Exercise 3: What I Learned, Part II

Session #5 Remarks/Writings

 Write a few sentences in response to each phrase.

Something I learned from experience:

That you can never know what’s happening in another person’s life, despite outward appearances.

That the simple things in life really are the best.

That life is unpredictable.

That in the end, it’s not what you have or what you do, but who you are that truly matters.

I’ve learned to pay attention to my body. As I grow older it’s more and more important to keep active, be flexible, eat food that nurtures me and to get a good night’s sleep. In my youth I was so busy I rarely thought about these things. I realize that the more I respect and foster the connection between mind and body the happier I am.

That what other people think of me is none of my business, but my efforts toward being who I want to be in the world is my business.

If I go toward things that seem unattainable on the face and do one thing at a time on a daily piece by piece basis, I can accomplish much more than I ever thought possible.  When I was 9 we moved to Nigeria, and I attended British school for the first time. I was overwhelmed.  I remember coming home from school the first day crying and telling my mom that I didn’t know how I was ever going to get all my homework done.  She said, “Just sit down and start with one thing, Honey.”  And she was right.  In high school, college, and grad school, I would always look at the stack of books before me at the beginning of the quarter/semester, and think, by the end of the quarter/semester, I will know all this material, one day at a time!  It was an exciting motivation for me.  Another example:  When I was in my early 30’s I had friends who were running marathons, and it just seemed impossible to me to run 26 miles, 385 (?) yards.  But I found and followed a schedule to build my endurance day by day and successfully ran a marathon the following year.  Amazing what we can do a bit at a time!

That I may not ever see the consequences of my actions, because they are so often far away in time or space (to paraphrase Peter Senge), but the smallest things I do/say can have big impacts.  So, take great care.

I have learned that fostering a sense of independence in your children (and workers you manage), and showing them that you believe in their capabilities, helps them grow to be self-confident and develop their skills, becoming productive human beings – and everyone benefits from that.

I have learned that doing something vengeful or staying angry will hurt you more than it hurts anyone else.

I have learned that you must be able to trust and be trusted or the relationship won’t work.

Something I am grateful for:

Laughter of a child, a smile from a stranger, a hug from a loved one. I’m grateful for a walk in the woods, rain on a winter’s day, a warm breeze on a summer night. Sharing a meal which I have prepared for family and friends, taking an apple and piece of cheese for a stroll along the shore.

First and foremost, for all the love I’ve received and given in my life – family, spouses, lovers, dear dear friends, and pets

For all the opportunities I’ve had to live in other countries and see that there are many honorable ways to be in the world.

For my health, strength, coordination

For the gift of my good mind

And, maybe oddly, for all the pain and losses in my life which have taught me more about the depth of my love for the departed or the value of what was lost.  And which have shown me places I need to do personal work and where I have the strength within to move through and beyond these losses.

My children!!!

That my parents taught me to live with honesty and integrity.

That I’m not afraid work hard to achieve my goals.

That I have the honor of being a loving presence in my grandchildren’s lives.

I am grateful for having parents who were hard working, honest, loving and had a sense of humor. I was brought up with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.  Partially, that was taught by religion but I think the big part and best part is that it was taught by example.

I am grateful for my family. I have two children I am very proud of and four grandchildren who I enjoy immensely.  I am grateful they are healthy and happy. I am grateful and delighted that they are good honest people with compassion and  a wonderful sense of humor .  I am grateful for my husband who loves me and respects me.  I am grateful for the companionship of my four sisters. I am grateful to be part of a large family who love to get together. We had 75 family members at our reunion last year. I am very grateful for my health and the health of my family.

(Webster’s online dictionary definition of grateful : “appreciative of benefits received”)

There is nothing like being diagnosed with cancer to make you become grateful for life and the little things.

In May, 1994 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. My cancer was small with no metastasis. I was grateful for my body and diagnosis.

When I dealt with my mortality, every detail of life became magnified. I never knew if an experience would be my last one. I became mindful of each moment and grateful for it.

My senses allowed me to appreciate the beauty of the earth in a way I hadn’t before. I love flowers. As I drove to the hospital for treatments, I passed a home with a front garden of tall, yellow sunflowers. They became a symbol to me of hope. The bright yellow blooms gave me positive, encouraging vibes. In the fall, walking to the car on the way to the hospital, I heard the crunch of the leaves on the driveway. I watched them blown across the pavement like mice scattering before the wind. I listened to the honking of the Canada geese flying south in V formations. I was grateful for my senses to allow me to experiences the changes of the seasons.

Nothing was or is as special as the hugs and kisses from my family. I am married to my best friend and support. He happens to be a physician and he was there for me to help in every decision. I have four incredibly supportive children. The oldest daughter came home from Boston where she was living to go shopping with her younger siblings to make certain that they were ready for camp and school. The middle daughter was on Junior Year Abroad in Venezuela. She supported me with letters of her adventures.

