Thursday, January 3, 2013

E-mails to Blue Butterfly #7

I received this e-mail today from a reader in response to The Cancer Survivors Companion book review: Hi Blue Butterfly, I read your blog post [about The Cancer Survivors Companion] and had to respond...I love the honesty, especially about feeling like your cancer "wasn't that bad". I too had similar feelings for the longest time because they told me I had a "good" brain cancer. I feel that the guilt I had associated with having the good one was brought on mostly by doctors telling me that I had nothing to worry about, only recently have I realized that my fears and anxieties are valid, as there is no such thing as good cancer. Anyways I love the blog. Colin This is an excerpt from my response: Thank you so much Colin. I was a little weary about publishing that post because it was sooo raw and is exactly where I am right now. However obviously you connected to it too. Sometimes we just need some permission to grieve about what we've been through and lost. I know I certainly did and I think this book helped me to do that. Give myself permission. Thanks for sharing. Also, may I publish your e-mail? I will not use your name however I like what you said and I think other readers can relate.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cancer Survivor's Companion

It's been a little over a year since my last book review and for this one, I write about a book that I discovered quite accidentally at the library. I was coming back from gathering books about children's illustration and writing, when I passed the aisle of books about cancer-- an aisle I hadn't visited in a longtime. Very prominently placed on the shelf were two books about surviving cancer-- one that looked a little outdated and another title, The Cancer Survivor's Companion: Practical ways to cope with your feelings after cancer by Dr. Frances Goodhart and Lucy Atkins, which were new to me. I thought I'd leave these books behind because I didn't think I needed it. Against my better judgement, I continued walking away but then I stopped. I realized that maybe this book could help me to understand some of the anxieties I have been experiencing a lot. So I turned around and signed out this book. I have been feeling anxiety more frequently and part of me feels like I shouldn't be having these anxieties and that I should be over this by now. As a thyroid cancer survivor, a part of me still feels like I didn't have it that bad which is even more reason to feel like I should not be having anxieties. I feel exhausted at the end of a work day and at times during the day especially on Friday afternoons when I have some of my most challenging classes to teach. Again, there are when I feel, "Why am I feeling this way? I'm weak. It's been two years since my diagnosis." I have also begun to feel disappointed that I feel like I'm not doing as much I used to and not able to do as much as I used to. Sometimes I feel like others will pass me by as I slow down. I also feel this pressure to accomplish a lot of things before it is too late and by "too late" I mean, recurrence or even death. I feel more impatient and hurried with my dreams and blame myself for not having accomplished certain things by now. I also have fears that if I feel too stressed, upset, or "worked up", the cancer will come back. Of course, this is all going on inside of my head sometimes at the same time. Sounds like a piece of work, right? My mind's a busy place. Then along comes The Cancer Survivor's Companion which was written by a British clinical psychologist Dr. Frances Goodhart and a health journalist Lucy Atkins. For over twenty years, Dr. Goodhart has worked with individuals and families coping with life-threatening illnesses namely cancer. Lucy Atkins helped to put the academic lingo into "plain speak". There wrote this book because frankly there was no book like this on the market. Although there were many case studies and quotes from Goodhart's practice, these were mostly from clients over the age of 50. I didn't think I could relate so I almost stopped reading this book. Although some of the organizational and health references are different as they refer to the United Kingdom, this book is helpful. However, as I flipped through the rest of it, I realized that there was a lot I could relate to. (I read much of it while on a flight and visiting New York City. I am still here as I type this review.) First of all, this book helped me to articulate and name some of the feelings and thoughts I am having. There are chapters on worries, depression and low mood, anger, self-esteem and body image, as well as fatigue. It helped me to find descriptors for how these feelings have been surfacing in different areas of life. In the chapter on Body Image and Self-Esteem, the authors list "thought traps" for example: - Minimising: "Yeah, I made lunch, but I used to do ten times as much in a day'; 'OK, so I've started to work on my weight but it will never make the scars go'. There are also strategies describing how to overcome these "traps". Second of all, the book normalized these thoughts for me and helped me to realize that it is only natural for me to experience them. After all, I have been through a life-threatening illness and many feelings come up months, even years later. Just because the threat of cancer is no longer present, it does not mean my emotions and mind has caught up to that, still in a "fight or flight" mode. Some of the case studies I read, reminded me of things I said or experienced. If other people experience them, then I am not alone. In the conclusion, there are the helpful statements: In the very least, this book should have shown you that you are not mad or weak or 'different' because of what you're going through. There are thousands of people wrestling with similar post-cancer emotions right now. Third, it helped me to be more patient with myself. The book helped me acknowledge that cancer has shifted my world view and I am trying to get used to "the new me". I identified with a client mentioned in one particular case study of a 35-year old testicular cancer survivor named Jamal who after cancer felt inadequate in his role as a father, husband, and paramedic. After getting to know his 'new self' and completing exercises, he did adjust. 'I don't feel like the same person I was before. I've changed- my attitude to life, my job, my roles- everything... It's ongoing, but nowadays, at least I feel I can do it: I can be a good dad, paramedic, and husband. Not the one I was before, but the one I am now.' The Cancer Survivor's Companion was not around when I looked for a book about survivorship a year ago but I found it at a great time. Published in 2011, this book made it's way into my life and helped me to feel that I deserve to be "kinder" and "gentler" to myself. There are many exercises to help cope with some of the feelings that I have been experiencing including ways to deal with some recurring issues such as fatigue and difficulty in relaxing. After reading this book, I feel like I have some useful tools. As a result, I feel the need to adjust some of my New Year's Resolutions and goals for this year to create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive) goals. It's not that they all can't get done, but they shouldn't be created with an old sense of what I was able to do before. I wish to suit my goals to who I am now and celebrate the many things that I have been able to accomplish.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Highlights

