Four O’Clock Noodles and other surprises

Other Surprises

Recently, I was asked what surprised me about cancer. I answered instantly – the fact that you can often look so good, yet you are living with a life-threatening illness. The looking good part changes when we start going through treatment, although not in all cases. There are hundreds of different cancers and as many treatments and we are all different.

The day that I was diagnosed with cancer was an ordinary day, much like any other. I didn’t feel ill nor did I look under the weather. No one could possibly have guessed that I had cancer.

Yet, I did.

Another surprise, once treatment started, was the complete lack of interest in healthy food. (I will come back to this shortly.)

Telling My Mother

But first, one of the most difficult aspects of cancer for me was the task of telling my loved ones that I had this dreaded disease, especially my Mother. This happened shortly before her 88th Birthday and I was fully aware that her response would be something like wishing that she could change places with me. That’s how my Mother was, and I believe most Mothers are.

Over the next few days, as we picked ourselves up from the shock, I mentioned to her that humour was good for the immune system, so our job was to look for something funny about this situation. Actually, I said, “It is your job to find something funny every day and tell me about it. This would be a big help.”

My Mother had a reputation for resilience and facing reality square on, and she was never one to step away from a challenge. However, she was unimpressed with my request and considered it futile. “There is no humour to be found in cancer, Trudy.”

Nevertheless, the next evening before bedtime, I got a call from Mother.

“Trudy,” she said,” if I told you once, I told you a hundred times that you shouldn’t have been eating all that organic food.  Now look at what’s happened.” We laughed out loud about all my idiosyncracies, fussiness, and rules around food. And I knew that she was now and forever on my team.

Food

The subject of food, however, often comes up when people are diagnosed with a serious illness. And I was often questioned about the whys and wherefores of cancer. Questions like, “How could this happen to you when you always ate so well?”  Some people look at it as unfair, as a betrayal of what they had been taught about lifestyle and cancer. I did not. And this is why.

There are no guarantees, no matter what we do. No formula can protect us from suffering, accidents, heartbreak, disappointments and, ultimately, death. I ate what I ate because I believed it was the best I could do to increase my chances for a healthy and good quality of life while alive. Another reason I ate the way I did was because I wanted to support small and local farmers. Finally,  the food tasted better. I never considered that my good health was guaranteed if I ate “only the right things.” (whatever I thought they were)

Statistics

The funny thing about statistics is that it gives us a snapshot of trends in a large population but doesn’t address the individual, me or you. I do believe the research that shows the best defence we have against serious illness is to follow the guidelines of eating our fruits and vegetables, moving our bodies, having a reason to get up in the morning, getting enough sleep, mending our fences, spending time with people we like, not smoking, etc. And it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile when we do all that and still get sick.

It just means we don’t have all the answers.

In my case, I didn’t believe for a nanosecond that my body let me down. I had no reason to think there was something else I could or should have done that would have protected me. Who knows why I got cancer?  I came to learn that cancer is a multifactoral illness, and no one knows for sure what turns a particular cancer cell on. Furthurmore,  what my medical team told me was that the best thing I had going for me was my overall good health. (You have to see the irony in that statement) 🙂

So, the “good food” didn’t “save” me from cancer, but it did keep my body in good running order so that I was better equipped to deal with the treatment. The good food wasn’t a guarantee, and it wouldn’t “save” me from recurrence or death, but it is still the food I  continue to eat, except, of course, when I don’t. Why? I feel better when I live moderately.

Back to Another Surprise.

After my first two rounds of chemo, a strange thing happened. I suddenly only wanted white rice, noodles, ginger ale, and Coca-Cola. And that was Coca-Cola with an ice cube. Around four o’clock each day, I boiled water, added a package of unhealthy Ichiban noodles, and relished every bite. Why? Because in the week I received my chemotherapy, most healthy food tasted terrible. What my body seemed to want was all things white, pop-sicles (not the fruit kind), taco chips, certain chocolates, gummy bears, and white toast. Imagine! I hadn’t had a Coke since I was 15, and that’s what my body craved now.

