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Letter from the Editor

Dear Survivors Club Members and Readers,

Everyday my continued work with The Survivors Club reminds me how precious and rare a healthy life can be. Stories from all over the country and the world are sent to our site, and as I read through them, I am amazed at the hardships people overcome everyday.I feel thankful for my present good health and family.  Whether a person survived breast cancer, a plane crash, foreclosure or the tribulations of divorce,  I find every member of The Survivors Club to be an inspiration to me and others.

I want to thank all members of The Survivors Club for your success at overcoming the adversity in your life. I feel privileged to be surrounded by the stories of individuals who have survived the unthinkable, made it through on little but faith, and adapted positive attitudes in their everyday existence.

As the editor of The Survivors Club website, I encourage you to share your stories with us. I want to hear what you have overcome in your life. We have all survived different forms of adversity and come out of the experience stronger and wiser. What is your story?

Sincerely,

Editor-in-Chief

Alexander Smith

asmith@thesurvivorsclub.org

 

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Through a Child's Eyes: How Do You Stop Domestic Violence When You Don't Know What to Do?

Through my organization Saving Promise, I often receive mail from women seeking advice about domestic violence and how to break free from the cycle.  I recently received one of the most basic yet poignant questions about domestic violence from a little girl named Angelina:  "I know somebody who has been abused many times . . . How do you stop this when you don't know what to do because you are afraid of what might happen to you?"

Here is my response:

Angelina, if I had a penny for your thoughts, this world wouldn't be big enough to hold all the pennies I would give to you for asking a question that many people do not have the courage to ask.

Although there are many reasons why people stay in an abusive situation, or why someone may not do anything to help a loved one or friend, it really does come down to one thing. It's simply that oftentimes they . . . just . . . don't . . . know . . . what . . . to . . . do.; or better yet, they fear they might get hurt too. You've raised a valid question, one that should not be taken lightly.

There are many things I can say to answer your question, but let me first address the root cause of the problem:

Silence. . .

Silence is unfortunately at the root of the problem. For example, let's think about your friend's mother whose husband abused her. Though I don't know your friend's family, I know that perhaps her mother feels ashamed and embarrassed by the way her husband treats her, and she is also probably very afraid of what he would do to her or her children if she ever told. Therefore, she stays silent. I'm sure your friend feels very bad about what's happening to her mother, and she's probably also confused, trying to understand how someone could do this to her.

Your friend is very lucky to have you as a friend, someone she can trust. And I'm sure it's really hard for you too, because I know you want to help your friend but you don't know what to do, and you are afraid of what might happen to you. And you have every right to feel this way. You should be afraid. In fact, I think you were not only brave to ask this question, but your instincts told you that this situation is very dangerous. You are right.

But there are other ways you can help. You can help by continuing to be there for your friend. Next, encourage your friend to talk to a school counselor or a relative that she trusts. Explain to her that there are many people out there that can help her mother. For example, her mother can call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE and have a confidential discussion with someone, and they can help her.

You may also want to talk to someone, too. Not about your friend's situation, but to learn more about what you should do if you ever get involved in an abusive relationship or want to help a friend. Finally, Angelina, while I don't know you, I am so very proud of you for being a good friend, and more importantly, for caring!

 

L.Y. Marlow, Author/Founder, Saving Promise

www.savingpromise.org

www.colormebutterfly.com

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A New Year and Change for the Domestic Violence Community

I spent New Year’s Day racking my brain about a resolution that I will not only stick to, but will bring about real change—for me, my family, my community. But I don’t want to just do something typical, like join a gym, or embark on a pipe dream, or commit myself to frivolity. I want to really give, and give back BIG. I was so inspired on New Year’s Day watching the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network. I sat there thinking, if Oprah can do that, what is it I can NOT do?

Absolutely nothing!

I can do all that I put my mind to—and this year, as in past years, my mind and heart are invested in one thing—making a different for those who will not get to see a new year, whose voices have been silenced. The forgotten ones—women, men and children—whose lives were lost at the hands of domestic violence.

More and more women, men and children are dying! Yet, we never talk about it.  That is until it’s too late. We never utter a word until some perfectly spoken journalist reads those horrible words from a teleprompter. And even then, we only talk about it for as long as the news fascinates us.

