Trying to be smarter than a monkey

Today I’m continuing to come off the high of a five-week vacation to Europe, specifically Germany and Austria. I’ve been home for five days and have been basking in the glow of my love of travel. Even after five weeks and hundreds of miles on foot and hundreds more by train and thousands more by air, I looked at my family on the last morning as we were checking out and said with a heavy heart, “Well, let’s leave, I guess.”

I’m easing back in to my normal life and with that comes yoga. I sometimes go to the Tuesday morning class, but it’s not my regular. Today, however, I felt a burning desire to go. So I wore my yoga clothes to my dermatology appointment with the hope of being able to make it to class on time after my annual Mole Patrol. Thanks to my (new) doctor’s quick yet thorough exam (seriously thorough, people), I got to yoga class with time to spare. (The Mole Patrol was all good, btw.)

About 10 seconds into class, I realized that I really, really needed to hear Nan’s message today. And I felt like I was supposed to be there to hear it.

She told a story about capturing monkeys in India. What they do is take a jar with a small mouth that is big enough to fit a monkey’s hand but not much else. In the bottom of the jar is a banana. The monkey slides his hand in, grasps the banana, but he can’t get it out through the small opening. So, he sits there, holding the banana. He holds onto that banana so long that eventually his captors come along and simply collect him, hand in the jar.

The monkey isn’t aware enough to let go of the banana and go in search of any one of the hundreds of other bananas that surround him in the jungle. He’s literally sitting in the midst of abundance, yet he holds on to the single banana that he can’t have.

The lesson? Let go. Don’t get stuck trying to hold on to the one thing you can’t have. Become aware of the abundance that surrounds you.

The lesson applies in countless ways. Surrendering the illusion of control, letting go of a loved one, acquiescing to expectations, and so on.

Nan further demonstrated the idea through the breath. Once you inhale, you must let it go. If you keep trying to inhale, you’ll die. Before that, however, you’ll be ridiculously uncomfortable with bulging eyes and a feeling of bursting fullness, when all you have to do is let it go. And then draw in another breath. The cycle continues. As it does in every area of life, if we allow it.

So I’m breathing, my friends. And trying to be smarter than a monkey. 🙂

Test time!

Now that I’m back, I will resume the writing of my book. I have had plenty of time to compose in my mind and arrange thoughts and ideas. So I’m excited to return to putting this all on “paper.”

First, however, is my Language Placement Test at UNC Charlotte on Monday. I’m going to study this week to hone my skills so that I can hopefully (fingers crossed) place out of the first level. Then school starts the week of August 21 for me!

I have a great workbook called “Complete German Grammar” that I am working through. And I’m trying daily to fill in the blanks of my vocabulary. It’s painfully true that my vocabulary in German can be only as good as my vocabulary in English. And so, when I learn a new word in English, I also look up the German translation. (Thank you Dan Rather for today’s revelation: nadir or Tiefspunkt in German).

Wish me good luck! At the end of the test, my score will be displayed on the screen. So I’ll know right then and there.

Alles Gute!

This weekend, my baby will turn 16! We’re taking a short weekend trip to celebrate his day and to cheer on Michael as he completes his third Spartan Race. This one is 12-15 miles with at least as many obstacles. I imagine that I’ll be studying on the sidelines for many hours while he swings, climbs, hops and runs his way through mud and sweat. Viel Glück, Michael. (Better you than me!)

A few words on Germany and Austria (a la Rocky from Mask)

These things are good: the history, the language, the architecture, the food, the beer (dunkles Bier), the shopping, public transportation, meals on the cobblestone plazas, ubiquitous gelato, chocolate, the friendly people, the flowers, community tables, long and relaxing dinners, lederhosen, cappucinos (always served with a tiny spoon and little nosh), Crobags, the rivers, the mountains, the lakes, the castles, the rainbows, the bike lanes, the towers, the boat rides, getting caught in the rain, the Fassers, the ampel man, the Executive Lounge (thanks, Leland!), realizing that my family is German to the core (no Ancestry DNA needed to prove that!) and the sun shining on my face.

These things are a drag: paying for water (beer is cheaper anyway), paying for public toilets (so carry a spare Euro aka “the good quarter”), no washcloths (I’ll pack my own next time) and the sun shining on my face (same as anywhere, sunscreen, baby!). Also, having no time for a look around.

Here is a sampling of our pictures.

Berlin:

 

Hamburg:

 

Düsseldorf:

Frankfurt:

Heidelberg:IMG-20170709-WA0001 (1)

Austria:

Munich:

 

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I’m writing a book

Just a few months ago, I started writing a book about my experience with cancer. I am so passionate about it.

