REMISSION AND DEPRESSION GO HAND IN HAND

IMG_6040Since being declared cancer free in February of this year I have been battling feelings of angst and anxiety and self-examination and self-deprecation. To put it plainly and simply, life in remission has ignited…depression. And I gotta’ tell you, I DID NOT see this coming. I lived through this completely transformative experience that introduced me to a deeper sense of self-love and called me to appreciate, live in the now, and simply bask in gratitude for everything I am and everything I have.

So I thought I would be turning cartwheels now that I am free of cancer.  I thought I would feel even higher than I did last year at this time when my liver was blackened by an unwelcome little tumor. But now, 6 months in the clear, I find myself in a state of, as Brene Brown calls it, “foreboding joy.” I may appreciate having survived, but I can’t shake this inability to completely relax and let my guard down. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brown says. “We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.” I don’t necessarily believe that I will catch the cancer again, but I have not completely ruled it out either.

The specter of cancer follows me around like a shadow, illuminating itself every time I catch the lingering look of care or concern from someone I haven’t seen in a while or every time someone asks me how I’m doing. They may simply be truly wondering how my day is going. But I have a feeling I will forever take that question to mean, “how was your last scan? Was it clean? Are you still cancer-free?”

And it is extremely hard to think in the long-term. My husband and I had a meeting with our financial advisor recently and I found myself breathless, unable to speak, and dangerously close to tears when confronted with questions about retirement planning.   I couldn’t possibly think about me at the age of 70. I just couldn’t even allow my brain to envision it. It seemed too far-fetched of a possibility. Too painful. I allowed my husband to do all the talking.

I suppose my days as a cancer patient were so much easier because I was so beautifully PRESENT. My sole purpose was to get well and enjoy every moment. Sure I had other obligations, but I didn’t really need to think about the distant future or even the immediate future. I truly took one day at a time. Anything that required more than that was prioritized healthfully and wisely or passed off onto another party or passed over entirely. I instinctively knew what was important.

And now, I find myself caught up in thinking about the future. I want to do more. I want to plan more.   I want to push myself.   Doing just enough is simply not enough.

But when we push ourselves, when we choose to believe that we are lacking in some way, when we try to force our own timeline and our own plans down the Universe’s throat, concentrating too heavily on the unknowns of the future, we strip ourselves of the ability to LOVE. And more specifically, we rob ourselves of the ability to LOVE OURSELVES. And self-love is where all the wonderful, delicious goodness of life comes from. And many of the terrors of life – bullying and abuse and suicide and murder – originate from a deep and lonely sense of self-loathing.

So this week, a week in which this entire world seems to be talking about depression and what causes it and how we can prevent it, I challenge you to find ways to take care of yourself today. What does your heart need right now? What steps can you take to love yourself deeply and genuinely and unabashedly this moment? What new practice of self-kindness can you adopt and put into action sooner rather than later?

If gratitude is our purpose, then self-love is our vocation. Each of us is called to it. And boy is it a tough job. Some of us find it to be the toughest of all jobs. But it’s not impossible. Not for any of us.

TIFFANY TAKES THE TED STAGE!

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For years I have been loving on TED Talks. Obsessed even.  I listen to these talks in the car, while doing laundry, while talking walks, while working out. They move you, they educate you, and they make you think.

But I’ve got to tell you I never once thought of presenting my own TED Talk.

Until last year. Until the Big C swooped in and changed my life.   Now I seem to have a whole LOT to say.

So I’m very pleased to announce that I have been selected to present at the 2014 TEDxRochester event!

Check out the official announcement on TedXRochester.org.

What is TEDxRochester you ask?

“TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.”

And TED Talks are….?

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. “

Over the years, TED Talks have become the gold standard of live presentations.

For more information and/or to watch or listen to some seriously inspiring and thought-provoking presentations, check out TED.com.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. This particular event is called TEDxRochester where x = independently organized TED event.

It’s an all day event that will take place November 15 at the Kodak Theater for Performing Arts (formerly Theater on the Ridge).

Audience member registration for TEDxRochester 2014 will open in the Fall of 2014. If you’re on the TEDxRochester mailing list, expect an email letting you know. Or check out their facebook page for updates.

I was an audience member a couple years ago. It was fantastic. I highly recommend it! It’s like going to the spa for your brain.

