time-sucking roadblocks that you have to maneuver to get back on course. However, I like the challenge of sticking it out until the end, whatever/whenever the end is, and proving them wrong (you see my slightly competitive edge here). And true to my zodiac sign, I can be downright stubborn.  If I know something is true, especially as it pertains to my truth, then I’m going to hold my ground.  You don’t have to be a Taurus like me to be stubborn.  Just hold your ground on things pertaining to your own personal truth and things that you really believe and can back up.  At the end of the day, people will respect you for it.

There is the saying that “it’s about the journey not the destination”. One day, I hope to fully enjoy this road of self-discovery that I am on while I’m on it.  It’s taken me a great deal to get here, more than I’ve indicated in this post.  It doesn’t always feel like a smooth ride, but the signs I’ve seen indicate that it’s not meant to be smooth and easy.  I’ve at least gotten to a place where I’m appreciating the lessons and revelations along the way.