Best Birthday Gift

Today is my 74th birthday, and my best Birthday yet! I am celebrating being alive and feeling well. I am happy. Fred has been concerned that I didn’t have a present. (For gifts, over the years, we have reached a point of picking out our own presents). The truth is, I have everything I want and everything I need.

Our gardener, Juan, came in to work today and was disturbed that his bicycle has “bitten the dust.”  It is important to him because it is his main form of transportation. The streets in San Miguel are hilly, and most of them are cobblestones. If you are going to ride a bike, you need a good one. I knew when Fred and I were discussing Juan’s problem what I wanted my birthday present to be…a new bike for Juan. Fred and I went to the bike shop and made a selection, with much guidance from the shop owner. I am so excited to give this to Juan. Never thought I’d ask for a bicycle for my 74th birthday, but this makes me very happy.

I look forward to this coming year. I am so blessed just to be alive. Life is good.

For a Reason, For a Season, Forever

This is a little side trip in the midst of the series of posts about my past year’s experience in Mexico. It ponders friendship. I took both these portraits when these two were here to visit.

There is a cliché about friendships. It goes like this: There are three kinds of friendships. Some are for a reason, some are for a season, and some are forever. When you think about it, this cliché is pretty true. There are people who come into your life for a reason…maybe you are working on a project together. Maybe they are  a teacher or a student for you. There are people who come into your life for a “season,” a period of time. This is the usual pattern for friendships. At my stage of life, I have had many of these. Sometimes it is hard to accept that a relationship was only meant for a season, especially if this is a relationship that has been important to you. But, people go separate ways, people change, and people do just evolve and move forward (hopefully). It doesn’t lessen the value of the friendship if it doesn’t last forever. Over the years I have had some very dear friends who I loved and enjoyed, but who are just no longer part of my life. One or both of us changed, and we drifted into different directions. Doesn’t mean anything unpleasant happened. Of course, sometimes things end because something unpleasant did happen. Sometimes a relationship ends because one or both people finally realize that the relationship was in some way unhealthy. Whatever happens, the “for a reason” and “for a season” relationships become memories. You might cross paths with those people and either have fond memories, or hope you can get out of the room before they see you.
Then, there are the forever friendships. In our fast paced world, most of the forever friendships will have to endure the tests of not only time, but also of distance, unless both people continue to live in the same town for their entire lives. During the course of this year I have been so fortunate to spend some time with two of my long term forevers. It was by no design of mine that both these old friends were around to give me support at the scary beginning of a major health crisis, just like they had both given me support so many times before.
I have been friends with Trudy (on the left) since sometime around 1969. She came to Nashville from San Francisco, and I thought she was the coolest person I had ever seen. She was working in a “head shop” (anybody remember those?) in Nashville and I walked in one day to find her behind the counter, eating her lunch with chopsticks. It was Nashville. No one was eating with chopsticks. That pretty much did it. We became fast (in more than one sense of the word) friends, and we loved to get done up and prance around. I think hanging out with Trudy influenced my sense of what style really means more than any other person I have known. And, I am happy to report, she still has it…that effortless elegance that can be projected so easily. Trudy was not the kind of girl to stay in Nashville, so off she went to San Francisco, where I visited her in 1973. She then moved to New York, had a sojourn in Soho (when it was really interesting), where I also visited and ate whole grains with her at Food, a long since gone landmark. After New York, She ended up in Montreal (where Fred and I visited in 1980), with a great husband and eventually, two children who are now adults. Over the years we have continued to find ways to get together several times. The four of us went on a backpacking trip to the Smoky Mountains in 1982, where we were confronted with a bear stealing our food. They spent time with us in Zipolite three winters ago, and Trudy planned a two stay with us last winter here in San Miguel, with her husband joining her for one of the weeks. She had no idea what she was in for, and neither did I. She was here at the very beginning my health taking a weird turn…right between me knowing something was off to the part where I found out I had to have a hysterectomy. It went from heavy to heavier. What a genuine blessing it was to have this wonderful old friend here during that time.
But, I was doubly blessed in that another forever friend was also around during this year for some nice chunks of time. I met Gail (on the right) in (I think) 1976. At that time we were both living single and looking for adventure. So we did what any liberated, high achieving 30 somethings would do, we started whitewater canoeing together. We started for fun, but…we got really good at it. I think that chapter was one of the most self-defining of my life. I had never felt my own physical power, and it was a wonderful thing. Gail also introduced me to Unity Church, which was the beginning of quite a spiritual journey. I met Fred in 1978, and about that time the canoeing started to play out. I had hit a figurative wall with the paddling, and decided I probably needed to quit while I was still having fun. Gail became quite an entrepreneur and started doing the Tennessee Women’s Career Convention, got very successful in the world of public speaking, and moved to Phoenix. In a “season” or a “reason” relationship, that would have surely been the end of it. But, it wasn’t. We managed to continue to get together. Gail lived in some interesting places, and ended up settling in Santa Fe. But, in the last couple of years, she has been drawn to San Miguel, much to my surprise and delight. It was wonderful to have her around this year. She has the most remarkable sense of humor…the proof of this is that she always gets (and laughs at) my jokes.
It was also kind of marvelous to be around Gail and Trudy at the same time. One night, when I had a brief false hope that my problem was just a benign cyst, Fred took the three of us out for a celebration. It was a bit premature, but fabulous, nevertheless. It was also the last time I had a glass of champagne.
It is a joy to think about old friends, especially the ones who are still around. It takes a long time to recognize the forever ones. But, it’s interesting to see who they turn out to be.

