My platelets haven’t budged so I will take another 5 days off the trial drug and then hope for a boost in my next blood test. My platelets mimicked the performance of the stock market with their initial plunge! Let us hope that both revive in short order! Essentially the count is 46, and I need to hit a minimum of 75 before I can go back on and within 23 days. It is very possible that this is the residual effect of the radiation. Initially I was very discouraged, but Dr Rugo was actually very encouraged by the rest of my labs which were notably improved from last month and by my initial reaction to the drug. So back to patience and a long term view. Really it is about making peace with uncertainty and not taking every setback as a death sentence. Perhaps that sounds extreme, but it is easy to get the head spinning.
Dr Rugo was baffled about my reluctance to take more pain medicine, and couldn’t understand why I would endure such pain. She reminded me that in going from couch potato to several days a week in the pool and singing that I’m bound to be in more pain. And that in general the muscles around the spine are weakened from the surgery, the recovery, and any time I’m upright. Ha! I’m not sure why I’ve held such catholic guilt on the meds, but clearly it’s time to stop. No prizes for pain, and if anything the repeated pain is terrible for my healing. We will take it up a bit and taper when the pain allows. And talk about a terrible combo……a plummeting market but no alcohol allowed! Good for the skin and body to skip it, but I miss it
On a happier note, my retirement present from Creighton arrived, and I am napping under a stunning Christopher Burkett photo of a red maple slick from the rain. A burst of color that feels like another window. As much as I plan to focus our resources on experiences rather than material goods, this is a daily dose of happy.
I recently read Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion at first I thought it would be a bit woo woo, but it was deeply insightful and provocative. I will circle back in time to do the exercises, but even the first go around it was a stark reminder of how much of life I’ve spent with a bitchy mean internal voice smacking me down.
It struck me that internal drive doesn’t have to mean beating yourself up. Ambition, discipline, diligence served me well on the type A track, but the cruel voice that never thought I was good enough should have been thrown overboard long ago. Better late than never! I caught myself the other day saying “you’re so pathetic” in reaction to feeling weak, slow, debilitated. But, for once, I told the mean girl inside to shut up, because what could be further from the truth?! I might be frustrated by my weakness, but I’m sure as hell not pathetic. I’m fighting hard, and working everyday to accept the physical challenges cancer has wrought while also trying to rebuild my strength and finding new ways to stay active. So I think part of this new chapter is going to require quieting that nasty voice until it is barely a whisper. And the voice that will serve will be the one that soothes and strengthens. I will do my best to teach Bebe and Will to find that voice. It kills me when I hear them criticizing themselves, when I see that hopeless perfectionism driving intense frustration. I see it more in Will right now though. Bebe is so often wise beyond her years, and her school,Burkes, does such a good job teaching mindfulness and the idea that nothing and no one is perfect. She tells me to embrace mistakes and takes the lesson from art class that mistakes are welcome. How brilliant! What if each time we mess up, we pause to take the lesson from it, or use it as a launch pad for a new direction or perspective? If I spoke to myself the way I speak to my kids and friends when something goes wrong, with kindness and understanding, I think I would rebound far faster. My high school boyfriend had to endure my crazy temper on the tennis court and even sometimes on mogul runs skiing when I would get so angry because I wasn’t perfect. It is so laughable. I mean I was hardly Martina Navratilova or An Olympic skier, and yet I would judge myself against that standard and then sulk when I clearly fell short. Funny and ridiculous. My poor parents dealt with this during family doubles and every form of board game. Now they did not tolerate it, but it sure ruined many a game. So silly!
This mindset of course worked perfectly at GS, because they love to hire self driven go getters who will always strive for better. While you’d get an occasional pat on the back, nothing was ever good enough. If you excelled, then that raised the bar higher. If you got a great vote or trade, that was fantastic for that moment, and then it was back to square one. But I will always respect and applaud that part of the firm that would never settle, never get complacent. I just am realizing that it is good to get away from it once in awhile and to learn to give yourself a lot of kindness along the way to balance it out.
As a woman, I have felt that I have to be the best employee and mom and wife and friend and daughter and be fit, accomplished, active in philanthropy, active at the kids schools, have a perfect house, be a great cook. It was overwhelming and frankly impossible. So I just have done the best I can, and in any given week maybe I nail one or a few of those things so that over the course of a few years if we add it all up I might have done just fine. And by the way, this is all from a very blessed and spoiled seat where I have means and a wonderful family and a whole village of support. How about the incredible women who do it all and have none of that. So hard. As I get older I have found that life is messy, and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it or in denial.
So what else about Self Compassion? I really enjoyed the sections that speak to sitting with your emotions. At GS and frankly in much of my life, it was incredibly effective to be able to move nimbly through chaos or stressful situations, to face an issue head on, process it quickly, and then move on. To adapt and not get bogged down in the emotion of a moment. That said, while it is very effective at work, it is not very healthy in life. Because to truly process the big emotions you have to sit with them even when they’re really uncomfortable and scary and irritating. If you throw them to the side repeatedly, then over time they build up and weigh you down; fear, resentment, insecurity, sadness. The author talks about taking time to process events and with a great deal of kindness. Perhaps it sounds silly, but I think it is doing so in the same way that you would listen to and comfort a friend when they are wrestling with something big. And I suspect if you do it well, then problems don’t balloon.