And for those unable to attend, video will eventually be posted online.

It’s an awesome privilege and a true honor to have been selected by the committee this year.   I’m all at once nervous and excited and terrified and thrilled. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  The best way to LIVE.

YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE IS A HECK OF A LOT MORE OBVIOUS THAN YOU ARE MAKING IT.

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I turned 40 today. And I woke up this morning feeling…conflicted.

On one hand I am overflowing with gratitude for being alive despite all that I have been through recently. Not only did I dodge cancer earlier this year, less than two weeks ago I got into a horrific car wreck that left two vehicles totaled.

No major injuries thankfully, mercifully, beautifully. But I find my ego and my sense of confidence have been shaken furiously, calling me to question my self worth.

So this morning, I also woke up with a sense of anxiety about the bigger picture of my life.  Why was I spared? What is my higher calling? Am I doing everything I was meant to do?

AM I LIVING MY PURPOSE IN LIFE?

I can only imagine that this feeling of conflict is something I share with so many other survivors. I feel as though I have this pressure to make something of my life; this urgency to do something significant with the time I have been given. I have been given an awareness of the how truly lucky I am and how wonderful and sweet life can be and I shouldn’t WASTE IT.

I seem to be repeatedly shown how precariously close one’s life can come to the edge of oblivion. And when I am yanked back from the edge and told “you survived,” I am expected to simply ease back into normal, everyday life.

But life after trauma is anything but normal. And I for one find myself longing to figure out “the big picture” and my role in it.

I feel like the clock is ticking to do something worthwhile; something BIG; something that will ripple outward and onward long after I do end up leaving this Earth.

Talk about pressure.

But what if our purpose is so much simpler than that? So much smaller, so easy, so seemingly insignificant, we overlook its importance and its true gravity?

What if I already had it half right this morning when I woke up simply…GRATEFUL?

WHAT IF YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO SIMPLY FIND YOUR GRATITUDE?

That’s it. No catch. Just find at least one thing to be grateful for each day and latch onto that and let your gratitude radiate outward.

No matter how dire your situation, no matter how tough you believe life is, no matter what punches are thrown at you, I GUARANTEE you kind can find one sweet beautiful thing that you love in this world.

And your joy for that one thing? It can become contagious. Anger and negative energy might catch and spread like a disease, but gratitude and love and happiness spread doubly fast.

Imagine an entire population of people living up to their tiny purpose: gracious and loving people who can find the good in all they encounter; who find the blessing and the joy in every single day. True peace and serenity would indeed be possible.

So there you have it. You have one job in your lifetime; one tiny purpose: find your gratitude.

My name is Tiffany and I’m so grateful to have reached my 40th year. I hear that’s when life’s purpose snaps into focus.

3 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM A VERY LARGE ROCK.

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My husband and I just returned from a trip of a lifetime to the spectacular Canadian Province of Newfoundland & Labrador. Similar to our trip to Croatia last year, when we would tell people our travel plans, we would invariably be met with quizzical expressions and the question, “Why did you choose to go there?”

And I must say, even Newfoundlanders wondered why we would choose to spend our vacation days on an island so far in the North Atlantic that we found it difficult to find stars (because the sky was only completely dark between midnight and 3:00 AM).

Newfoundland has become close to our hearts through the music of Great Big Sea. And through that same music and a certain little dancing video, the locals seem to have embraced me as the unofficial ambassador of happiness and cheer in the face of chaos, sadness and despair. I have received tons of messages and emails and notes from Canadians (many from NFLD) who were following my story from afar. I have made friends with some good people there. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to visit such good people in person.

Rick and I also love exploring places neither of us has been before. And if we are the only Americans for miles? Even better. We love to mix with the locals. Be charmed by the brogue of their accents. Ask about favorite restaurants and attractions. Learn the local history.

We stayed in a charming fishing community called Petty Harbour (just South of St. John’s). We read, we relaxed, we hiked, we zip-lined, we iceberg-hunted, we bird watched (saw my first Puffin and 5000 of his closest friends), we whale watched (from the SHORE no less), we were “screeched in” (a ceremony involving black rum and kissing a codfish). . .

Newfoundlanders call people from out of town “come-from-aways.” Although Rick and I do indeed come from a ways away, we now truly feel connected to NFLD and now consider ourselves unofficial locals.