Ch Ch Changes. Time May Change Me, but I Can’t Change Time. Time Remains the Same.

Even though San Miguel is changing and growing, you can still see things like the scene in this photo. These are the things I love most about being here.

Things are going to change. Either they change, or they die. This applies to almost everything, but it especially applies to places. FaceBook certainly proved that this morning. Within 5 minutes I saw a post from a friend and neighbor in Nashville. The post was complete with sickening photo of a beautiful old home being scraped away by a bulldozer.
That teardown is going on very close to the house where Fred and I lived together for about 35 years. We renovated that house and we loved it. We had wonderful times there with wonderful friends. When we returned from a six month trip in Mexico in 2014-15, we realized how much Nashville was changing, and how fast. We got it why you would love the “New Nashville” if it suited you. We also realized that it didn’t suit us anymore, for a number of reasons.
We also knew that one really good thing about this kind of change was that we could sell our house (which had dramatically increased in value since Fred bought it, thanks to not only our work, but in large part to the booming real estate market in Nashville) and buy a new place in Mexico. Honestly, the main reason we left was because we wanted to have the experience of living in a different country. I had felt for years that living in Mexico was part of the grand plan for our lives. In retrospect, I believe that being in Mexico literally did save my life. I made a big commitment when I decided to stay here for some extremely important health care. That’s how sure I was about being in Mexico.
This change was huge. We sold our house, cars, and a ton of stuff, and headed South. The commitment was made, and we knew we wouldn’t turn back.
As things tend to go, we chose to move to a Mexican town that is also experiencing growing pains. (Being declared “the best city in Latin America” by Conde Nast does have an effect on things). The weekends are jammed with tourists, mostly from other places in Mexico, and the traffic is intense. More new people from the US and elsewhere are showing up, and some of them are staying. More and more upscale restaurants and shops are opening. And, it is getting really hard to get a cab. These are changes that I have seen since we started coming here in 2010. Some of the expats who have been here for years are not happy about these developments. The town has changed, and will likely change more. I love it here, and while I know our friends here sincerely love us, I sometimes get a little uncomfortable about all that “too many new people” stuff in general. Even though I know my personal friends don’t feel that way about us, it is unsettling to realize (based on FaceBook comments) that a few people really do resent new people coming in and somehow changing their town.
Look…I wish I had had a crystal ball. Believe me, if I had, we would have been here much, much sooner. One thing I have done a few times in my life is to wait too long to make needed changes, because sometimes it’s easier to complain than to change. Sometimes I need a change in my attitude, sometimes I need a change in my situation. I applaud anyone who figures out how to make a major move so that they can live where they will be happy. Many people are very unhappy with where they live. If you are at a place in life where you still need to earn an income, it’s even harder to figure out. So, to people who managed to make it work before they retired, right on. I would encourage anyone who feels like they want to do a new thing to do it. Life is short. Make yourself happy. Just know that other people are trying to be happy, too. And know that no matter where you decide to go, if it’s attractive, it’s definitely going to grow and change. I imagine that 15 years ago San Miguel was already growing and changing, just at a slower pace. And so was Nashville. For that matter, so was New York.
Nothing is really preventable about growth and change. It just doesn’t always suit us. We knew that the changes we were seeing in Nashville weren’t suiting us. We could stick around and bitch and get bitter, or try something different. We decided to try something different. We had to be pretty motivated to do this and we are happy that we did. As to people who are bitching…as far as I’m concerned…not my monkeys, not my zoo.

In the past year, so many things are happening in the USA that don’t suit me that I know even more and without a doubt that we made the right decision. I am very happy to be alive and well in Mexico. Since I left the US I have grown more and more detached and that has been very healthy for me. I could bitch all day and all night, but what I really did was say goodbye.

Every Day is a Resurrection

The photo on the right was taken last October. I was almost done with radiation, and my hair, eyebrows, and lashes were starting to make a return appearance. I was very emaciated and the radiation had sucked a lot of energy out of me. But, I knew I was getting through it, and the end was in sight. I had a scan after chemo that showed the cancer was gone (which was miraculous) and I did the radiation as a preventative against any returns. I knew that the situation was temporary, and now 3 1/2 months after this picture was made, I am reveling in feeling normal and enjoying my new self, as you see in the photo on the left. One way to describe how I was feeling at the end of the chemo and radiation is to say that it felt like my physical self had been taken to bare minimum. I felt I had been handed (carefully…fragile) a ball of unformed clay and a voice said to me, “Okay. Let’s see how you make this work.” I am in the process of rebuilding my body, and my life. Every day I wake up and I am thankful to be alive. Every day I get a little better. One gift from this past year is that I have learned not to be hard on myself and to love myself just the way I am. Another gift is my remarkable hair.

