No One Knows

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know I have cancer. If you aren’t a regular, but happened upon my blog today — welcome, and let me hip you to my diagnosis. I have Waldenstroms Macroglobulanemia. It’s a rare form of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This December I’ll actually have survived, and with some regularity, thrived, with WM for 11 years. Amazing to say — especially considering the first prognosis was that I would leave the planet in 5 years. Clearly, and thankfully, that information was incorrect.

Lately I’ve been struggling a bit more with how WM makes me feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. WM compromises my immune system making me more likely to get sick. I’m not sure if it’s because of the immune system connection but it also sometimes just knocks me out — with little or no warning. I will be up and about, doing the myriad of things I do, and out of the blue – WHAM! — I am completely exhausted. Sometimes that makes me feel a bit crazy, or like a completely weakling.

Funny, as my struggle has been increasing, so have the comments from people I meet. No one notices the struggle. (I think that’s a testament to my ability to breathe, and do, and be — and to all the amazing people that hold me up in so many different ways.) They all say “WOW! You look FANTASTIC!!!”  It cracks me up. The latest person told me every time they see me, no matter what I’m going through, I seem to have an ethereal glow about me. (Wow.)

So regardless of how I feel, I’ve decided to accept these statements as truth. I look (and am) fantastic, and I glow, with an ethereal glow.

But today, glowing or not, I’ve felt incredibly frustrated, irritated, and emotionally spent. Funny, feeling all that is frustrating, irritating and emotionally draining. But, to be kind to myself I am just getting over one of those 3 day in bed episodes.

As I drove home after work I wondered — with as little crankiness and judgement as possible — “What is wrong with me?!? Why is this sometimes so painfully, crushingly difficult?” This, along with a myriad of other questions that come in these moments of angst.

To ease the pain in my chest, I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer, and turned on Audible. I started listening to I’ll Push You.

As I listened I thought … oh yeah, that’s it. One of the reasons this is so tough is because I’m capable and strong. I have been my whole life, and I take some pride, comfort, and enjoyment in that. I love pushing myself, and being in control, and crushing goals and obstacles, and, did I mention, being in control.

F*ck. It’s hard to not be in control. It’s hard to face my own inability to crush this. It’s hard to be weak at times. Makes me cry. The tears feel like a sign of weakness, but I think the willingness to shed them, to feel the pain that causes them, is a sign of strength. So funny right? A willingness to experience weakness and fear, is actually a strength.

Every day — sometimes every moment — I’m working on it. Working on being healthy, being strong, being weak, eating well, hydrating, taking care of my emotional and mental wellbeing, asking for help, giving help, accepting kindness, giving kindness, praying, trusting God, asking the Saints and angels to be with me, having admirably stubborn optimism, glowing, and sometimes, weeping and questioning it all.

In I’ll Push You, when asked about the prognosis, Justin says “No one knows.” I think that’s true with me as well. No one really knows. No one knows when I’ll need treatment again, when my symptoms will become more severe, when they will discover a cure, or when I’ll leave the planet. I’ve never been a big fan of that. But today, it seemed,  “no one knows” is the perfect prognosis.

Picasso once said “Everything you can imagine is real.” Why not imagine a great prognosis and a beautiful life — no matter what? Cancer-free, cancer-light, or cancer-not-so-light, life still is, and it’s good.

Funny,  as I write this, I feel like vomiting. It isn’t easy to be human, or have cancer, or be afraid, or not be sure what’s what. But, it’s all good.

So I embrace my glow — my ethereal glow — no matter what. And, since no one knows, I will imagine fantabulousness, and breathe through all else.

Perhaps by now you are wondering what this has to do with creativity. For a while so was I! Obviously it has to do with creativity because it’s about me — the creativity loving educator. But, as I sip my cup of tea and take a moment to think, I believe the connection to creativity is deeper.

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Creatives look at things differently. We choose to imagine things that others do not. We engage in possibility thinking, wondering, risking, learning, and living with curiosity, joy, and openness.

 

Creativity is about life — surviving, thriving, and glowing — even when we feel like vomiting!

Oh, I must add that to my imagining — fantabulousness with no anxiety induced nausea. Ah yes, that is good.