Thanks to Camellia, my oncology nurse, who heard my food confession, I continued to eat without guilt. “This “white” food is easy to digest,” she exclaimed. She instructed me to “eat whatever you can eat that first week, and it doesn’t matter if it is taco chips.” So, I did.  And by day two of the second week, it was back to a “homemade blueberry bran muffin kind of day.” Eventually, I returned to eating the food I always preferred, not to prevent anything but to improve the quality of my everyday life.

Letting Go

Having cancer meant, for me, amongst many things, letting go of all those “absolute” ideas I had about food. I learned to chuckle at the odd combinations of food my body now wanted. And I learned to relish the “good food days” when tastes and smells returned as old friends. Four o’clock noodles became a metaphor for abandoning old notions about almost everything.

Notes

1:) The Neuro Psychologist Dr Rick Hanson wisely states, “Be especially skeptical of what you’re sure is true. These are the beliefs that often get us in the most trouble.” I understand that this may be a little provocative to consider.

2:) “I want to know your own experience of illness – why the interest? People with their ailments are not always interesting, far from it. But we all hope for a – must I say the word – recipe; we all believe, however much we know we shouldn’t, that maybe somebody’s got that recipe and can show us how not to get sick, suffer and die.” Nan Shin, Diary of a Zen Nun: Every Day Living

3:) The banner photo I took in Japan 10 years ago, and the cherry blossoms are from the west coast.

4:) Something to listen too. True Colours by the Camden Choir from England

5:) I feel lucky that I ended up here, doing what I do and experiencing the life I have. Grateful to wake up each morning.  And I always look forward to scribbling away on Wed. Thanks so much for taking the time to drop by and for all the kind notes that you so graciously send. Warmest wishes, and may you enjoy who you are – your perfectly imperfect self. What a gift.

A deep bow, Trudy

 

Come To the Edge, he said…Guillaume Apollinaire

The Edge

You can click on the banner photo to see it in full. And yes, that is my wild and lovable daughter, hanging off The Edge in New York City this past weekend. She dragged her teenage kids and cousins up the tallest outdoor skydeck for a better view. Haha. Since today is her birthday, I decided to start with her.

“Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere, located at 30 Hudson Yards, with a one-of-a-kind design. It’s suspended in mid-air, giving you the feeling of floating in the sky with 360-degree views you can’t get anywhere else. Look 100 stories down… lean out over the city on angled glass walls and sip champagne in the sky.”

Also

“Edge at Hudson Yards and Discovery Education are catalyzing hands-on, experiential teaching and learning by giving classrooms nationwide a virtual pass to the neighbourhood of the future… we inspire students to take action while supporting underserved communities with access to engaging digital educational resources for grades 4-12… students see how big ideas and cutting-edge technology can be combined to improve lives and revolutionize communities.”

Here is a short summary from my grandson: “It was great. Our hands were freezing, and it was very, very scary.”

Trying New Things

I guess today’s blog post will be about trying new things, stretching ourselves, and taking risks while not being reckless. Be clear that I am not suggesting you all go out and climb the tallest building or mountain or cross the Atlantic in a rowboat. In fact, I am never suggesting that all of you do anything in particular. Except…

I do recommend trying/learning new things.

Truth is that life is short. What do you really have to lose by putting it out there – who you are and what you want to do or be? You may try something new and fail. Guess what?  Failure is always part of the package when we try new things and being willing to risk failure is a passport to living fully.

According to Anthony Frost (whom I don’t know), “The hardest thing to learn is not how to juggle but how to let the balls drop.”

I think Frost is on to something. We are conditioned to get it right, and we become fearful of making mistakes. Obviously, if the mistake means fatality, I would think again, but most times, the mistake doesn’t mean being eaten by the sabre-toothed tiger.

The rest of the poem

“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

― Guillaume Apollinaire

When my Mother turned 65, she began a practice of learning something new every year.

