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 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.

The Vanity Thing. Staying Sane and Well in the Face of Real Trouble.

This is the third in a series of posts about my own experience with cancer, chemo, radiation, and various alternative therapies. It is the story of a year that I will never forget. This picture was taken shortly after I finished all radiation. We had gone out to brunch with friends. My hair coming back (notice I already had it colored). My eyebrows and eyelashes also back. Looking happy, feeling good, loving life. If you know anyone who could benefit from these posts, please share.)

I have always had a pretty healthy dose of vanity. I’ve never been a beauty queen, but always felt like I looked pretty good, all things considered. When the health crisis hit, I just felt numb. During this time I could barely function, much less put on my contact lenses and makeup. My skin and hair seemed lifeless to me.

I think the hardest part of the whole experience for me was knowing something was wrong, but not knowing what. Then when I realized, after the ultrasounds and the blood work and the scan and the very serious reaction of the gynecologist, that what was wrong was going to require major surgery, I felt paralyzed. How I looked was the last thing on my mind. I felt completely detached from myself. The mind/body connection was completely disconnected. I would look in the mirror and fail to recognize my own reflection. I didn’t know the face that was looking back at me.
On my last day in the hospital after the surgery, the doctor came in the room. The vibe was very heavy. He told me that without chemo I had maybe six months to live. Of course I decided to do chemo.
Sure enough, about two weeks after the first chemo, when I combed my hair lots of it stayed in the comb. I knew that would happen, so I wasn’t surprised. I decided to go in the bathroom, pick up the scissors, and chop about half of it off. I now had a sort of nice bob. It was still coming out at a rapid pace, so three days later I walked across the street to a Mexican barber shop and got it cut super short. I was surprised at how much I like that look. A few days after that, when I realized that I was shedding like a cat, I had Fred take his clippers and just go for it. For me, taking it off in stages was easier. It wasn’t quite as traumatic as I would have thought, and I already had gotten a wig. If you have to get a wig, it is to your advantage to have a friend who does drag. My dearest friend, Andrew, had gotten one shipped to me. If you are getting a wig, get a good one, and definitely get a lace front wig, because it is a much more natural look.Mine was very much like my own hair, shoulder-length and blonde. I would also advise going for short hair in a wig, especially if you are going to wear it in the summer. I did not like wearing the wig. I ended up having it cut, so that it wasn’t touching my neck. I also didn’t like doing the scarf wrap thing because I felt like I was wearing a sign that said, “I have cancer and all my hair fell out.” I got very paranoid when I did the scarf thing because I felt like people were giving me weird looks. (They probably were, actually.) I was more socially comfortable in the wig, and I didn’t like going around the house without something on my head. I didn’t like for Fred to see me bald. I had a little crocheted cap I wore around the house.