Newfoundland is called “The Rock.” For good reason. It’s an island consisting entirely of rock formations, some created from volcanic eruptions half a billion years ago, others left behind from landmasses clashing during continental drifts. As a result, Newfoundland has some of the oldest rocks in the world. And some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever witness. It’s a geologist’s dream and a nature lover’s paradise.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about those rocks these days since returning home — and I think we can learn a lot from them.

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GREAT THINGS TAKE TIME

Much of Newfoundland originated as a volcanic eruption under the sea somewhere south of the equator, and over millions of years floated Northward to its landing spot today at the Easternmost point of North America. We learned that the island’s movement is slow: the same rate as growth of our fingernails.

Now, I know I don’t have millions or thousands or even hundreds of years to accomplish all of my goals. But when I think about how I push myself to complete something before it is (or I am) ready, or stress over the big picture, incapable of making a decision or any movement because the task seems way too big or insurmountable, I need only remind myself that great things take time. One step at a time — even if that step is only the length of a fingernail — is all that is needed for today. It’s motion forward, not backward.   And it will lead to great things. Perhaps not according to my preferred timeline. But great things will come nonetheless.

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BEAUTIFUL THINGS COME FROM CHAOS

Newfoundland is the result of volcanic eruptions and storm surges and tidal waves and collisions of continents and divisions of landmasses. Its terrain is scarred and battered and beaten by glaciers and ocean currents. And it is stunning. Captivating. Breathtaking.  Smooth in some places, jagged in others. Covered in moss and wild flowers. A mosaic of greens and blues and browns and greys. Wild and unkempt and clean and crisp.

The best parts of me, the most beautiful parts of me, are the result of tragedy and loss and pain and heartache. Chaos leads to beauty. Jaw-dropping, show-stopping, heart-rate-inducing beauty. I have been scarred both emotionally and physically. I have had my extreme highs and my intensely depressed lows. I have been explosive. I have been implosive. And the result? Beauty. Raw and real beauty.

And my beauty may not be everybody’s taste. That’s okay.  And you may be so close to your own beauty that you are not able to see it or appreciate it. But trust me . . . it’s there. Embrace it and share it with everyone around you. The world will be a more vibrant place for it.

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WE ARE EVER CHANGING AND NEVER FINISHED

Newfoundland continues to move Northward. Very slowly of course (again, at the rate our fingernails grow); but each year it changes.  The raging Atlantic Ocean changes the coastline by dumping huge boulders or dragging old ones away. We visited a tiny cove that had massive boulders that been delivered by the ocean just this winter. 10-ton rocks that were picked up and placed on the shore as if they were pebbles. And erosion from wind and storm and snow breaks down the landscape and smooths the rough edges of the cliffs, and the relentless tide continues to polish the small stones that wash up on the beach.

If an island the size of New York State is never done with its self-work, then why do we ever think we will be? Why do we long for a day when we will be perfect; when we will be finished with that diet; when we have gathered all the information we need in life? We are never done. Never. We are a work in progress. Change is normal. Change is healthy. Change is awesome.  Change should be welcome.

And when we are pummeled with life’s storms and tidal surges, we are being invited to become everything we are supposed to be.

I love rocks and stones. I always have.  But I never knew I had so much to learn from them. Thank you to “The Rock,” for showing me the way.

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What is YOUR Cancer?

Wednesday, May 7th marks one year since cancer entered my life. One year of the highest of emotional highs and the lowest of depressive lows. A roller coaster of scans and surgeries and infusions and injections and research and laughs and tears and fears and celebrations and joys and soul-searching. It’s been a truly awesome year. I’ve learned so much about myself; my resilience, my strength, my pain tolerance, my body’s ability to heal. And I’ve learned so much about the goodness in others – loved ones and friends and strangers alike.

So as I celebrate my very first cancerversary, nearly 3 months since being declared “cancer-free,” I find myself living in a strange space in my head. Cancer had become a part of my identity. An identity I certainly didn’t ask for, but since it was handed to me, I decided to make the very best of it. And I found that the more I embraced my situation, the easier the whole process became. Petty worries fell away. My purpose and place in life became crystal clear. I was happier. I was calm. I was peaceful. I felt this glow of contentment that I had never felt before. I had been bestowed a grace: the grace that is gifted upon you when you accept your situation and yourself right here right now.

