Update from the Farm – The New Russian Queen

My bees are not happy. They were so unhappy, half of them up and left.

I shouldn’t say they weren’t happy. Its not like I speak the “buzz” language and asked them. As a matter of fact, it could be that they were TOO productive for their own good and had to leave the hive to prosper.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about what’s called a swarm. In everyday language, we say ‘swarm’ when we mean a large group gathering. But in bee speak, a swarm is when the bees actually form a whole new colony – queen and all – and leave the hive for another spot.

This could be for many reasons. Perhaps the queen is old and the bees need to start a new colony. Sometimes it happens when there isn’t enough room in the hive for all the bees to prosper. Or when there’s a lot of nectar flowing, meaning lots of food to go around, the bees may split to get their share of the good stuff.

I’m no honeybee expert, so I don’t know why they split, so I’m sad to see that they did. And there’s another problem that occurred with this that’s far more detrimental to my bees than them swarming.

My bees have no queen.

Nope. Nada. No queen. No leader of the pack. No one to tell the hundreds of worker bees what to do. No one to lay eggs to help the hive get through the winter.

How did this happen? Again, I have no idea! But I have found a solution.

I bought a Russian Queen!

The Queen is the one with the visible wings…her body is almost double her wing length!

Queen bees, much like dogs, are breed based on their temperament. Some varieties show resistance to disease, others are gentler or produce more honey. Some are just breed for looks (JK! It’s not a beauty contest with these ladies!)

My bees now are Italians. I’ve done a little research on the difference between the two, and the Russian variety has all positive attributes for life in New England. You can see an article explaining that here.

The biggest problem may be introducing her to the hive. This may sound funny, but bees are incredibly particular to scent. A Russian Queen has different hormones than an Italian Queen, and they may not accept her.

Beekeeping is hard. It’s like adulating – a lot of the time, we wing it or use Google to get by. (Yes, seriously, I google everything! It drives my DH crazy!)

We put the new Queen in yesterday in hopes that the bees accept her and they make it through the winter. At this point in the year, it’s a slim shot, but it’s worth a try. I will keep you all updated on how it goes!

Would YOU ever try beekeeping?? Let me know in the comments!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower

 

How 5 Minutes a Day will Change Your Life

Do you ever have a day where you thought to yourself “where did the day go?” That’s me. Everyday. I’m the QUEEN of the day that got away. Every evening around 6 o’clock, my husband laughs when I act so surprised that dinnertime has magically arrived without my knowledge.

And it does! After I suddenly realize that dinner snuck up behind me, I scramble to first THINK of something to cook, and then frantically fix something (somewhat) healthy.

After the chaos of dinner, I’m done. Tapped out. I’ve forgotten whatever I was in the middle of doing before cooking dinner. I feel as though my whole day was flung together and I have nothing to show for it. It’s as though that little bit of chaos threw off my whole day.

So what did I do? I set a new goal in my journal. And it worked.

I’ve been journaling for some time now. In the mornings, I do my own version of the ‘5 minute journal’ approach. I call it “Gratitude and Goals”. Gratitude for the things I have currently and goals for the things I want in the future – and every morning, I write these things down so that my day is a bridge between the two.

And it’s changed my life.

It takes about 5 minutes most mornings. A quick 2 pages of writing, and my mind is clear. This approach to journaling helps me to take on the day without all the clutter usually rattling around in my brain. My day starts and ends more clearly and with a purpose – plus it helps me to remember dinner!

So how do YOU do this? Grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee.

You ready?

OK start with page one. Write down 2 things you are grateful for – and why. They can be something simple, like your family or your home or the fact that you could sleep in that day (I’ve written that one a few times!) Whatever you are truly grateful for in your life and why you’re grateful.

Now close your eyes and see those things in your mind for 2 deep breaths. Seriously. Picture your family/home/sleeping in. Now breath in…out…in…out while holding that image.

Ready for step 2?