A few weeks after the hair fell out, I realized my eyebrows and eyelashes were going, too. I think that bothered me more than the hair. By this time, I had gotten back into wearing makeup, and was very thankful that I’m pretty good with it because my eyebrows were completely drawn on. I compensated for the lashes with eyeliner. If you are in this situation and you are not good with makeup, I strongly suggest that you go to the nearest MAC store and get a lesson or two. Makeup really can help. I had gone into “If it feels good, do it” mode. Makeup definitely felt better than no makeup.
By the time I had the chemo, I felt much better than I had felt before I knew what was going on. Somehow, by a true miracle, I knew I was not going to die from this. I definitely knew it was going to be a challenging time, but I knew it was not going to be the end of my story. I think that God…and you can substitute the word Universe here, Divine Energy, whatever….does speak to us, and I was very open to listen. I found the strength to get through it, and the guidance to know how to plan this journey I never expected to take.
I lost a lot of weight as the spring turned to summer, and summer turned to fall. One day I got out of the bathtub and wrapped a large white towel around myself. I put on my round tortoiseshell glasses and saw my bald self in the big bathroom mirror. The thought hit me that if I had brown skin I would look very much like Gandhi. I was able to find that thought very funny. I’ve always had a quirky sense of humor, and it helped me get through this year. I could probably do some serious standup comedy about this whole thing.
I have learned to love my skinny body, maybe more than I ever have. I have been working out again, now that the last of the radiation is done. My main motive for working out is to be strong. A nice side effect is that I am getting my muscle tone back, and because I don’t have a lot of fat, I can see my arms starting to take shape. I am feeling like my mind and body are a team again, and I really enjoy my time of going for walks, exercising, or spontaneously breaking into a silly little dance. I can make it up a hill again without having to stop. My hair is back, and I am going to keep it short. I have already had it colored (not quite there yet, but I think it needs to be brighter than any color found in nature) because I decided that after all this, I really am not ready for grey hair. I have a lot more wrinkles than I did a year ago, and I haven’t had my Botox redone. The jury is out on that one. I may have passed the point where Botox would help. Sometimes I look in the mirror and kind of like the wrinkles. I always thought that cliche about “I’ve earned these wrinkles” was a bit lame, but actually I have earned them. It’s a new face, that’s for sure. When I see it in the mirror now I know it’s me. A new me, but a good one. I’m so glad to be alive. Being happy is a great beauty treatment.
I feel like a new creature. It is fun to decide, especially at age 73, what my new look will evolve into. (Stay tuned. Work in progress. Red lipstick will definitely be involved). If you are about to go through a similar experience, of course you are not looking forward to these challenges. But the good news is, my hair is back, my eyebrows are back, and my eyelashes are better than ever. (I was pleased to find Latisse at a nearby drug store.) I have gained about 4 pounds since the radiation stopped. I look healthy now, in a Skinny Bitch sort of way.
I still love accessories, makeup, and manicures. Fashion is fun, and will always be a form of self-expression. Vanity is not a bad thing. It is good to try to look your best. It’s just that my thoughts about what defines me have radically changed. The main thing I have learned that the way we look is not the thing that makes people love us. People love us because of how we make them feel.

