Leaning Into it Once Again

Bad Luck Good Luck

I have been thinking about March 2020, when all hell broke loose, at least in Ottawa. Yet, that is when I received the wonderful gift of facilitating weekly webinars for Wellspring Alberta. All in-person programs ground to a sudden halt, and we went online. Four years later, I still do this wonderful work with wonderful people. How fortunate! I am blown away when I think of how the Wellspring staff and program leaders “leaned in” to that new reality and transitioned overnight.

What was an emergency intervention has become a beloved and vital part of the Wellspring Community, with many unexpected benefits for its members.

And because I have a mind that looks at dates, patterns, and memories, I remembered an article I wrote back in 2008 called Leaning Into It.  The timeline goes like this. Sixteen years ago this week, I began my first round of chemotherapy at 61.  Sixteen years before that, I learned to ski in Switzerland at 45.  Learning to ski at the age of 45 gave me an approach to my cancer diagnosis and treatment that I called “leaning into it.” On a magnificent slope in the Swiss Alps, with blue sky and the best snow in 50 years, I was an eager and reluctant novice skier (yes, we can indeed be many things at once) Often shaking with fear, and tears streaming down my face, my spouse and ski instructor gave me advice that served me well then, served me during cancer and is serving me well now as I am well into my late 70’s – lean into it, he kept saying. You will have more control if you lean into it.

Lean Into It

When you learn to ski at 45 the fear factor is high. I would watch three year old Swiss children barrelling down the mountain while I stood frozen to the spot. My natural reaction when I got scared was to pull back and what happened, as all skiers know, my speed would increase and I would lose control and crash. Learning to lean into the mountain and staying over my boots slowed me down and gave me a modicum of control. And so I learned by falling down and getting up again and again so that by the end of the season I was even able to make perfect eights in my instructor’s tracks.

When I received a different “winter shock” in January of 2008 – another sixteen years had passed. When I learned I had cancer my first reaction was to pull back. The fear factor was high and my entire life spun out of control. All of a sudden, there was a steep learning curve rather than a steep slope, and this time the vocabulary consisted of words and terms like “grade of tumour” not to be confused with “stage,” mastectomy, risk of recurrence, bone scans, MRI, ultra-sounds, Her2, ER and PR and yes, the dreaded chemo. All of a sudden, I went from rarely seeing a Doctor to having several and armed with copies of reports and tons of literature; it occurred to me that since I was setting out on a new, unexpected, and even dangerous journey my best bet (for me) was to “lean into it.”

Looking Back

Looking back, however, I chose to  “blog” it out rather than slog it out.  Every day, I got up, posted a photo, and wrote a short post about what I was learning and what was still working, surprisingly well. I intended to post for 100 days to help myself and, hopefully, others living with illness might find some encouraging words,  humour,  beauty, and quiet space., along with the challenges of cancer, in particular.  And as I became adept, perhaps links to other wonderful and glorious sites.

Patti Digh inspired me at 37 Days and my friend Patricia Ryan Madson at Improv Wisdom to take up blogging. When you get a cancer diagnosis it is not a death sentence but it is a reminder that all of our days are numbered. Patti Digh asks, what would you do if you only had 37 days to live since one day that will be true for all of us?

With that in mind, I began writing a 100-day blog primarily for my children and grandchildren and, of course, for the rest of my amazing family, friends and colleagues and members at Wellspring. Writing down what matters. Weaving that golden thread through it all so that they will have something to pick up and move forward with, and so that I would not lose track of where I had been and where I want to go.

The End Zone

Now, I have entered a new terrain of life in the end zone. I like that expression from a palliative care physician at Harvard – Dr. Muriel Gillick, And I am “leaning into it” even now as I write after the passage of another sixteen years.

Two  important points in one of her  blog posts, which fit with my experience:

“Without regular exercise, Jane Brody opines, “you can expect to experience a loss of muscle strength and endurance, coordination and balance, flexibility and mobility, bone strength and cardiovascular and respiratory function.”  Translated into geriatric lingo, what she is saying is that to preserve function, the ability to walk, to do errands, even to dress and bathe without help, regular exercise is important.” Jane Brody on her 80th birthday, quoted in “The End Zone.

The idea of successful aging has been the subject of both intense criticism and passionate enthusiasm. One problem is that we all want to lead a “good life,” but we may have very different ideas of what that looks like. Sometimes, what we think we need for a good life turns out not to be what we need at all: people who have a life-altering medical condition, whether Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may wish they hadn’t developed that disorder but find that they are nonetheless able to lead rich, enjoyable lives. Dr Muriel Gillick in her early 70’s

Still, I find it a learning curve because I am fully aware that I am not 77 with a 50-year-old body and excess energy, no matter what the ads imply. Furthurmore, I am learning to treasure the quiet spaces. I no longer want to be on the go all the time, and I find my interests gravitate more to the contemplative life: nature, poetry, beauty, friends and family  and zentangles. And, of course, my webinars and blog. I feel so very fortunate to be able to do these things that I love. Plus, learning to let go of things I no longer want or need.