Write down 2 goals you have. They can be anything – to accomplish more at work, to be more mindful, to beat cancer (that was my written goal for forever!!) Even just being less nauseous from chemo treatment. Whatever you REALLY want to do.

It can be something you want to accomplish that day (like putting dinner on the table by 7) or that year (like finishing that ‘honey-do list’). Small or large, whatever it is, write it down.

Now, again, close your eyes. Picture yourself reaching that goal. Hold that image and take 2 more deep breaths.

At this point, I usually turn the page and write my thoughts. Whatever has come to mind, I write it down. If it’s a big appointment day, I write down my fears and anxieties. Or sometimes I write about activities from the night before such as a fun dinner party or seeing family. Whatever is rattling around in my brain first thing in the morning is written on the next page.

FIVE minutes. And its changed my life.

How did I come to this? Well, I’ve always found that writing is a great outlet for me. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness since my diagnosis, and I found that this 5 minute journal method combines the best of journaling, visualization, and mindfulness.  Over time, I’ve found it keeps me ‘present’ and less stressed all day. I now direct my day rather than my day directing me.

It’s also helped tremendously with my cancer fears. As Tony Robbins likes to say, you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time. I am proof that changing your mindset really DOES change your life. This five minutes has helped me to quiet the fears and find a greater meaning in everyday life BEYOND cancer.

Using a journal to focus my morning thoughts has retrained my brain to see the bright side. Throughout the day, my mind thinks back to the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m fearful might happen. My gratitude has replaced my fear.

And some days, having a calm dinner with family shows me the happiest and greatest meaning of life. Set aside 5 minutes to try something that may change YOUR life – like this 5 minute journal – and take control of your fears.

Journaling with Cancer

I often talk about the stress and the mental battle I went through with my melanoma diagnosis. Being diagnosed with cancer is INCREDIBLY stressful – nothing else compares, really – and it forces you to reevaluate your life. At the ripe old age of 31, I was trying to come to grips with all of life’s deepest questions. Why me? How did this happen? When all this is over, what do I want out of life? How is this going to change me? Am I living a life worth living?

My head would spin with questions every night, and instead of sleeping, the worry would take over. I knew my thoughts weren’t helping my mindset. I needed an outlet to clear my head.

I didn’t want to go to a shrink, though. I mean who does?? I’m not having suicidal thoughts and I’m not on the verge of breaking down. If my family found out, they would think that I wasn’t handling it well, and THAT would be a whole other stress-inducing problem. I just needed to vent.

So I started to write.

I started this blog as a journal. I started a garden journal. I started a ‘journal’ journal. And I started to write every chance I got.

It was such a relief to get allllll those thoughts out of my head. Writing them down seemed like instantly unloading all my crazy thoughts onto the paper – like cutting and pasting them from my head to the journal. It became my external hard drive, where my all my deepest thoughts were safe and sound.

Don’t know where to start? More info to come!

And slowly my mind felt more clear. I felt as though I could really face the day without those constant fears chirping in my head. My therapist became my journal – I could openly examine my thoughts and writing them down made me accept my own point of view more freely. My goals and aspirations became clearer. It was like venting to my best friend that would never tell another soul about what I had complained about that day.

You may think “this journaling stuff is only for teenagers to relieve their emotional angst”. Heck, when I started I thought it would save me the trouble of seeing a mental health professional. In researching the effects of journaling, however, I discovered it’s a lot more than both these things.

Journaling has been a habit of highly successful people for ages. Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, and Oprah, just to name a few. Journaling their thoughts, ideas, dreams, and daily goals has helped them all attain amazing lives.

And my goal is to have an amazing life. I want to make my life worth living. Every day is a blessing, and keeping a journal is a way for me to reflect on what I have, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Do you keep a journal? How does it help you? Let me know in the comments!

Year One After Treatment

Year One After Treatment

Last week, I got the results from my latest PET/CT scan. According to my calendar, it was my 4th scan since the final round of immunotherapy last May.

It turned out to be lucky #4 because I heard the sweetest 3 letters anyone with cancer will ever hear:

N…E…D

No Evidence of Disease

No evidence that the stupid f*cking melanoma was ever there. None. My insides are “squeaky clean” according to my oncologist.