But here I am three months out and I feel somehow ungrounded. I’ve lost my identity. I am no longer the girl with cancer. I am now the girl who had cancer. And what does that mean exactly? I’m unsure of myself and not sure where to focus my energy. I feel like a tiny boat drifting out into this vast endless sea with no sail and no rudder and no anchor. Aimlessly drifting. No direction. Just floating away. When I had cancer my only purpose in life was to do whatever I needed to get well. I was living each day moment to moment. Staying in the present moment is a heck of a lot easier when it’s all you have and it’s you can handle mentally or physically.

But now that I am on this side of it, I feel like this wide open expanse of future opened up for me and I am feeling stuck and paralyzed, not sure what to do next but feeling this intese urgency to just do something. I’ve been given the gift of life, I better make the most of it and live, damnit!

But make sure you live right! Don’t waste it! Don’t make the wrong choices!   Don’t waste time!

I am placing some seriously high expectations on myself. That little slave driver in my head is cracking the whip and pushing me hard once again. I find myself right back where I was before cancer. Negative self-talk which leads to feelings of inadequacy, sadness, depression, and anxiety. Self-abuse like this holds us back from enjoying life and truly living freely.

And it dawned on me…

Self-sabotaging behavior in itself is a certain type of cancer.

Let’s ponder that for a bit…

The definition of cancer according to dictionary.com is “any evil condition or thing that spreads destructively.”   Miriam-Webster says that a cancer can be “a practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate.”

Cancer, in a sense, can then be seen as something that can happen to you AND cancer can be something that you can create.

So am I making my body unwell (both emotionally and physically) by engaging in negative thinking? By feeding these ideas of not doing enough and not being enough, am I assisting in the destruction of my own body? At the very least, I know for a fact that when I am in a negative state of mind, I am holding myself back from engaging in life and I feel terrible.

We all have a CHOICE as to how we decide to handle life.

I can continue on this path and allow myself to indulge in the “stinking thinking” and “poor me” attitude.   Or I can push through those feelings and take steps toward positivity.   And if one tiny step is all I can handle right now, so be it. It’s better than heading backward. It’s better than disengaging from life and sitting on the couch in a paralyzed ball of anxiety.

Need help with those steps toward positivity?   Check out Jodi Aman’s suggestions for natural anti-depressants.  One of the suggestions I have recently taken? I’ve ditched coffee once again. After chemo ended, my taste for coffee came back with a vengence.   It quickly became a crutch and an obsession. And the caffeine was surely contributing to some serious hormonal swings of late. Hormonal swings = harmonal swings. I am happy to let those go and I know my liver (and my husband) will thank me for it.

So I ask you, what is YOUR cancer?

Is your cancer a condition or event or situation that was thrust upon you? A divorce? A death in the family? An illness? An addiction?

Or is your cancer something that you have created in your own mind? Anger? Resentments? Expectations placed on others? Expectations placed on yourself?

How have you decided to approach this challenge in your life? What steps have you taken to move forward rather than backward?

Can you resolve to accept yourself and accept your position right here and right now just I was able to when I was going through treatment for biological cancer? The grace that I experienced last year is still there for the taking if I want it.  I just need to find a harmonious way of working through my current bout of emotional cancer.  And that grace is there for you too, if you only reach for it.

How To Protect Yourself From The Post-Chemo Blues (And Other Little Known Side-Effects of Cancer)

Have you ever experienced a let down after a large event in your life?  A wedding?  A party?  A holiday?  A landmark birthday?  A vacation?  A new baby?  An event for which you have been waiting, saving, planning for months…maybe years?  There’s a huge build up of excitement and fervor over this event.  You are completely invested.  Your family is invested.  Your friends are invested.  Your heart races in anticipation of this event.  You are running on adrenaline, moving so quickly and accomplishing so much in the months/weeks/days leading up to the event that you barely have or take time to breathe.

Everything builds to that event.

And then the day comes.

The event happens.

It’s over.

Silence.

Real life.

Business as usual.

If you are anything like me, the post-event quietude can be devastating.  Once an event is complete, I have nothing to look forward to.  Nothing to plan for.  Nothing to hang my hopes and my happiness on.  I have no direction and no focus and, most disconcertingly, I am left alone with…MYSELF.

