Last week I went to a lecture called “Healing from the Inside Out: The Regenerative Power of the Human Spirit”. The focus of the lecture was to address the concept of healing can happen from the way we think, feel and live our life. The facilitator, Dr. Lerner, talked about a moment of transformation that people experience that often leads them to think about life in a different way. Sometimes it is caused by an illness, crisis or some type of event. Dr. Learner discussed that he has worked with many cancer patients who describe the news of their diagnosis as their moment of transformation and that in that moment they learn what is most important in life.
I found this very interesting. I think we often coast along life doing what we think needs to be done more than actually living life. That was definitely the case for me. About six months before I diagnosed I was suffering from a major depression. After much soul searching I realized that I really did not enjoy my life. I was doing many things I thought someone of my age “should” be doing. I had a good job, which although I enjoyed, it was not what I really wanted to do. I had been talking about dreams I had for the future for many years, but I never seemed to put into action anything that would start those dreams. As my New Year’s resolution I decided that 2007 was going to become the Year of Alli. Starting then I was going to figure out what exactly would make me happy and I would go after it. I changed a lot of things that winter and I have to say, I had more happiness in those months than I had in years. I started remembering what I was all about.
Then my diagnosis hit. It was not what I really had in mind when I started the Year of Alli. Looking back however, I think it was because of my attitude that year that I had the strength to get through my diagnosis. I think I did a pretty good job of balancing my illness, treatment and still trying to be happy, but I think in whole I was just coasting along again doing what I needed to do to survive. It was not until I was told I was going to die that I think I really started to live again. Somewhere along with the prognosis of death, I had my transformative moment. It took me accepting I was dying to truly live. In many ways I think I am one of the lucky ones. Not because I am still alive, but because I have had this time to concentrate on life. I think that knowing you have a limited time to live allows you to stop taking for granted all the wonderful things you have in life.
Some of the only ways I have gotten through all the treatment, physical and mental challenges of the last several years was all the good times I have had that I could remember. As I was sitting in the hospital enduring chemotherapy, I would close my eyes and pretend I was back on the hiking trails. One of my favorites is at Yosemite. I tried to remember what it felt like climbing up those trails. It was exhausting and painful at times, but I also remembered how beautiful it was the whole way up and how exhilarating it was to get to the top of Nevada Falls and look over the Yosemite Valley knowing I made it up there under my own steam. Whenever I had to undergo radiation, CT scan or other test, I would close my eyes and imagine I was back on the beach of Aruba or kayaking with the whales in Washington State. I often spent time going through pictures. Whether it was pictures of California, hiking or camping trips or my cherished pictures of my family I was always able to stir up some memory that helped me make it through the rough times.
During my lowest moments when I would feel too weak to leave the house, I would go through my “Warm Fuzzy” box. This was a box of mementos from my time in California when I was a youth minister. This box contains pictures, notes and letters from youth, crafts and other memories. After realizing how much this box cheered me up, I started collecting items from other times in my life. I never got around to putting any of these things in a scrapbook, but that is ok – a box is enough. Whenever I need a pick-me-up I just open up a box and I am transported to that moment and get to relive it.
I watched a movie last night where the main character would tuck her son into bed at night and they would list the things they could be thankful for. If the son could not find something he was grateful for, she would find a way to take what upset him and turn it into an opportunity to be grateful. I have thought about that a lot today. It has not been one of my better days. I have been feeling very weak and generally feeling crappy. It is easy on days like this to get down in the dumps and be negative, and I need to find a way to concentrate on the good stuff instead of the bad. I have decided to make it a daily ritual for me to name the things I am grateful for tonight each night as I go to bed. So as I go to bed tonight I am grateful for being able to spend another Mother’s day with my family. It was wonderful to have brunch with my family and I loved seeing my nephews today. I am grateful for their hugs. At one point I grabbed my youngest nephew and tickled him. When he had enough, he cried “Auntie, Auntie”. This is my cue to stop. It is our version of saying uncle. What a wonderful moment. I am so grateful for every moment I get so see his and all my nephews smile.