As a family physician, I meet far too many people who have cancer. Thankfully, I have met a great many survivors too. I met one such woman while doing a home visit for Medicare up in Laconia, New Hampshire. Rosy and buoyant, Shirley Stokes is an inspiration not only because she is a survivor of breast cancer herself but because she supports other women who face similar challenges.
Breast cancer is all too common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women regardless of race. Odds are you know or will know someone who has to fight breast cancer, a woman who has struggled through treatments to stave off the disease, someone like Shirley Stokes.
Whether we talk about lumpectomies, mastectomies, or radiation, many treatments leave behind scar tissue and deformities over the chest wall. Many women will choose to get breast reconstruction surgery while others will defer to breast prostheses. Some will choose neither, opting to remain breast-free for life.
All of this can impact on a woman’s quality of life, whether through physical pain or emotional scars. Many women consider breasts to be part of their identity, part of their femininity. Some women may feel lost when that is taken from them. Breast cancer survivors need to know how special they are for who they are, that their breasts never defined them, that they define themselves.
Shirley Stokes knew that better than anyone.
This is what drove Shirley Stokes to reach out with an idea, a wonderfully beautiful idea. It all started with the Forest Moon Foundation, a non-profit organization for cancer survivors. They had offered to make a free bust of her bust so to speak, a plastering of the torso, that she could keep as a memento of her body before surgery. A way to honor her past.
That got the wheels turning in Ms. Stokes’ head and before you knew it, she was on a mission. She got 50 women with breast cancer plastered and 50 torsos were painted by an array of local artists. The bedazzled torsos went up for auction with all proceeds benefiting people with breast cancer in need of oncology care at Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, New Hampshire.
Ms. Stokes found inspiration in her own personal experience and supported others through a difficult time in their lives. She used it to help people with breast cancer fight their disease and to help them pay for expenses that often get left on the table. Insurance never pays for travel to and from the hospital!
The work speaks for itself — bold, daring, and vibrant. Shirley Stokes stood up to cancer and made a difference in the lives of women in her community. She shows that everybody and every body is beautiful, no matter what changes life throws our way. Thank you, Shirley, for the reminder to honor not only our past but to strive for a better future.
I am embarrassed to admit it but I have a hard time saying no.
“Can you cook something up for the school bake sale?” Sure.
“Can you put in some extra hours after work?” Ummm, okay.
“Can you flip over backward and walk up the stairs while doing a handstand?” Well, maybe not but I can try.
Saying yes is an answer in the affirmative, and if an affirmation is “positive”, it MUST be a good thing, right?!
In the film Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a bachelor bank loan officer passed over for a promotion with no prospects for the future. After he attends a seminar, a self-help guru challenges Carl to say “yes” to everything in his life. Of course, with Jim Carrey as a vehicle, the movie gets out of hand rather quickly. Saying yes to every spam e-mail or giving money to anyone who asks for it may not always be the best idea.
All the same, Carl’s life starts to change. Saying yes, despite the mischief and mayhem it causes, gives him the emotional freedom to take risks. Before long, Carl no longer sees himself as a single loser. He becomes a promoted professional with a beautiful, if quirky, girlfriend on his arm. Saying yes offered him the adventure of a lifetime.
Yes Man is nothing new. The Law of Attraction, for years, has told us that you get in this world what you put into it. Say yes more and the universe will say yes back to you.
What could go wrong?
If the Law of Attraction worked every time, I would be retired in Tahiti by now, writing novels on a sandy beach and donating the proceeds of those best-sellers to charities around the world.
Ah, always dream the dream!
The problem in my life is not saying yes. I say yes plenty, more than plenty, and maybe too much. My problem is I hesitate to say no, and I know I am not alone. The pressure to say yes is all around us.
Some people find it hard to say no because they do not want to disappoint other people. That’s me! Maybe there is an altruism gene that pushes us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. Maybe it coincides with a motherhood gene. I know that being a mom makes me do things for my children I would never do for anyone else.
The real questions to ask yourself are:
Saying yes to some things may close doors for other opportunities. Saying no, in some cases, may open up those doors. Simply put, if saying yes is not going to make YOU happy, if it is not going to fulfill YOU, you are really just saying no to yourself.
The truth is that living a good life is not about saying yes or no to things. In the real world, for your own sanity, you need to be open to both. The trick is to understand why you reply the way you do.
Not everyone is honest with themselves. Some say yes or no automatically, taking the path of least resistance instead of accepting a challenge.
When I read Shonda Rhimes‘ The Year of Yes, I was inspired to take action. Sure, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy had opportunities at her doorstep that are simply not going to make an appearance for most of us. To say yes on the scale of Shonda would be a momentous occasion –delivering the commencement address at Dartmouth College or being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. But you can start to say yes to the little things and work your way up if you want to.
The trick is that, unlike Carl Allen, Shonda wasn’t blindly saying yes to everything. She took the year to look within herself to find out why she found herself saying no to so many things in her life. It turned out that her “no” often came from a place of fear. It was easier to fall into her comfort zone than to take uncomfortable risks, even if the reward was great. When she pushed herself to look past the fear, when she looked at the big picture, saying yes to certain things enriched her life.