My first thought when I heard the seriousness of my prognosis was, I AM GOING TO LIVE AND NOT DIE. I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen, but I was sure that it was going to happen. I had 4 weeks between surgery and starting chemo and I used that time to listen to my guidance and put together my team of alternative medicine specialists and my plan. In the midst of whatever chaos was going on, I found it empowering to take control of everything I could.
One extremely important thing I did was to radically change my diet. I researched and learned that there are some foods that encourage the growth of cancer cells, and if you eliminate these foods, you can literally starve the cancer cells to death. I consulted with a nutritional doctor and went on a very strict diet. However, I want to make it perfectly clear that I also believe that chemotherapy was the essential key to my recovery. I do also believe that the diet combined with the chemo really delivered a one-two punch. Since I haven’t eaten red meat since the 1960’s, eliminating that wasn’t a problem. The main changes I made were no sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no processed foods, no unhealthy fats, and no alcohol. When I say no sugar, I mean nothing that turns to sugar quickly. My fruits were limited to green apples and berries. I was rigidly strict with myself. You can learn all the details of this diet in Mike Herbert’s book, “Stay Healthy During Chemo,” which is available on Amazon. If you, or someone you love, is faced with this health crisis, please order this book.
In my mind, every single day, several times a day, I reminded myself that I was starving the cancer cells. That, and the powerful drugs of chemotherapy, were getting the job done. I finished chemotherapy cancer-free. My liver (which was in stage 4) was restored to health. I intend to stay on this diet for the rest of my life, with some slight modifications. I now eat whole grain, organic bread, and I have added pears, bananas, and papayas back to my diet, along with an occasional baked potato. Those are the only changes. In the beginning I also added fish to my diet, as I gave up soy, my protein go-to. I also eat organic eggs.
That is basically the diet that I have followed. While it seems strict, it is pretty doable. The other side of the diet issue is body image, and what happens when you lose about 30 pounds in 8 months, starting at what seemed to be a fairly normal weight.
When I was twelve years old I was super skinny. Over the top skinny. So skinny that I was harassed and insulted about it on a daily basis. One reason for this was that at that age I was living in the Ignorance Capitol of the South, and that’s pretty ignorant. The people, especially the ones between 12 and 20, were also rude enough to make nasty comments. North Alabama aesthetics had no place for a young girl who was Twiggy-sized, 15 years before Twiggy made it big. This was a time when the desired body type for a young female was short and curvy. I had grown to my full adult height by the time I was thirteen. I grew up, but not out. I had to spend the years when one forms her body image being assured on a daily basis that I just didn’t make the cut. The only class I took at that school where I actually learned something useful was typing. I find typing a right-brain activity. I can still really get into it. I learned how to type, and I could type really fast. I still can, thanks to my amazingly long fingers, and to my typing teacher, Catherine Blankenship. She was wonderful to me. The story was that Mrs. Blankenship (who had moved there “from up North”) had once been a model. She zeroed right in on me, and frequently made remarks that the whole class could hear. “Margaret, you could be a model. You are so tall and slim. You look so stylish.” Yes, I was tall and “slim.” I was also awkward and probably moved a little like a goose. But, that didn’t stop Mrs. Blankenship from boosting me and I will never forget her. Maybe it was her way of lifting up a kid she knew was suffering. Maybe it was her special way of battling the ignorance she had been somehow dropped into. (I never knew how she ended up in that God-forsaken town, and I hope she managed to get out of there.)
I gained some weight between the time I was fifteen and twenty-five, and spent my early adulthood as a normal, but slim, person. I think it is my natural state. I “porked up” a bit in my forties and fifties, mainly due to sloppy eating habits, too much business travel and the sugary food involved with that, alcohol, and only sporadic exercise. At my chubbiest I weighed 161 pounds and I was never happy about this. I hated shopping, which was unfortunate because I was constantly exposed to it. I became, as do many women in that weight category, a master at camouflage. I amassed a collection of Eileen Fisher that extended over the years. (Side note: Eileen Fisher is a brilliant designer. She had the only line where I could wear a medium instead of a large.) Seeing a photo of myself at this all-time high…in shorts, from the back…was shocking to me. I was appalled enough to do something about getting things under control. I eventually ( in my early sixties ) hit a sort of happy medium, but it required lots of regular exercise and changing to a vegan diet. I decided that if I could keep my weight under 140 I could live with that. When we left Nashville in October of 2015, I weighed 137.
When you go on a very strict diet, you generally lose weight, no matter what your motivation is. My motivation was simple and very compelling. I really wanted to stay alive and I was willing to do whatever was required to do that. The weight loss started happening pretty quickly, and by the time I finished radiation (which had its own dietary restrictions…no fats allowed!) I weighed 106 pounds. I looked very much like I had escaped from a concentration camp. Happy to say my various hairs have grown back, and I now weigh 114 pounds.
While I think that chemotherapy and radiation were essential to my being alive and well in this moment, I also credit this diet to playing a huge part in that success. And, yes, there are those times when I definitely remember and reconnect with that very skinny kid, and I look at voluptuous women with a bit of envy, just like I did as a teenager. But, this skinny time around I am determined to love my body, make the absolute most of being alive (which includes enjoying fashion), and be happy in my skinny skin. While I could handle a few more pounds, I really do feel better in general at a lower body weight. Shopping is also a motivator for me, and I have to say, it is more fun to shop for a chica than a grande. So, long story short, if life has once again dealt me the skinny card, this time I intend to play it like a royal flush. And once I hit 120, I intend to hold the fort right there. I believe that this diet is magic not only for health, but also for weight control. Giving up sugar, alcohol, and dairy is the ticket. And, of course, red meat, processed foods, and unhealthy fats.

