Finding Happiness When Life Has its Own Plans

johnsonfamilyRecently, a bright, lively, beautiful, capable, involved and all-around amazing woman in our community received the shocking diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. True to her nature, she immediately began to face this unforeseen challenge with strength, courage, calm and even humor.

Openly and honestly, Diane has shared details and feelings about this experience on her CaringBridge website. (Click here for access.) While all of Diane’s posts are engaging and thought provoking, her thoughts on appreciating kindness and finding happiness “when my life is not what I had planned” could benefit all of us.

We are so honored that Diane agreed to share excerpts from her inspirational posts with PermissionSlips readers.

May 1, 2014, 9:26 pm
I have been diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma Stage 4 lung cancer and it has metastasized to my spine in my C4 vertebrae. We were totally and completely shocked at this diagnosis.

[I am undergoing radiation treatments] to shrink or eradicate the existing tumor in my C4 vertebrae. It is not feasible to undergo major surgery like lung removal when another tumor could resurface in another spot immediately thereafter. [Also], this tumor is in a very difficult place to reach, making it nearly impossible to remove. The hope is that chemotherapy will reduce the one existing lung tumor and halt the progression of anything else that might develop.

Will this cancer and chemotherapy be the fight of my life? Yes. I welcome your prayers and wishes for improved health. I will need all the help, miracles, luck and good medicine that I can find.

May 10, 2014, 1:40 pm
I am calling [this] a full offensive attack. I plan to use every means possible to fight against my opponent. I want to meet people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, [given a 5% chance of survival, like me] and beat the odds. I want to get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.

I want to say one huge THANK YOU to so many people who have sent texts, cards, emails, phone calls, visits, etc. with kind and loving wishes for me and our entire family. I can honestly say that the only good thing that has come from this cancer is the touching of hearts I have experienced.  I wish I had been living my life showing my affection and appreciation for everyone in it as much as I am experiencing now.

It is so easy to overlook and rush past a kindness, while forgetting to mention it to the giver. I am going to make it a point to not save these appreciations, compliment and affirmations silently inside of me. We would all be better off if we tried to express these warm thoughts to others more often.

June 9, 2014, 12:09 pm
Well, life has stabilized in the last few weeks. I had my second round of chemo. For the first five days, I didn’t feel well and had a heavy taste of salt in my mouth. I really couldn’t eat. Hah! I guess I was carrying around this spare tire on my waist for a good reason – it was sort of like “nourishment from the mother ship” for a while there! Anyway, after five days, the horrible taste and fatigue decreased dramatically and I reentered the world of the living. Since then, I have felt good and have surprised myself with [my] energy.

The bulk of my thoughts have been on a subject that is rather new to me: HOW DO I FIND HAPPINESS WHEN MY LIFE IS NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED? I think we ALL deal with this to some degree – maybe we are waiting for a promotion, or for our house to sell, or waiting for school to be over, or WHATEVER you want changed in your life. Right now I just have a REALLY BIG subject that is not what I wanted or planned in my life. After interviewing cancer survivors and reading extensively, I am seeing that the most successful cancer warriors simply accept this unplanned life change and look for all the love and goodness around them. As trite as it sounds, it boils down to actually LIVING each day with love, happiness and appreciation.

For me, [what I call] OPERATION 5% involves utilizing all the drugs and treatments from traditional western medicine, and incorporating various whole-body health modalities like massage, visualization, acupuncture, meditation and energy healing.

The last component of OPERATION 5% has been my appreciation for the absolutely overwhelming love and support I have received from my family, friends and extended community. I can’t thank people enough for all the love you have sent my way – meals, dog walks, cards, texts, drive-by hugs, prayers, outings, jokes, jokes and more jokes, kind words, invites for my family, inspirational messages, flowers, emails and so much more. I am feeling the love and channeling all that energy to my T-cells to attack this cancer. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be fighting this with support from all of you!

June 20, 2014, 10:50 pm
[My first CT] scan showed there has been no advancement of the cancer, my lymph nodes are no longer inflamed and the bone tumor is either greatly reduced or gone and showing healthy bone regrowth. I am tolerating the treatment quite well, and looking and feeling good. Overall it was a very positive review. . . I believe I convinced my doctor that with my personal battle I [call] OPERATION 5%, I INTEND to be one of his cases who beats this cancer back and I INTEND to continue a normal life for much longer than what the textbooks [predict]!

Now I am continuing to be very realistic with my prognosis. . . BUT… I’ll put it this way…when you are given an unexpected, short-term, terminal prognosis at age 54 (while you still have young kids to raise)…and you can beat this thing back a bit…well, I am going to take my five minutes in the sunshine and celebrate.

I am a FULL BELIEVER that all the good karma from my friends has contributed greatly to my OPERATION 5%. I want to ask you to expand that support to someone else in your circle who is fighting their own battle (whatever it may be). Believe me, anything helps – a note, text, hug, joke, book, errands, food, prayers – it all builds up the person in need.

– Diane Johnson for Permission Slips, 23 June 2014
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Husbands and Fathers in Pink Tutus

I can’t imagine my husband or three sons strutting about in pink tutus, but then again, I’m not sure anyone imagines that breast cancer will impact their family.