In Gaston, Texas, the number of people who died from domestic violence in 2010, many of which were children, more than doubled from the previous year. In December, in a matter of eight days, three people were killed in domestic violence related crimes in Rhode Island. In October, the state of Oregon reported that 49 people were killed by domestic violence, and the year was not yet over. It did not take long in 2010, for the first fatality to occur in Utah—On January 4, 2010, Norma Leticia Villalobos-Guzman walked into her kitchen covered in blood and asked a roommate to call police. She later died, only to be followed by countless other women and children across America—from the corners of Maine to the tip of Texas, to the outskirts of Oregon, who died at the hands of domestic violence.  And the stories, and the fatalities, and the utter sadness goes on . . .

We need change!

As the founder of Saving Promise, I have not only made a New Year’s resolution, I have made a life commitment to see to it that we bring about that change—real change. I am often flabbergasted that we have so many resources, legislation and funds, and still all we have to show is a slew of shelters, courtrooms, and more fatalities. Perhaps some would argue to disagree, and to those I would say… don’t disagree—Join me!

Join me in making a lifetime commitment to become the voices whose voices have been stripped away. Join me in saying NO MORE! Let’s not just hold up a candle, let’s become the candle.

Join me in building a movement that will foster real change.

Join ME! Visit http://www.savingpromise.org/  to learn how.

L.Y. Marlow, Author/Founder,
Saving Promise

http://www.savingpromise.org

http://www.colormebutterfly.com/

 

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A Healing Massage

I chose to give myself a healthy treat at the end of last week that would also double as a new experience, so I called for a massage appointment at a local wellness studio. Since I have never gotten one before, I didn't know what they were really like, only what other people have told me. I expected the massage to be relaxing, but I was surprised to discover that it was also a learning experience.

I have been practicing yoga at The Lotus Seed in Portland for almost two months now. Those two months have increased my flexibility, balance and offered me much stress-relief. As a runner, the gentler yoga practice complements my running discipline by stretching my muscles to facilitate proper recovery.

The instructors at The Lotus Seed yoga studio love to engage in conversation about the practice, and they spend time with me after class discussing techniques that could increase my understanding of yoga. Several teachers each independently suggested that I get a massage to relax some chronic tension in my neck and between my shoulder blades.

Amy Bennett, LMT was my masseuse. Her professionalism and knowledge about the craft exceeded my expectation. I had not know about the healing capabilities of a massage until I finally received one. Amy explained the muscles she targeted and showed me a poster of how each of the neck and back muscles are connected. I didn't expect that the massage could further my understand of the inner-workings of the body.

I learned that a massage can be more than just a method of relaxation. It can help muscles that are chronically tense, release that strain and then recover in their natural position providing better posture and muscular support to the active skeleton.

After this interaction, I will be able to take some of my new knowledge with me next time I am in the yoga studio. I will try to imagine the musculature of my body and how the connective tissue and the complex network of muscles supports me in each yoga pose or asana. I will put my mind on the muscle that is being stretched and try to visualize and feel how it is moving.

What surprised me most about the massage was how complimentary it was to my yoga practice. Yoga itself is a healing art, but learning about the body from a massage perspective, opened my eyes a little more to the complexity and inner-connectedness of the human body.

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Do You See What I See? Domestic Violence During the Holidays

One of the darkest memories that I'm often reminded this time of the year is a story about my aunt and uncle who'd come to my grandmother's home for a holiday gathering. I remember looking at my aunt wondering if anyone saw what I saw. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the festivities, while I, young and naïve, sat staring at my aunt, wondering, "Do you see what I see?",  it reminded me of the Christmas carol.

But this was no little lamb, no dancing star, no kite, no song high above the trees.

What did I see? I saw my aunt sitting on the couch, quiet in her own spirit, her face black and blue on one side, her eye closed, clumsily covered in makeup.

No one said anything. No one did anything. No one seemed to notice, but me.

Do you see what I see?

The holiday season, though joyous, is also a time that is very stressful and leads to greater rates of domestic violence. Not to mention the added pressures of a recession that makes it even more daunting. Not only can there be an increase in domestic violence incidents, they also sometimes go unreported, more often than not, given the holiday season. Besides, it's supposed to be a time of families coming together, happy homes, holiday festivities. Who wants to ruin this picturesque occasion? Who wants to be sitting in police barracks, standing before a judge, or worse yet, sitting behind the unfamiliar walls of a shelter?  Not I. And certainly not the countless number of women, like my aunt, who come to the holiday party, covered in foundation and blush. Having come from four generations of mothers and daughters, all of whom who had once sat on that same couch, I certainly can appreciate why any woman would rather hide behind a mask, rather than report it. Shame brought us there, but silence kept us there.

