As an athlete, I was led to believe in order to achieve you had to experience pain. Not the broken leg type of pain, but the internal exhaustion when you’ve pushed yourself to your absolute limits – physically and mentally. A place where grit overtakes the will to give up. A time to intentionally break myself down so that I could be built back up. Yes, pain was a friend sought out as a hallmark of progress. No pain, no gain.
As an adult, with my athletic days far behind me, pain is not something to be achieved, but rather to be relieved. My aging body sounds off, retaliating for years of athletic overuse, leaving me to now wonder if the price of greatness in youth means payment in doses of pain in adulthood. The repetitive nature of high caliber sports – particularly swimming and volleyball, have left behind hallmarks of arthritis and degeneration. A January snow shoveling “twitch” triggered my avalanche of problems. The bottom line is pain and once you are held in its tailspin, getting out consumes your thoughts. Believe me, I’ve spent many months trying to reduce my back pain: Rest, ice, heat, physical therapy, oral steroids, lumbar injection, CBD oil, and even dietary restrictions to work on inflammation from the inside out. But I’m still left with pain that refuses to cease. Disabling pain that prevents me from climbing mountains, hiking, standing and walking any distance – all activities that have both restored me and defined me for decades.
“Pain is like a song you can’t stand on continuous replay, drowning out the melody of your favorite tune. And worse yet, you simply can’t figure out how to change the channel.”
I now better understand those of you who live in pain every day. I empathize with you and know what it means to have good days and bad days. Depression envelopes me while looking back at what I could do just one year ago as I stew in what I can’t do today. Then I am buoyed up while counting the many blessings of family and friends, of a beautiful home, garden and front porch to write this blog. Yes, pain plays mind tricks and tests you constantly. I get it now, some 8 months later. Pain is both a reminder that we are alive and a warning flare that something is wrong.
This message is intended for those of you struggling with your own pain – be it physical or mental – the type that rarely gets relief , that gnaws at you daily, hourly. I get it now. Sure, I’ve been through many bouts of pain after childbirth, surgeries and injuries. But they were temporary, not a constant drumbeat that refuses to be silenced. Pain is like a song you can’t stand on continuous replay, drowning out the melody of your favorite tune. And worse yet, you simply can’t figure out how to change the channel.
So what do you do when pain is winning and you don’t know what to do? Get help. So I’m putting my trust in a surgeon to fix my back. Little does he truly understand the importance of recovery for me as a person. How can he? I’m just another back, another surgery, another fix. The potential for his skilled hands to transform my pain into living life fully again is palpable. Counting down the days, I am actually looking forward to feeling the pain of surgery as that intentional infliction means the possibility of resuming life as it was. Life without pain that I took for granted. So many times I’ve put my trust in a talented doctor to fix my broken body and have been healed. It’s time to do so again as options are all but exhausted.
Trust. Pain. Gain. It’s all a part of living. To those of you still in pain, whatever it is, seek help. Explore your options. Try everything for your one body and one precious life. For now I understand, first hand, that living in pain is not fully living; it is time to get back to the business of living.
As an avid gardener, I know a key to yard work is to regularly schedule my time to maintain gardens. Planting and harvesting get much of the attention, however a hidden secret to a successful harvest lies in weeding. Yes, weeding is cruicial, not just for the look, but because pesky weeds steal away nutrients and water from the good things we are intentionally growing. Weeds are manageable if you pull them at frequent intervals. Tweny minutes a week is not too bad once you have a yard under control. But if you are gone for a month and come home after a rainy and hot June, guess what greets you? A forest full of happy weeds. You can either let them grow and lose control or get to work.
Just like our gardens, we need to stay on top of things that creep, unwanted, into our lives. That means doing regular maintenance of things we may not want to do or pruning back parts of our lives that have gotten out of control. Once you begin working on your personal gardening, you’ll realize the benefits to all parts of your life.
How do we start weeding out? First, you have to be ready (emotionally and physically) to get weeding. Second, identify the weeds in your life and prioritize them. Third, grab your gloves and get weeding!
So what do you weed out first? Is it bad habits? Friends who wear you down more than bring you up? A cluttered house? Toxic relationships (personal or professional)? An unhealthy work environment? Whatever it is, you are your own master gardener, so own your gardens and get to work. All you need is a pair of nice fitting gloves (in case you run into particularly prickly weeds) a bit of time and the right mindset.