A new Country

This, too, is a new country, and we can learn to navigate it one step at a time. It helps to pay close attention to what enhances our daily lives and what detracts from them. We then learn what to do more of and what to do less of.
These are just a few musings as we come to the close of March. Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. See you next week. For those of you who celebrate Easter, may you have a lovely weekend.  Warmly, Trudy

Notes

1:) There was an interesting interview on CBC this week for those who may be interested in a provocative and important conversation about common sense oncology and why some people choose to end cancer treatment. If this sounds like something you don’t want to listen to, please don’t. Common Sense Oncology

 

 

 

 

Gratitude for Spring and the Photographers in my Life

Gratitude

I love living in Ottawa and being part of Sophie and Rowan’s daily life. And I love the early spring on the West Coast.

As our mild winter is trying hard not to exit this week, I revel in the bounty of images from Rob and Gottfried that genuinely bring me the joy of their early spring. 

Perhaps because I lived there for most of my adult life, I look at these scenes and am delighted, if not transported. They add to my treasure trove of grateful moments.  

I often put Gottfried’s cherry blossoms on my banner to enjoy their lusciousness, but today, I have one of Rowan’s photos from Cinque Terre, Italy. Yes, the camera came back along with many beautiful photos.

I love this old photo of Rob’s taken a few years ago outside of his apartment in Vancouver –  a scene I never tire of since  I am smitten with water taxis and reflections.

Rob also saw the beautiful heron in Van Duesen Gardens on  Sunday.  I have much gratitude to the photographers in my life who take the time to see, capture and share with me.

This is a short and sweet post tonight, reminding myself to take note of the beauty of my surroundings and to express appreciation for the generosity of my family in showering me with spring beauty. I wish I had a way to show them all to you, especially the flowers—however, I will slip some in over time. Here, in Ottawa, we are still a few weeks away from blossoms.

Thank you for stopping by. I sincerely appreciate you all. Warmest wishes, Trudy

PS I wasn’t going to make a note tonight, but old habits are hard to break.

Notes

Note 1:) I read this on James Clear’s Atomic Habits Newsletter.

Physician Lewis Thomas on the importance of making mistakes:

“Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done.

We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones. We get along in life this way. We are built to make mistakes, coded for error. We learn, as we say, by “trial and error.” Why do we always say that? Why not “trial and rightness” or “trial and triumph”? The old phrase puts it that way because that is, in real life, the way it is done.”  Source: The Medusa and the Snail

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Healing Update

Everyone I know loves music. It is more than enjoyment

“According to Arnold Steinhardt, a founding member and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, chamber music audiences nearly always include many health care practitioners, everything from podiatrists to psychiatrists, since there seems to be a mysterious and powerful underground railroad linking medicine and music. Perhaps music is an equally effective agent of healing, and doctors and musicians are part of a larger order serving the needs of mankind. Perhaps they recognize each other as brothers and sisters.” This excerpt is from a longer and interesting article on Music and Health from Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

Five years ago

I wrote a post on the healing power of music on health, well-being and aging, and today, I pick up the thread and see where we are in 2024. I suspect my interest was prompted by watching the Japanese film Perfect Days. In that film, directed by Wim Wenders, Hirayama’s joy of music is on display as he drives to and from work in his van. Interestingly, because there is very little dialogue, one of the ways we get to know Hirayama is by his change of facial expression, as he listens to a song.  (on cassette) It struck me that his music was a lifeline – an essential ritual in his simple lifestyle.

Consequently, I started thinking of the role of music in my own life and the lives of others. We know how a particular piece of music can immediately transport us back in time. And it can be both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Music can soothe us and activate us to get up and do something. It allows us to weep tears of joy and grief and can put some of us to sleep at night.

National Institute of Health

I went looking on the National Institute of Health site to see their ten-year study, looking at the healing effects of music on the brain and body. The wonderful interviews with Frances Collins, the director of NIH five years ago, Renee Fleming, opera diva and Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General  (and is again), were all intact. The video interviews are worth watching if the subject matter interests you – fascinating discussions of the research and its pivotal role in our health. Warning, they tend to be long.

They also talked about how music can reduce pain, give us goosebumps, conjure up a memory and bring on unadulterated bouts of joy. Just a few of the anecdotal effects being  examined using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Next up was the possibility of a prescription for music in conjunction with a pill. The latter will not happen until this research is conclusively enshrined in science, and that takes a long time, as I learned in a current PBS interview with  Collins and Fleming.

The bottom line is that all over the world, music plays a pivotal role in our lives. As we learn more about mindbody medicine, it is no surprise that music one day may be on the prescription pad. We already have nature walks being prescribed in some provinces and states.

I am using this post as a reminder to take music seriously. We know how wonderful music is.  Like walking in the forest,  we can consciously incorporate it into our daily lives to help improve many aspects of our well-being.

