Overcoming my Fear of the Sun

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, the fear is overwhelming. Fear of painful treatment, fear of the unknown, fear of death. Fear begins to creep in and take over your life. I know – I went through lots of tearful nights and inner turmoil. I wanted to be positive and my old, happy self; but how can you be happy with a gray cloud surrounding you?

After I was diagnosed with melanoma and came to terms with my fear of death, I still had another constant fear. I became terrified of the sun. Every dermatologist and every doctor uses the guilt-stick to beat skin cancer patients into avoiding the sun completely. “Wear sunscreen on a daily basis” “Don’t go outside in the middle of the day” “Avoid tanning and ABSOLUTELY avoid tanning beds” (the latter one I agree with, but the others are mostly fear-mongering).

As if my cancer fears weren’t crippling me enough, now I had to completely change my way of life. I started to super over-analyze the tiniest bit of sunshine as though the UV rays were my kryptonite.

I distinctly remember my tipping point. I was at an anesthesia conference in Orlando, Florida (PERFECT place for someone with melanoma, right?!?) and my entire group was hanging out by the pool. There they all were, in bathing suits, splashing around, having a grand-ol time socializing and sunning. And there I was, covered in sunscreen and almost all clothed, sunglasses and hat and all. The dark cloud in a room of sunshine.

I couldn’t have a good time. The entire scene was just terrifying to me. Every moment out in the sun just made me think more and more about how my life had changed. I was imagining all my moles bursting into melanomas, one by one, for every extra UV ray that was hitting my body.

After about 20 minutes, I went to my room and broke down.

That was my fear-tipping point. I knew I would never be the same, but I also knew it didn’t have to be THIS way, either.

I didn’t want to totally go hog-wild and go sun bathing or anything CRAZY like that. I just wanted to control my fear to be able to make the most of life. I absolutely did NOT want my life crippled by my fear.

So I used a little bit of mindfulness to change my thinking. Every time I was in the sun, I thought of all the good qualities it brings to earth. When I really got to thinking, skin cancer was the ONLY bad thing about the sun. The sun existed for eons before humans. It helped life form on this earth.

So during my walks, I would look at the daisies and say to myself “the sun helped give those life”. Or if I saw an amazing sunrise/sunset, I would give a little nod to the sun for creating such beauty. Even during grace, I would give a little mental thanks to the sun for nurturing the fruits and vegetables on my plate.

Consciously making the effort to bring the sun into my positive thinking was paramount to conquering my fear. It took time for me to begin to feel comfortable stepping outside without focusing on the kryptonite, but slowly it happened. It was not an overnight miracle. But slowly, using positive thinking and mindfulness, my mindset changed.

Slowly I became my thoughts; not the fearful ones…the positive ones.

As Tony Robbins (one of my personal favs) states “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” I took this mantra to heart – every…single…day – to conquer my fear of the sun.

And to this day, I’m happier because of it.

What are you fearful of? Have you ever used mindfulness to conquer YOUR fears? Let me know in the comments below!

 

5 Life Lessons I Learned from my Garden

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds ~Mexican proverb

My garden is my sanctuary. As I wander down the stone path, through the trees to the garden, I always get a feeling of uplifting calm. The quiet peace allows me to breathe and absorb life in a whole new way. I can sit and reflect on the day, do some mindfulness meditation while watering, or even take my frustrations out on those darn weeds in the tomato bed. Many days, I look on in awe as I create life through the simple ingredients of light, soil, water, and seeds.

The simplicity of my garden helps me to reflect on life on a deeper level.  What does it all mean? Why are we here? And over the past few years, I’ve learned many a life lesson from my garden (sometimes the hard way when nothing grows!) They may open your eyes to the simplicity of life in a whole new way.

My happy place

1 – Things grow faster with a little rain

Bad weather always seems to last forever. When it rains, it pours, and it feels like the sun will NEVER come out again. Winter in New England is like this…it drags…and drags…and draaaaaaaaags on forever.

But you know what? Seasons change. Even though it’s raining now, it will not rain forever. If you hunker down and hang on long enough, the sun will indeed show its happy little face again.