In the spirit of personal gardening, I’ve taken this last year off from paid work, focusing on a personal sabbatical to do my own weeding. And the benefits have been many. A year of trying new things, cleaning out the house #mariekondo style, painting, gardening, traveling, sharing 69 cups of coffee with the community, spending time with friends and family, reading and writing. Yes, lots of me time. And it has been such a gift. And now I’m ready for the next big thing in my professional life because I did the weeding I needed to do. For me. I encourage you to do the same, whatever that looks like for you in your life at this moment.
Are you motivated to start your own personal garden weeding? Here’s a weeding exercise if you are ready to get to work. Answer these three questions (really, get a paper and pencil), then prioritize your lists.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my personal life that need attention? (Think physical and mental health, friendships, life surroundings – home/garden, and groups I associate with or volunteer for regularly). These are things in my life that suck out my energy or invade my time, leaving me too busy to focus on things I really want to do or be someone I’d really like to be.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my professional life that I am in control of pulling? Work is never perfect. Even if you work for yourself. So what parts can you weed out or delegate to make time and space for the things you are really good at and love to do?
If I could weed out things in my life, what would I like to do with new found time and energy?
So what did you learn about yourself? Your “home” self versus your “work” self? Is it time to start plucking the weeds or should you grab the pruning shears? What is holding you back? The weeds are only getting thicker and sucking away the nutrients you need to live a happy and healthy life. Remember, you are the master gardener of your life. Whatever weeds have crept into your life, you only have to open your eyes to see them, squat down and start pulling. Even if it is a field of weeds, you start by pulling the first one. With each weed pulled, you will gain satisfaction and eventually, reclaim your garden.
Once your weeds are under control, you can look forward to spending more time at your happy place doing things you really want to do. For me, it is sitting on my front porch with feet up, favorite beverage on hand and hours ahead with no set schedule. I hear the birds singing, the lawn mowers humming, the softball girls in the park cheering, have books to read, a journal to fill and a blog to publish. Here’s wishing your garden gets free of weeds soon.
10 Ways to Improve Your Health and to Minimize Your Risk for (Breast) Cancer
Throughout the past decade, I’ve tracked the latest research on behalf of DCIS MyStory and Breast Cancer MyStory. This post summarizes health risk factors into “The Ten.” These are personal choices – actions – to stay/get healthy and to minimize your risk for disease, especially breast cancer. Though there are other factors, like your family history you cannot change, there are ten lifestyle choices you CAN control. Invest in your future by reading this post, then making the changes you need to live your best life. The Ten is an inventory for living a healthy lifestyle, period – not just regarding breast cancer. Skim it or read in detail and follow the links to be on your way to making more good choices in your life.
Note: Below is the summary
if you just want to scan the list and do a personal inventory. If you want more
information and research to back the recommendations, read the entire blog.
Yes, grab a cup of coffee, scratch paper and pencil and keep score of where you
need to get to work. You have only one life and your body is keeping score.
1.Make healthy food choices.
2.Obtain and maintain ideal
4.Avoid all tobacco
6.See your physician
regularly and follow recommended screenings.
8.Manage your stress levels.
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep
each night; avoid working nights.
Here are my reflections on The Ten with research and resource links as the base of my thoughts.
1.Make healthy food choices. What we put in our mouth fuels our body each hour of each day. Good stuff in, healthy body out. Junk in, problems out. Processed food, meats, snack foods, sugar, soda, artificial sweeteners, fast food and convenient foods we’ve introduced into our diet the past few decades catering to our lives of convenience are to blame. Our growing desire for easy and fast food preparation becomes the culprits of chaos when it comes to our food sources being the “good fuel” to stoke the human fire. Check out this article that backs me up on the benefits of eating healthy: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322268.php and this one too: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322550.php
2.Obtain and maintain ideal body weight. When we carry extra weight, we are just asking for
problems. Whether wearing out our
joints prematurely, eating ourselves into diabetes or fueling cancer cells, your
body weight matters. Use a BMI or
body mass index to guide you – your height and weight factor into a number
(preferably in the range of 18.5-24.9) that is the indicator you’ve got the
right weight on your type of body frame. Officially, body mass index
(BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult
men and women. Here’s the translation:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
My conclusion? Work with your health care
professionals to attain and maintain a BMI under 25. Yes, you CAN do it and it all starts in the grocery store
with your choices there and learning how to decode and order food when you eat
or order out.