You know that I am not recommending you give up your pills and listen to Leonard Cohen. I am just reminding you that you may want to do both. :-))

NOTES

1:) I have so many notes that I moved this to the top for your enjoyment so you don’t have to suffer through everything in this list. A piece of music from the movie Perfect Days. It is hard to choose, but here goes – the amazing  Nina Simone  Feeling Good

2:) “There is no other stimulus on earth that simultaneously engages our brains as widely as music does,” says Brian Harris, certified neurologic music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. This global activation happens whether you listen to music, play an instrument, or sing — even informally in the car or the shower, he says. It also helps explain how and why music therapy works. Heart Tuning Harvard

 3:) A current discussion Feb 2024 on NPR with Renee Fleming and Dr. Collins. 9 minutes and worth watching.Click here.

4:) Music and pain a research study. National Library of Medicine

 5:) The Healing power of Music NYT

6:)  I am going way out on a limb tonight and inviting you to watch this ten-minute video.  The rousing standing ovation  (collective effervescence) at the end is worth seeing all by itself, and it made me laugh and smile, too. National Symphony Orchestra Artistic Advisor Ben Folds composes a piece live with the NSO  and conductor Edwin Outwater during Sound Health in Concert: Music and the Mind, an initiative spearheaded by Artistic Advisor At Large, Renée Fleming, presented by The Kennedy Center and National Institutes of Health. Introduced by Dr. Charles Limb. A link to a bio on Ben Folds on the Kennedy Centre website. I didn’t know Ben Folds until today.

7:) The free banner photo, thanks to Klub Boks on Pexels, and the wild crocuses are from Alberta, taken several years ago, thanks to Gottfried. I have always loved these early spring flowers. Many, many thanks for taking the time to read this blog. I am sorry I got carried away on all the notes; I trust you to ignore what doesn’t interest you. All my best wishes, Trudy

 

 

A Ship in Harbor is Safe

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: John A. Shedd, Page 705, Yale University Press, New Haven.

This thought came to mind as my 13-year-old grandson Rowan left for Europe without his family today. He was beyond enthusiastic about a twelve-day spring break travel adventure sponsored by his school. Everything important, including my good camera, was air-tagged (except him, haha). The first leg took him by coach to Montreal, KLM to Amsterdam and Zurich—a wonderful opportunity to visit four countries over spring break.

The question of borrowing my camera came up about ten days ago. Yes, he has Opa’s old phone, but photography is another of his passions, and he loves using my camera. So I said yes. Parents were immediately concerned with the obvious – loss, theft, being left behind, or being dropped into a lake. Many things could go wrong. I was not concerned.

To Take Pictures

As Rowan put it, “We” (meaning Nana and Rowan)  bought this camera 11 years ago, to take pictures.  “Right now,” he logically suggested, “it is sitting on a shelf, not being used. Wouldn’t it be better for the camera to be taking photos?”  And as you might imagine, I couldn’t agree more.

Rowan has spent enough time with me to know what I write and discuss. Recently, I facilitated a webinar titled “We Are All on Our Way Out, so Use the Good Dishes.” And this is a good example. If something happens to the camera, it will most likely be due to an accident, not carelessness. So much better to learn to let go than to hold on to avoid loss. So, I asked him a question before he left today.

What do I want you to do if something happens to the camera? “Continue to enjoy my trip”, he said. “Don’t let the camera ruin the holiday.” A high five.

And this is so true in many circumstances. We don’t use the good dishes, the best sweater, the beautiful journal, the multi-purpose art tablet and new markers, or enjoy the best bottle of champagne- we save it for the optimal special occasion, which may never come. However, every morning we wake up can be considered a special occasion. Why not? None of us knows our expiry date. So why not make this day special in lovely small ways?

In this case,  Rowan has used my camera many times. Of course, we care for our belongings, but it is far better to wear them out and use them up while we can still do so. Don’t you think? And there is the possibility that others and I will enjoy Rowan’s photo journey – what a gift to share in the joy, passion and adventures of those wonderful young people in our lives. (all ages in fact)

” One can live at a low flame. Most people do. For some, life is an exercise in moderation, (best china saved for special occasions) but given something like death, (and it will happen to us all) what does it matter if one looks foolish now and then, or tries too hard, or cares too deeply.”  Diane Ackerman

NOTES

1:) I know the banner photo is not a ship. It is a tiny, insignificant paper sailboat. And I absolutely love it.paper boat with red sail floating on water” – thanks to  Zolotarevs Shutterstock The gratitude photo is thanks to  Donald-Giannatti-unsplash.jpg

2:) Memory making – My friend welcomes her grandchildren (early 20s) to use her beautiful lakehouse. “They love the lake house, and I enjoy their stories of enjoyment…” Life is for living.

3:)Thank you for stopping by and reading these musings. Take care, and I send all my best wishes for good health, what you need, and many moments of joy and contentment. With gratitude, Trudy