  • The first year was weaving, learning about design, yarns, and looms.
  • At 75, she was swimming not for pleasure but to improve her arthritis. Although she had been terrified of drowning since childhood, she took lessons, and after a year, she could swim, which significantly reduced her arthritic pain.
  • At 80, it was painting, primarily watercolour. After her beloved son-in-law died suddenly from melanoma, watercolour classes helped her navigate this new territory and brought her joy.
  • At 91, she went up in a hot air balloon for my 65th (she had to fly from Vancouver Island to Ottawa to do this)
  • At 92, she bought her first iPad and signed up for a 16-week program for seniors at the library. When it ended, she was the only one left.
  • At 97, it was her first marathon, where she walked 10k with 45 of her family members. This was in Halifax and required another coast-to-coast flight.
  • At 98, she learned to knit so she could make Harry Potter scarfs for all of her great-grandchildren and some of her great-nieces and nephews.  It is important to add that she learned to knit on YouTube, and the first scarf for her oldest great-grandchild had to be pulled apart and restarted 18 times.
  • At 100, she learned to use Zoom and other video conferencing apps. Thus, we could celebrate her 100th birthday at a cross-continent Zoom party. Because of Covid, the inperson celebration had to be cancelled.
  • At 100 yrs. And three months she learned how to say goodbye to her beloved family for the last time. And to somehow turn it into a celebration of love and life.

“You are never too old to learn new things,” was her mantra.

Learning new things is fundamental to living well with or without illness.

It looks like I am writing about my family today. My daughter has inherited many of her grandmother’s wonderful traits, and since I have just returned from her family birthday dinner, my heart has also turned to my mother. And that makes me think of a dear friend’s beloved Mother, who died on Sunday and who could be counted on to also say YES to experiencing and learning new things.

So, I decided to try something new today. Besides the childhood lasagna that my daughter wanted for dinner, I also made a new recipe for a mushroom lasagna that proved to be a little stressful yet turned out to be a keeper. Yeah! It could have been otherwise. I do test kitchen every now and then, and I have both flops and keepers.

Learning new things is important when we are living with illness. What can we do about our own situation, and how can we play an active role in our treatment? Consider taking on the role of discovering the non-medical things that are helpful and available in our communities: creative arts, writing, music, discussion groups, courses, nutrition, exercise, walking groups… so many opportunities. Things you wanted to do if only you had time. Make mistakes. Try again. Consider playfulness a new skill.

Have fun learning for the rest of your days.

As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Seneca

NOTES

1:) I will bid you goodnight now. It has been a long day, and my bed is calling me.  May we all have a good sleep.

2:) “Love is the answer to most of the questions in our lives,” according to singer Jack Johnson. I wholeheartedly concur.  Better Together by Jack Johnson and Friends, This recording is not the best audio, but I enjoy seeing the sweet faces of the singers in this video. And I love the song.

3:) Possibly something new to allow you to drift off if you read this tonight. Miceal O’Rourke is playing John Fields Nocturne No.1 in E flat Major.

4:) A big happy birthday to my daughter. I am forever grateful and beyond lucky to have YOU (I am sure she will read my blog today haha)  in my daily life. And all my best wishes to each of you in the many corners of the world. I am also beyond lucky to have such wonderful companions here on my blog. With gratitude, Trudy

PS Photos by Gottfried on Gabriola Island and Shelley Asserson in Calgary (taken in Austin, Texas and one of my favourite memories). A family member took the banner photo of my daughter.

 

 

JOMO – FOMO – and other musings

A Little Playful

This has been a full week of big and small moments – all special. Visiting my dear friend, who no longer can live at home, Lunar New Year family and friends celebration, being told by a neighbour that I make them happy every Wednesday, hosting a Creativity Cafe, watching the Super Bowl (not really my thing) with my family, and getting caught up in their enjoyment not to mention my walks, zoom calls, grandkids, Wellspring webinars, and all the other things that are part of my daily life.

So, on Sunday afternoon, I chose JOMO – the joy of missing out – as my operative word and cancelled two workshops that I was looking forward to attending. I surprised myself as one of them was a creativity workshop, and the second was a reading with former American Poet Laureate Richard Blanco and his new book. I was looking forward to the sketching and to the new poet, so it seemed a little crazy not to go.

