Taking Back November 1st

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Chooch, Exercise, Family, Health, Mom, No Whining, Soulful, Uncategorized

Today is the 8th anniversary of the first date that Chooch and I went on. We were already in love, thanks to our long distance courting, but it was still a first date. Full of nerves and awkwardness in spite of all the times we’d hung out over the previous year.

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. We didn’t plan for it to be exactly one year later, it just sort of happened and we didn’t even realize the coincidence until some time later. We’re goofy like that.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the doctor telling my Mom that the cancer had won out, and there were no more treatment options available. He gave her six months, at best. She passed away 2 1/2 months later.

In the intervening years, our wedding anniversary has been bittersweet for me. My life changed in ways that I’ll never be able to truly express, and although our life isn’t perfect, it’s perfect for us. My husband has given me strength, confidence and unconditional love. He gave me wings to soar as high and fast as I wanted to, and the confidence in knowing that he will be there to catch me if I fall. I don’t speculate on whether or not he’ll be there, as we’ve done that for each other countless times over our short time together.

In fact, I always have add the years up a couple times, as it seems so short. We joke that we were already married before he even crossed the country to live here, so completely devoted and comfortable were we with each other. We feel like we’ve been together forever, and in a good way. I have complete and utter faith in his devotion, something I’ve never had before.

But since the day we learned that hope for my Mom was gone, it’s also been tinged with pain. I may write about that later, but for now I want to focus on what November 1, 2010 has become, as of this moment.

I’ve now deemed it my day of freedom. It sounds nonsensical, and the steps that led me to it may not suss out on close inspection, but that’s what it is.

This morning, with Chooch fighting some nasty cooties, I headed out for our usual run alone. My back has been bothering me since last week so I didn’t even take Kaylee along. As I headed out the door, I realized to my horror that my iPod battery was dead. No Couch to 5k coaching for me, and no music play list, either. I debated waiting until later when it was charged, but as I was in my gear already, I headed out. I decided on the longer route, because I was alone. It’s my favorite route, but Chooch doesn’t usually have time before work and since it’s over three miles I have to take a water container when Kaylee is with me. I was free to do it, so I did.

Without Robert Ullrey to prompt me, I decided to just run until I couldn’t run anymore, then walk the rest of the way. This is a very hilly route, and I just hoped to run for 15 minutes. When I finally stopped, I had run for just over 36 minutes, passing my starting point. This is my personal best on running time, especially impressive with the size of the hills. And I don’t just mean since I got hit with this weird illness a year ago — this is my all-time longest running time.

As is usual, when I’ve visualized a landmark goal and I start to think I won’t make it, I chant to myself. It’s different things, but usually at the really hard push it’s something along the lines of taking steps that Mom could no longer take, and that she couldn’t take for the last 2 1/2 months of her life, since she lost the ability to walk. It may sound creepy, but it works and I take great pride in taking those steps for her.

Reflecting on this, as I walked in my state of shock at beating my personal best by a significant number, I’ve decided to change my attitude about November 1st. Maybe it’s the approaching holidays, or maybe it was because I so much time working on the interview I did for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month topic for my Girls’ Rules Podcast, but I’ve been missing her and thinking of her so much these last few weeks. While Chooch and I celebrate our marriage, I also grieve this day as when we lost hope for Mom.

In taking back the day, I will instead focus on it being the day that she was granted freedom. She no longer had to worry about the petty concerns of living — her lifelong struggle with weight, managing the household and most importantly being strong for those of us that she loved so completely. She finally let me take burdens from her, as they were no longer her concern. She became focused in the now, and anything beyond the door to her hospital room was not her concern, once she knew that my dad was going to be okay without her there to do almost everything in the running of the house.

Reclaiming this day is already taking a lot of self-convincing to maintain, and I was crying while trying to explain it to my patient and loving Chooch. But it’s something that I need to do, because I know my Mom. She doesn’t want me crying for her on my anniversary. Knowing how much she loved me and Chooch, and how much she loved us being together, I know she wants us to celebrate our love and the unlikely circumstances that brought us together. So I’m letting go of all that pain from that day five years ago. I’m setting myself free, as I know she would do for me if she could.