You can do the same.
Saying no to things is okay. You do not need permission to say no. You do not need to explain yourself. You only have to know that it is right for you. Saying no because you are afraid, however, is denying yourself the life that you deserve. The best affirmation you can give yourself is to open yourself to positive change.
Handstands on the stairs?
I am going to have to say no on that one.
There is a fabulous montage in Bridget Jones’s Diary where Bridget gets so frustrated by the men in her life that she runs off to the gym to cycle off some pounds. She pumps and goes pedal to the metal, sweating up a storm and giving it EVERYTHING she’s got. Of course, this has her falling over herself in exhaustion by the end of the workout. Literally, she lands flat on her face next to the bike.
The lesson: You cannot expect to do it all at one time.
It is easy to bite off more than you can chew and that is what I may have done with my New Year resolutions. I took on three challenges at a time in my life where there are a lot of other things going on. For one, I started a new job this month. Adding three more goals onto a major life change like that can make it hard to keep up.
Honestly, it feels like my head is spinning from my own symbolic bike ride.
That is not to say that I didn’t have a good month. It was a tough one but I have come a long way!
Too many people tend to judge themselves when they fall behind rather than giving themselves credit for all they accomplish. I know better than anyone because I am usually the leader of that brigade. To make positive changes, though, you have to think positive. It is time for me to step outside of my comfort zone and give myself a pat on the back.
It is counterintuitive to everything I know!
Like Bridget, I usually jump in with guns blazing and wind up pushing myself to exhaustion. I feel like a failure when I do not reach my goals as if I have let down not only myself but anyone who has ever supported me. That kind of negative self-talk has to end here and now. I need to learn to thrive on momentum and remember that while I may shoot for the stars, I can appreciate the beauty of the sky on the way up.
What lit up my January sky?
For one, exercise is back in my life. I was in an automobile accident in November and my return to exercise has been slow these past months. Something about an airbag pounding bruises into your chest makes it hard to get a full breath of air into your lungs. This month, I started walking for exercise again, and it has been great! I graduated to an elliptical machine for a few days and even jogged a few minutes on the roads before snowy New England took over. I am feeling more like myself every day.
As for my cooking aspirations, I am not going to sign up for Master Chef anytime soon, but I did a bit of exploring this month. I cooked up a cauliflower pork “fried rice”, a tasty cabbage soup, and rolled up some cheesy cauliflower tots with the kids. None of these meals were pretty to look at (no pictures, folks!) but all recipes I would try again, maybe with some tweaks the next time around. The best part was that I encouraged healthy eating for my family.
That said, I did fall behind in my writing. The goal was to write 1,500 words per week so that I could maybe have a full book ready to publish by the end of the year. My attentions were just directed elsewhere during all the chaos of the new year and a new job.
I still wrote, don’t get me wrong. I wrote lots. I wrote Medicare articles for Verywell. I wrote medical content for Diagnosis Life. I continue to write personal blog posts here (one of my passions!). All of these writings hold a special place in my heart, but I still need to make room for my dream.
I am giving myself that pat on the back for all I have done so far, but I am making some adjustments for the next stage. I am giving myself a 5,000 word-count goal for February (slightly less than my original goal) and directing all those words towards a book project. And yes, those other resolutions will keep right on going.
It is time to get back on that bike and go pedal to the metal again.
I am not going to fall off this time.
I have a problem with waiting. Not because I have to do it (sometimes a girl’s got to do what girl’s got to do) but because I do it even when I don’t need to.
As I write this, I am at an airport, surrounded by wait at every turn. It starts at the self-kiosks where you print out your tickets, then moves to the wrap-around lines at the TSA checkpoint where your shoes magically become weapons of mass destruction.
When the airline opens the plane for boarding, look out! Lines three, four, even five-people deep will form out of nowhere as people try to cram their way ahead of each other, conveniently forgetting that they have nothing to worry about because they have an assigned seat waiting for them. Instead, common decency is lost by people who somehow believe their acts of frustration, the pushing and shoving, will somehow propel the plane to their destination faster.
The trouble is whether we are at an airport or living our everyday lives at home, we are either in rush, rush, rush mode or we are waiting.
No one likes to be a waiter.
Taxes, term papers, work projects. I can’t think of anyone who gets the warm tingles about any of these things. Why? Because no one loves a deadline.
The word itself says it all. A line in the sand is drawn and you choose whether to meet it or to fall dead flat on your face when you don’t.
Faced with that sort of pressure, most anyone would get anxious, at least uncomfortable. This is where procrastination can be a beautiful thing. After all, why worry over a long period of time when you could worry in half that?
Of course, there is good and bad to being a procrastinator. By giving yourself so little time, you do not get a chance to really review or edit your work. Is your work worse for the wear, less accurate or thoughtful? Then again, you may feel that working at the last minute gives you the focus and energy you need to get the job done. Is your work actually better, more spontaneous and creative?