Here is the thing – I could have fit them in. I would have enjoyed both. I didn’t want to miss them. Yet, I chose not to attend.

My gut suggested that I needed some empty space. So, I didn’t go. Sometimes, we cancel things because we don’t want to do it. But JOMO, for me, is also learning to cancel things that I would absolutely enjoy, but my body/mind would prefer some restfulness, a walk in the brisk air, or, God forbid, a nap.  Saying YES is easy for me; it’s in my DNA. But as I live longer, I discover that now and then, declining delightful invitations is equally important.

And each of us gets to choose.

We all know, by now, what FOMO represents – the fear of missing out. We joke about it and teasingly label others with the acronym. Yet, like so many things, it can become an emotional and mental hardship when taken to the extreme.

I hadn’t given it much thought until recently, as it didn’t apply to me. Or so I thought.

It didn’t apply to me because of my limited observations of what I thought people feared missing out on. Things like invites to events, not committing to one invitation in case something better came along, or the latest restaurant that some friends went to and you didn’t. It might also be that you went to a party that you didn’t want to go to. Why?  Possibly a familial duty or to avoid feeling left out the next day when other friends or colleagues talked about it.  Variations of FOMO have become real for many without conscious awareness. We are all impacted by our cultural conditioning.

Left Out

As I thought about this, I realized there are other examples where you can be “left out” if you don’t conform. Consider cancer. A wonderful woman told me about a surprising difficulty she encountered with cancer – the expectation that she would do yoga, listen to meditative music and never have a glass of wine again. In her particular cohort, these were norms. Although they were not hers, she felt compelled to accommodate them in order to be accepted. Yet, when she eventually and boldly took steps to do what she thought was best – listen to heavy metal, stop yoga,  and have that glass of wine, she experienced unadulterated joy. She consciously made a new decision that was better for her.

One of my favourite writers, Oliver Burkeman, is a fan of JOMO. He looks at the “joy of missing out,”  as the outcome of saying no to things that don’t really matter in order to say yes to things that do. I, too, see it that way as a finite human being. But to my surprise, last Sunday, I discovered a nuance that hadn’t struck me up until then – that sometimes JOMO means saying no to meaningful things as well, in order to listen to our bodymind and rest in the luxury of non-participation. That little respite allowed me to enjoy the evening with my family, and that mattered the most.

Not Exempt

I need to add that I am not exempt from FOMO. When it comes to books, poetry, and learning, I see that I try to cram too much in. It has always been this way. But I am not chastising myself going forward. Quite frankly, I consider it progress that I did miss out on Sunday and I benefitted.

Ikkyu (1394-1481) a monk and poet wrote this tiny verse in his 87th year that I find relevant here:

Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain,

But at the peak

We all gaze at the

Single bright moon.

It is so very easy for individuals and small groups to believe that “someone” knows best. And for us to be accepted, we are expected to agree. Although Ikkyu was writing about different religions, I see it as a metaphor for different ways of thinking and being in our ordinary lives. For those of us in the “end zone” it can be a time to stop, look, observe and trust our own experience. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Being our gracious, generous and interdependent selves, we can experiment and, with new information, change our minds. Now, that just might be happiness.

NOTES

1:) In the Year of the Dragon, this is a lovely two-minute video from MD Anderson (the # one hospital in the US for cancer care)  worth watching. Although it has nothing to do with the Lunar New Year that we just celebrated on Saturday evening, it seems perfect to me as a celebration of creativity, beauty, community, meaning and healing.   Watch here.

2:) The banner photo is a collage by Patricia Ryan Madson, one of my favourite humans. The sweet dragon is a free internet photo.