Weathering a few storms only helps us grow. Personally, professionally, and spiritually you can’t grow unless you have some challenges along the way. My melanoma was a HUGE challenge for me – and I can honestly say it was probably the best life-altering challenge I could have asked for. It changed my whole outlook on life and I am a happier/stronger/better person now because of it.

Did I think that way during the hailstorm of treatment and doctors’ visits and scans and sickness? Heck no! I just hunkered down and rode it out. But I never let the rain bring me down.

2 – Keep pulling those pesky weeds!!

Every gardener will let you know how much they HATE weeds. Weeds are nothing but pesky little nutrient-suckers that steal the life out of whatever else you’re trying to grow. They create an unnecessary competition for your plants that will overpower them if you don’t keep weeds at bay.

Weeds don’t seem that harmful on the surface, though. Cute little baby sprouts around your plants don’t seem all that imposing, so what’s the point? Or maybe you don’t have the time to pull all those darn weeds, so you leave them to grow. You’ll get to them next weekend.

But before you know it, these weeds have stunted your garden. They compete for nutrients, sun, soil space, water, everything – and before you know it, your tomatoes all have blossom end rot and your daises are crowded out by the dandelions.

This happens in life, too. Every person has that one friend or coworker who just seem to suck the life out of you. It’s always a competition and you feel like you’re being suffocated. They feed off of you, always take, take, take and they never give back.

You just gotta pull those weeds, people. Pull them out of your life and don’t look back. Cultivate your garden of relationships and don’t let in those pesky weeds. You are much better off letting your real self shine through.

3 – Sometimes you need a change in perspective

I tend to be a shoot-from-the-hip flower gardener. I swoon over the wild-flower “English Garden” look. So I grow a bunch of flowers from seeds and when they are big enough, I go plopping them around the garden all willy-nilly. It’s a bit of organized chaos, but when it comes to flowers, that’s the look I love.

Plopping things randomly may look great, but it often doesn’t come out the way I expected. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work for the flowers. Flowers, just like humans, tend to grow best under very specific conditions.

So as my garden evolves, I try to help things along the best I can. Many times, the plants just need a little change of perspective. A transplant from a shady area to one with full sun. Or maybe from the rocky hill to the soil-rich bed. Sometimes they look better clumped together, other times they look better spread out.

What’s the magic combination? I have no idea. Every flower has different likes and dislikes, and sometimes a little change in location is needed to help them get along with their neighbors. Its like Jimmy Buffet’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” – you gotta keep trying until you find the right fit for your attitude!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

4 – The secret’s in the soil

I’m going to continue along those same lines and go a little further. Some plants in my garden have it all – great sunlight, perfect amount of rain, living near neighbors that they get along with, good vibes going their way, the whole deal. And yet, SOMEHOW, they refuse to grow.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they wanted. No amount of questioning or moving helped me figure it out. Until I added a little nitrogen to the fertilizer.

You know what I discovered? The secret is in the soil.

Any plant can grow with just the necessities. But to flourish – to really grow beyond belief – the secret is in the soil. Tomatoes love nitrogen and calcium. My cucumbers love Epsom salts. Every plant will blossom under the certain circumstances.

And humans are the same! Take any one person and transplant them somewhere else. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. For example – put a gifted writer in a computer coding class and they will flounder. Send that same writer to a fiction writing summer camp, however, and they will absolutely blossom.

You need the right conditions to grow beyond expectations. Keep on trying until you find the perfect mix for you!

5 – You harvest what you sow

Last year, I didn’t plant a single head of lettuce. You know how many heads of lettuce I harvested?

Zero. (Of course!)

Last year, I also planted about 10 lupines. You know how many blossomed last year?

Also zero.

But you know how many blossomed this year? Three.

Gardens take some time to grow. They take time and energy and effort to get going, to grow stable root systems and blossom. You simply cannot expect to put 10 seeds into the ground and get 10 gorgeous plants within a few months.

So why do we do this with life?

If we move into a house, we expect everything to be perfectly decorated – immediately. When we get a new job, we get frustrated if the first week doesn’t go well. Or when we put in extra effort to get that project done and no one noticed.