If you are my aunt, know that there is help. Know that you do not have to sit there covered in secrecy and shame. Know that the silence, perpetuated, can be broken, that the chains of shame can be disbanded. There are so many waiting to help you. Reach out, talk to someone, tell somebody. Let today be your day. Call 1-800-799-SAFE, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and speak with someone in confidence.

And if you are the one sitting across from that couch, watching the proverbial mask, ignoring the obvious . . . Do you see what I see?

 

L.Y. Marlow, Author/Founder, Saving Promise

www.savingpromise.us  

www.colormebutterfly.com

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I deserve to be healthy...do you?

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease for 12 years. She is a cognitive health coach, writer, and personal trainer and advocate in the diabetes online community. The original source of this post is from www.Living-in-Progress.com. 

 

About three years ago, I decided that I deserve to be healthy. I deserve to eat well. I deserve to exercise daily. I deserve to check my blood sugar often, count my carbohydrates, and control my blood sugar as well as I can. Not because someone told me I should, but because I decided that I deserve to be healthy.

 

I also deserve to have weaknesses. Emotions! Hey, I even deserve to have "bad days" and get upset or hurt or sad. Angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Instead of allowing myself to feel those things and be those things, though, I could deny them. Hide them. Suffocate them, and ignore them. But would they go away? My emotions don't just disappear into the clouds, they come back to express themselves in a variety of ways, and one of the most common ways is that we literally take those emotions out on ourselves.

 

Whatever the emotion may be, we hurt ourselves to release a little bit of what we're feeling. Maybe we even decide that we don't deserve to be healthy.

 

It's a funny idea that we might actually hold ourselves back from being healthy on purpose. Or that we might actually hurt ourselves on purpose...but it happens. We all have self-destructive habits. Sometimes it's a well developed and obvious like an addiction to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. But there are other self-destructive habits that hide in closed doors, that are much harder to see, and much easier to ignore.

 

Living with diabetes comes with so many heavy burdens and responsibilities, and so many heavy emotions. Finding a healthy way to acknowledge and express the daily variety of emotions that comes with living with diabetes isn't easy.

 

Let's just be blunt about it.

Are you pissed off? Are you furious? Are you angry?

Why? At who? What for?

 

Every answer you have counts. It matters. Everything you're angry about is justified. It's okay to be furious, depressed, sad, hurt, completely and totally heartbroken.


But what are you going to do about it?

 

I could spend the rest of my life hating diabetes. Absolutely. That's my choice. But I know, for me, that hating diabetes will weigh me down. It will be exhausting. It will take the fun out of everything else I love doing in life. It will limit my ability to succeed in powerlifting, to teach yoga, to be a role model for my clients in living healthfully. To have fun with my friends and my family.

 

I can hate diabetes all I want. I can show how much I hate diabetes by skipping insulin. By eating piles of junk food every day. I can stuff my face with candy and doughnuts until I'm nauseous and who cares if my blood sugar is 500 mg/dL later that night! I have diabetes, that's life.

 

To show the world just how pissed off I am, I make it all worse. I let the disease take over my whole body. My whole life.

 

"See! You can't force me to manage this stupid disease! You can't make me do anything! I do what I want! And this isn't fair!"

 

If I want to, I can hate diabetes. I can feel sorry for myself. Neglect it. Deny it. Ignore it. And feel pretty damn sick on a regular basis. So sick that I don't even notice I'm sick anymore. This is how I always feel. This is normal.

 

"Living with this ridiculous disease and having to manage it day in and day out without a single day off isn't fair! Not one! Not a single day off! And no one is paying me for this full-time job. No way. I work my butt off 24/7 and there is no paycheck."
But I found another way to show this disease how ridiculous it is. I beat it. I show up. I take care of it. I tell myself, "This is what you have to do." And I don't do it for the doctors.

 

I do it for me.


I manage my diabetes because I decided that I deserve to be healthy.

 

I deserve good things.

 

Yes, it's challenging. Yes, it never takes a day off. But I can do it. I'd rather follow the rules and do what I have to so I can pursue the rest of my life, instead of fighting and fighting and fighting in a battle I will never win.

 

In my opinion, this way, I "win" at diabetes every day. I check my blood sugar. I take my insulin. I count my carbohydrates. And I do the best damn job I can do. This ridiculous disease has never held me back. And it never will.

 

For more Video Blogs on living with diabetes, visit www.YouTube.com/user/GingerVieira

 

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The Power of Chinese Medicine

Do you know someone who is having trouble getting pregnant naturally? It is so common these days to hear about fertility issues, which are often blamed on age. However, there are so many other reasons that women experience this and other hormonal issues including painful or irregular periods; it can be from years of being on the pill, environmental toxins, diet and frame of mind.  