3.Exercise regularly. Since the first two on the list have to do with food and weight, here is a way to keep your weight down and your physical strength, muscle mass, bone density and fitness up. You don’t have to be an athlete, but you do need to develop a regular routine to follow that works for you, your body, abilities and lifestyle. Always seek a doctor’s advice before starting any new program and join a class or get a workout buddy for motivation. As I’ve been a life-long athlete, exercising is not a problem for me, but rather when I have physical limitations and can’t workout, then the pounds (and my bad attitude) surface. Recent research reveals exercise increases well-being by improving gut health https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324193.php and more research from the Current Sports Medicine Reports here: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/FullText/2017/07000/Exercise_in_the_Prevention_and_Treatment_of_Breast.15.aspx. The bottom line is get moving and stay moving.
4.Avoid all tobacco products. I think we all know this is not healthy and creates
multiple problems from health to finances. Don’t start and if you have, seek help to stop. Too much research on this to pick just
one, however take it from the Surgeon General and stay away from tobacco
altogether. Research published in Breast Cancer Research from the Generations
Study cohort concludes: “Smoking was associated with a
modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among
women who started smoking at adolescent or peri-menarcheal ages. The relative
risk of breast cancer associated with smoking was greater for women with a
family history of the disease.”
More from that research found here: https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-017-0908-4
5.Avoid alcohol. Yes, you may talk yourself
out of this one, but enough research has shown that alcohol not only packs on
the pounds, but may also fuel disease. The solution? Don’t start drinking or quit if you have. I quit on 12-31-18 and haven’t looked
back. Here is my blog about quitting alcohol if you need reasons why or some
inspiration: https://breastcancermystory.org/resolute/. Do you need research to back this up? Though the final
verdict may still be out, we do know that alcohol causes inflammation and
contains high levels of sugar, both which should be avoided or limited for good
health. Here is more information from the research front: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324442.php
I guess I just like to crunch my calories now
more than drink them…
6.See your physician regularly and follow recommended
screenings. This will vary depending
on your gender and age. It starts with visiting your physician annually and
following through on recommended tests and screenings. If you don’t, you have nobody to blame
but yourself. Here is a background
doc from the American Cancer Society that may be helpful: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-screening-pdq
As new screening technologies come on the
market, they will help us diagnose and treat diseases earlier and more
7.Perform monthly self-exams. An
extension of visiting your physician, it is up to you to monitor your body and
report to your physician any changes you notice. Don’t rely on the Internet docs to diagnose yourself. Visit
the real MD’s who know you and your body. This seems logical, but it seems we
are either embarrassed or afraid (or both) to share changes in our bodies that are
uncomfortable (for us) to verbalize. Remember, your doctor has heard it all and
can only help you if they know what’s going on with your body. Here is information on breast self-exam
and awareness from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237
8.Manage your stress levels. This one is easier said than done. Sometimes we think we are managing stress – work, illness, death of a loved one, financial pressures, but they just manifest themselves in other ways – binge eating, deprivation, isolation, self harm, depression, twitches, declining health. Your body takes its cues from our mind and if you are on overload and not dealing with “it” in a healthy way (think yoga, physical exercise, meditation, talking to a professional or a friend, etc.) it will manifest itself in ways harder to deal with down the road. Think of stress as a dandelion in your lawn. It sprouts up and calls attention to itself as a nuisance. Once it appears you can either ignore it by mowing it down each week, spray it or dig it up. But if you dig it up, you MUST get all the roots, or the weed will pop up again and again. The same goes with stress. Here is research about stress using mouse models that shows that stress hormones can help breast cancer grow, spread and diversify, making it harder to treat: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324720.php
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; avoid working nights. You can
convince others you only need 6 hours of sleep, but your body needs time to
relax and recharge daily. Don’t
shortchange yourself, your family, your coworkers or friends by picking up the
slack by cutting down on your sleep.