Breast Cancer Promotion Rant

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Breast Health, Consumer Info, Cool Links / Clicky Linky, Health

In recent years, there has been a tremendous pink ribbon marketing push starting around the middle of September. It’s great that corporate America has taken an interest, and now you can’t go anywhere in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) without being inundated by pink ribbons and pink, well, everything.

The cynic in me says the corporations only real motivation to do this is because they will make more money by offering spatulas and kitchen knives that people already own, but will buy again because they want to support the cause. At this point, you can buy nearly everything tinted pink or with the pink ribbon on it. I myself bought a chef’s knife with a pink handle a few years ago, even though I had plenty at home. I bought it for cathartic reasons, but still. *chop*chop*

As I did last year, I ask you to take a moment before plunking down money for yet another set of shears or pen set. Read the fine print on the item to see how much they are actually donating to charity from the cost of the item. In my experience, it’s been between 2-5% and rarely, if ever, higher.  So if you spend $100 in October on breast cancer awareness stamped items, you’ll likely only have $2 to $5 actually going to the charity that the faceless corporation chooses.

My preference is to instead find a charity that I think is reputable and trust-worthy. Care should be taken to ensure that a majority of your funds go toward the cause itself, rather than overhead. Charity Navigator seems to be a good site, as they evaluate over 5,500 charities from a financial management aspect. There are other sites, simply search on “charity overhead percentage” or other terms that are of concern in your decision making.

The reason I have always preferred to give my money directly to the charity itself is quite selfish. I want to make sure that every penny leaving my hands is going to make a difference. Yes, it stimulates the economy to buy stuff. It also fills your home with things that you, in some cases, don’t need duplicates of, or don’t need at all. Another point on selfishness, is that you don’t get to claim the cost of a waffle iron with a pink ribbon on your taxes. You do get to claim a deduction to a non-profit organization, if you itemize. And make sure you get a receipt to document it, in case you are ever audited.

If you still want to buy the items, go for it! I particularly like clothing items or car magnets, as they serve as a reminder to others of the needs of women and men suffering from this particularly devastating disease.

Another favorite is items that are already on the shopping list, like yogurt or cereal, that support the cause. Yoplait has been a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure sponsor for ages, and their pink lid promotion has raised over $25 million dollars over the years. (Warning for those that care, they do still have HFCS in their yogurt, the last time I checked.)

And no, I don’t feel this way only over pink ribbon items. In this tough economy, I believe that most, if not all, charities are feeling the squeeze as folks have less money to share. So even if your cause of choice isn’t breast cancer awareness, make sure you spend your donation dollars smartly.

Watch this site for a tax deductible and highly recommended charity that you can donate to with a few mouse clicks and keystrokes.

Breast Cancer Confessional – Pink Terror

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: 5k, Breast Cancer, Breast Health, Chooch, Friends, Health, Mom, Soulful

Following my Mom’s passing from breast cancer in 2006 (Jesus, how could it have been so long?), I felt a sharp stab of pain every time I saw a pink ribbon. As you can imagine, after her 2+ year fight she valiantly put up on this second occurrence, almost everyone at both of her services was wearing a pink ribbon in honor of her battle. I spent a lot of time looking at the ground.

I even took my sons and nephews shopping because they wanted to get a pink item for their suits. Two chose pink shirts, the other two chose pink ties. I was never more proud of them for that, proudly laughing in the face of potential mockery and homophobic comments (I’ve got a rant on this I’m saving for another day), in order to honor their bigger-than-life and beloved grandmother.

It’s actually a blur to me if I wore any pink at all, maybe Chooch remembers as he is my memory bank for the few months before and after she passed. The family talked about everyone wearing one, but I didn’t. It felt wrong to me for some reason that I can’t really explain. It was like kryptonite to me and I quite literally winced every time I saw a pink ribbon.