I know there are lots of folks that battle with their weight and body image. Whether you are dealing with a disease or not, having a negative attitude about your physical self is no fun, and is dangerous to your mental and emotional health. Only you know whether you are happy being where you are. I never was happy with being overweight, but for years I lacked the discipline to really change it. I was also unhappy when I was an underweight teenager. I suspect most women have these issues even if they are perfect. At  my heaviest weight I faked myself out by saying that I wasn’t “that overweight” and I knew how to dress to camouflage. I knew how to get that 45-degree angle in a photo. Regardless of all the Photoshop in the world, no one can really change you but you! I know that even if someone is battling a disease it can be hard to muster the discipline to eat healthy and exercise in the midst of it. However, I had little problem with the discipline issue. I was so highly motivated to stay alive that it was easy for me. Staying alive is perhaps the highest motivation.
I don’t know what it takes to motivate another person. It is totally an individual thing. Looking better, feeling better, enjoying life more…these are definitely pay-offs for clean-eating and exercise. Defeating cancer and staying alive were huge motivators for me. Being free and staying free of cancer is a wonderful payoff. Perhaps each of us has to ask ourselves if we are happy with the shape we are in. If the answer is no, then today is a great time to make the changes that need to be made, and do whatever it takes…with no excuses…to make ourselves into our very best. The most important part of that formula is to begin by loving yourself enough to get started, right now, right where you are.

Taking a Break

I realize that some people who read my blog are not connected to me on FaceBook or Instagram and are possibly wondering why I haven’t been posting. Fred and Pinky and I spent the month of January on the beach. Believe it or not, it gets chilly in the Mexican mountains in January. The days are sunny, warm and spectacular, but the late nights are sometimes in the thirties. The houses get cold, and don’t warm up much, even in the afternoons.
Fred and I have managed to take a winter beach vacation for the past 25 years. These trips have ranged from two weeks to three and a half months, and have gone down both coasts of Mexico. Going to the beach has been a very sustaining part of my life. There is something about going to a new place and staying there for a while that gives me a new way of looking at my life and a new way of seeing myself and my situation. Fred and I tend to treat our beach trips like little honeymoons. We got the honeymoon idea early in our travels, on our first trip to Puerto Vallarta. The tradition on many beaches in Mexico is for a guy to stand outside the bars and sort of flag people in for happy hours. And, every hour seems to be a happy one. There was one guy whose line was, “Hey, Honeymooners…two for one.” We loved that line, and did see ourselves as honeymooners, and all our beach trips give us a new look at what being together means to us. We have enriched our last three beach trips by including Pinky, making it a family affair.
This particular trip has been especially important to me. When I finished radiation on November 2, I was kind of a mess. I was shockingly skinny, had just started to get my hair back, and my muscle tone was pretty much shot. In spite of this, physically and mentally I felt really good. But, it was hard for me to reconnect with my physical self. I almost felt like I’d been picked up and reinserted into a different person’s body. I spent very little time without being wrapped in very concealing clothes, and struggling to recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. I also knew that my outlook on many things had changed. My boundaries were stronger (a good thing), and my patience much shorter (sometimes not such a good thing).
One thing being in a tropical beach setting does is force you to confront your physical body. I have managed to gain eight pounds since I was officially declared finished on November 8 (I won’t forget the date, or fail to see the irony of it). I brought my exercise mats and bands to the beach and have managed to get enough discipline together to get my workouts on a roll. I see muscle tone again. My skin looks less like it is draped over my bones. I have hair, and that hair has a definite mind of its own. I started coloring my hair as soon as I had a quarter inch of it, because that’s how I am. I have been redecorating my face, changing my make up. Changing my mind about my face, too.
But, most importantly, I have continued to write. I have been writing, just not posting. So, now that we have wrapped it up and are back in San Miguel de Allende, I have several new posts ready for you. So, more to come.
I have enjoyed Instagram very much on this trip. I have had a creative dry spell for the past many months, as most of my energy has gone into just taking physical care of myself. I have been thinking about that and looking for what I will do next in that direction. I think one of the most interesting phases of the creative process is when you have the drive but aren’t quite sure how to channel it. Writing has been so good for me during all this. I have been encouraged to hear from some readers that my posts have been good for them, too. I am glad to know that. I am writing this particular series not only for people who find themselves slammed by a health crisis, but also for myself as I walk my own way down this path asking “Where have I been, where am I now, and where am I going?”…