Here’s more to convince you to head to bed earlier and rise earlier: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323571.php
10.Reduce environmental risks. (Pollution, lead, radon…) The environments we live,
work, eat and play in can and do affect our body. Pay attention to your
surroundings and minimize exposure to things like lead (think paint in an older
home and water in older pipes), toxins from yard chemicals, air pollution,
radon (especially important in older homes with basements) and even the
non-organic food we purchase at the grocery store. It seems a pain to wash our
melons and fruits, however the more our farmers have to battle Mother Nature,
the more our food needs to be questioned and prepared properly. Here is a
background document from the National Institute of Environmental Health
Smile, laugh, enjoy life and do the best you can to control what you can. This
blog was not meant to make you paranoid, but rather to share knowledge so you
can be more aware. Remember, you are the author of your life and are writing
your next chapter now. I am hopeful it is a very long novel and you have the
needed information to make the best choices you can in the pages ahead.
Since my last post in July the time has been filled with mixed blessings. Incredible highs and unbearable lows. Let’s start with the biggest high first as just thinking about it brings a smile to my face. In August, I became a grandmother to a beautiful grandson, Leo. Witnessing your son and daughter-in-law’s transformation into parenthood and meeting your first family legacy is beyond words. Many friends have tried to share their joy with me when they crossed the threshold into grandparenthood, but until you enter this era on your own, you just don’t quite understand. A new level of love overflows into your life and creates new room in your heart. I remember having our first child, wondering if I had room in my heart for new love. Being a grandparent is yet another depth of love. I’m looking forward to this new role and relationship and relish my new title.
This fall I was blessed with news of a work-related award – a Chicago Innovation “People’s Choice” Award for IN2, IMSA’s innovation center. More good news was the anticipation of an overseas speaking engagement at two STEM+ conferences in Taiwan in November. I was floating in a sea of blessings until the raft got a leak.
While preparing to receive the award, I received news that my dad had a minor fall at home. A trip to the ER to get checked out, then overnight in the hospital for observation was just “to be safe.” Something in my gut told me to hop a plane to be with him. I thought I’d be checking him out of the hospital and spending a quiet weekend with him at home. Instead, I arrived the next morning only to find my dad had experienced a larger stroke in the hospital and couldn’t speak well or swallow. The hospital stay triggered a downward spiral that spun out of control with each passing hour and day. Ten days later it was dad’s choice to go home for hospice. Our family surrounded him for a full week of love and support. And dad finally got to meet my grandson, his great grandson, Leo in person which gave me unspeakable joy and I was able to hear my dad tell my son and his wife, “You have a beautiful family.” Indeed dad, I am blessed.
Yes, dad was home. I sat with him for hours on end pouring through photo books, Christmas letters and reliving favorite memories. In his time, Dad passed on to his heavenly home on November 3, 2017 with family bedside. Death leaves the living with a hole in our hearts, sucks your energy and envelops you with a realization of mortality. It seemed dad, at 91, would be with us forever. I am forever thankful for the time we had.
It is only now, while preparing for his Memorial Service and sifting through photos and memories that I have started comprehending the blessings of having a loving father. This time also gives me pause to remember my incredible mother, Edwina, gone now some 34 years. And also the gift to dad and our family of being “lucky twice,” as my grandfather Frick put it, when dad met and married Ruta. Dad’s death has brought back much pain – the death of Ruta to the worst of diseases, ALS, the death of my father-in-law, Leo, of my sister-in-law, Nancy to lung cancer and of course my mom and both sets of grandparents. The heavenly choir is getting a new voice this Christmas, but my heart aches without him.
Even though death is part of life, it is such a hard pause. Death is the great realizer of what we have not anymore. I could wallow in what I have lost, but instead choose to celebrate what was and the many blessings dad bestowed on me and my family. So many gifts. So yes, I choose to live on and to find my smile once again. And to live with new purpose as the legacy of a great, wise man who made a difference in the lives of so many. I will remind my grandson to “be home when it’s dark in the trees” and that “nothing good ever happens after midnight” to preserve family wisdom. I steamed a figgy pudding and baked my mom’s shortbread, which brings back sweet memories with each bite. Loves lives on in these family recipes and traditions, which I intend to honor and preserve. Thank you to dad and to all my family who have been good and faithful servants. Your memories anchor me and remind me that we are put on earth to be Christ to one another, to help our neighbors and to give back.