I can quite clearly remember the first time I wore a pink ribbon again, as it was on my participant T-shirt at the 2008 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Richmond. I can tell you I wouldn’t have made it ten steps without Chooch and good friend Paulette Jaxton there that day. Although I don’t think she really knew what she was in for when she decided to join us. It was more than just a fundraiser and 5k for me; it was a crucial step in my healing process. And what a painful step it was. Talk about immersion therapy.

That was a huge day for me, as I had enough distance from the loss to be able to embrace the community once again and proudly take steps for such an important cause, when my Mom could no longer do so. We did several Races for the Cure in Washington, D.C. after her first diagnosis in 1991. Hell, she even stood on the stage with other survivors one year, lined up in their pink t-shirts as the opening ceremonies were held. She truly believed that doing the Races made a difference, and not just for raising donations. It also raised awareness and was an awe-inspiring sight, that sea of pink on the news that night.

My hope is to raise funds for breast cancer research every year, in her name. I’ve done this since that first race in 2008, with Paulette and Chooch at my side. When I was physically unable to do the race this year, I signed up for the Sleep-In for the Cure. This allowed me to raise funds even though I was unable to attend. They even sent me a t-shirt. I’ll be doing the race, every year, and am considering adding other Komen races in different places. Even if I don’t raise any money through donations, they still get my registration fee, after all. And every penny counts. Someday, I’ll work my way up to the 3-Day race, as I’ve wanted to do for years and am freshly inspired to finally reach that goal. Who knows? 2011 may be the year.

It’s taken me weeks to write this post, and it’s more confessional than I first intended. All I really wanted to do was:

  • Remind you to do a breast self exam. Male or female, you need to know how your breasts feel to be able to determine if and when something changes.
  • Urge you to immediately get to your physician to get it checked out if you find anything that concerns you, no matter how small. You have a brief window for early detection, and it can be the difference between life and death.
  • Ask you to get another opinion if you feel your doctor is dismissive of your concerns. If you don’t have health insurance, check into local programs for a free or lower cost mammogram. It won’t go away just because you don’t have insurance.
  • Tell you NOT to rely on youth for protection. You’d be surprised at how many people get breast cancer in their 20’s and 30’s. In fact, my ex-husband’s sister recently won her battle against breast cancer, and we went to school together. She’s 41, just like me.

Every race I’ve done has been wonderful in its own way, and each time it is a bit less difficult staring down the pink ribbon.

I’m including some pictures from breast cancer fundraiser races I’ve done, starting with May of 2008. Other folks in the photos include Paulette Jaxton, Allison Duncan, Mae Breakall and Jett Micheyl.

Heart Health and Cancer Prevention

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Cooking, Family, Health, Weight Loss

Like many people, I’ve spent the last few years avoiding bread and other carb-heavy or high glycemic-index  foods. This year however, other health issues presented themselves that put my focus more on wellness and disease prevention rather than just losing weight. Those issues also remind me that my family history is something I need to really pay attention to as I am getting older. One side of the family is laden with breast cancer victims while the other side of the family has heart disease as the prevailing cause of illness and death. Being 41, I cannot ignore either issue. *tick*tock*

Dietary fiber has long been believed to be extremely valuable in the fight against many cancers as well as heart disease, and I never intended to avoid it for so long. It just kind of happened. I really chose South Beach again because its final “maintenance” phase is pretty damned healthy with whole grains, fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Having to avoid the whole grains while on the road to maintenance is the problem for me.

So in the last six months or so, I’ve gone off the weight loss phase South Beach and have been enjoying fruits, vegetables and, almost exclusively, carbohydrates in the form of whole grains. I haven’t had a weight gain as a result, as the weight I’ve gained happened before I added them back in.

It has been an insane couple of months, heading into and enjoying all the wonderful fruits available during summer. My palate has completely changed, and many things that I enjoyed while on the low-GI diet I cannot stand after eating foods that are sweetened by nature. Heading into fall I’m saddened by the pathetic state of the fruit department but excited to try new dishes with fall produce offerings.