We all want a first class life on a shoestring budget. And we expect 100% success rate from every little effort, with immediate results. One day of extra effort doesn’t guarantee you a life of luxury. Months and years of extra effort? NOW you’re adding that secret ingredient to the soil!!

Gardens take lots of TLC – just like life. With gardens, you take the time, put in the energy, and reap the rewards. We need to transfer this into our own fast-paced lives and slow down. Put in a little more TLC to the area we want to get more out of. Maybe that’s your family. Maybe that’s your job. But don’t be afraid to spread the love.

Enjoy the journey of life. Take the time to let your garden grow. Then reap the rewards of a VERY plentiful harvest.

 

3 Easy Ways to Take Control of Your Health

Happy belated 4th of July my fellow health nuts! I hope everyone is out there celebrating our Independence Day as though it’s your OWN personal holiday! All those fireworks are because you’re so amazing, you know 😉

Happy Independence Day!

I’m so terribly sorry I haven’t been writing as much lately. I promise to do better!! Work has been a biiiiiit crazy with the travels – in just the past 4 weeks, I’ve been to Nevada, New York, Minnesota, and Illinois. I’m seeing the country one state at a time! Traveling for work does have a few perks (but don’t tell my boss that!!)

Traveling to fun places like Las Vegas for work is NOT the same as traveling for vacation, though. By 8:30 PM pacific time (or 11:30 my normal time), I was COMPLETELY worn out. I drove straight past “The Strip” and crawled into bed. I know, I’m a bundle of fun, huh?! I didn’t even pull the handle on one single slot machine!! But I can promise you that next time I go to Vegas, it will be all fun – not quite “The Hangover” worthy, but still fun!

While traveling, I do have some downtime with all the dreaded waiting at airports. And I have to admit, I’ve been chewing on this article for a while. Lots of pondering and note-jotting. And I sat on my hands to stop myself from starting for a loooooooooong time.

Why? Well, honestly, because of the political climate as of late. You can’t discuss health care without discussing politics.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’d be happy to discuss the deep ins and outs of health care with anyone. But it’s hugely complex and complicated. Health care is NOT black and white, and there is no 100% correct answer to any health question.

But with this said, we have NO idea how health care will be in the future, let alone later this year. No one has a magic ball that will predict how any new legislation will work. Just as there were problems with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), there will likely be unforeseen problems with any legislation presently being batted around in Washington this very moment.

So why do you care? Well, you want to keep on living, don’t you? Health and happiness and all that jazz, right?! But you can’t live a healthy, happy life without your health. So take control of your health and reap the long-lived rewards.

Use these 3 ways to take control of your health 

1 – Don’t let politicians stick their nose in your healthcare

To quote Walter Cronkite: America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.

As I stated before, politics and health care don’t always mix. Honestly, neither political party truly CARES about your health. They care about what they THINK you care about. And what will win them votes. If they really cared, they’d consult with health care systems, hospitals, doctors, administrators, insurance companies, anyone and everyone in the biz and form a plan of action.

Right now, I hear lots of talk, but no real plan.

Our health care system is on life support, and no one can come up with the cure.

We all know that our health is important. But your health is important NOW, not when the suits in DC decide it’s important! So be proactive – take care of your body without letting the politicians stick their noses in your business. Your body is not in their control.

So stop waiting for someone else to figure out what’s best for your health care. Use what you have at your disposal – be it insurance, homeopathic medicine, the internet, or your local health store. Do what you need to do to take control of your health. And do it now.

Because as of tomorrow? Next week? Next year? Your guess is as good as mine. Don’t wait. Take care of yourself now – you are your own best advocate

Don’t wait for these people to decide on YOUR health care!

2 – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Just like a car, your body needs some preventative maintenance. Dermatologist visits, yearly physicals, mammograms, and colonoscopies are just a few of the many ways for the medical field to check in on your health.

But what can YOU do to take control of your health without visiting a doctor?

Listen to your body. If you’re exhausted, make it a point to get more sleep. If your GI system is out of whack, cut out the junk and clean up your diet. If you need a mental health day away from it all, then clock out and hit the road.

Work can wait. Your health problems, however, will never wait for the right time. And as Murphy’s Law will have it, your health matters the most when everything else in life lands in the crapper. So change your focus to maintaining your health rather than just abusing it.

