survivor

HORSE THERAPY 101

I've driven by the equestrian center near my house for seven years now. And during the last four years I began to notice the white horse that stood by himself in the small turnout, on the west side of a small barn. I wondered about him. I wondered what his story was. For years! And then I decided to ask. To make a move.

I've had horses in my life since I was very young. I learned to ride on my grandparents' dairy farm in Illinois at about five years old. Horses were the main focus of my life when I lived in California. I taught them to jump and barrel race. Like many young girls, I was obsessed with them. These "mutt" horses were not barrel racers or jumpers, but I pretended they were, and thankfully they played along. I rode in horse shows and in the grand entry of the local rodeo. I rode them in never-ending fields of grass and along creeks. I braided flowers into their manes. They were my best friends. But a sudden move to Colorado meant losing those dear animals. I was lost without them. Horses came and went throughout my years in high school and college. I taught riding at a camp in southern New Mexico and rode the ranch horses in Santa Fe.

But after college I started a career and then a family, and those needs came first, so there wasn't room for horses in my life. I rode my friend's horses from time to time, but it just wasn't enough. I needed them. I missed them terribly. And then came two bouts of cancer and all the trauma that ensued. The after-effects of the surgeries and the resulting emotional garbage left me reeling. And in the meantime I kept driving by that horse.

Finally, just two months ago, I sent an email to the equestrian center telling them my story—all of it—and asked if I could come visit the white horse. Just hang out and chat over carrots. To my delight, the owner of the center replied a few days later and asked me to meet her at the barn. We talked that day for nearly two hours. She "got" me and understood my needs. And I learned that she is also a chaplain at a local hospital. She encouraged me to come by the center and visit, and that's where I have been for the past two months. 

And this past Saturday another opportunity came out of the universe. The barn manager texted me and asked if I'd like to take on some feeding/turnout shifts at the barn. Her text ended with: "and it's a paid job." PAID? That's just icing on the cake! Of course I said yes, without even thinking of my time needs for physical therapies, and Plus, and my life in general. Just....YES!

So, I've taken on three rotating shifts that entail leading approximately 25 horses to their stalls in the evenings, feeding, blanketing and /or unblanketing, memorizing which horse is which and which halter (hanging on the fences) belong to which. My body, still sore from the after-effects of the surgeries and therapies, is now lifting bales of hay, and twisting and turning, and leading very large animals over ice and snow and mud. My fingers are in beet pulp, my boots trash my truck, and my clothes smell like horse, and that's all OK with me. Each shift takes about three hours of non-stop work and about six miles of walking. It takes an eye for detail: are all the gates locked, is the water frozen, are the horses acting ok, are the right lights on. It also takes me a few minutes longer than it probably should. I take time to talk to each one. I pat each and every one. I say goodnight when I close their stalls. We talk.

The beauty of all this is twofold for me. First, I took a chance. I reached out. I went out of my comfort zone to work my body again. Despite still having rough days, I got out of my usual environment. I am mixing things up.

Second, during those three-hour shifts I never think about anything else except hay and grain and halters and horses. There is no room for thoughts of cancer or lymphedema or sadness or trauma. It takes me away.

I was struggling with a blanket on a sweet bay named Bubba this week, and he stood there patiently. I had already put his hay in his stall—and he was hungry—yet he just stood there, in the turnout, and waited for me to get my act together with his blanket. And then, as I got the last buckle secured, and as I apologized to him profusely, he turned his head towards me, closed his eyes, and nuzzled me in the chest. 

And that, dear friends, is worth every ache and pain. It's worth every bad day, every daily struggle, every doubt.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Becky and Tiffany at Carlisle Equestrian Center for their welcome and their support...and to Bubba, and Lenny, and Gus, and Phoenix, and Cimm, and Scarlett, and Kat, and Dazee, and Molly, etc., etc. You guys all rock my world.

 

 

 

 

 

ON A WING AND A PRAYER

One is never really the same after something like this. To say that cancer affects every single aspect of one's life is an understatement. Did I emphasize EVERY SINGLE ASPECT? To have experienced it twice was miserable and sad, to put it lightly. Plus, the resulting lymphedema is a like a cancer party gift I got to take home with me. Lovely. Thanks.

But since all of this nonsense happened, something equally as powerful has also occurred, but on the positive side of the spectrum: the messages. Messages from the Universe is what I call them. Most are loud and clear and in my face. But some are subtle and lovely. Like this one.

I spent Thanksgiving week down on a barrier island off the coast of Texas. Our family has gone there for 22 years now. It is one of the rare places I can go where I don't do anything. I just sit and look at the water. One day on this past visit, I was sitting on the beach with my kids when my son pointed out a bird eating up little goodies off the sand. It was a female grackle. And she was missing a foot.

Now this is a common theme on our annual trek to the Gulf of Mexico to see birds missing feet and even entire legs; it's a rugged coastline. And every time I see one I feel terrible for it, and then suddenly that "missing" leg pops right out of those feathers onto the sand. My family gives me grief about this. But this one was really missing a foot. For real. Knowing what I was thinking, Nic said, "Well, she appears to be doing ok," as she hobbled along eating up little beach bugs. We watched her for a time until she eventually wandered away. Jordan then decided to go upstairs for snacks, and Nic and I sat in silence watching the waves.