A Book That Could Save Your Life

A Book That Could Save Your Life, and make you much healthier whether you are undergoing chemo or not. Stay Healthy During Chemo by Mike Herbert, ND, with
Joseph Dispenza

(This is the ninth post in a series about my past year. I moved to Mexico…my dream come true…and soon thereafter found myself dealing with cancer and in the middle of a nightmare. I chose to stay in Mexico for all my treatment, and I received great medical and alternative care. I am now well, cancer-free…and remarkably slim.)

By the time I got out of the hospital from the surgery I had pretty much snapped out of my initial state of catatonic shock and knew I had to take charge of what was happening to me. I used the time between the surgery and the start of chemo to put together a team of people in the alternative wellness fields who could support me as I went through chemo and radiation. I had no idea when we moved to San Miguel de Allende that it is a center for alternative medicine. I believe that I received guidance on just the right people to connect with. One of the very helpful people I found was Mike Herbert, who, with Joseph Dispenza, wrote an amazing book, “Stay Healthy During Chemo, the Five Essential Steps”. Mike lives in San Miguel and I was able to have several consultations with him about my diet and the other supportive steps outlined in the book. I read this book straight through, and immediately I felt a real understanding of the connection between cancer and nutrition, a subject that the author has researched thoroughly. He did not have to convince me to do this diet and the other things recommended. I was as highly motivated as a person could be. I really wanted to stay alive and nothing seemed too radical for me. I used this book as a reference throughout my treatment and I think that ANY PERSON WHO FACES THIS CHALLENGE OWES IT TO HERSELF TO GET THIS BOOK. It is available on Amazon. I can honestly say that the information in this book played an important role in saving my life, and it certainly made going through chemo much easier.
This book covers so many important things that can make the difference as to whether you get through chemo with relative ease or you are completely wiped out by it. The five steps discussed are attitude, methods that you can use to detox, diet, supplements, and the balance between exercise and rest. All of these important topics are discussed in detail, and in language that is clear and understandable.
Even if you don’t have an opportunity to meet with Mike Herbert personally, this book will be very helpful. The overall positivity of the book is contagious, and many ideas he shares about attitude are very empowering. One of the main points made is that while chemo can kill malignant cells, it is our job to make ourselves healthy. We can do this by following the program set out in this book. What a patient does during chemo will determine how well he/she will get through it. What a patient does after chemo will establish a lifetime of ongoing health. I intend to stay on this diet, with a few modifications, for the rest of my life. One side effect of all this is that I am now very slim, and I like that. (I will discuss my personal diet in a future post.)
One of the main thing a person has to deal with at the beginning of a journey like this is fear of the unknown. This book helps you to move through the fears, find a way to take charge of your own recovery, and to plan your way to move forward with your life after chemo is over.
“A very powerful book that will change your perspective forever on recovering from cancer. It provides excellent and sound guidelines on protecting your immune system while undergoing and recovering from chemotherapy. This groundbreaking book will help you conquer your fears and anxieties and replace them with healing and hope.” Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

A Good Day to Contemplate the Spirit World

This is the eight post in a series about my live this year. I would like to talk about the part that faith played in my recovery from cancer.