But…

Every time I sit down to write, I think of more that I want to write. I look at my blog posts and think, “How could I possibly leave that one out?” I have a swirl of ideas and words in my head constantly. But I feel like I don’t have enough time to sit down and write.

Then once I do, the words come slowly. They’re stiff. They’re not the “blog me” they’re the “book me,” and that just stinks. I want to sound like me. I want new readers to know the person and not just the story. All you folks already know the person behind the experience of cancer treatment. Now I need to find a way to introduce her to the rest of the world. Gulp.

Time for a pep talk:

Dear Book Erika, 

Relax. 

Breathe. 

You can do this. 

It’s a book. You CHOSE this. This is fun, right? You’ve done far more difficult things than tap keys and hit save. Do what you do best, girl. Tell it like it is. And let your voice shine through. 

There is no timer on this. You finish the first draft when you finish the first draft. NO ONE else cares when you get it ready. The journey is the destination. 

You got this. 

With much love,

Blog Erika

Thanks for listening, everyone. I just remembered an Italian saying that goes, “Parle come mangia.” It means, “Speak like you eat.” Which is to say, with gusto. And so I will adopt this brief, funny, quirky mantra that perfectly sums up the quintessential Italian way of life that I long to embrace. I’m going to go make it into a sign for my computer screen. Ciao!

Parle come mangia
That oughtta do it!

 

Dear Erika on the last Tuesday in May of 2015

one-day

I come to you from the future to say, the answer to all of your questions is yes. Yes! Yes. Yep.

I know that you just finished six rounds of chemotherapy and are only a couple of weeks past a bilateral mastectomy. I know that you still have to face 6 weeks of radiation after starting the process of reconstruction. I know that you have to get Herceptin infusions every three weeks 14 more times. And I know that more surgery follows next year. Still, I am here to tell you — the answer is YES!!!

You will run comfortably again. Your knees will benefit from the exercise and your hips will appreciate the movement. Your bones will reap the effects of the impact and continue to strengthen and build. Your heart will beat like your own again and your breathing will be slow and strong. When you ask? Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Not someday. Today.

Your body will look like yours again. And feel like yours again. Your hair will fall in soft curls to your shoulders. (Yes, your shoulders! Iiii knowwww!!) And you will have ordered a two-piece bathing suit for your upcoming European vacation. When, you ask? Today.

You will move like you again. Your arms are free. Your chest is open. Your back is strong. Your lats are toned. Your legs are sturdy. Your triceps are independent. Yoga, cycling, hiking, running — whatever you choose will be available to you. Today and every other day.

Your heart will recover from the powerful, risky, necessary medication that is infused into your body every 21 days. It is resilient. Those echocardiograms? Keep getting them as often as Dr. Paul tells you to. Everything turns out fine. Your heart, while its condition is reset to zero, recovers. It no longer pounds like a kick drum when you rise from bed. Your pulse no longer throbs in your throat from walking up a flight of stairs. You’ll hike and run and do chatarunga.

You will be satisfied because you realize that giving a shit isn’t your style. You will run down a long and open lane and feel good. And you’ll thank yourself for heading out on this run. And suddenly you’ll realize that everything feels good — your knees, your femurs, your hips, your heart, your lungs and the sweat pouring off your forehead onto your eyelashes (yes, eyelashes!). And you’ll find yourself grinning. And when you do, you’ll chuckle out loud because you’re just so damn glad that you can do this. And you don’t care who sees you.

You are in this place, living your dharma because you’re grateful, and therefore you’re happy. You’re happy for all that has happened. And (wait for it …) for all that hasn’t happened. (mind=blown)

You’re grateful that you now realize that “this too shall pass” is not just a saying. It’s the truest thing you know for sure. And because of the impermanence of all things, you appreciate life that much more!

You’re content because you know that only after the lowest of lows can you experience the highest of highs. And guess what? YOU get to decide what gets makes you feel high! It’s fantastic. Learn German? Sure. Take a five-week trip to Germany? Don’t mind if I do. Get a degree in German? Ok, I’ll start in August. Continue on a path of spiritual evolution that awakens your soul and invigorates your being? I thought you’d never ask.

You’re confident in your own skin. You will be running 12-minute miles. And those feel sweet. You won’t feel like you must make excuses for why you’re not “performing” better. Pfft! Screw performance. Running gives you what you need gooooood.