So far (knock wood), that particular cancer has not touched our clan.

Nevertheless, most years I choose to join thousands of runners in the Race for the Cure, which raises funds for the breast cancer awareness and research activities of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Yesterday was no exception.

RFTC pink moustacheAnd as I neared the site of the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, with the Jetson’s-like Space Needle in view, I couldn’t help noticing that each year the race seems to attract more men…in pink tutus.

As Martha would say, this is “a good thing.”

I can’t recall how many runners joined me in New York’s Central Park for my first Race for the Cure, back in 1991, but I don’t remember seeing many men or much pink. In fact, that race was where the Komen Foundation, which held its first race in Texas back in 1983, debuted its iconic pink ribbon.

Here in Seattle, for several years our local lacrosse team encouraged players and their families to sign up for the RTFC as a group. I distinctly remember when our group’s top finisher was a high schooler whose mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He didn’t don a tutu, but he certainly ran for a reason.

Yesterday, apparently about 6,000 of the 8,000 participants in Seattle’sRFTC tutus and carriage
RFTC events ran or walked for a reason, too. According to the Komen Foundation, three-fourths of those who participate in RFTC events – something like 1.6 million people in 150 cities around the world – have survived breast cancer or have a close friend or family member impacted by the disease.

At the Seattle Center, I saw very fit runners in short shorts and tiny singlets, competing for  medals and personal-best times. I also saw red-faced, sweat-drenched athletes who had not trained adequately for the event, and slow, but smiling, walkers of all ages and shapes.

I spotted elderly and ailing people in wheelchairs, kids in strollers and wagons, babies in backpacks and women from all “walks of life” wearing “survivor” shirts and scarves over their hairless heads.

Groups of runners and walkers gathered in coordinated outfits, such as tutus and feather boas and funny hats, with signs on their backs naming the women they were honoring.

Yesterday, instead of focusing on my 5K time, I took note of the diverse crowd, smiled at the survivors, chuckled at the costumes, cheered for the children and felt compassion for those who had lost loved ones.

I headed back home feeling happy that we humans value, and gather strength from, community.

-Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 2 June 2014
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I Walk in My Mother’s Socks

Note: Permission Slips is grateful to present this guest post by Lisa Bell Pachnos, a Chicago-area native, Northwestern University graduate and mother of three in New Jersey. She wrote this in August 2012, nine months after her mother, Sue Bell, had died. (The photo is of Lisa and Sue.)

Towards the middle of her life, my mother became a fitness freak. Beforehand, when I was a child, she told me that she rarely gave a thought to exercise. “My legs were just there to hold up the rest of my body,” she told me on a day when I had complimented her on the muscles that were now bulging from her calves.

blog - lisa and momOnce she began an exercise regimen, my mother was remarkable in her dedication. She rose before dawn most days and drove herself to the fitness center. Or, on days when she elected to stay at home, she could be found in the basement lifting weights, rolling on an exercise ball, executing complicated lunges or using the elliptical trainer. Even on weekends at Lake Geneva, she worked out with an exercise ball in the living room or took brisk walks around the neighborhood. Amazingly, she could carry on a conversation while in the midst of these exertions.

All of us have a part of ourselves, physically, in which we are disappointed. For my father, it has always been his thighs (a story for another time). For my mother, it was her “tummy.” Try as she might, she could never achieve the six-pack abs that she desired. Years later, it was that awareness of her abdomen that alerted her to the cancer growing inside of her long before it would have been detected by someone less self-aware.

Now, nine months after my mother passed away, I treasure everything that I inherited from her, such as jewelry, clothing, trinkets, and strangely enough, some of her socks. Oddly, it is the socks that I use the most often and that evoke the strongest memories.

Unlike many people, I find summertime extremely challenging. While working from home during the school year has countless benefits, working from home during the summer months creates stress. It’s a constant tug-of-war between the needs of my children and the needs of my workplace. Person time is fleeting at best.

So lately, to carve out that time, I have been donning my mother’s socks and rising during the gray light of dawn. I stride outside in those socks, plus my own sneakers and other clothes, of course, and start walking along our quiet street. Occasionally, I am joined by other two-legged creatures on bikes or on foot. However, I am usually accompanied by critters with four legs or wings.

This quiet time allows me to plan my day, ponder my weaknesses, make notes to myself–which I email to my computer via my phone–and otherwise breathe.

I am grateful for the lessons my mother continues to give to me — even through something as inconsequential as the socks she wore during exercise.

– Lisa Bell Pachnos, for Permission Slips, 28 April 2014
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Wake Up and Live: The Kristy LeMond Story

What would you do if you had a rare aggressive sarcoma cancer and knew that time was of the essence? Would you be consumed by fear and illness or would you find hope? Would you see your life’s work as having a finite ending point or would you find a way to continue your dreams? Would you shield yourself and loved ones from the worst possible news and sorrow or would you face it straight on?

These were some of the serious questions that Kristy LeMond faced at the tender age of 23.