You only have one body. Treat it like the temple it is supposed to be.

3 – Kick your stress to the curb

Have you ever gone on an amazing vacation to dread going home? Or have a great weekend and the thought of going to work on Monday immediately makes you cringe, ruining your relaxed vibe? Or have so much on your plate that you just wanna cry yourself to sleep?

Americans love to heap the stress onto our plates. Long hours of work and then rush rush rush – rush to pick up the kids and rush to get them to practice and hurry fix who-knows-what for dinner before zoning out in front of the TV for a couple hours before falling into bed exhausted.

Is this life? Is this what we’re all living for? I don’t think so.

Make it a priority to de-stress your life. Remove all the negative things – relationships, jobs, useless junk, bad habits – kick them all to the curb. It’s much like cleaning the old crap out of the closet. The process may take some time, but it’s such a relief once it’s over.

Once you remove your negative cloud, you can see life so much more clearly. You can see things in a new light – the light that really gives life meaning – and appreciate the people and the things around you.

It opens up a new path to REAL health and happiness. The kind that’s worth living for.

So, ladies and gentlemen, use these three ways to take control of your health. TODAY is your day to take life by the horns and become a healthier you!

What will YOU do today to become a healthier you? Let us know in the comments below!

How I kicked my cancer fear to the curb

Recently, I’ve had many people ask me one of the most important (but most overlooked) questions about cancer treatment. How did I learn to cope?

I don’t mean physically cope with getting through the treatments. Coping with treatments and healing after surgery is really just ‘grin and bear it’. There’s no secret to physically getting through treatment – you just have to put on your rally cap and fight like hell.

But how do you MENTALLY cope with cancer? How do you endure a diagnosis like stage 3 melanoma and NOT want to crawl into a hole and cry yourself to sleep?

Well, I have to admit, there was definitely a little bit of that for me – at first.

 

I’ve always said that cancer is more of a mental battle than a physical one. My melanoma diagnosis hit me very hard. I’m in healthcare – I should KNOW the warning signs. I should KNOW to take care of my own health first and foremost. But I put my changing/bleeding mole on the back burner while I worked 60 hours/week taking care of other people.

I felt a HUGE amount of guilt and blamed myself for months. I felt defeated. I felt lost. Why me? How could I do this to my family? What if I don’t make it? How am I supposed to live my life like this?

And then I gradually began to realize that this was a battle of wills. Much like any sport, the team with the best mental state wins. I was NOT going to let this stupid cancer win. This cancer was NOT going to bring down my spirit. If I was going to fight like hell physically, I also had to fight mentally. My whole being had to fight – and fight hard.

I knew the odds weren’t in my favor. I knew that melanoma defeating me was more of a likelihood than a possibility. At the age of 31, I had to come to grips with my own mortality in a very real way.

But you know what? As the old saying goes: there are only 2 certainties in this world – death and taxes. If my life was going to be cut short, I better make it a damn good one.

So I came to the conclusion: cancer may take my life. But cancer would NOT take my soul.

 

Sometimes you have to endure the rain to experience a rainbow

I have a soft spot for country music, and Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” to this day makes me cry. There’s something about facing death that makes you realize how precious life is – and you have to soak up EVERY MOMENT. Every day is truly a blessing.

Thousands of people have survived cancer and been given a second chance on life. And since treatment that has become my new mentality – I’ve been given a second chance at life. And you can’t have a full life when you’re constantly worried.

So I permanently shut off that leaky faucet of fears and guild and questions that kept creeping into my mind.

How did I do it? Mindfulness meditation.

I began reading books such as The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh and it made me realize that meditation doesn’t have to be all granola and incense and “ohm”. Just being mindful – learning to soak in every moment – was something we could all do. Soaking in the joys of everyday life has made me more grateful and more introspective about how I want to live.

Think about it. Think about what you want to accomplish in life. REALLY TRULY accomplish. Because YOU are the only one who can make these dreams a reality. YOU are the only one who can choose to live in a beautiful state rather than living every day in fear.

Because living in fear is no way to live. And I choose living a life that’s worth living. And so should you.