While at this point in my life I do not identify with the concept of organized religion, I believe that many great teachers have walked the earth, and that we can learn from all of them. I am of the school of thought that believes that there is definitely a mountain top, and there are several roads that lead there.
Since this is Christmas Eve, I find myself reflecting on one of those great teachers and the relationship I personally feel with Jesus. I never connected much with religion until I was well into my 40’s. While i grew up in a very southern American culture, I never identified with any of it, the religion included. I never really had religion forced on me except that I was taught that if I wasn’t good I would surely go to hell, but I never believed that either, not at all. That was all the teaching I got. That and another punishment for not being good was that Jesus wouldn’t love me.
So, my searching for truth has been of my own accord, and a path I started to follow as an adult, with complete freedom to accept or reject. I was introduced to a wonderful concept of Jesus at Unity Church, where I learned to see things from a metaphysical perspective. I saw him as a great teacher, and I wanted to learn what he came to teach. It was the idea that I could learn from a master how to master my own life that really appealed to me. I learned that he was not only a teacher, but also a brother, as he taught that all of us are children together, and loved. I learned that the will of the Universe for my life is that I always prosper, in spirit, soul, and body. The most fantastic thing he came to teach us was our amazing power. He assured us that nothing was impossible.
I became totally focused on exploring these teachings, and reading and studing the Bible because the highest priority of my life. I feel a great deal of resonance with parts of it, and am completely turned off by parts of it as well. But, I fully identified with the basic message of the gospel…the Good News, because good news was exactly what he came to preach. I learned to see that the concept of redemption is so much bigger, and vaster than is possible for me to even fully grasp.
I was led from Unity to a fundamentalist church where I was taught that the Holy Spirit was a real force in our lives. I was drawn to the gifts of the Spirit, and the literal interpretation of the Good News as it applied to my everyday life. I learned a lot of in that church. One of the most important things I learned was how to take control of my thoughts. When I first started going to that church the message was extremely positive, and very helpful to me as I saw that I could live my life in a state of faith. That faith got me through a difficult financial time, and changed my life.
As time went on, the message became less helpful to me. When Bush was elected, it seemed to bring out the political ugliness, not as bad as with Trump, but bad enough that I knew I had to leave. Before I left I met with the pastor and told him why I was leaving, and I really didn’t hold back. After visiting a few other churches, I made a quality decision to give up trying to deal with church. That was several years ago. Over the past few years I have made peace with all this. I definitely identify as a follower of the teachings of Jesus, as best I can. I am not perfect. I also am thankful that I have received the redemption that he came to freely give. It was the belief that the will for me was life and not death that got me through this past year. It was remembering how to stand in faith that made me know I was going to make it. There were certain scriptures that strengthened me, such as, “Beloved, I would that you would prosper and be in health.” It was the understanding that not only could I control my mind at all times, but that my survival depended on it. I had to be more disciplined than I thought possible, but I allowed no negative words to be spoken over me or my condition. And through it all, I saw myself as he sees me, healed and whole.
I am so very sorry that so many people who call themselves “Christians” and do it in such a loud and obnoxious way have cast such a nasty shadow on concepts that have been such a marvelous light in my own life.
Whatever you believe, and whatever you call it, I would hope that on the eve of the birth of this teacher you would know, beyond a doubt, that you are loved and that (if I may be so bold as to say) God’s will for you is good. Miracles do exist, and faith is the substance of things hoped, the evidence of things unseen.

Consider the Alternative

(This is the seventh in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.The one is an elderly couple who were sitting together on a bench in San Miguel, just watching the world go by.)

Like a large percentage of people, I spent most of my youth in one of two states of mind about aging. For the first state, I thought there was no way it would happen to me. For the second state, I just thought of it as something I didn’t want to have happen to me. I worked very hard to postpone it.

Some of the things I did to postpone it were physically advantageous to my health. A few weren’t. I have now completely re-prioritized my age-postponing activities. I have eliminated the unhealthy, and restricted myself to only the healthy. (More discussion in future posts). I still see nothing wrong with postponing aging. Assuming you like hanging out in your physical body for a longer bit of time, you do yourself a favor by running a well-maintained machine. And, interestingly enough, most of the things that postpone aging are also good for your health.

This year I got a very close up and personal look at the alternative to growing old. I am not ready to leave this planet. Because my spirit knew that, my body and mind became warriors. I got to know a whole new person as I walked down this road, and I really like her. Without the undesired experience of this year, I might have reached this place by the time I was 90. This year has been a crash course in my own personal growth, and a good hard kick in my own ass. I was presented with two big possibilities; to never grow any older because I was about to check out to another dimension, or to stick around for awhile…right here, right now, and just learn to love, and enjoy, the process.

This choice was made very clear to me and it was a no-brainer. I chose to live. But, in order to walk into that life, my mind had to stay strong and focused. I had to only see pictures of myself as well. I could only see my future as bright. Nothing negative could be spoken about my condition, by myself or anyone else. I quickly realized how sensitive I am to energy, and I decided to do my best to eliminate negativity (and negative people) from my life. I also learned to picture myself as an older woman, and to see her as vital, happy, and healthy. The ability to picture myself as a healthy and strong older woman was a very important part of my recovery. I learned to look into the future and see the woman I am joyfully becoming. I no longer feel negatively about growing older. I embrace it as a wonderful opportunity, and a beautiful gift.

This is Really NOT Helpful

(This is the sixth in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time. This is a picture I took of an angry bird…sort of a picture of me when I find myself around negative people.)

I don’t want this post to feel like I am scolding you, but I think this needs to be said. Also, keep in mind that I am only speaking for myself, and my own experience. This is certainly true for how I personally feel, and, as far as I know, has never been said. At least, it hasn’t been said enough.

The hardest thing about the cancer diagnosis is the immediate fear that grips your heart. To me, cancer has always been the very scariest of diseases. The reason for this fear is that all I have ever heard about it has been how completely awful it is. In many cases, I have thought that it meant a series of extremely destructive treatments, and then you die. If I had not had all those thoughts preprogrammed into my mind, I think it would have been much easier for me to have faced my own diagnosis.

