Sharing the bad news – My Messy Beautiful

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And so it was, that mid-November diagnosis of breast cancer.

The numbness. The terror. The oh-fuck-what-do-I-tell-my-girls?

Because at 10 and 13, they didn’t deserve to have their world rocked. And it certainly wasn’t in a good rock-it-out kind of way.

You see, in the beginning, it was me, and then it was We.

We, first formed when the soulful 9-month old was placed in my arms in a hotel in the south of China. And then we became we squared, I thought, when in the capital of China’s zestiest province, an equally-beautiful 8-month old was handed to me.

Through the years, then, we became We Three.

Almost 13 years after first becoming a family, it became my responsibility to share the breast cancer news. To my thinking, it meant shaking the foundation on which my family was built.

When you have to share bad news with those you love most – and they happen to be kids – just what is there to do?

I considered them above all and armed myself with information, the kind that a kid could understand. No Internet stories. Facts. Age-appropriate ones. And although I may have felt in a tailspin, this was about them. It decidedly was not. about. me. Not one bit.

Them, their thoughts, their feelings, their world.

Of course I reluctantly was on the mainstage, but it wasn’t their role to be supporting players. Quite the contrary; it was my job to support them. Just like always. Nothing had changed in that regard. No cancer diagnosis was going to get in the way.

And so I took a deep breath and did the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than burying grandparents. Harder by far than arguing a case before a jury. Harder than delivering a eulogy. Harder even than saying goodbye to a long-ago marriage.

Deep breath hard, I tell you.

It made me empathize with those who choose to not tell. Because the brutality (really, the plain horror) of being their only parent and having to say those words to each of my girls took my breath away. In some ways I was waiting for an earth tremble, a storm, biting hail – something, anything.

Weren’t the heavens heaving as much as my chest?

And yet, we got through it. Each handled it in her own way.

There were some tears.

There were questions, even curiosity (complete with diagrams) at what the surgery would entail.

They accepted this piece of news that had so terrified me to share. They understood the treatment plan that I explained. They acknowledged that it would be a bump in the road of our family, and yet, we remained We Three.

Through it all, even on the crappy days of recovery and especially on the You-Are-Cured! day, my girls and I, we were – we are - We Three.

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I’m delighted to be participating in the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, click here.

And for more about Momastery and Glennon Melton’s memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here. It’s inspiration personified; you won’t be disappointed. I promise.

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All it takes is a phrase.

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Unwrap me. Unwrap you.

“You must see that all beings are just beings. . . and that all the wrappings of personality and role and body are the coverings. Your attachments are only to the coverings, and as long as you are attached to someone else’s covering you are stuck, and you keep them stuck, in that attachment.” -Ram Dass, Be Here Now

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I have a love/hate relationship with Ram Dass. I love to read his words.

They’re so profound, yet often so perplexing.

And when I do, he makes me think. And think. And feel. And think some more. And, yes, feel some more.

This passage, particularly, bore into me. It made me think about all the attachments to all the people I’ve had in my life. And, more precisely, exactly what was I attached to?

Each was [and is] meant to be a lesson.

“Only when you can see the essence, can see God, in each human being do you free yourself and those about you. It’s hard work when you have spent years building a fixed model of who someone else is to abandon it, but until that model is superseded by a compassionate model, you are still stuck.”

So, then, every connection is meant to be. And every single one teaches us. Some are sweet, and others, unbearably difficult.

And the lesson, I guess, is once the coverings are removed piece by piece, we can see more clearly what it is we’re meant to know.

All of it.

Without being attached to the trappings, even – perhaps, especially – the painful pieces make sense as part of our soul-to-soul contract.

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Hearing and listening. To it all.

“You can listen to what people say, sure. But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.” -Seth Godin

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What happens when someone says one thing, but their actions suggest something else?

What do we do?

Believe the words?

Resort to that old “actions speak louder than…”?

Write them off?

Maybe it’s a comfortable combination of approaches. Perhaps it calls for being mindful – cautious even – as the scene develops.

And maybe, just maybe, along with that caution comes at least some openness, to what there is to be heard and, especially, to be seen.

With eyes wide open.

 

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Those special March madness memories.

Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.  - Jimmy Valvano

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I actually remember this speech. It was 1993, more than 20 years ago. I was a Syracuse alum and loved Orange basketball so for sure I knew of NC State basketball and Coach V.

He was an icon.

He also was a crazy, sometimes-absurd, ridiculously passionate, Italian dude who coached with a heck of a lot of heart. Yes, there was scandal. Those details matter, of course, but they didn’t define him in my view.

At the time he delivered this passage as part of his speech at an ESPN awards ceremony, he had about 2 months to live.

His words ring true whether it’s cancer or another life-changing challenge. Really, when you think about it, you can change the word “cancer” to divorce, death, a job change, retirement, or almost any other hurdle.

The trick, then, is to remember that the hurdle cannot touch your heart. It cannot touch your soul. Easier said than done, I know.