 

 

 

What if?

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I bought this the other day, framed it, and placed it in my classroom. It’s not always this noticeable. There are usually two sweet potato plants, and a pencil sharpener the girls love, next to it. Still, I was a bit surprised no one asked me what it said, or why I put it there. Maybe it was because it was spring break, maybe we were just busy, maybe they thought I’d mention it to them. Who knows.

I’ll be sure to mention it to them when we return. There are so many great What if? questions we can ask ourselves. To name just a few: What if I choose to be kind instead of less than kind? What if I just give it a go? What if I believe I can? What if I let others help me? What if I help others? What if we do it this way? What if I don’t know? What if I do?

Maybe my girls didn’t ask me about it, so that I could ask myself about it. So, until I mention it to them, I’m mentioning it to myself.

What if? 

It’s such an amazingly awesome, and at the same time, frustrating question. Say it to yourself.

What if? 

The awesomeness is the possibilities that are held in that question. The things that might become if we ask What if?

And yet, I think the frustrating part of What if? might be the exact same thing. What if? has the potential to open so many doors, windows, opportunities. But, what shall we ask? What will happen if a door or window opens? What will change? What will be challenged? How will I respond?

What if? is a remarkably powerful question when we are thinking, considering, designing, inventing, and/or creating. It’s a gigantic part of the creative process. “What if we do this? What if we do this instead? Let’s try.” Then it comes back again. “Now, what if???

Lately though I’ve been asking myself What if? in a very different regard. I’ve got to have some tests done to see what is going on with my cancer. What if? rears it’s somewhat ugly head in my mind. What if? What if it’s the cancer? What if I have to do treatment? What if it’s not the cancer? What is it then? What if … What if … What if? 

At some point in my mental conversation I shook my head, and let out a strong, loud breath. It was as if, in some way, I embraced all my what ifs? and let them be, just for a moment. Kind of like in the creative process, you can’t allow yourself to get lost in the what ifs. At some point you have to let out a strong breath, take a look at the situation, the problem, the idea, and the what if? answers. Then you need to choose one, or start a new path.

Unable to choose one of the what ifs I imagined, or feared. I chose a new tack.

What if they find the cancer is more active? That’s ok. They are brilliant. I am brave, and, to quote a friend, a bad ass (cracks me up every time). And perhaps more importantly I am supported by God and all the awesome people I am blessed to have in my life. It will, somehow, be ok.  And, hey, if I have to do treatment, I’ll also have to take time off from work, and while I love my job, that will be nice.

What if I have to change some things in my life? That’s ok, too. Miracles happen. Life is good. Perhaps there is a beautiful surprise right around the corner. Everything is going to be alright.

What if it’s not the cancer? Hallelujah! Now we have more information and will be better prepared if it ever is the cancer. It’s not like I ordered these tests. Those brilliant doctors I mentioned did.

What if I did a bit more breathing, and a bit more listening to the blessings, joy, miracles, and positivity that is all around me? What if I closed my eyes, and allowed myself to be held — by the Saints, angels, God, the Blessed Mother, and the fab people around me? It’s tough to imagine doing that at times, because, let’s review, I am a brave bad ass who really enjoys being in control!

But that, is the beauty of what if? Being able to see, and do, things in a different way.

I’m going to give it a try. What don’t you?

What if? 

 

Fatigue, Eyeballs, and Flowers

I was home sick yesterday. It’s Saturday today, and I’m still home sick. Actually, it’s not so much sickness, as remarkably strong fatigue. Ever since my diagnosis and treatment, I have some days that I can do nothing other than sleep, or lie in a heap on the couch with a delicious cup of green tea before going back to bed to sleep! The fatigue is crazy-powerful. It makes me feel ill in many different ways. It’s annoying, but what can I do? Press on with relentless positivity, some kvetching, and of course some creativity!

Today’s a bit better, but yesterday even creative thinking, and artistic work, had me climbing back into bed. But as someone said “Earth without art is just eh. Go.make.art!” Or as I say, “Life without creativity and art is missing some serious joy!” So fatigue or not, art and creativity here I come!