For the sake of weight loss history, I attempted to review posts I’d written in a “community weight loss support group” that was started in January of 2008 but that died off shortly thereafter. I continued to use the site as my weight loss blog site until I got sick last fall.  Sadly, the blogs I wrote during this time are lost due to a change at Ning that led to it being available only by paid subscription and I am unable to do so with my permissions. I am therefore unable to retrieve the information that I posted there on what I was doing, both in nutrition and exercise. Bummer, but such is life. I was able to gather what is essentially a near monthly weigh-in record dating back to January 2008. In examining the fluctuation, I really didn’t do that much better on South Beach than in traditional “eat fewer calories and exercise more” tactics.

While I truly feel better eating only low carbohydrate/glycemic index foods, I will not go back to eating that way again. And I am having too great a time altering recipes to my whole grain preferences. It may take me longer to lose the weight that I have gained back since my illness started, but I will make that sacrifice for an improvement in my overall health. Looks aren’t everything, after all, and we’re only given one body to carry us through this life. So we’d best take good care of it. *tick*tock*

Here are a few informative links to explain some of the wellness steps we’re taking. (Yes, there is controversy on some of these as to whether or not you get cancer prevention benefits. Since the foods are beneficial in other ways, I’m going to continue eating them.)

  • Healthy cooking oils –  I typically use olive oil when I want that flavor boost, and canola oil for everything else.

Keep in mind that nearly every health regimen or recommendation for wellness includes a minimum of 30 minutes a day of exercise. Many claim that it does not have to be done in one 30 minute session, either. Breaking it up into smaller sessions work, just get moving.

Sleep In For The Cure / +1 to Awesome People Tally / Earth Day

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: 5k, Breast Cancer, Breast Health, Dizzy, Friends, Health

I finally decided against trying to walk the 5k in the Richmond Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Having done the race in past years, I know that I’m screwed if something happens because there’s no easy way to get assistance back to the car.

I’m instead doing the stay at home version, and raising donations in my Mother’s name. If you would like to make a tax deductible contribution, please contact me at vivmuse@gmail.com and I’ll send you the link to the donation site.

My goal is $500 dollars, which I’ve exceeded in previous years. I’m hoping that even in this cash-strapped year that I’ll be able to meet my goal.

Also, if you know Greg and/or Carrie Seidman, please take a moment to pray, reflect, or whatever you are comfortable with today as they are at the hospital for the delivery of their first child. I know I’m sending my blessings for a safe and swift delivery and the health of the baby and mother.  This will be one cool kid if her parents are any indication of what she’ll be like.

Happy Earth Day, all! Show your Mother some love today. Whether familial or planetary, she’s the only one you’ve got.

The Boom Effect on my grieving process

Author: Chooch  //  Category: Breast Cancer, Friends

As anyone that knows me has already heard, the world lost a spectacular woman recently. Natalie Morris left this world at the young age of forty-five. She left behind an exuberant and gorgeous five year old daughter that goes by the nickname Sonic Boom. She will be raised by her loving and attentive father, author and podcaster Tee Morris.

Nat Morris and I on my 40th birthday.

I won’t claim to have known Nat intimately, but I won’t hesitate to call us good friends. Knowing Tee through the podcasting community for the last few years, I was introduced to Nat and we later got to know each other at parties and even were making plans to see each other the very weekend that Chooch and I attending her viewing. I cannot tell you how sad this lost opportunity makes me, and that instead of laughing and talking with her I was grieving the loss of her life and praying for her daughter to remember her throughout her life. I take comfort in my belief that Nat no longer has to hear me tell her something to know it. I believe she now knows what is in my heart without me even having to say it.

The loss of a friend is never an easy. But someone that has their own problems but still takes time to show concern and care for others, reaching out to offer comfort to another that has some difficulty… let’s just say that Nat was a rare gem. She was human, with all the exquisite flaws and frailties that this condition mandates. In spite of this, I always felt that Nat was doing her very best to raise her daughter by beautiful example of being a loving and caring person.  Coming through drastic changes in recent months, her last conversations with me showed joy and happiness at things she was doing over the holidays, particularly those involving her beloved daughter. No one has ever loved a child more than Nat loves Serena.