I was fourteen when I experienced something most women never even imagine happening. What started as a normal period turned into a full day of hemorrhaging. By the end of the day I had passed out twice and was almost unconscious when I arrived at the hospital. The doctors kept telling my mother to keep me at home, that it happens and would taper off eventually. I spent a week in the hospital building my blood count back up to normal.

From that day on I was told I needed to go on birth control until I wanted to have children. I listened, up until two years ago when I started to question the need for birth control, as well as the side effects of spending 20 years on it. In May of 2008 I took myself off the pill and I did not get my period for a full year. Throughout that year I went to at least four gynecologists questioning what was going on. They all did the usual hormone tests and sonograms only to give me no answers except that I needed to go back on the pill. My regular gynecologist wouldn’t even perform these tests and told me we would get to the bottom of it when I wanted to have children.

At a loss for answers, I went back on the pill in June 2010, but after just a year, I knew my body had enough. I was determined to listen to my body and solve this holistically. First, I started eating cleaner; I cut out all chemicals, trading in my low fat cheese and dressings for the real versions. I started cooking for myself, using organic oils and adding omega 3 fat sources into my diet. I swapped my seemingly healthy whole grain cereals and yogurt, which both contained way too much sugar, for rolled oats. I eventually eliminated dairy, gluten and most sugar. Second, I started to meditate more. I didn’t let a day go by that I didn’t spend time within, even if just for five minutes on the train to work. 

This September after three months without a period, I started weekly acupuncture treatments. I met with Elyse Josephs who is licensed in acupuncture and board certified in Chinese herbal medicine, specializing in women’s health. It was not what I expected. She targeted places specific to my issues, which would sometimes feel extremely intense for the entire 30 minutes on the table. Most of the time I would leave feeling drained until the day after when I felt energized and incredible. After three weeks she suggested I start an herbal treatment. I began to alternate between two Wise Woman herbals, pytoprojest and pytoest, which support normal glandular function and do not contain estrogen. They include ingredients such as cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh), angelica sinensis (dong quai), foeniculum vulgare (bitter fennel) and medicago sativa (alfalfa).

Six weeks after starting acupuncture and herbs and six months after a whole foods diet, I can happily say that I am finally getting my period naturally. Twenty-two years later and my body is finally healed, with the help of holistic, homeopathic treatments and a strong commitment to myself and this journey. 

If you or someone you know has been dealing with similar issues, please remember that there are other options. Birth control pills are not the answer for everyone. 

Visit me, Kim Mucci, Holistic Health Counselor at www.kimmucci.com to read more about my practice.

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So What’s Next for Domestic Violence?

November 10, 2010

Every year around the time Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, I’m left grappling with the same thought. For months, we plan conferences, host awareness events and black tie galas, fundraise, apply for grants, and adorn a room full of onlookers if we’re lucky enough to have gotten an invitation to serve as keynote, or take second stance to a less intriguing role—a fill-in for someone who couldn’t juggle the many requests received that month. We’re inundated with tasks and to-do’s and talks, working our hardest to celebrate, honor, make the color purple revered—all the while silenced by the mere thought that the color purple may never be as prominent. After all, how can we compete with 260 pound linebackers frolicking around a football field in pink?

I judge not, as I am amongst the many whom scurry in those 31 days, given my own story. I not only come from four generations of mothers and daughters who suffered and survived 60 plus years of domestic violence and abuse, but, I’ve committed my life to keep my granddaughter, Promise, from becoming the fifth generation. Her story is what inspired me to found Saving Promise—the first of its kind, a national domestic violence awareness brand to strengthen domestic violence as a national priority.

I believe the first step to making the color purple as prominent as pink is to get America involved and talking about IT - not only when we hear the tragedy but before the tragedy occurs. I believe we have to raise the bar, educate everyone, and remove the stigma that silences our families, our communities, our America. We must find a way to make the color purple recognizable in the public conscience in the same way that the color pink has been so effective for breast cancer awareness.

While I think we’ve done a tremendous job to elevate domestic violence awareness, we still have a long way to go. Oftentimes, I struggle with thoughts of “why is it that the color purple isn’t as prominent as pink?” “Why haven’t we been able to garner the same level of support for domestic violence that exists for that of breast cancer awareness?” The answer—because we have not mastered how to create a movement around this issue. We have not yet figured out how to lessen the stigma, the shame, the silence. We have not yet found a way to wrap the hearts and minds of America around this issue. Or could it simply be that we need to stop working in silos, come together as a collective force, and really, I mean really, launch a movement.