The thirteen year old was a remarkable support. When I was in bed for a few weeks with bad radiation burns under my breast and in my armpit, each morning and night she swabbed purple gentian violet on my sores. My son kept my spirits up with his sense of humor. We used to play cardgames. One was a game where you had to bluff about what was in your hand. I never had a poker face. I was never a good lier. I always giggled when I was challenged. We laughed at lot. I was grateful for my family then as I am now.

My friends were fabulous. For chemotherapy, I could figure out my schedule and know when I would have bad, nauseated, and weak days and when I would have good days. My friends did all my carpools for me when I was “under the weather.” They would invite my younger children over to their homes. Not so intimate friends – spouses of my husband’s colleagues – would call and bring dinners over. There were people who called to drive me to meetings when I wasn’t feeling so great. For all these friendships. I was and continue to be grateful.

My husband was incredibly supportive then as he is now. He suggested that I take a leave of absence from my work and teaching for the duration of the treatment. Most women don’t have the luxury of taking time off. He said that treatment doesn’t always go as you plan. I listened to him and was so glad that I did. I ended up with serious radiation burns requiring me to lie in bed with my arm lying over my head so that my armpit could heal. He was understanding when I took codeine for the pain and was really spacey. I was grateful then and continue to be now for such a supportive, loving husband.

The oncology nurses, the radiation therapy technicians, the phlebotomists who struggled to draw my blood, the physical therapists who treated my frozen shoulder and my physicians were supportive and encouraging. For their skill, dedication and compassion, I was grateful.

I was lucky in both diagnosis and treatment.  My cancer was found before it spread. My only adverse side effect was severe lymphedema in my right arm. But considering the other possibilities and the number of my friends and family who have died from breast cancer, this was a wonderful outcome. For that I am grateful.

My worst nightmare was that I would not live to see my children grow and not be there to guide them. I have lived to see them become happy, mature adults. I’ve seen all of them graduate from college and graduate school find fulfilling professions. I’ve seen my three daughters happily married and five grandchildren born. For this I am grateful.

My cancer was in remission for 19 years. Last summer it came back again. I found it through my annual mammogram when it was still small, just as before. This time it is being treated with hormone therapy – no radiation or chemo. It was very slow growing. For that I am really grateful.

My personality allows me to handle problems in an organized and optimistic way, to do what has to be done and then move on. It gave me the strength to get through the trreatment and I did. For this, I am grateful.

On my seventieth birthday, my husband toasted me by saying that I have had a “great ride” and “the best is yet to come.”

For all of the above and my life today, I am grateful.

My most meaningful holiday/experience/tradition:

Getting together with the whole family to celebrate on Christmas Eve.

On each grandchild’s birthday, I take them to lunch…just the two of us. As we talk, I tell them I’m giving them “x$” to give away. We then talk about where they’d like to send it and why. I have never been disappointed by their choices and it’s always a great discussion for the both of us. Last year, one child gave to an animal shelter, another to “Save the Sharks” and another to Heifer International.

Being brought up Christian, I’ve always loved Christmas.  The message of Love and Peace on Earth that the Christ child represented was very powerful for me growing up and even still.  When I was in my 20’s my husband and I spent several months living in Navajoa, Mexico, where he played winter league baseball.  It was our first Christmas away from our families, and we decided to keep it very simple. So instead of buying for each other, we gave gifts to a local family who had been very kind to us.   It was a large family with many children and not much money.  It was the most fulfilling Christmas ever for me.

Is giving birth to my two children and raising them. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks when they were born. Being a mother made me grow in so many ways that I can’t imagine what life would be like without the deeply loving and challenging experiences of being a parent.

Other meaningful experiences are work related – developing large, complex projects, some taking two years to implement,  and feeling very proud of my contributions and accomplishing what we set out to do .

Spending time with my four grandchildren, ages 7 months to 7 years.  It’s wonderful to listen to them and see what they are curious about and get a chance to tell them what their parents were like and some of the things they did.

My most meaningful  tradition…

Getting together with my extended family for thanksgiving where we all bring food. For the last few years, the count has been about 60 people for dinner.

On a lighter note, keeping up the myth of Santa Claus and spending Christmas with my husband, kids, grandkids.

Helping others in some small way. I do volunteer work for the local community;  donate my clothes and other items to the local church; make contributions to various health organizations so they can continue the research and find cures for cancer, etc. One of my sisters is following in my father’s  footsteps delivering meals on wheels.  One thing we did as kids was to buy a present and take it to the orphanage. I have not done that as an adult and miss that feeling.