One thing that people do that is extremely not helpful is that “copy and post if you hate cancer” thing. People who have never had cancer really have no idea what it feels like to hear the diagnosis. Yet they copy and share these kinds of posts like they are the very gospel. “Cancer sucks, cancer is hell, I hate cancer, this is awful,” etc. In fact, some of these kinds of posts go on to list all the horrible things that cancer patients must endure…in graphic detail. Stop, just stop with all this. Maybe you do hate cancer. I mean, really…who loves it? Who loves any disease? But, lighten up. This is just not helpful to a person who is actually dealing with it, or facing the journey of treatment. It only adds to the fears, and it only makes the person feel more separate from the healthy humans who are so actively appearing to be their advocates, but who are, in fact, scaring the shit out of them with all these gory details.

Another one is all the posts that find the worst possible pictures they can find of suffering people, and then go on the tirades about how horrible cancer is. Yes, it is a pretty horrible disease, and people do die from it, but this is not helpful to a person who is trying to go through it with as little drama as possible. The last thing I needed to do was to identify with these pictures. Just stop doing this. It is not helpful.

Then there are the people who have gone through it and continue to see themselves as victims. They can talk for hours about how bad their experience was and about how their life will never be good again. This is not helpful either. My god. You got through it. You have survived. Focus on that. Stop with the lists of all the bad things it has done to your life. I am not making light of your experience. I know that cancer does, in fact, suck. But, this playing the victim thing is very much not helpful…especially to you. Stop it now. If you think that hearing all this is helpful to someone who is in the middle of treatment, you are very mistaken.

Stop with the statistics. And, if you are faced with this diagnosis, don’t get online and look for statistics. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. My surgeon didn’t give me much hope. The last thing I needed to do was see what my “statistical chances” were. I knew they weren’t good. But no one is a statistic. Everyone is an individual. Another thing I didn’t need to focus on was my age when all this happened, and how much harder that was going to make my survival. The only information that was important to me was that I was not ready to go, and that I was going to do everything I could to live. That was what I needed to know, and that was all I needed to know.

Then there are those people, some of them are in the alternative medicine fields, who want to discourage people from traditional treatments. I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t done chemo I would most likely not be around to write this post. Anyone who tried to discourage me from doing what I needed to do was taking a very risky route with me. Every alternative person I dealt with was asked how they felt about chemo and radiation. If I got a negative answer, I did not work with that person. I had one person, early on, who billed herself as a “healer.” After she found I was was going to do chemo, she really freaked out on me, and told me some of the scariest things I have heard. I never saw her again. She was not helpful at all.

I am a very progressive, whole food, kind of person. I believe that there are many very good alternative treatments and I used several of them. But, while I believe they were extremely important to my overall well-being, I don’t believe that doing these approaches without the chemo would have saved my life. So, save your extreme ideas for when you need them yourself. If you want to play around with someone’s survival, let it only be with your own. Just stop all the negative things about chemo and radiation. If someone needs it, they are not helped at all by your opinions about it. If you are responsible for talking someone out of it, be ready to feel responsible for whatever happens to them. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who have been cured by alternative means. I’m just saying that I know that I needed to do exactly what I did. In the abstract, I believe in faith healing. But, you had better be completely sure that you have the kind of faith to receive it. Sometimes you might just have the faith to believe that your treatments will work. Faith played an important role in my own process. The thing I had to do was locate my own faith, and then be comfortable in that place.

I have gone through both chemo and radiation. It was not a walk in the park. There were some days that I didn’t feel good. There were some days that I looked like shit. But, it really wasn’t nearly as horrible as it is cracked up to be, at least for me. What I am sure of is that all the alternative things I did to support my healthy cells really did help me get through it as easily as possible.The whole thing would have been so much easier if I had not been programmed to think it was going to be really, really terrible. In the fight for my life, the biggest battle was with the dark thoughts and scary words that I had to get out of my head.

I have believed for a very long time that we create our reality by our thoughts and our words. People sometimes act like they believe this, and give lip-service to this concept, then they sabotage themselves by turning around and thinking negative thoughts and speaking negative words. This also applies to the thoughts, vibrations, and words of the people around us. I am fortunate to be in a situation now in my life where I can choose the people I am going to be around. I have done my best to eliminate people who project to me, either by their energy or their words, that I am pretty much screwed. I got a comment recently from someone who said, “I know you have been through hell.” The fact is, no one but me knows what I have been through. If you think you do, you are only projecting your own fears and negativity on to me. In fact, in the midst of this crazy year I have come to realize that it has been a pretty amazing time. I have learned a lot about myself, and I have learned a lot about life in general. I have been set free of so many things that have always bound me. I won’t go so far as to say that cancer is a gift, but I will say that sometimes what has been meant for evil can be used for good. (More about this concept in a future post.) I choose to be around people who see me as I see myself…healthy and whole. And, yes, you can see yourself that way even in the midst of cancer…It just takes a lot of discipline and determination. And it is not helpful to receive any information to the contrary.

A Miracle in Mexico (where healthcare is good, doctors are accessible, and the cost doesn’t bankrupt you).