Having lost my own mother to breast cancer four years ago at the age of thirty-six, I frequently feel adrift without her. Hell, last week I even referred to her in the present tense, so surreal is it that she’s gone. I don’t know what kind of woman I would’ve turned into without her strong and fiercely loving hand to guide me through life, but I am eternally grateful for the time I had with her. While Sonic Boom is devastatingly young to have lost her mother, I know that Nat has provided her a foundation of maternal love, positivity and acceptance that she will carry with her, even if she doesn’t know quite why.

On February 27th I was able to participate in a very small way in a community coming together to raise money for a trust fund for Sonic Boom. It was a staggering success, largely due to the tremendous efforts of author Philippa Ballantine and Podcasting’s Rich Sigfrit. Pip has worked tirelessly since Nat’s passing, in organizing a chip-in fund that raised over $20,000 and in planning and orchestrating the webathon that would be known as The Boom Effect. Over a hundred donors provided goods or services to be auctioned off, and Pip coordinated this event from beginning to end.

Rich Sigfrit used his big brain to piece together multiple platforms to create a live video feed of the auction, along with a bidding system, and conferencing software to bring distant participants into the live recording.  Having witnessed the complex process at work, it is easy to see how much work Rich put into the development, testing and implementation of these elements to make the best possible webathon for Sonic Boom. I believe the hiccups that were experienced were from the huge number of people attending virtually and shortcomings from the service providers themselves.  Rich’s innovation was able to overcome the obstacles and the ten hour webathon was a smashing success.

This success was also due to the help of many others, including Susan Z. who worked tirelessly behind the scenes wrangling the bids and tracking the winners. She took a difficult job and performed it beautifully and with great grace. Billy Flynn and his lovely wife Terri, of Geek Radio Daily, graciously opened their homes to host the webathon, and Billy co-hosted for the majority of the day alongside the tireless Rich Sigfrit. To provide brief respites for the hosts, various others jumped on the microphone and skype to help raise the bids on various items. These folks include my husband Chooch, along with Jett Micheyl, The Bruce, Philippa Ballantine, J.C. Hutchins, Sonic Boom’s father Tee Morris, and many others including Christiana Ellis who raised an additional amount for those that wanted to hear more of her upcoming sequel to Nina Kimberly the Merciless after having a taste of it in an earlier reading.

Am I forgetting people? Yes, and I’m very sorry. This was a day full of amazing generosity and kindness, and my head was spinning from it all. Add to that the darling Sonic Boom’s sparkling presence on and off the microphone and I will happily admit to having lost details of the day. To all those that donated, I am in awe of you. Our small donation to the auction was nothing compared to the time and efforts given by others. To the bidders, you truly rock in a fantastic fashion. At the end of the webathon, over $8,300 was bid and it all goes into a trust fund for Sonic Boom’s future with the remaining funds from the chip-in fund.

The fund now stands at just over $30,000 raised between donations and the webathon. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we were all stunned when Susan Z. brought in the final tally. I remain gobsmacked at the communal generosity and what it has done for this sweet child.

This is the first time I’ve written about Nat publicly since her passing, although I’ve re-written this blog a dozen times since her passing. I never posted it before because I wanted to ensure that the focus remained with Sonic Boom and the fundraising efforts. I didn’t want to shift focus to my grief and I still don’t want that. In fact, the outpouring of loving messages and unbelievable donations directed to Nat’s daughter gives me a new hope. I believe that while she tragically won’t have the tangible love of her mother to guide her throughout her life, she will never lack for adoration and loving support. To be clear, I have never doubted that Tee is a loving and strong parent and role model. Sonic Boom is in very capable and nurturing hands. My remaining hope is that Nat knows that she is loved and will never be forgotten.

Photos from The Boom Effect are included below.