There are 365 days in a year (366 if you consider a leap year), and in those days, an average of three women are murdered by an intimate partner every day. And that's an average! There could very well be more. So if three women are murdered every day, not to mention the countless number of people whom are victimized day after day, then why is it that we don’t celebrate domestic violence awareness every day? Why is it only memorialized for 31 calendar days out of 365? Isn’t the cause worthy enough to do away with the idea of a Domestic Violence Awareness Month and reexamine this theory? This is the kind of thinking that keeps us from being able to move this issue forward and bring abou real change.

If we are ever going to get in front of this issue—be more proactive—then we gotta raise the bar!

As the founder for Saving Promise, it is my vision, my purpose, my life’s journey to ensure that I do everything in my power to raise the bar. An example of that is the first of its kind national domestic violence awareness tour entitled "Gotta Talk About It" that Saving Promise kicked off in September. We took this campaign to large malls in major cities across America. The goal of the tour, like many of the ground-breaking initiatives Saving Promise has planned, is to mobilize America around the issue of domestic violence.

The "Gotta Talk About It" tour, amongst many other initiatives raise the bar and is the vision I have for Saving Promise. That’s the vision I believe we all ought to have if we are ever going to see 260 pound linebackers frolicking around a football field wearing purple.

L.Y. Marlow, Author/Founder, Saving Promise

www.savingpromise.us

www.colormebutterfly.com
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Surviving on a Budget

Because I am a recent college graduate with student loans and a newcomer to the American work-force, I need to live on a budget. After I graduated college, I joined the AmeriCorps affiliated non-profit organization City Year Los Angeles. I volunteered more than 50 hours a week tutoring and mentoring at-risk students in the Boyle Heights neighborhoods of Los Angeles. This experience taught me more than the value of serving the community and giving selflessly to others. It taught me the ins and outs of budgeting.

I have worked these strategies into my daily life, so I can survive and thrive on my budget.

  • I Keep Track of My Expenses

When living on the City Year stipend, I quickly realized that if I didn't know where my money was going, it would just fly away. Since this was the first time in my life I had to balance rent and utility payments in addition to making sure I ate, I started recording my transactions in a notebook. I have been doing this now for over a year. This practice allows me to break down my spending after the end of the month and see where my money is going. It also helps me from spending impulsively because I know that I will have to write it down in the notebook.

  • I Only Use Cash

I have begun to allow myself a certain amount of cash for the week. I have to use this cash to pay for all my groceries, household items and any luxurious trips to the coffee shop. For me, seeing the total amount of money I have for the week in my wallet, really helps me from impulsively buying something I don't really need. But when the money is “invisible” on a debit or credit card, it is much easier to spend. Plus, I collect all my change and save that up to buy myself a treat later on. Of course I do make exceptions to this rule and use my checking account to purchase plane tickets and other such online purchases.

  • I Save Up to Buy a “Wanted” Item

Since, I use cash to pay my my way through the week, sometimes I have a little left over. I put this into a special drawer and save it for an item that might cost a little more than I have for my weekly budget. This practice teaches me to save for something I “want” but don't need. It feels good saving up money to get myself something cool. By putting away a little every week towards something I want, I don't have to dig into my savings account to buy it.

  • I Ride My Bike Everywhere

I do not own a car. This admittedly is sometimes very inconvenient like when it is raining or I need to do a big grocery shopping. However, I love using my bike as an alternative. Besides the environmental benefit, I make no car or insurance payments. There is also a program called Zip Car that's available in several cities that allows you to rent a car for a several hours at a time which can be a great alternative to owning a car.

  • I Cook My Own Homemade Meals

I save a lot of money because I make my own food. I buy my food in bulk which saves money as well as packaging and make myself delicious meals. I bake my own bread and make my own deserts. Not only do some of my meals run me less than $1, I also know that the ingredients are good for my health as well.

What do you do to save money and follow your budget? Leave comments or email me at ASmith@thesurvivorsclub.org

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First Time Blood Donor

I just did something brand new for the first time in my life, and despite having been nervous, it all feels worth it. I donated blood at my local Red Cross. Although the part with the needle hurt, the overall experience was positive. The volunteers at the center were friendly and organized. I felt comfortable knowing I was in knowledgeable and caring hands.

My father has donated blood for most of my life. So far he has given nearly 6 gallons of blood to those who need it, so I have been exposed to the process for a long time. I remember eating the fig newtons with him and my brother at a blood drive when we were both little.