You will forgive the people who have disappointed you in this process. You’ll realize that they’re only human and they weren’t meant to accompany you on this path. They have their own path which isn’t meant for you either. You’ll be glad about that and in some cases, downright tickled.

This is all true because you endured. The task of recovery is daunting but, you stuck with it. You are patient, you are kind, you are supportive, you are tenacious, you are optimistic, you are unrelenting. You have resolve. Your heart is open and your soul is pure. And so you are free.

You will wake up on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and you will go for a run like it’s no big whoop. Just lace up your shoes and head out for a few miles because you’ve been getting ready for this day and it’s finally here!

Namaste. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

 

My proudest physical achievement

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A little flushed from running and still donning my sweat-rimmed t-shirt, but I’m as happy as a clam. 

Yep. That’s it! My arm bent at a 90-degree angle. Flat on the floor. Fully able to “goal post” both arms.

Previous to a bilateral mastectomy and radiation treatment, I struck this pose without a moment’s hesitation. I’m sure that you do too. It’s simple, right? Yes, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Think of wall squats. Place your back against the wall squat down to a 90-degree sitting position and hold. Pretty simple. Until you hold. And hold. And hold. And hold. And hold… Still simple, but it’s not so easy anymore, is it? 🙂

Same here. I didn’t realize that I was unable to maneuver in this way until I went back to yoga after my treatment. Honestly, how often do we lie in this position on a regular basis? Probably not too often. In class, we were cued to lie flat on our mats and goal post our arms. My right one went right into place, but my left one remained halfway between the mat and the sky as I curiously analyzed this new found anomaly.

I quickly realized that my pectoral muscles were tight and restricting the movement. But it took me several months to realize the role that my scapula, back muscles and shoulder played as well. I was determined to regain this mobility and flexibility.

And this week, I got there.

I’m happy to be here for the obvious reason: Increased range of motion allows me freedom of movement. But I’m proud of myself for having the patience to get there. It was slow. It was tempting to force it.  But it was necessary to be patient and listen.

This wasn’t a question of fortitude. I’ve got plenty of that, but it’s usually fueled by a desire to achieve. This time, it was fueled by a desire to give a gift to my body — the gift of freedom. Freedom from pain, from restriction, from adapted movement. I refrain from thinking of or referring to my arms as my “good arm” and my “bad arm.” That’s dangerous territory.

More than a year later, my shoulder blades both glide smoothly up and down and back and forth. And my neck stretches comfortably in both directions. And my pectoral muscles flex and stretch. And I can rotate my shoulders in full, smooth circles without pinching. I didn’t push myself beyond what my body was capable of. I didn’t “power through.” There is no such thing. I diligently and consistently exercised these muscles and bones centimeter by centimeter, listening to my body on the way. Whenever I got a tingle in my arm, I backed off. Pinching nerves is serious business. Whenever I started getting a heavy feeling, I stopped. Lymphedema is no joke.

And because I worked with my body and didn’t force it, my arm is able to lie flat on the floor at a 90-degree angle. And wave hi!

Inspiration

When you finish a draft of a poem, or a short story or novel, you make sure you go out and celebrate all night long because whether the world ever notices or not, whether you get it published or not, you did something most people never do: You started, stuck with and finished a creative work. And that is a triumph.— Andre Dubus III

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I’ve been making time to write on a regular basis. In fact, I work on my book everyday. That doesn’t mean that I sit in front of my computer and compose daily, but I think through, sort out, develop, remember, discover and engineer nearly constantly. So much so that I’ve started texting myself thoughts and ideas, writing notes in my phone, taking pictures, saving articles and capturing quotes. I’ve had conversations with four key people who played pivotal roles in my experience with cancer to discuss their treatment in my book. And then, usually 3 to 4 days a week, I sit down at my computer to make sense of my notes and pin down my thoughts.

I’m enjoying every minute of the process — for a change! My sister and I always talk about how process sucks, generally. I mean, we all love to move into a new house and have it all set up just the way we like it. But the process?? No thanks. This is where my growth comes in — I’m learning to relish the process.

To say that this book is important to me is a whopping understatement. Therefore, I’m giving to it the vigorous and sustained effort it calls for. And in this endeavor, I’m recruiting every bit of inspiration I can muster.

I’ve been running again. Running clears my head like nothing else on earth. I love to sweat and accomplish my workout with zeal. I feel so full of pep when I’m done. And that’s why I run first thing in the morning. It’s the best start to those three days a week.

I do yoga, including asana practice, breathing and application of the sutras to all areas of my life.

I go to beautiful places — the river, the mountains, the beach, my yard.