The Short List for Staying Sane and Well in the face of Real Trouble

(This is the third in a series of posts about my own experience with cancer. The photos used in this series have no direct connection with the text. They are just random pictures taken during this time of my life. I claim no expertise. This is just about my own personal experience, and what it was like for me.)

After my previous post, When It Hits the Fan, I have had questions about what the alternative therapies were that I used in addition to chemo and radiation. I plan to write in more depth about most of this, but I am going to go ahead and answer that question for those who are curious, and possibly don’t have time to wait around for me to write about each specific thing.

I did many things, and I am not sure how it all worked. I do think that all the things I did worked together. I did 6 rounds of chemo that were three weeks apart. I started most of the alternative things in the four weeks between the surgery and the beginning of chemo. I can’t explain why I chose these specific things. I simply did what made sense to me. After the chemo, I had a scan that showed no cancer and my liver restored to health. I then had 25 rounds of radiation over a five week period and a two night stay in hospital for one last blast. I did the radiation as a preventative measure.
Here are the alternative things I did during chemo and radiation. Most of these things I will continue to do to maintain health. I will write more detail later, in future posts.
–I did a diet that is designed to starve cancer cells. I highly recommend the book that was written by Mike Herbert, Stay Healthy During Chemo. It is available through Amazon.com. Mike is a nutritional doctor who lives here in San Miguel, and his advise is extremely helpful. The diet was very strict and I followed it with no exceptions. Basically, I gave up all sugars (including alcohol and high glycemic foods) all dairy, and the only meat I ate was fish. I eliminated soy from my diet. The only fats allowed are healthy ones. No processed foods. No coffee. I will continue this diet permanently. I have added some more fruit since finishing all the treatments. Also, I eat a white potato now and then, if I want it. But no breads that aren’t whole grains. Brown rice instead of white. And, still, no processed foods. One side effect of this diet is that I have lost weight. I am presently trying to gain a bit of weight…never thought I’d be saying that in my adult lifetime.
–Acupuncture. I did this at least once a week. It really helped with any side effects I was having. I will continue to do this every other week for maintanence.
–I found massages to be very helpful for dealing with stress.
–Supplements. I take a very good supplement program, also put together by a nutritional doctor. Your healthy cells need all the support they can get. I will continue to work with this program, with whatever changes are recommended to maintain health.
–Craniosacral Therapy. This was extremely important to help me cope emotionally.
I have found this therapy so beneficial that I plan to continue with it.
–There is some herbal medication that I am sure you are aware of. It has been a mainstay for me and approved of by the all the traditional medicine doctors  I had, as well as alternative specialists. I have used it medicinally in the form of oil and also brewed as a tea.
–Blue scorpion venom. There has been a lot of work done with this in Cuba. It might be possible to buy it online if you live in the States. I get it from Mexico City. I take it 4 times a day. I will continue to take it indefinitely, as a preventative. It does not interfere with traditional treatments, and has no side effects.
–Soaking baths. These came from Mike Herbert’s book. It involves sitting in a hot bath for 45 minutes. I added  1 cup salt and 1 cup baking soda to the hot bath water. Sometimes I added a bottle of apple cider vinegar. The whole point is to sweat in order to detox. It always helped. I wasn’t allowed to do this during radiation, and I really missed it. The doctor was concerned about the hot water causing burns.
–Coffee enemas. There are videos about this. Make your own decision. I resisted this one, but I think it was very valuable. These work to detox the liver. I did this twice a week during chemo. I wasn’t allowed to do it during radiation, because of the location in my body of the radiation.
–Fasting. I fasted for 24 hours before and 24 hours after each chemo treatment. There is research that convinced me to do this. The point is that the chemo will work more effectively if your body isn’t processing food, and you will have fewer side effects. I did this for the first 5 treatments. I ate just a little with the 6th one, because I was concerned about losing more weight.
–Dealing with myself, also known as meditation, visualization, and prayer.  Lots of that. I also avoided (like the plague) any person or information that I found negative. This is a great time in your life to be very selfish. You don’t have to worry about hurting someone’s “feelings.” This is not about them. It is about you, staying alive.
I researched all the things I did and they made sense to me. I believed that they were what I needed to do, and that made it easy to do them. Once I “set my course” I stayed on it. I got through the chemo without any terrible side effects. I had a few days when I didn’t feel well but I was never incapacitated. I managed to maintain a reasonable social life, and was involved in getting settled in to a new home, not to mention a new country. The radiation was harder in some ways, because the food restrictions during radiation that affects the digestive system are rigid. No fats whatsoever. I did well for the first three weeks, but then for the last two I did experience being very tired. But, I bounced back pretty quickly. It has now been three weeks since my final radiation. I have a very healthy appetite and I feel very good. In fact, I feel like a brand new me.
Again, I am no expert. This is only my own experience and the things I did. I hope some of this is helpful to someone who reads it. It is a troubling experience, but not as bad, at least for me, as I had feared.

When It Hits the Fan

(This is the second 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 here is of three San Miguel policewomen.)

As we drove across the border, I felt that the biggest dream of my life was coming true. Fred and Pinky and I were crossing the Rio Grande in Laredo, but this time was a one-way trip. We were moving to San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico would now be our home. I was very happy and a bit amazed that we were actually pulling this one off. My last post talks more about this move.

We had a rental house in Colonia San Antonio when we first arrived. Shortly after we got settled in the rental house, I started having a disturbing symptom, very slight at first, and I kept telling myself it would go away. I think that many people have this same experience. You feel perfectly fine, but you know something is not right. You think it will go away, but it doesn’t. That was a fearful time for me. While I was in the “this will go away” stage I didn’t tell anyone about the problem. Not even Fred.