I was inspired to donate blood myself when I read the story about little 10-year-old Emily Smith on The Survivors Club who lived - thanks to the blood donations of others. I asked myself, “why don't you give it a try? It can help people out.” So I did. I registered on the Red Cross website and set up a time to donate. Surprisingly, they book up quick!

I learned that every two seconds someone in the US needs blood. The blood is used to help people survive traumatic accidents, diseases like cancer, and help newborn babies. The exchange of life seems uneven. I just have to lay down for 10 minutes on a padded hospital bed and withstand the quickly dissipating sting of the blood drawing needle. Then I squeeze a foam ball for four seconds and release for four seconds as Carl, a tall older gentlemen with glasses and a white mustache gently councils me through the experience. To think that these 10 minutes can save up to three lives. That 10 minutes of mild discomfort can give someone else a future.

Out of all Red Cross blood donors, 31 percent are first-time donors, 19 percent donate occasionally, and 50 percent are regular, loyal donors. It's great that so many people including myself are making an effort to try something new and help people in the process. Not to mention those lifesaving loyal donors.

When I first walked into the clinic, the volunteer at the check-in desk proudly announced to the room that I was a first-time donor. I received a special donor pin and sticker for being a first-time donor. I then signed some paperwork and was given some reading material to brief myself on the blood donating experience.

After I finished reading, Tarah guided me to a confidential room where I had my pulse and blood pressure tested. I also had my finger pricked to check the iron content of my blood. All the health signs were perfect. I then completed a quick health background check to make sure my blood was safe for those that need it. After all that, I walked into the donor room where I was introduced to compassionate Carl.

The most common needs for donated blood include:

1.Emergencies – a car accident can cause a victim to require nearly 100 pints of blood.

2. Sickle cell disease which affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S., 98 percent of whom are African American. Sickle cell patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives.

3.Cancer patients – During chemotherapy patients may require blood, sometimes daily. With more than 1 million new people diagnosed with cancer every year, this is a constant need.

Carl picked a nice big vein in my right arm and rubbed it with iodine – twice. It almost tickled. Then I was hooked up and pricked with the needle. This brings my story full circle. While my blood was being taken I concentrated on counting to four and squeezing the ball and then counting four as I relaxed my grip. There were nine other donors in the room as well. Some had content smiles on their faces, others were reading books and even others were engaged in animated conversations with the staff.

When my donation was complete and Carl had applied the red bandage, I rested in the chair for a few minutes, listening to “I'm a Believer” by The Monkees until it finished.

After a donation, the Red Cross offers your refreshments. I had cookies and coffee and sat talking to Anne. The 86-year-old woman volunteers at the Red Cross every Monday. We talked about the internet and the evolution of new technology like Skype. She even uses email and the internet.

For those of you who have never donated blood, why not? Give it a try. If you want to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone, this is a great way to help people survive in the process.

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Bullying at any age: "I don't like you. I don't have to respect you."

 

Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999. At 25 years old, she has set 15 records in drug-free powerlifting with record lifts of 190 lb bench press, 265 lb squat and 308 lb deadlift. Today, Ginger is also a cognitive-based health and chronic illness coach at www.Living-in-Progress.com. You can find her YouTube Channel at www.YouTube.com/user/GingerVieira and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GingerVieira.

 

 

Two days ago I was walking through the hallway in my building and these two young women, probably both around 20 years old, were yelling at each other. One young woman was African American, the other was Indian.

 

"I don't like you! I don't like you!" one of them was saying.

 

The other said, "That's fine. I don't like you."

 

The first responded, "Listen, I don't like you. I DO NOT have to respect you."

 

Part of me so badly wanted to butt in and say something-anything. I know it wasn't my place, wasn't my conversation, wasn't my business, but I wanted to say, "You know, I'm pretty sure that's how wars start...just because we don't like someone makes us think we don't have to respect them!"

 

It's such an unfortunate line of thinking. Just because I have different beliefs or lifestyle from someone else doesn't automatically make it acceptable to not show that person respect. It was incredibly frustrating to listen to. On my way back from the mailroom it was still going on, and I kept my mouth shut.

 

When I think of the bullying that has been prevalent in the news-Pheobe Prince, Tyler Clementi, Jared High, April Himes, and Hope Witsell-it really does begin with the mentality that just because someone is different than us, it automatically leads us to think its okay to harass them, to treat them poorly, to disrespect them, abuse them, and walk all over them.

 

For some, it may be the fear of something unknown. When we don't know much about a person, a way of life, even a disease, we are afraid of it. And we might express that fear through cruelty as an unfortunate defensive mechanism.