I cultivate my vegetable garden, my flowers, my plants and my trees. I grow grass and spread mulch. I weed, prune, water and talk to my beauties.

I clean. To me, a clean and neat house (and garage and sidewalks and patio) afford me the clarity I need for my cluttered mind to be organized and spilled out onto paper.

I listen to music — on the radio and in person. Michael and I went to the Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness concert in April and it is one of my favorite concerts to date. First, it was in Charleston, SC so we got a little romantic getaway in there. Second, it was at the Music Farm which holds only a few hundred people. Third, he’s incredibly talented. Lastly, he’s a cancer survivor. I didn’t not know that. I’d seen him previously at Fiddler’s Green in Denver, CO, but he didn’t talk about it then. This night, he did. He performed the hell out of a song that he wrote when he was with Jack’s Mannequin called “Holiday from Real.” And he beautifully and poignantly sang “Swim.” He dedicated this song to survivors in the audience and invited us all to become part of the Bone Marrow Registry. I felt like he was talking to me. And, I guess he was.

I learn German and plan my trip (now less than 6 weeks away). I’m super grateful to my gorgeous and brilliant (and patient) teacher, Marion, for helping me get this far! I aim to be able to hold an entire conversation with you in German.

Most of all, I remember that I am human. Writing a book takes time, patience, editing and editing and editing. Thanks for the reminder, Aaron, that I can always rewrite what’s been written but I can’t rewrite what’s not.

Andiamo!

“Swim”

You’ve gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you’re not so sure you’ll survive
You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven’t come this far
To fall off the earth
The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won’t end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don’t see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I’m not giving in
Well I’m not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There’s no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Don’t let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it’s not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above
Just keep your head above
Swim
Just keep your head above
Swim, swim
Just keep your head above
Swim

Grateful beyond measure

 

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Wow! You guys are awesome. After my most recent post, in a matter of just a few days there were hundreds of views of my blog, countless comments on my Facebook post, several inbox messages, texts and even some new blog followers — all in support of my book. That is amazing! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Thank you all so much.

Cause for Celebration

Yesterday was a banner day in my recovery. A full two and a half years after my diagnosis, the healing power of my body continues to amaze me. I won’t say why here — I’ve gotta leave something for the book!

The fledgling state

My book is unfolding smoothly. I have a preliminary foreword and introduction drafted, and I have a working title. I have developed a structure for the heart of it, and I have a pro tem table of contents in place. Now that the bones are established, I am ready to flesh out the body. I will begin that stage in earnest next week. For now, Zach is on Spring Break, and I’m taking full advantage of our time together. So far, we’ve hit two state parks and have plans for the Raptor Center and Latta Plantation. The weather is perfect, and he is willing to indulge his mom on these adventures, so off we go!

Because book writing is so new to me, I have no idea how the process will play out or how long it will take. But I do know that I feel inspired by the encouragement I continue to receive. I know that I am on a path that is good and true, and I will follow it wherever it leads.

Be a follower!

If you’re a regular or new reader and want to begin following, just click on “+ Follow” in the bottom right corner. It’ll prompt you to add your email address. That’s it! And there’s nothing creepy about it. I don’t get to know who reads it; I only know the number of people.

Sharing my story

Welp, here goes nothing, folks!

I have been overwhelmed by gratitude for your undying support, interest and help throughout my cancer treatment. Writing this blog for two years was truly a bright spot in a time in my life that I was challenged physically, mentally and spiritually — almost beyond my capacity. The kindness, love and positivity that were elicited from it got me through, unquestionably, the most difficult time in my life.  I learned more than I ever thought I could and grew in ways I didn’t know existed.

And now, I’ve decided to take my development a step further by writing a book.

Yep! My autobiography will not only share my story but will offer information about the lessons I learned and how they can have meaning and value in all our lives.

I have met with a woman who coaches authors and speakers, and I now have a direction and a focus. I’ll be using my blog posts as a launching pad. I am grateful that I took the path of writing to heal. It allowed me to process, in the moment, a wealth of experiences and information. And now, it provides me with a living diary — a sort of memory surrogate during the times of stress, brain fog and fatigue that I navigated during those two years.

I will update this blog as I progress in the writing process. Please join me on my path! I invite you to follow this blog and invite others to do the same. I also invite you to comment to offer your insight on:

your most memorable post

a theme that stood out to you

what you wondered that I never said

any other comments you wish.

Any encouragement would be greatly appreciated as I take on this project. I’m energized and ready! As always, thank you for being a part of it all.

“Fear can have a seat in the car, but it can’t drive.” — Liz Gilbert