I’m trying to figure out a design for a bathroom cabinet. I know it will contain the word LOVE in arts and crafts style lettering, as well as some as yet unknown number of arts and crafts style flowers. I thought about the project for a few days, and then began sketching the flowers. I’ve done them before but these will be mirror images of the ones I’ve done in the past. Sounds simple right? Yeah, not so much.

Yesterday I grabbed my grid paper and began sketching a plethora of flowers. Some of them looked a lot more like eyeballs than flowers! Eyeballs! That just won’t do! It cracks me up and frustrates me all at the same time. So I sketch on, immersed in my creative and artistic process.

  • Math — the shapes, the number of grid lines I’m using to create each flower, where the various shapes lie in relationship to the middle of the whole flower.
  • Freedom to make the shapes flow and a bit askew instead of mathematically perfect.
  • Deep observing — of the flower, the shapes, the sweep of the lines, the areas that are outside my original space.
  • The beauty of my pencil — how it feels in my hand, and how wonderfully it skims across the paper leaving my mark with great ease.
  • The process itself — think, try, think some more, look at it a lot, go away, come back, look at it again, rearrange, repeat.
  • And, finally there is me, my breath, my brain, my heart, and the joy and contentment I feel as I create, learn, make mistakes, try again, and eventually succeed.

This is my work from yesterday. Overcome at one point with how much they all really did look like eyeballs I pulled out my watercolors and brush, hopeful the color would help me see flowers. If nothing else I figured the watercolor would bring me joy.

Thankfully the watercolor worked wonders. The eyeballs transformed into  proper-looking flowers, and I transformed into a little less frustrated, little more happy and content me.20181005_140102-01

I want to share this process more and more with my students — in all areas of the curriculum. I want them to experience all I just experienced.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, and each time I have this revelation anew, I try to be mindful of my teaching practice and classroom management. Do I gift my students with time to process, think, create, observe, learn, fail, try again, rethink, and change their minds? Am I transparent sharing my own process with them? Do they know how many times my flowers look like eyeballs?

I try, that’s for sure. But, there is something really intrinsic to my process, that I am not convinced I provide for my students. Is it time to think? Time to be with one problem or project? Time to observe and learn about things on their own?

I don’t know. But, for sure there is something about being in the moment, something about the immersion, the peace, the struggle, and the whole process that I must continue to reflect upon, and bring to my students.

Cancer? Yes, and …

Each summer I head to Boston for my yearly Dana Farber visit. I’m happy and grateful to have these remarkable people on my healing team. At the same time, as my appointment approaches,  I experience a relatively serious amount of stress and anxiety. Even looking up the website to share as a link sent waves of nausea crashing over me!

The nausea isn’t about them — it’s about the cancer and my relationship to it. I’m relentlessly positive, and do  many really wonderful things to strengthen myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But, my positivity, and all my other good work, is sometimes overshadowed by my angst.

I needed a bit of a jolt to amp up my game. So, I buzzed off to see Catherine — a beautifully creative and awesome human being — for some henna and positive vibes.

She knew I wanted something powerful that could speak to me, and others. She didn’t disappoint.

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How fantabulous is it?!! In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is “Awesomely fantabulous!!!”

Beyond the artistry, it’s fantabulous for the power it holds. It’s a philosophy of open acceptance of what is, and what can be.

Look …

Yes, I have to go to Dana Farber each summer, and frequently have blood drawn, and that is a great privilege and opportunity.

Yes, I am experiencing angst and stress, and I am happy and blessed.

Yes, I have cancer, and I have incredible health.

Yes

and, I am happy.

and, I am loved.

and, my body is working for optimal health, my mind is working for optimal learning, my spirit is working for optimal awesomeness.

and, there are untold possibilities. Possibilities that I know, and ones I have yet to discover or imagine.

As I write my yes, and thoughts, I realize there is a better, more creative way to look at my yes, and lists. I can be creative, re-think, re-cognize.

Often my and, is actually my yes. 

I have cancer. Yes.

It feels huge, overpowering and all encompassing. It is a yes in my life, but absolutely, positively, not the essential yes of my life.