Procrastinators thrive on the fight-or-flight response, an adrenaline boost that kicks in as those targets draw closer and closer. It is our inner caveman reaction to fear, our instinct for survival in a time of stress. It is natural for us to avoid what we don’t like or to run from failure. But is it healthy to condition ourselves to deal with our problems by causing even more stress?
These days I procrastinate far too often but really only when it comes to doing things for myself.
Sorry, dear novel. Can you ever forgive me?
People who save-it-for-later are waiters with a whole other agenda in play. They are not about fight-or-flight at all. In fact, for them, it is quite the opposite.
They focus not on avoidance and fear but on hope and glory. They save things to use at a later time, hoping it will serve a purpose or fill a need. They are all about preparing for a golden opportunity.
Unfortunately, those golden opportunities do not always come our way.
Take the killer little black dress I bought years back, my tribute to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had the opportunity to wear it to a reunion, but I held off because I was afraid, so I told myself, that I would be overdressed. It turned out it would have been perfect and heads would have turned all night long. Okay, I hope maybe at least one head would have turned at least once. The big question is why did I hold out thinking I would have another chance to wear it? Why did I deny myself the fun of it? Did I somehow feel I was not worthy of that spotlight?
Let’s not even talk about my stash of writer’s notebooks. To see my library, you would think I buy these bad boys by the bushel. I pick them out with loving care, choosing inspiring covers and reveling in the possibilities of the blank page. But these notebooks sit in my bookcase collecting dust. I save them for later because I do not want to ruin them. Instead, they sit there empty, waiting for the “perfect” words. Those words will never come if I do not give myself the go-ahead to write them.
I am too busy procrastinating.
Oh, dear novel. Do you see my dilemma?
Whether we are at the airport or even the doctor’s office, we all have to wait some time but we can choose to wait on our own terms.
The procrastinator defers what they fear while the save-it-for-later hopes for a better opportunity. The procrastinator distracts from what they don’t want while the save-it-for-later plans for what they do want. The procrastinator lives for the now while the save-it-for-later lives for the future.
I am both a procrastinator and a save-it-for-later, and I am sure you are too. No one lives in a black and white world. The trick is to ask ourselves why we wait? What are we afraid of? What are we hoping for? Why wait at all when we can reach our goals and dreams right this minute?
Come to think of it, after my plane lands, I am going to put an end to the waiting. I am going to drive home, slip on that little black dress, grab a notebook, and start filling those blank pages.
I have a long-awaited date with a novel.
But first, I have to wait for the pilot to bring me back down to Earth.
2016 was not kind to the entertainment world. We lost many of our beloved artists to the pearly gates. Musicians David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince. Actors Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Alan Rickman. Authors Richard Adams, Umberto Eco, and Harper Lee.
The loss of George Michael, for me, was instant heartbreak. I still remember the first time I danced to the Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go video while getting ready for school in the fourth grade. There was Faith in junior high, Praying for Time in high school, and Older in college. In 2008, I had the honor to see him perform with gut-wrenching emotion during his 25 Live Tour. The voice, the artistry, the charitable heart. For me, George Michael sang the soundtrack of my life.
Whether these artists succumbed to addiction, illness, or old age, they flooded our lives with memories. We reminisce about the joy they brought us through their work or find inspiration in their life stories.
It can be hard to say goodbye.
It is no wonder we look to hold onto their art as long as we can. Music sales skyrocket. Movies play on small and large screens. Books fly off the shelves. We honor their memory as if we were blessed with their work for the first time.
I already owned all of George Michael’s albums, had his songs in my favorite playlists, and blared a Freedom ’90 ringtone with every call for the past eight years. Still, I hopped on the “I-want-more” bandwagon too. I started watching many of George’s live performances. What a performer!
Then I thought to myself, why haven’t I seen some of these videos before? More to the point, why do any of us wait to seek out the good? Instead, we wait until these artists pass away before we appreciate what they really have to offer. Like too many things in life, we take them for granted. We expect them to be there for us when we need them.
For that matter, what about the people in our own lives, the people who touch us every day? I started to think about family members and friends, how proud I am of their accomplishments. I recalled so many of the patients I have met, their stories of survival and perseverance. Let me not forget the teachers and religious figures, the police and firemen, the waitresses and cooks, the small business owners, even the random guy who let me drive through the intersection first.
There is so much good around us amid the craziness of a world that thrives on negative headlines. I choose to focus on that goodness.
The word obituary literally means a notice of death. The traditional obituary highlights the accomplishments in a person’s life. It is a way to honor a legacy. On the other extreme, we make birth announcements because who doesn’t love to ooh and aah at the sweetness of tiny hands and feet? The joy of new life inspires us with hope.
In these ways, we celebrate the beginning and end of life, but what happens to life in the middle? After all, this is when we really live!
We celebrate holidays and birthdays, but there is more to celebrate in life than a handful of days each year. For that reason, I am taking action. I am inventing my own life announcement, a live-it-uary! Once a month, I will highlight the life of someone I know, someone I have met, or someone I hope to meet.
People deserve to be appreciated in the now. This is when it matters most. Let us learn to celebrate every moment.