One obvious emotion I’m tackling is fear of death. Fear of my own, fear of losing my parents. Bebe and Will’s fabulous preschool Lone Mountain taught segments on sex and death when they were 4. That will sound nuts to some of you, but I thought it was fantastic because I think American culture is typically so awkward around these 2 huge parts of life. We’re prudes about sex, and we are terrified of the one certainty in life….death. How fabulous to take these in stride at age 4 so that instead of being wrapped in fear and blushing these topics can be discussed openly over time. At various points over the last 5 years I have been asked “does the man have to be taller than the woman for it to work? If you have sex for 20 minutes or 20 days do you get more babies? Isn’t it illegal to have a baby before you are married and have a job?” And I have learned to answer without laughing so that they will keep talking to me. I want them to love and take care of their bodies, enjoy sex, and respect themselves and others. Per death, Bebe has informed me that she has lived many lives. In fact on the plane today she told me that she is infinity and she has spent time in Hawaii, Italy, and all well before my time. Death makes them sad, but it is something that they will talk about. So if we go back to the concept of sitting with a difficult emotion, my current project is to spend time when that fear strikes in the pit of my stomach to literally sit down and wrap my arms and head around the fear of death until I feel calm. It doesn’t mean it goes away, but by not ignoring it, not pushing it away, it becomes less daunting. Sometimes it is about just breathing. Sometimes it is about preparing. None of us knows how long we have. Clearly since I have something eating me, the odds are not in my favor, BUT who knows? Maybe this next medicine will be a cure. Maybe we’ll find enough meds that this will be a chronic disease. Maybe I get 3 years. Maybe I get 30 or more. But when I was freaking out the other day and letting my head spin into the negative world of what if, I decided to come up with a different what if to stop my head……instead of all the horrific possibilities of this disease, well what if I write a platinum song and live for 30 years? Ha!!
A dear friend who has valiantly lived with a brain tumor told me that she doesn’t fear death because she has no regrets. I’m working toward that, but I will admit for me the fear stems in part from the possibility of not being around to raise our kids and watch them grow up. I just can’t fathom that. But I think that somehow I’m in a more peaceful place because I’m not crying as write this, at least not today. Yet That is my greatest fear, because I think they are the most fantastic little humans! And I want to be here to answer their questions and cheer them on. I want to be around because I love life, I love experiencing the world and relationships, constantly learning; because there is so much to do, so much to give back. I will keep sitting with the fear until it doesn’t scare me, and in the meantime I will savor each day and live with as much joy as possible.
Self Compassion also makes me want to write about……Ageing
I think we have a severe problem with ageism in the US. I will be so grateful for every year I get. Of course it is hard to watch wrinkles emerging, but who gives a shit? I love my scars (and I now have lots of big ones from babies, ovaries, boobs, spine, klutziness) which I view as badges of honor, and through Bebe’s eyes and cancer I love my wrinkles too. She tells me that I have happy wrinkles from smiling so much in my life. And let’s step back a bit to look at this. In many cultures and countries age and elders are revered. Experience is valued. People age gracefully because they embrace each age rather than resisting it. As someone who would kill for each additional birthday, I find it absurd that women lie about their age. Why is it something to be embarrassed about? And do you really want to be with the person who makes you feel like you need to change yourself? How about the former society beauties who have distorted their faces beyond recognition with each addictive facial surgery? For the very few natural looking successes, there are too many where the plastic surgeons should be sued. What strikes me most often is that the women do not look younger. They just look weird. Do their husbands desire them more after that? Or other men? This seems way out of whack. Instead of celebrating the accomplishments of age, society tells us we have to stay young looking forever. Or starve yourself to look like airbrushed models. Fuck that. Eating is enjoyable and frankly if you eat good whole foods in moderation, drink a little less, and work out you will be at a good balanced weight. I found that if I tried to diet I would just eat twice as much. And when I wasn’t handling stress well I would use crappy food to fill a void or soothe myself. When I gave myself a break and the permission to have whatever, I finally found some balance. One regret I have is all the time wasted on worrying about weight and all the mess around that. I could have learned a new language in that time! I would go back and ban “I’m fat” from my vocabulary. What really matters is health not vanity; strength and endurance so that you can climb every mountain physically and emotionally. I’m a big fan of making the most of what you have. Eat well, stay fit, stay engaged, dress well, express yourself! I love make up. I love a little dry bar session. I Love clothes. Despite cancer and all my crazy surgeries, and some wrinkles, I feel sexier at 42 than I did in my 20s because I know who I am. (And for those of us lucky to make it to 80 we will look at pictures from our 40s and think we looked like Cindy Crawford) I’m not saying it is easy to accept the changes, and yes it blows that your body starts falling apart, but we need more Meryl Streeps and my mom! Elegant, classy, fabulous women who own their age. One of my favorite role models is my dad’s godmother Marje Joost. She is 92 and rocking it. She has friends of all ages. She works out. She eats a lot of vegetables, but she loves a bowl of rich coffee ice cream and a well made martini. She is trim and chic and fabulous. She has loads of wrinkles and they look great. She has a cool haircut with subtle color that highlights her beauty and makes her ageless rather than “young”. She always tells me that her spirit is 25. And it is. But she doesn’t try to look 25. She lives joyfully and might make it to 100 like her mom.
My mom is as elegant as ever at 68, perhaps even more so than in her younger years. She eats everything in moderation, walks everyday, lifts and stretches consistently, takes care of her skin, and dresses immaculately. Her grays light her face as she got lucky with elegant salt and pepper. And when she stands next to people who have had “work done”, well she looks the best.
You can inject and pull and tighten and color and “perfect”, but you will still get older and it will not fix your head. And if you are with people who make you feel like that is the only way you are valued, then perhaps that deserves some careful thought. If you do it and it is truly just for you and it makes you happy then cheers to that, but I don’t know if I buy it. But maybe you will have the last laugh while I get wrinkled beyond recognition 😊.
I’m sure a lot of people will shake their heads or throw mud at me for writing this, but cancer has made me more strident on the subject. Let’s at least question what we model for our beautiful little girls.