 

In other situations, fear may have nothing to do with it. Someone it's as if we've decided in our heads that there is only one right way to live, and anyway living contrary to that way deserves no respect.

 

Meanwhile, we'd like to point the finger towards children and teenagers, but adults behave the same way. Adults, grown men and women with powerful positions in the world, are no different. It seems to be a quality of human nature to destroy each other for being different. Hating someone because they aren't just like we are. Hating someone because their own weaknesses and flaws are different than yours (because really, most cultures are mixed with its own version of self-destruction and ethnocentrism).

 

I certainly don't know the solution, but I do hope that education within schools continues to incorporate more and more programs focused on understanding the people around you, and understand that respecting the people around you shouldn't be a choice. Even when we don't understand or like a person, we still owe them respect. It seems like an obvious and important part of human survival.

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The Natural Path

I am so gracious and inspired by the natural course my life is beginning to take.  My name is Kim Mucci and I experienced an inner voice call to action about five years ago.  I didn’t hear exactly what it said, but I just watched and followed the things that would cross my path.  I found IIN, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition through my sister and started receiving their e-mail blasts.  I knew I wanted to enroll in the program, but I had those all-too-common excuses - time and money.  Until one day last summer when I received an e-mail saying that it was school’s last live class.  This was my path, calling. 

Of course school was wonderful in all the ways I hoped.  After every day of class I would leave with a new focus for my new career…lobbying, weight loss, school food programs, fertility and so on.  After graduation I started to see a handful of clients, always leaving our sessions with the same feeling of immense satisfaction and gratitude for having come into my calling.  I love helping people feel good and happy everyday.  That said, I still have bills and obligations that only a fellow New Yorker can comprehend, four clients will not pay a Gramercy rent.

One weekend in September my mother, sister and I went to Kripalu yoga center in the Berkshires and heard Ariane de Bonvoisin, Change Optimist and author of “The First 30 Days” speak.  So many things inspired me, but the simplest advice resonated.  What we focus on grows. It is so obvious, yet so hard to live by.  I left that weekend determined to volunteer my counseling services to people who need it the most.  I found the organization You Can Thrive (Integrative Wellness Center for Breast Cancer) and met with founder Luana Halpern the following week.   After just two weeks of volunteering, I am elated.  Yesterday a client told me I had helped her more than her cancer hospital’s nutritionist and that she was going to recommend me to the chief. Wow, so gratifying!   The same week I met Luana a friend asked me to blog for this site, synchronicity at work.  The message is clear: If you follow the signs they will take you exactly where you should be going.

And so this is what inspired the theme of this blog, “trust the universe”.

1.Listen to your intuition; It is your strongest sense. Think about this, it is rare that our intuition is wrong if we really listen.
2.Be patient, the hardest thing to do is practice patience. Believe it will happen, even if you’re not sure when.
3.Focus on the positive, it will bring more positivity into your life. The same goes for love and compassion.
4.Love yourself.  Really love yourself, the way you want someone to love you. 
 
Visit me, Kim Mucci, Holistic Health Counselor at www.kimmucci.com to read more about my practice.

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5 Tips for Making Exercise Something You Can Stick With!

Ginger Vieira is a cogntive-based Health & Chronic Illness coach, certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and record-holding powerlifter

 

1. Make a plan! If you go into a gym without a plan, you're bound to feel lost, overwhelmed or just plain bored. Instead, when you've taken a quick 5 minutes to list 6 different exercises you plan to do during that hour, you're much more likely to follow through.

The list can be incredibly simple: 6 exercises, 3 sets, 15 reps. If you're new to exercise or just looking for consistency in something like strength-training, a plan as simple as that can be the difference between staying home on the couch versus sweating in the gym for an hour.

The same goes for your cardio plans: at the very least, state the machine you're going to use, the amount of time you want to be on there, and maybe even spice it up by adding it intervals. For example: 2 minutes walking, 1 minute jogging, 2 minutes walking, and so on.

If you're ready for a more intense plan, research a reputable trainer in your area to take your workouts to the next level.

 

2. Pace yourself! Sometimes, we have a tendency to over-do-it. You don't have to exercise every day of the week for two hours to make an impact. Even just two days a week is better than zero days a week. So, what is the reasonable starting point for you? For some people, two days a week isn't enough. For others, four days a week is too much. For some people, walking for 1 hour three days a week is way too much, and a half-hour is more appropriate.