So say NO to the fears. Say NO to melanoma and cancer. Put your foot down and choose to take back your life. Start LIVING your life while you still can. It’s that simple.

So get out there and start living!!

Elimination Diet Update

Hello eveyone! Memorial Day Weekend is always an interesting holiday. It signals the beginning of summer and grilling out and pool parties, but it’s also a day of remembering those who have bravely served our country. I’m sending a lot of love and thanks to those who are presently serving and those who have served in our military (including some members of my own family). We wouldn’t be here without you – thank you for your bravery and your service. You deserve a lot more than a weekend holiday!!

I am incredibly lucky to spend Memorial Day weekend with a great group of friends. We rent a house on Martha’s Vineyard and get to unplug and enjoy each other’s company – biking, grilling, shopping, playing games and going to the beach – we really get to have a weekend filled with great times and make great memories. I’m incredibly grateful that these people are in my life, and many of them helped me through the hardship during my melanoma diagnosis. They are truly my New England family and I love them to pieces!

Thank you to all the members of our armed forces for your dedication and bravery

And we all had a good time. A little TOO good of a time, you might say. So good that my husband and I are definitely feeling the repercussions. There is nothing quite like a weekend filled with lots of grilling and eating out to make you think about your diet choices. My husband has been sooooo incredibly good about watching what he eats to help with his reflux, but he TOTALLY fell off the wagon this weekend.  It’s so hard to stay vigilant with lifestyle changes when you’re surrounded by lots and lots of things that remind you of how you used to live. My husband is Italian, so food is a big weakness for him (and for me!)

So I thought I’d do a follow-up to my elimination diet posts (you can see the first post here, my week one post here, and my week two post here).

To my amazement, he’s COMPLETELY off of any reflux medication.  This is a HUGE step – he was previously on 2 prescription “Prilosec” pills a day. If he stays true to his diet, then he doesn’t reflux at all – his coughing was drastically reduced to the point that he and I would both forget that he had acid reflux.

And doing this diet helped us to realize that he has 2 sign of reflux – one is the coughing that we had previously noticed, but another was burping. Yup, that’s right – when he ate something that made him burp, sure enough the next day he’d be coughing. And this sounds strange at first, but it actually makes sense – when you burb, the air brings up little molecules of your stomach contents, which is mostly acid.

So what made him burp? Here’s a list of the things that we found were triggers:

1 – GARLIC

2 – Carbonated drinks (club soda, beer)

3 – Yeast

Garlic was by far the worst offender. I had never even thought of this before going on the diet, and I’m a HUGE garlic fan, so I would add it to meals ALL THE TIME and not even realize that I was the one CAUSING his reflux!!!! How awful, right?! It was as if I was slowly killing my husband like a “Forensic Files” episode but I didn’t even know it!! Needless to say, I quickly cut out the garlic from my recipes and his coughing became less noticeable immediately.

No more garlic for us!

Carbonated drinks completely makes sense, but what about yeast? That was a strange one, and we discovered it due to process of elimination. I had used a store-bought chicken broth for soups and a chicken dish and he was burping up a storm. The only new ingredient in the broth was “autolyzed yeast extract”. BINGO! I don’t understand why, but I don’t need to – just knowing his triggers is what this whole elimination diet was all about.

Other things we noticed that also increased his coughing, and we think this is likely due to their highly acidic content:

1 – White wine (well really, any wine, but white was much more noticeable than red)

2 – Pasta Sauce

3 – Canned tuna

4 – Pickles and olives

5 – Wine and cheese nights. EVERTYHING in the typical “wine and cheese” appetizer evening made for a rough next few days. Seriously – who doesn’t live for wine and cheese?!? I love these nights, but unfortunately we’ll have to tone it down a bit.

All in all, the diet was COMPLETELY worth our time and all that home-cooking energy. It was a couple months all-in, which seemed like forever at first, but the time flew by rather quickly once we got used to the routine. We both learned so much about what triggers his reflux and what to avoid. I highly recommend that everyone with any types of food sensitivities take the time to do an elimination diet – what have you got to lose? It’s only a couple months of your time and it can improve your quality of life dramatically.

Take control of your life – and your gut – and go for it!