The essential yesses of my life are:

Yes, I am blessed, and … 

Yes, I am happy, and … 

Yes, I am loved, and … 

Yes, I am healthy,  and … 

Yes, my body, mind, and spirit are working for optimal health, learning, and awesomeness, and … 

Yes, the world is full of possibility, and … 

Yes, I am, and am surrounded by, incredible abundance, and … 

I’m digging the space that surrounds the yes, and in Catherine’s design.  It speaks of the space we take as we hear, say and wonder about yes, and.  It is a space waiting to be filled with breath, thoughts, conversation, prayer, openness, insight, creativity, being, and possibility.

Yes, and.

I embrace the power and possibility, and wait with curious and hopeful joy.

 

Conscious Ink

My diagnosis anniversary date is December 16. My feelings each anniversary are a combination of positive and less-than-positive emotions. I notice, acknowledge and feel the sorrow and other less-than-positive emotions, but I highlight and emphasize the positive emotions by celebrating!

In the past I have dyed a fuchsia streak in my hair with kool-aid, distributed glitter, and shared sparkly temporary tattoos. This year I decided to continue the temporary tattoos, but wanted to find the perfect tattoos. After some searching, I found Conscious Ink.

Here’s the first paragraph from their site “Can a temporary tattoo leave a lasting impression on our disposition? Solidify our intentions and affirmations? Make a permanent mark on the world? Crazy as it seems, Conscious Ink founder Frank Gjata says yes! Conscious Ink is on a mission is to spread love and raise consciousness around the world, one body at a time!” lol! HOW AWESOME IS THAT??!?!

I looked at their many offerings and chose 3 that spoke to me.

  • Breathe
  • Be brave
  • Anything is Possible

Great messages, right?!

I eagerly awaited my package. It made it to me the day before my anniversary. YAY!!

I wasn’t disappointed when I opened the package and examined the stash. Everything had such beautiful spirit, joy, humor AND creative thinking

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The tattoos themselves are great (non toxic, safe, made in the USA), but, the instruction card that comes with them pushed them over the edge into fantabulous! lol. As I read it, and followed the instructions, I chuckled to myself thinking “Wow, this is some cool creative thinking!”

I don’t know what “How might we …?” questions Frank and his team asked themselves, but here’s one I thought they must have considered.

How might we infuse each aspect of the temporary tattoo experience with mindfulness, intention, joy and good energy?

I laughed out loud – not making fun, but from surprise and enjoyment – when I read their instructions for the actual tattooing. As with most things, temporary tattoos don’t just magically happen. There is a process, and it includes waiting. Waiting is sometimes a drag, or something we endure and hope away, rather than experience with mindfulness and purpose. Not so, the Conscious Ink people.

What do they say? “Patience is a virtue.” LOL! That still makes me laugh out loud. They suggest you take the time to think about what it is you want to manifest. I love that!!! Take those 30 seconds or more and be present. Think. Breathe. Have the thoughts (joy, gratitude, hope) and do the things (breathe, celebrate) that were the reasons you chose your tats.

I followed the instructions – patient, mindful, purposeful being, instead of just waiting. It was a lovely 30-60 seconds. I am going to have my K students do this when I share the tats with them in January. I may even have them join in some writing about their tattoos and intentions. We shall see.

I am impressed with the thought and creativity of Conscious Ink. It enhanced my temporary tattoo experience. But, it’s also a wonderful reminder to me of what can be accomplished when we approach our work and life with purpose, intention, humor, joy and creativity.

By the way, Frank has some other nice sites (and by nice I mean pretty cool, awesome, fun etc. etc. etc.) worth checking out. They seem to all be linked from his website Blississippi. Give them a look if you have a moment.

And always remember … Breathe … and be brave.

 

 

 

 

 

Possibility Thinking and Cancer

Did I mention I have cancer? Yes, lol, I thought I might have.

Anyway, I do, and because I do, I get to keep tabs on the status of my blood. Amazing thing, our blood! But, I digress.

My latest results were a cause of significant angst. Many of my results were great, but there was one number that was pretty wonky. Wonky enough to have, and I quote “clinical significance.”

“Clinical significance?”