3:) Zentangles are easy, fun, as creative as you like and good for your brain and well-being. The philosophy is “anything is possible, one stroke at a time.” There is tons of information on the internet, but here is a link to a short beginner’s video. Priya Art Gallery

4:) Always, always, I think about, talk to and learn about people who are suffering and knocked off balance by difficult news. I wish you strength and courage to cope with whatever you face. I know we can all do these hard things, and it is also important to ask for help. We are here to help and be helped. It is part of being alive. Take heart and take care. All my best wishes and sincere thanks for taking the time to read these musings. Gratefully, Trudy

Hana’s Suitcase and Small Wings

The Pre-script:

Tonight’s blog is different from my usual musings and is a surprise to me, too.  I had not imagined how impacted I would be by attending the event you will read about below. Consequently, I wanted to tell you a little about it. Although I don’t have the words,  it touched me to my core. Thank you for listening.

Fumiko Ishioka and Small Wings

I had the great honour of attending a literary event that was so much more at the Embassy of the Czech Republic on Monday evening. The purpose of the event was to honour the 20th-anniversary edition of Hana’s Suitcase, the award-winning story of Hana Brady, written by celebrated author and CBC radio producer Karen Levine. Her radio documentaries have won awards, including two Peabody’s. (the Oscars of radio)

As it turns out, the current Czech Ambassador,  Martin Tlapa, is from the same small town in the Czech Republic – Nove Mesto – as Hana Brady and her family.  As a boy, he had learned about what happened from his grandmother. Consequently, the Embassy prepared a  historical timeline, photos, and other artifacts in honour of the occasion.

This story has now been translated into 40 different languages and is known around the world. In fact, the story came to light thanks to the incredible research of a Japanese woman, Fumiko Ishioka. Fumiko, along with her  dedicated and persistent group of students in Tokyo, who called themselves “small wings”  set out to discover who Hanna was. At that time, Fumiko, a translator and educator,  was the curator at the Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo.

Last year

I first mentioned this book a year ago when my grandson read it in school. It turned out to be his favourite book, and he had the opportunity to meet the author. It is thanks to him that we got invited to this event. 🙂

Because I attended this once-in-a-lifetime presentation that  Karen Levine gave on Monday night, I am convinced that it is an important book for all of us to read and/or read again. Yes, it is a heartbreaking story of the death of a 13-year-old girl, and I was moved to tears for most of the presentation. Still, it is so much more – a beautifully hopeful reminder of caring, connection, action and kindness across generations and four continents.

Children

For me, it is especially poignant that this was, in many ways, leadership by children. Furthermore, seeing this story’s influence across the world that this group of “small wings” created with their teacher touched me deeply. We can learn so much about humanity from this group of young, curious, kind and determined young people, along with their dedicated teacher and mentor, Fumiko Ishioka.

Other thoughts

I understand fully why you may not want to read this book about another child whose life ended at 13 in the gas chambers. Especially in the midst of the horrific and intolerant state of the world. I get it! Yet, I feel grateful and hopeful that I had a chance to learn about Hana, her family and the people living now who brought this story to light.

And I hold those Japanese children, small wings, in my heart who so desired to let her be known to the world and their desire for peace.

As I thought about this, I remembered my Grade 7 teacher reading Anne Frank’s Diary aloud to us in class and how it had impacted me. I saw the worst and the best of humanity, and although I couldn’t understand the why of it,  I wanted to know more. Consequently, I read lots and became more aware of the impact of our choices on any given set of circumstances. Furthermore, it woke me up to the dangerous business of power no matter where or in whom it was held. And to the goodness in so many, even against all the odds.

Somehow, in the midst of all the pain and suffering that is still going on and the children who are still unnecessarily dying, it is a call to do better. Much better. May we never give up.

Notes

1:)  The Japanese ambassador, H. E. Yamanouchi Kanji, one of the dignitaries of the evening, gave an encouraging speech and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn this story. He also learned about the pivotal role of a small group of fellow Japanese – “small wings” and one teacher in Tokyo who brought Hana’s story to light.

2:) “That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them because, in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank. from her diary.

3:) As always, we get to pay attention to where we are and what we can do in our circle of influence.

4:) Many people are suffering, close at hand, with a new diagnosis, the start of treatment and more. Take heart. Take action. And say yes to help. No time to be a stoic, as my oncologist said to me. It seems to me that we are here to help and be helped. Thank you for your company. With great appreciation and the warmest of wishes, Trudy