But true nonetheless.

In fact, sometimes it’s exactly those hurdles that expand your heart.

And that make your soul sing.

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Protecting our kids from inappropriate State assessments.

Common Core is about churning out students as test takers, not inquisitive students excited about learning.                                                -Congressman Chris Collins, R-NY 

IMG_3605Across New York State there’s a movement afoot by parents who’ve found themselves disenfranchised and dismissed. It centers around the State’s insistence on high-stakes testing for children in elementary and middle schools.

Last year, for example, the State wholesale revised the math and English language arts assessments causing a disproportionate number of students across the State essentially to fail the test by not meeting a threshold arbitrarily deemed set the State.

Although the State Education Department couches its decisions in terms of “resetting the bar” and “insisting on rigor,” what it’s done is discouraged children from learning and tacitly threatened educators who must follow the rules. Or else.

What they perhaps didn’t count on were the thousands of parents who’ve now said they’ve had enough. Their children are too important to be experiments at the hands of out-of-touch policy makers.

Those parents, as the ultimate decision-makers in their children’s educations, have refused to allow their children to take the State assessments. State and local school districts are required to comply with parents’ wishes. The districts have flexibility in a particularly troublesome way, however. They can – if they wish – require the children to simply sit and stare during the duration of the tests, which typically are administered over the course of six mornings (or, in grades 4 and 8, over eight!).  These aren’t 20-minute tests by the way; they’re usually 90 minutes per day.

What’s particularly disturbing is how much teaching time is devoted to learning how to take the assessments. And, yes, I know the explanation that learning how to be a test-taker, and reinforcing content, can be applied in other circumstances.

But give me a break. I can think of tens if not hundreds of more robust lessons that could be taught during this (wasted) time.

And another thing: these assessments don’t inform instruction. Neither parents nor teachers are provided with the test-taker’s answers which, at least theoretically, might be able to identify particular areas of need. That is, if the assessments were developmentally appropriate in the first place, which they’re not.

Now’s the time to act if you want your child to be free from the burden of taking these useless tests. Send an email to your school principal advising him or her that you’re refusing to allow your child to take the State assessments. Invite your principal to implement an educationally-sound alternative for the children who have refused, such as quietly reading in the school library.

Our children deserve better than those who currently are setting policy at the New York State Education Department. They deserve much better.

For more resources on refusing the assessments, visit NYS Allies for Public Education and take a peek at this terrific video.

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Eyes cast downward.

Accept the body you’re in right now. Not yesterday, not 10 years ago, the body you have in this very moment. It is the greatest, most important instrument you have to experience in life. Love it and use it in every you-supporting way possible.                                       -Tanya Lee Markul

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understand. Truly, I do.

Eyes cast downward, for just a second. Then back up again to meet my gaze.

When you learn I’ve removed both my breasts because of cancer, sometimes you can’t help but look.

I understand. Really. I’ve been where you are before.

Especially in this middle space, after mastectomy and before reconstruction.

I don’t have breasts. Holy shitballs, I said that out loud.

There’s an odd sort of space – there’s that word again – where they used to be.  Pretty much a nothingness. I’ve become okay with that, mostly.

One of my lessons is to be – really be – in this body right now.

It will change in a couple months, again. But I don’t want to wait for then to be okay. I want to be okay now.

Now.

And though I’ve mostly come to terms with this changed-body-of-mine, it’s still a bit of a heart jolt when your eyes cast downward. But please don’t let that stop you.

My heart jolt can co-exist with your natural curiosity, because my heart knows that your curiosity comes from a place of love, of caring for me.

All of me.

Photo credit: Nancy Lennon

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Coming home.

“Take this sinking boat and point it home. We’ve still got time.”       – Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

Don’t miracles happen every day? I believe they do.

Some are the giant ones. We gasp. Shake our heads. They renew faith that, in truth, was there all along.

They’re the Big Ones.

And then there are the everyday sort.

Like purple-headed crocuses finally emerging.

Or a pink sunset.

Twirling on the beach.

A gate agent named Gidget.

Small, tiny, ordinary miracles. Moments, really.

Moments of coming home.

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The melody is playing.

“The readiness is all.”
-Hamlet

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Sometimes the things you’re pondering – and the path you’re walking – intersect.

They don’t collide. It’s more welcoming than that.

Instead it’s like a favorite recipe with the freshest, most beautiful ingredients.

The ingredients combine, tumbling gently over each other, finding their synergy. Together, they create something different, something more.

They reinforce each other, helping the other to bloom with flavor, with freshness.

With nourishment.

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The breaking of a -2 degree dawn.

Know that your fears, too, will come and go. Let them pass over you and through you. Then, turn your vision within, and you will see the truth: Only you will remain. -Barbara DeAngelis

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I pulled a card. It was the Six of Swords. It made me very, very happy.

It may be winter all around us. And it may feel like it never wants to end.

But spring is waiting in the wings, just around the corner, promising a new season.

Leaving fear behind.

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