We had the very good fortune of finding a house we loved very easily. In fact, we bought the second house we looked at on the first day we looked. We made the offer on the spot. That was in November (I was still in the “this will go away” stage). We moved into the house in December. We zoomed on getting settled in, so by Christmas we were feeling at home. By then I was moving from “this will go away” to “I have to deal with this.”

In early January, I told Fred. Then it started getting real. I knew I had to see a doctor. I started out by thinking it would be something minor. But, I was seriously aware that it might be very major. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster ride of tests, scans, scopes, and pokes. I have always been a very healthy person and all this was a very new experience for me. It somehow felt that I had completely detached from myself and I was watching all this happening to someone else. Part of what I felt was that my body had somehow betrayed me. I felt at physical and psychological odds with myself. I felt a huge gulf between my body and my spirit. These feelings manifested in some strange behavior. I reached a point where I couldn’t even get it together to put on makeup, and if you know me, you know that is a very serious situation.

At the end of all the testing, prodding, and probing…the results were not good at all. The bottom line was that I definitely had tumors in my uterus, and there was a disturbing spot on my liver. I would have to have a complete hysterectomy, done by an oncology surgeon. I got the definite message that there was no time to waste. Nobody was smiling. None of the doctors seemed to get my jokes.

It was pretty hard to even believe all this. I had been truly living the dream of my life and then found myself in the middle of one of life’s biggest nightmares. In the moment that you start to deal with a health crisis you realize that most all other things that you think are a crisis are a blip. At least, that was how it seemed to me. All that I had ever heard, seen, or read, about cancer and cancer treatments had always been terrifying to me. And, no one had given me any reason to believe otherwise. If only someone, back in February of this year, could have sat down with me, looked me in the eye, and just said, “Hey, I’ve been where you are right now. You can get through this. You will make it, and here is a plan.”

That wasn’t what happened with me, but something pretty amazing did happen. I, who knew nothing about any of this, was guided by my own inner guide to put together a team of people to get me through the past many months of my life. The one thing I knew for sure, and Fred agreed, was that I didn’t want to leave Mexico for treatment. While we could have used Medicare in the US, I just didn’t want to go there. It would have seemed like such a personal defeat to me, that I am not sure I would have made it. No, I knew I would stay in Mexico, and I knew I would find the right people to care for me. In future blog posts I will talk more about the care I have had, and the alternative things I have done to keep myself as healthy as possible, resulting in less severe side effects from traditional treatments, and a great deal more sanity.

And, I made it through chemo and radiation. I am now cancer-free and getting on with my life. Am I changed? Both inside and out. But, the majority of these changes are for the better. I will talk more in these posts about my own walk down this strange road. But, I am only talking about my own, very personal, experience. Each person is different. I certainly am no expert about anything. The only thing I know is my own experience. My purpose in this writing is selfish. I want to have the joy of being that person that says to another person, at the highest point of their fear, “You can do this. You can take care of yourself. You can make it. It won’t be as bad as you think.”

I am an Immigrant.

Lots of things to process lately. I had promised to stay off FaceBook and all US tv news. Have done extremely well with the news. I’m not even reading many articles in the New York Times to do with the election. But, I have spent time on FaceBook, and I have found some comfort in seeing how so many like-minded people are feeling. And, I see people  on FaceBook who are feeling the same things I’m feeling. But, the thing I see that I am not feeling is physical fear. From my friends who are not straight, white men, I sense a great deal of fear, all the way from a general uneasiness, which we are all feeling, to a serious fear for their physical safety. I think the fears are very real, and not without cause. I see reports also on FaceBook and NY Times, of protests all over the country. I see large groups of white people trying to communicate to the world, “Hey, we aren’t all assholes.”