Holy hell, people! I can’t help but curse, I’m so f*cking happy!!

Me and my favorite person at the Miles for Melanoma event in Boston last year

A lot has happened in the past year since my treatment. I mean…like…a lot. Life keeps moving forward, with or without us, so it’s interesting to look back at the path I’ve chosen.

In the past year, these events top the list as the most important: stopped treatment early due to gastritis and borderline colitis, lost 20 pounds, went on steroids, had a nervous system reaction, lost my mother-in-law to a heart attack, interviewed like crazy and got 2 job offers, started a job as a traveler, and now my husband and I have decided to retire early so we’re in the process of buying a rental property.

Man – the last year of my life really makes my head spin. I’m only 33 and I feel like I’ve experienced enough to be twice that age.

OK, maybe not TWICE that age. I take it back 😉

But the last year was definitely tough. Going through treatment and then losing my mother-in-law so suddenly broke my heart. Here I was, really trying to keep my head above water with all the side effects of treatment, and then out of NOWHERE we lose a very dear family member. Losing her so suddenly made me realize EVERY day here on this earth is a blessing, side effects and all.

Life is short. Make the most of every day. Make the most of every year.

And that’s my plan. I’m working on kicking cancer’s ass – one year NED at a time.

The Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental health is one of the few places the medical field has absolutely FAILED in the US. And when I say failed, I mean failed with a big fat ‘F’. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, exit stage left kind of fail.

The numbers don’t lie. The statistics of how we’ve failed, and continue to do so, are staggering. Over half of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, even to this day. Teenage depression rates are rising. 43.7 million Americans struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is over 18% of the population. These numbers even EXCLUDE developmental disorders and over 8% of adults in America who report having a substance or alcohol problem!

How can this BE? We’re in 2017, people! We can’t IGNORE over a quarter of the population!

We HAVE GOT to do better at helping those with mental health problems. Not tomorrow – TODAY!

This really hit home for me in a one-two punch. My friend’s brother, who had been struggling with depression, committed suicide. The following year, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t really soak in the hardship of my friend’s loss until I saw myself in a similar boat – struggling to keep myself afloat mentally and physically.

Mental health problems can affect any one of us. Our friends, our family, and ourselves. Just like breaking a leg or having cancer, treatment SHOULD be available to everyone. For any reason.

But it’s not.

No matter how you slice it, millions of Americans struggle with mental health…every….single….day.

You can find many more statistics and resources at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

I found myself struggling with anxiety and depression after my diagnosis. I couldn’t accept that cancer could happen to me. I became terrified of the sun’s UV “death rays” and scared of being in the sun (see my post about conquering that fear here). My entire career has been in healthcare, but I developed “white coat syndrome” – it’s a real thing – where before every appointment or scan, I would sit in the waiting room, sweating profusely with my blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketing. My dread and anxiety when seeing the doctor became the norm.

Does this sound familiar?

When I finally decided to take control of my thoughts and emotions, things slowly became better. I decided that cancer may take my body, but I wouldn’t let it take my soul. I became stronger mentally and started to bail out the sinking ship to weather the storm. I did this through mind-body connection methods such as mindfulness meditation and journaling that I discuss in this blog.

Many people can do this same thing and eventually bail themselves out. Many others, however, need professional help to lead them in the right direction through the storm.

BOTH methods towards mental health simply DO NOT have enough support out there. Those who want to take control of their thoughts on their own don’t have enough support. And those who need professional help don’t have easy access to professionals.

We HAVE GOT to help each other and ourselves. We need to acknowledge that America needs better access to mental health services. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. And every day, more and more people are struggling.

Mental health doesn’t have to be this way. If you see someone struggling, don’t ignore the symptoms. If you need help, please reach out. Anxiety, depression, anger, and fear don’t have to be a daily part of your life.

Let’s admit America has a mental health problem.

Because as the saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing the problem.