Kristy was a beautiful young woman with a zest for living and a passion for helping others. The advice to live authentically and truthfully is an inspirational goal for some; for Kristy it was a daily reality.

Kristy in TanzaniaAfter graduating from the University of Washington in 2011, Kristy’s adventurous and giving spirit led her to travel across the world to volunteer in orphanages, teach English and learn. She was particularly impacted by her time in Tanzania and became a huge advocate for the Tanzania Children’s Fund. After Africa, her curiosity and wanderlust continued and she made her way to Europe and then to Chile where she felt she could make a real difference with teaching English through the English Opens Doors program. It was at the start of her Chilean trip that she felt a lump that necessitated a return to Seattle to start a different journey. Kristy died in May 2013 less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer, yet she lived fully to the end.

She found the ultimate truths and meaning in life and shared her thoughts through her own inspiring blog, Wake Up and Live. This is an excerpt from her last entry, written April 23, 2013, a week before she died:

Kristythe hardest thing i’ve ever done

Hello everyone! I know I’ve been absent for a really long time, most of that being because for the past month or so it’s been pretty rough on me emotionally. Usually I’m able to balance my faith, reality, hope, and facts in a nice, mostly positive bubble and I think that’s what has gotten me through to this point so far. After my last meeting with my oncologist saying that the second line of chemo we were trying was not working, this bubble was so deflated and angry that it was hard for me to get back to that positive place when my doctors were telling me the reality of the situation. For the first time since this process I started, I was thinking about my future and not seeing much. I started worrying about things I would miss; my career, finding the love of my life, having a family, watching my friends and family grow up and experiencing all these things too. These are all things that started buzzing constantly in my head where as before I was able to shut it off and ignore the noise. I was able to remind myself that I don’t know God’s plan and I don’t get to know if this will end up one way or the other until it happens. Lately, it’s been different. I can’t understand why people keep saying ‘you’re so inspirational’ and ‘you’re so positive’. Excuse me? No, I’ve been grumpy, edgy, and pretty negative for about a month now-ask my poor parents 🙂 it wasn’t until a message I recieved from an almost complete stranger a few weeks ago that shook me to my core and brought me back to that place I knew I had once been and could get to again. She reminded me of how strong my faith was and how inspiring that could be. I started to slowly crawl out of that funk, despite the difficulties I was dealing with all of a sudden with my breathing.

To read the blog in its entirety click here: http://khlemond.tumblr.com/.

No one can imagine being in Kristy’s shoes, nor being her parent, brother or friend and seeing this unfold. Kristy’s mother Kathy has good days and bad, but has been buoyed by the power of her daughter’s resolve. Kathy said, “Kristy was helped enormously through her 11-month battle by her faith and her desire to continue to make a difference. Her blog did, and continues to, make more of a difference than she ever knew. She so much wanted others to embrace volunteerism like she had. She wanted us to see what she saw and experience the feelings she had and so we are and we will.”

Recently Kathy came across a list of New Year’s Resolutions written by Kristy in late 2011.Kristy's resolutions

Kristy’s 2012 resolutions

  1. No more gossip! No judgmental thoughts towards others and yourself. No snide comments
  2. Take advantage of every opportunity no matter how small.
  3. Respect and love your family always. Meaning act on it all the time.
  4. Take risks when applying to jobs – don’t get discouraged.
  5. “You can’t dance with the devil on your back” so shake it off. Shake off your bad moods. Don’t let yourself get frustrated to the point of anger. Others don’t want to be around your negative energy!
  6. Reach out to someone every week. No more hiding. No more selfishness.
  7. Smile more your life is good!
  8. Focus on you and what’s best for you.
  9. Little things to show your friends you love them.
  10. Spread love, love, love. You have so much to offer!

Kristy wrote these resolutions prior to her diagnosis. What’s even more amazing is that she accomplished all of these resolutions in her life time, many in her last months.

In her last blog entry Kristy stated, “I refuse to die anything short of successfully.” She spent the last seven days of her life at home with family and friends talking, listening, crying and just being. During the service, her eulogist stated, “She loved unconditionally when helping those in need and being the type of friend that we all hope to become…I have witnessed many people die, but I have never seen a journey like this one.”

Kristy’s message to us is clear, be authentic and truthful – Wake up and live!

Carol Lewis Gullstad October 21, 2013

permissionslips1@gmail.com

Post Script

Kristy’s family, friends and those moved by her story are carrying on her mission to help others in a myriad of ways:

Her sorority sisters at the University of Washington chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma are raising money to establish a scholarship in her memory. For more information: http://www.biddingowl.com/wakeupandlive

Beauty Chain Julep developed a special nail polish “Kristy,” 10% of all sales go to the Kristy LeMond Memorial Fund. For more information: http://blog.julep.com/kristys-story/

Kristy’s loved sunflowers. Friends and family are photographing sunflower stickers in various locations around the world to show that Kristy’s spirit is with them. The photos can be viewed on the Facebook page, We carry you in our hearts Kristy LeMond. https://www.facebook.com/TravelingKristyLemondkeep us strong

Learn more about Kristy:

http://brillianttitle.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/a-birthday-without-kristy/

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