(This is the fifth in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.This one is a snapshot of my chemo oncologist, Dr. Juan Feregrino.)

The first thing I knew when the health crisis hit was that I would stay in Mexico to take care of it. The idea of returning to the USA was so hard for me that I don’t think I would have been able to do it and keep my spirits up for staying alive. Fred agreed, and said he would go along with whatever I needed to do. We spoke with the surgeon involved, and he gave us a rough idea of what it would cost to do everything in Mexico. While this was just a general idea, it definitely helped us in deciding to stay. We saw that we could pay for it out-of-pocket, as we had no insurance in Mexico to cover the costs. The total cost of all the traditional medicine treatments—including 5 nights in a hospital (three for the surgery, and two for the last radiation treatment), the surgery, which was long and involved, all the tests and scans, any drugs we had to buy, all the doctors’ fees, the chemo and the radiation, was about $20,000 US. That is a lot of money, but probably not as much it would have cost to live in the USA for 8 months, plus the co-pays that would have been involved if we had chosen to return to the US and use Medicare, and all the many other expenses that would have been part of whole process.
A few of our American friends here in San Miguel that we discussed things with said that they would choose to return to the States. I think a lot of people feel that the US has the world’s best medical care. I never had a really serious health problem while I was living in the US. I can’t really compare the two places, because I have nothing to compare. I can only say everyone has a right to their own opinion. I can also say that you never really know how you would handle a situation until you are actually faced with it. I was so determined to stay in Mexico that all of this advice hit deaf ears. We had just bought our home here, and here is where I wanted to be. One of the earliest realizations I had was that my success for surviving would depend on the amount of normalcy I was able to keep in my life. Normal life to me means being at home, seeing friends, and not giving in to whatever catastrophe that is going on. The thought of us going through the past several months in some place like Houston is simply more abnormal to me than I can imagine.
Now that I am on the other side of this situation I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I know I made the right decision. The health care I have received in Mexico has been outstanding. All the doctors that I have seen have been extremely competent, caring people. They have spoken good English, which I appreciate since my Spanish is still pretty elementary. The nurses and technicians mostly spoke Spanish. I know enough Spanish to communicate in very crude terms, so somehow we all made it work.
The hospitals have all been run very well, extremely well maintained, and well equipped. I had most the treatments in Queretaro, at three different hospitals…one for the surgery, one for the chemo, and one for the radiation. The only treatment I had outside of Queretaro was in León, one of the two hospitals in Mexico where they do the last form of radiation that I needed. I could have chosen to do that in Mexico City, but was advised that in León (which is only an hour from San Miguel) it would be exactly the same treatment at half the cost.
Doctors here are very accessible. My chemo oncologist gave me his cell number and his email, and he always responded if I needed him for any questions. My radiation oncologist used What’s Ap to stay in touch, and sometimes she just sent me a smiley face. She always responded immediately. I felt I could ask these two anything, and that they were there for me. They didn’t ever do that thing where I felt they were in the middle of seeing several patients at once. I felt I had their complete attention.
The doctor I have developed the closest relationship with is my chemo oncologist, Dr. Feregrino, the man in the photo here. In fact, I saw him yesterday to go over the results of my follow up blood work. This guy was so supportive during the chemo treatment process. When I told him I was most afraid of having one of those ports, he arranged my treatments so that I didn’t have to. While I have very small veins and it was sometimes hard to find one to accommodate the insertion of the needle for the chemo, he set me up with a technician who is very experienced and she was able to do it every time. He completely understood my concerns, and instead of insisting I had to go the usual route, found a way to help me avoid what I didn’t want to do. He took the time to consider me as an individual. He showed up for every one of my treatments, hung out with us and visited, never seemed to be in a rush, and always made us feel like he believed I was going to make it. After Fred and I met with him for the first consultation we both had a very good feeling, both about him and about our ability to get through the process.
He was interested in what I was doing with all the alternative treatments I was using. While there seems to be a gulf of distrust between traditional medicine and holistic medicine, I gradually came to see that I could share these things with him. He never made me feel that he disapproved. As I got to know him I came to really appreciate his curiosity and his open mind. I was warned…don’t tell your chemo doctor what you’re doing, he’ll talk you out of it. That was not the case at all.
After my last chemo I had a PET scan. I knew in my heart that I was clear, but I wanted to hear him say it. He was as happy as we were.
I am sure of one thing…every person is different and has a different experience. I can only speak for myself, and I can only talk about my own experience. But, based on my very personal experience, I can say that my medical care in Mexico has been wonderful. I am so glad that Fred and I decided to stay here for this. It was the absolutely the right thing for us to do. I will close this post with a word of advice. When you have a rocky road to travel, your own heart is your best guide. When you decide on the course you will follow, stick with it. Don’t let yourself be distracted by all the advice, articles, and projected fears of your friends and family. That is the main reason I was very, very careful about sharing about my condition while I was in the middle of it. More about that in a future post.