I don’t know what I would do if I were there. We did not leave the USA for any political reason. We simply did it because we both realized, at just about the same time, that we wanted to live in Mexico…that we desperately needed a change (and, boy! did we get one!), and that while the “New Nashville” was coming on groovy, it really wasn’t the place where we wanted to spend our “golden years.” I am very thankful that Mexico has welcomed us. I do not really see myself as an expat…that seems to imply that i am no longer something that I used to be. I don’t think that is the case. I haven’t changed as much as I have simply moved on. I’m an ex lots of things, but patriot is not one of them.

We started coming to Mexico about 25 years ago, and I was never ready to leave. It finally reached a point, towards the end of my work career, that I realized I was basically waiting all year for 3 weeks in this country. I can’t say what it is that I love so much about this place. What ever it is, that feeling hasn’t changed after living here for a year.  I was seriously wanting to spend more time in Mexico, and had inserted a two week summer trip into our work calendar, along with the 3 weeks in the winters on the beach. The summer trips were to take us to the interior of Mexico, and we saw a style of life there that felt very manageable.

Retirement was not easy for me. I knew without doubt that I had done enough, but it was still the thing that I was identified by in Nashville. I felt that once I stopped doing what I did, people just didn’t know what to do with me. It was a very uncomfortable time for me. I was ambivalent about so many things. One of the beautiful things about just hauling off to another country is that nobody really cares what you “used to do.” Your identity is totally based on how they perceive you. Anyone who is looking for a location for the next act of their life should really consider a move.

We continued to travel to Latin America after we retired. We had a 6 week twirl in Costa Rica and Panama; not for us. We felt we needed to check out a little something other than Mexico, but after that trip we developed an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. So, our next big adventure was a 6 month drive, the entire length of the country. We spent 3 1/2 of those months in San Miguel, because we were already very attracted to it.We could see ourselves living in San Miguel.The underlying purpose of this trip was to decide for sure where we wanted to spend 6 months a year. We wanted to check out Oaxaca City and San Cristobal de las Casas, too.

Our plan at that time was to spend 6 month a year in Nashville and 6 month a year in Mexico. By the time we drove the length of Texas, heading back to Nashville, we were both realizing that would be kind of a hard job. Plus, finding rentals that take dogs is a bit harder than a regular rental. And, not to mention, the bright idea we had about renting out our house while we traveled turned really dismal. We both agreed it was a  “never again” on that plan. We were very fortunate to have our Nashville house sell, and sell fast. (Thanks Keith and Jonny). And, of course, it was a much more valuable place than it had been in 1977, when Fred bought it.

We could see from all angles that the 6 month here, 6 months there thing was not going to work. We could sell our Nashville house and budget enough to get a nice house in San Miguel, or we could split the money from the sale and buy a place in Nashville that we wouldn’t like and a house in San Miguel that wouldn’t suit us either. Or, we could go for the whole enchilada and just move to Mexico and live here year round. We were totally unified in our decision, and that made it all much easier. So, we sold our house, much of our belongings, gave many things away, and by some feat of magic cleaned out the attic and basement. Then all the work of packing what we intended to take, and setting up all the details of the move was combined with getting the house ready to go on the market. This was a huge deal, and a real Murphy’s Law situation. By the time we actually got out of the house and handed over the keys my brain was fried. Things were getting extremely real.

Again, we didn’t come here because of trump. Or, because we don’t like the USA, or any of those reasons. We came because we simply love the simple life in Mexico. It feels good here to us. I love walking out the door and being in another country. I love walking down the street and not having everyone I see look just like me. I love hearing a new language, and I even love trying to speak it. I know Mexico has problems. I have no interest in Mexican politics, which is good since I am not a citizen of Mexico. For my own well-being I am very glad to have already moved to Mexico. I support all of you who are tin the US right now and feeling this election on a deep, personal level. Each one of us will have to deal with this chapter however we deal. I trust all my friends in USA to know what is right for them to do. Follow your own inner guidance.  Stay alert, and walk towards the light.

[Note: the photos I use with this series of posts may or may not actually relate to the post.]