This past year has been full of many highlights for me. In the spirit of gratitude, I wish to list twelve of the best things that happened to me this year. I enjoyed sharing special moments and celebrating with my family and friends. 1) Getting married in Jamaica to my husband Adam This day was a dreamy one for me. So much about that moment was magical.
2) Returning to work full-time in my "dream assignment" teaching music I am back at my teaching job full-time. Over ten years ago, I had a dream in which I sat in a circle singing with young children on the carpet with my hair in dredlocks. Teaching continues to be a challenging endeavour for me. I am teaching my dream assignment-- early childhood music-- complete with dredlocks and sitting on the carpet. This aspect of my job is a lot of fun and it does not feel like work.
3) Moving to a new apartment Not quite an enjoyable process yet it has created a new energy and coziness that I am welcoming more and more into my life.
4) Taking a writing class in non-fiction writing for children I have taken other writing classes in recent years but this was a class I have been meaning to take for quite some time. This was a fun class and it lit a little fire under my ass to keep writing and try to get published. I learned how to write query letters, target publications, and select topics.
5) Joining the Heritage Singers I fell in love with Jamaican folk music as a child and I think that this admiration never left me. This year I got my "sing on" by joining the Heritage Singers, a Caribbean folk group founded in 1977. This past year, I got to perform
6) Celebrating my 35th birthday at AfroPunk It has always been a dream for me to attend the annual AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn. This festival all started with an American documentary film called AfroPunk that came out in 2003 directed and produced by James Spooner. I had the pleasure of not only working with a film festival that screened his film but I organized my own screening at a my university campus. So when I found out that two of the headlining acts were Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae,
7) Being the Editor of TCC Newsletter I was pleased to be asked to be the editor of the Thyroid Cancer Canada Newsletter. I edited three issues: Spring 2012, Summer 2012, and Winter 2012-13 and wrote articles for three. It was a wonderful experience and I plan to continue writing for this publication from time to time however I have had to step down from the role of editor in order to devote more time to my writing.
8) Going to Cottage Dreams Thanks to some really generous cottage owners, my husband and I got to stay at a beautiful spot in Muskoka. Cottage Dreams is a program that helps "families touched by cancer reconnect and rejuvenate at a private, donated cottage". This experience was such a blessing for us and we are so grateful to the couple who gave this opportunity to us. It was like a Honeymoon #2. The five days were peaceful and serene and soothing for us as we enjoyed this lakeside cottage. We definitely wish to repeat this experience.
9) Illustrating a poster I enjoyed the process of illustrating for this poster and this cause. Drawing has always been one of my favourite hobbies and as I got older, I have less and less time to devote to it. However, there are times, when I can draw for ours on end. Earlier on this year when I was working part-time, I sought opportunities to earn income through my other talents. I am so thankful that I could use this talent and passion for a little bit of income.
10) Trying to run my food delivery business Another way I tried to earn some extra income was by running a short-lived vegan lunch delivery service. Well, maybe I was trying to run a prototype. I have grown to love cooking vegan dishes more and more. I have been toying with the idea of starting some sort of food business so when my friend in law school was requesting some healthier meal options, I took this opportunity to test out my "side hustle". I operated this business for two months and it was a lot of work. I found it challenging and fun but time consuming. In the end, I decided that for now, I will give my vegan cooking away for free.
11) Attend conferences and workshops I got the opportunity this year to attend some workshops to help me in my practice as a music and French teacher as well as a writer. I love school and learning opportunities so I was totally in my element.
12) Wedding blog My wedding blog has been fun to assemble and I have enjoyed sharing the planning phases and celebrations with friends and family. I plan to continue to add new posts in the future as I get "caught up" with all that has taken place in the past year.