The horror.

So here I am, one week after being informed that my cancer is officially in remission, and I am STRUGGLING.  Now don’t get me wrong, I may proclaim to love cancer, but I prefer it not inhabit my body.  The cancer journey, however, was a huge event in my life that received a lot of my time and attention.  And I was a changed person.  I allowed myself to focus on what needed to be done.  I was gentle with myself.  I didn’t push.  If I wanted a nap, I would nap.  I gave myself permission to decline or delegate work.  If I couldn’t keep a commitment, I knew others would understand.  And I knew I could forgive myself for making that decision.

And best of all (at least for this girl), I had a mental vacation from obsession with food.

I have struggled with food my entire life.  I am a compulsive overeater and a binger.  In the last 4 years, I found myself some recovery and began to foster a healthier relationship with food.

But when the cancer treatment began, and nausea and other side effects dictated what food I could or could not eat, I allowed myself a reprieve from vigilance over my food choices.  And it was the right thing to do at the time.  I needed to listen to my body and nourish myself as best I could.  But I allowed the numbers that appeared on the scale to begin to play with my mind.  I would be weighed once or twice a week and because I seemed to lose (or not gain) weight each time I visited the doctor, I decided all was well.  As if the number on the scale was ever a proper indication of a healthy relationship with food.   It never has been and never will be.  At my skinniest (124 lbs on the day of my wedding to my first husband), I was obsessed; restricting entire food groups and allowing myself to binge on the weekends on piles of sugary snacks.

I worked very hard over the years to create a balanced meal plan that nourishes and sustains me and protects me from obsessive food thoughts and behaviors.  And I have worked very hard to accept that my body has found a happy home 10-15 pounds heavier than my brain would prefer it to be.

But here I am now, ten weeks post-chemo, back in the grips of food-obsession and watching the numbers on the scale creep higher and higher.  It’s been an emotional week for me.

I write this to tell you all that just like anything in life, cancer is simply one of many possible life events; an event that we can become obsessed with and allow to take over our lives.  And if we aren’t vigilant about creating mental and spiritual balance around us before during and after this event, we could be left on the other side feeling empty and less than.

Why did it take a cancer diagnosis for me to allow myself a break?  To be gentle with myself?  To forgive myself for not wanting to do something or go somewhere?  Now that life is heading back to “business as usual,” I find myself resisting the urge to push myself harder and criticize myself more.  “No more excuses, girl, back to work!”

This line of thinking is not okay.  I know it.  But I also know that this is not the authentic me.  This is the me that is created from a mind saddled by addiction.  My unhealthy food behaviors creep in and the negative, controlling, critical, impatient Tiffany begins to overshadow the happy, joyous, relaxed and free-spirited Tiffany.

My mind and spirit are trying to find equilibrium again after being pitched so high and so low for so many months.  So I pledge to be as kind and as gentle and as forgiving with myself now as I was in the midst of treatment.  As all of us should be to ourselves, every day of every week.  We are each doing the very best we can with all that we have been given today.  And we should be PROUD of that.

And perhaps most importantly, if we hang our hopes and our happiness on anything in life (event, person, place, thing), we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, depression and resentment. Happiness is an inside job. And you are the only qualified employee.

Has anyone else experienced the post-illness blues?  How about the post-wedding depression?  Or any other PLED (Post Life Event Disorder)?  How are you working on balancing life NOW to prepare for the next life event?   Because it’s coming.  I guarantee it.

The Luck O’ The Irish

I had another heavy couple of days leading up to today’s follow-up MRI.  Boy oh boy, scanxiety can do a number on the ole psyche.  But I’ll save that heaviness for another time because I am happy to announce my St. Patrick’s Day gift:

NO CHANGE DETECTED IN THE LIVER!

in other words…

NO CANCER!  REMISSION!

I have yet to receive the official report or get a chance to sit down with my doctors to go over details.  For now, we are chalking the false positives up to “post-operative abnormality.”  Or “liver with a naughty sense of humor.”

Either way, I’ll take it!

Let us all breathe a collective sigh of relief shall we?

Ready?

Breathe in….

AND….

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

I’m feeling very lucky indeed.

XOXO