EEEEE GADS!!!! Can you say eee gads? Yes, I’m sure you can.

Thankfully, regardless of clinical significance, I don’t need to do any medical treatment right now because I am healthy, and, it seems, managing everything quite nicely! YAY!!!!

But, wow, what do you when your doctor says 500 points higher has clinical significance (translation: your cancer is waking up and rumbling a bit) and your number is about two times that amount higher??!!! Well, if you’re me, you stress, but even while you stress, you diligently look for ways to be positive, and to (lol) beat the cancer back into submission.

Initially I was really struggling to be positive. I felt crushed by my doctor’s words, and was having a hard time embracing the goodness of the present moment.

Then I saw it, right there, on the back of my journal …

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!

I felt the joy of one seeing an old friend. Possibility thinking! Ah yes, that’s the ticket!

I first encountered the idea of possibility thinking while researching for my MA. I read several articles by Anna Craft and her colleagues, and dreamed of ways to increase possibility thinking in myself, and in my students.

Here are some great quotes to give you a sense of possibility thinking.

  • Possibility thinking is thinking that moves “beyond the given, or ‘what is’, to the possible, or to ‘what could be?’  (Craft, A.)  and to,  ‘what can I, or we, do with this?'” (2012)
  • Possibility thinking “refuses to be stumped by circumstances, but uses imagination, with intention, to find a way around a problem.” ((Jeffrey and Craft 2003)
  •  Possibility thinking involves “questioning, play, immersion, making connections, imagination, innovation, risk-taking and self-determination.” (Possibility Thinking)

Fabulous, right? Moving beyond what is to what might be. Refusing to be dumbfounded, bewildered, or overwhelmed. And, I think, embracing the bewilderment, and allowing it push you forward into wondering, questioning, thinking, searching and finding!

So, I’m re-embracing relentless positivity. I’m harnassing the power of possibility thinking.

I’m imagining, and knowing, anything is possible. I’m questioning, thinking reading, talking, praying and doing …. all to move beyond what is, to what could be, right here, right now, and in the future!

A friend and I were talking about possibility thinking the other day. She asked me “What if your research and thinking proves it isn’t possible? What do you do then?” I burst out laughing. “It just means it isn’t possible with what we know now.” She hesitated for just a second, then grabbed her notebook saying, “Oh yeah! (laughter) You’re right. I have to write that down!”

Keep imagining. Keep thinking about what could be. Keep thinking what you/we can do with this. Keep believing in possibility. It’s everywhere.

 

 

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Cancer, Creativity and Possibility

Never let it be said that creativity is purposeless! If you have ever thought that, or begin to think or say it now, bite your tongue! lol

Creativity has many joyous, important, and profound purposes in our lives and world. Not the least of which is the ability to express ourselves, sort through our thoughts and feelings, and emerge, a bit stronger, with more understanding, and possibly, a nice piece of creative work.

I have cancer. A rare form with a ridiculously long name — Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia (WM). It’s a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I used to joke that once I learned how to spell it, I should be granted a cure! lol

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But, though I can spell it, I still have it. I’m doing great, but from time to time, I am a bit overwhelmed sharing my body with WM. And, sometimes even more overwhelming than sharing my body with it, is sharing my mind and spirit it.

A couple days ago, I had the idea to write a poem – in the hopes that it would help me pull my thoughts and emotions back from the edge, into a place of greater strength, joy, and positivity — really just a place that is more me.

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For truly, I am strong, fierce, powerful, joy-filled, positive, awesome, and full of life! I am a warrior. My life is full of possibility.

 

Impossible?

Is anything undeniably impossible?

My spirit rebels at the suggestion that good things might be impossible.

Possibility surrounds me, and gives my soul joyous pause.

Of course, fear and doubt mingle in, at times rising to the top, obscuring joy and hope.

So much is unsure.

Success is not guaranteed, and solutions are not yet seen, found, created, done, or lived.

I breathe deep breaths, and fortify myself with these thoughts:

Be brave and stubborn. Believe all is possible.

Live as though success is inevitable, and your actions and thoughts encourage its coming.

Expect, and eagerly embrace, the awesomeness and miracles that surround, and are, you!