About 15 minutes later I happened to look to my left and there was THE SAME BIRD sitting on the back of Jordan's empty chair, holding on with her one little remaining foot. Now this got Nic's attention. She sat for a few minutes and watched us. I couldn't believe she was so close. And then she flew away.

Several hours later, we abandoned our beach chairs and headed upstairs. I took a shower, poured a glass of sangria and wandered out to the balcony and plopped down into a chair overlooking the Gulf. It was then that I noticed a movement to my right. Sitting with her little legs (and one foot) tucked underneath her was my bird! She stood, ruffled her feathers a bit, and sat back down. How did she find me on the 12th floor, out of 200 units, next to a similar building with the same number of condos? How could this be? My mind immediately set out to discount this little miracle: "It just can't be the same bird." But it was. And as a matter of fact, I had never, in all of my 22 years down there, seen a bird sitting on one of the balcony railings, especially not 12 floors up.

She sat and looked at me for quite some time as I pondered what this meant. And then, feeling terrible for her again, I snuck into the kitchen, tore up a tortilla (not that you are supposed to feed wild birds...oops), and put them into a pile near her. She stood, calmly, jumped on her good—and only foot—over to the scraps and gobbled them up. She then looked me straight in the eye and flew away. Whyyyyy do these things happen to me?

Skip ahead now to earlier this week, to an appointment with my therapist who helps me deal with the cancer aftermath. I relayed the story to her, punctuated several times with "What could this possibly mean?"

"Well, I'll tell you what it means," she said. "That bird was you. That bird came to you to show you and tell you that you may be hobbled and injured—both emotionally and physically—from this cancer fallout, but you can still fly. And fly you have."

I realized right then and there, that on a wing and a prayer I will work through the physical pain and recovery, and the emotional crap that makes me just want to roll up into a little ball most days. I will.

And therein lies the message of this post (if you are looking for messages, as I always seem to be). Despite what happens to you, you still have wings to fly. It may not be easy. It may be a long, terrible and grueling recovery, a tough and sad road indeed...but your spirit can still fly.

I simply have to believe it. I believe in the power of my little bird.

 

DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE PINK RIBBON

What does the pink ribbon on a product mean? Typically it means that the company is donating a percentage of the funds from that product to "breast cancer awareness." (Whatever that means to them.) But that is not always the case. And certainly, just because a product has a pink ribbon DOES NOT mean it is non-toxic or chemical free. In fact, many of the mainstream skin care products adorned with pink ribbons this month are anything but. Don't be fooled by the pink ribbon. Be aware of what you are putting on your skin.

Read labels!

We urge you to support only companies that sell clean, non-toxic products that are free from chemicals that have been linked to cancer. Look closely at the labels on the skin care products from the big, well-known companies sporting pink ribbons and hues to see if they really stand by their claim to "care about cancer" and support breast cancer awareness. You can tell by simply reading the list of ingredients. Look for parabens (methyl, butyl, ethyl and propyl), phthalates, DMDM hydantoin and polyethylene glycol (PEG) for starters. These are all chemicals linked to cancer.

Bring on the prevention!

We are all aware of breast cancer. It is PREVENTION that we need. It is never too late to start to make a change towards breast cancer prevention. Make the change now. Get educated. Ask questions. Read labels. Eat well. Exercise. Relax. Live.

OCTOBER: THE OFFICIAL MONTH FOR PINK-WASHING

During October everything from hammers, to soup cans, to fried chicken buckets will take on a pink hue to raise awareness for breast cancer. But when 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease, is awareness what we really need? We need breast cancer prevention awareness. And the shift from awareness to life-saving prevention starts with you.

Do you realize?

There are many well-known companies that claim to care about cancer during this pink-washing month, yet they continue to produce or sell products that contain chemicals linked to cancer. This hypocritical stance makes their pink-ribboned products a moot point.

The time for change is now

Don't wait until you or someone you love is affected by the disease before making a change towards breast cancer PREVENTION awareness. The time for change is now. Get educated. Read the labels on your skin care products. Eat well. Exercise. Relax. Live.

3 YEARS/3 MONTHS/23 DAYS CANCER FREE

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The latest round of med tests have come back clean. So there you have it: 3 years/3 months/23 days. At what point do you stop counting? Never. At what point does it become easier? Not sure. Maybe the fact that there were two diagnoses, not just one, makes things more difficult. Therapies are on-going, as are the terrible after-effects of the surgeries and treatments. Some days feel like I’m starting at square one. The next day I feel pretty good. The recovery is long and certainly not easy. What’s easy is letting it get to me, and getting stuck in the low spots. But then…

But then I get an email from someone telling me how happy they are that they found Plus / modern natural skin care (never in a million years did I ever think I’d start a natural skin care company!), or I escape while paddle boarding in the hot summer sun, or I sit on the beach in south Texas and do nothing but watch the waves, or I dance with my daughter in H&M (don’t ask), or my crazy spotted cattle dog does something to make me laugh out loud. Simple things like that. And then I feel good.

3 years/3 months/23 days, and despite the tremendous challenges I still face, every single one of those days has made me grateful and thankful that I am still here to blog about it, and am able to enjoy those simple things. One day at a time baby, that’s my strategy. Just one day at a time.