In this time of family togetherness and holiday celebrations, take time to count the blessings in your life while they are right there in front of you. And make it a point to be a blessing to others as well. Be the gift. You will never regret giving your time and resources to make a difference in other people’s lives. Blessings in the New Year ahead for all of us. #merrychristmas2017 #happynewyear
I had an annual physical with my GP last week. The same old pee in a cup, take some blood, step on the scale, listen to your heart and lungs and analyze your poop. Somehow, these normal tests have made me feel like I am once again myself. It has been just over five years since I was diagnosed with DCIS and about four and one half years since my treatment ended. Now, about the only time I remember I have lived through “this” is when I get a glimpse of my reconstructed breast in the mirror while hopping out of the shower. If I look quick enough, it doesn’t even register in my brain that I am different. Heck, I have even unsubscribed to many of the breast cancer resources I once followed diligently.
But all this has taken time.
The time to heal, both physically and emotionally. And now I feel good and sound and whole once again. My GP proclaimed me “healthy as a horse” with unremarkable test results and low blood cholesterol (with the good stuff very good and bad stuff, very low). My weight is in the normal range and so is my BMI. I exercise regularly, sleep 7-8 hours a night and eat wisely. So, all in all I am quite normal and am relishing that thought. Before my diagnosis my normal state was taken for granted. Five years ago at this time, all I wanted to be was normal. Today I am glowing with this revelation that to be normal is to live. And I’m living in the moment and planning for the incredible future ahead. Weddings, grand openings, new gardens, traveling, and sharing life’s adventures with my biggest gift – my husband Steve.
My wish for you is that you too find and celebrate your normal. If you currently have it, don’t take it for granted. For those of you working your way back to normal, know that I am and others are cheering you on. Just remember to celebrate when you get there and be mindful of what a gift your normal truly is.
There are times in our lives when we simply have no words. A time just after receiving some shocking news or witnessing a life changing event that leaves us utterly speechless. A time when the brain seems to replay the imprinted tape over and over to make sure it was interpreted correctly. And when we open our eyes to the same reality, we are left with an empty and sick feeling. A feeling that makes you want to run right out of your own skin. But you can’t run because you are frozen in place, in time. A sickening realization then grips our being to adjust to this new reality as shock and denial set in. It can’t be, you think. But, by the look on the face of your (fill-in-the-blank + loved one, doctor, friend), this is the state of your new reality.
Perhaps you have been here or had to deliver impossible news to another. At some point in our lives, we all suffer through physical or emotional turmoil. Someone you know is going through this right now. What is important is not the words people respond with, but their being present for us.
Let this be a reminder to comfort a friend with your presence, sit quietly or walk along side them. Be present. Simply being there is what matters.
Girls need female role models and mentors to help shape them into women of worth. Specifically, I want to recall one such woman, Jean Freeman, my former swimming coach at the University of Minnesota. Jean had a profound impact on me as an athlete and more importantly as an emerging female leader. Prior to my coming to the U of M, my swimming coaches were always men. I have nothing against men, who were very formative in my athletic development and mental preparedness. But it wasn’t until I was coached by Jean as a golden gopher that I felt nurtured in a way that has had a life-long impact; the type of real time learning about being a female leader navigating amidst a world full of male leaders.
Jean was a quiet, yet forceful type of female leader. Her way of encouraging could be found through her piercing whistle, poolside chats and questioning of my sometimes playful attitude towards training (or off season antics). She carefully assigned me leadership “tests” throughout my years at Minnesota to encourage my steady progress. These ranged from hosting potential swimming recruits, to representing the “U” at functions and leading my peers as a captain. Her nature was to encourage and to strengthen my resolve to want to be better – as a swimmer and as a person. Her lasting touch of influence stays with me today.
As I stood at the dedication of the Jean K. Freeman Aquatics on December 6, 2014, I could imagine Jean would be blushing, humbled by all the attention. She was not one to revel in the spotlight, but one to want to push others to get there. Jean, you are most deserving of this lifetime achievement award of having a building named after you. Not because you or your family or swimmers gave millions of dollars to “buy” this for you (for we did not), but because of the legacy of a life well lived and a statement of the power of being a female mentor to thousands. I am proud of the University of Minnesota for naming a building after a person of worth, rather than the worth of a person. I am so proud of you, Jean. Of what you built at Minnesota and of the mentor you were to me and hundreds of others. Your goodness is having a ripple effect to other young women and will continue to do so as a living testimony of your life well led. I look forward to future visits to campus to again see the “house that Jean built” and also to remember the lessons you taught me and so many others.
Though you lost your battle to cancer, you won our hearts and your lessons live on in all who knew you. Welcome to the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center, home of my mentor, Jean Freeman.