 

The point is that you're starting exactly where you are and with what you can handle. Support your own progress by setting goals that are reasonable for you. In time, over the course of a few weeks or couple of months, you may go from two days a week to five days a week. But starting off, doing any exercise at the amount that you can reasonable handle right now is the place to start.

 

3. Find your motivation! Usually the first thing people say about why they want to exercise more is because they want to "lose weight" or "fit into smaller jeans." But what is the reason behind those reasons? Is it really about losing weight or is about taking care of yourself? Developing your self-worth and self-esteem through being kinder to your body and yourself? Whatever the real reason is for you, state it clearly. Write it down. Find a photo-whatever you need-and keep it in front of you. When you're having a less-motivating day, you'll see your original motivation and remember why you're committing yourself to making exercise part of your life.

 

4. Try new things! We know what we like and we think we know what we don't like, but there are so many new classes and new styles of exercise equipment out there today. I'd bet big money that you haven't tried all of them yet! Whether it's Zumba, kickboxing, spinning class, the stairmill, an elliptical or Crossfit-it doesn't matter, just start researching new things and experiencing new types of exercise. You never know what you might find and really fall in love with!

 

5. Learn how to bounce back! If you run into a few days where you aren't feeling well, or you have to travel for a week and don't make it to the gym after weeks of consistency, don't worry! Just because you miss one week of working out due to life's unexpected circumstances doesn't mean you've lost your progress.

 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed after traveling, for example, and you don't know how to start "back at the beginning" once you get home. Ease back into your new habit of exercising by clearly stating in your calendar when you'll go back to the gym. In no time, you'll be back into your routine. 

 

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Surviving My Road Trip and Camping Solo at Crater Lake

As of September 11th, I officially became a resident of Portland, Oregon. I was born in Rhode Island and lived there until I was 18-years-old. At that time I boarded a plane and flew to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College and had remained there for the past 5 years. Recently, I felt ready for another big change  -- and the ensuing adventure that only comes when taking a risk that one can't turn back from. 

I was about as excited to be in Portland as I was to actually drive up there. I had my trip planned loosely and had given myself a gracious five days to make it up the coast. My plan was to camp out under the stars in the wilderness. It was just me, the car and the open road. I was ready to explore America's West while driving up through California and Oregon. I was prepared to survive my road trip and camp solo at Crater Lake and Shasta National Forest.

I began my journey in Los Angeles on September 7th at 5:00 A.M. with a rented car. I packed up all my belongings in the trunk, said good-bye to my roommates and took off. As I reached the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, I rolled the windows down, turned up the music, and smelled the ocean breeze. I made it up to Oakland for my first night where I stayed with a friend before he left for his own adventure to London.

The next morning I was back on the highway singing loudly to my mix tape and ready for my first camping stop on the journey - destination: Shasta Nation Forest in northern California. I drove down a 10 mile winding mountain road surrounded on each side by misty trees and brush, almost struck a frightened deer lingering behind a long curve but made it safely to the Hirz Bay campground. A man with a handle bar mustache and reading glasses resting on his sharp nose was up in his large camping trailer with a book. He stopped reading for a moment to give me directions to an available camp site where I parked, laid the green tarp on the ground and started to assemble my tent.

With home base set up, I went exploring. I found a trail head close by camp leading to the clear mountain water. The slope was steep and was lined with poison oak and other plant life. The dirt path connected with another that ran perpendicular, and I followed the new one until I came to another downward path. I took small, quick steps down the slope, leaped over a muddy creek and scaled the steep lake shore on all fours. Up higher the bank reminded me of a large staircase with steps of clay. The blue lake lined with orange, and red clay slopes, all enclosed in forest green pine trees, was a beautiful sight in the early afternoon.

As I walked down toward the water, the uniformity of the banks began to crumble. The rocks became more jagged and could be broken off with my bare hands leaving a colorful stain in my palm. I found a flat surface to sit and watched a few boats cruise by on the lake. Their wake took several minutes to reach my location and then rhythmically fanned across the shoreline.

Down by the water, I tested the temperature and found it to be pleasant. I took off my clothes and dove head first into the mountain lake. The water was refreshing and cool. It felt great. I saw a school of little fish watching me with curiosity near the shore.

As I got dressed, rain started to drizzle. I took this as a sign to head back towards camp. I made it back over the river and then ran the trail back to the tent. I ate a quick snack, and brought my book and head lamp inside where I settled into my sleeping back. Within a few minutes, the rain became more powerful. I put the book down and listened to the droplets puttering against the rain guard and drifted asleep to nature's music.

I awoke to a wet landscape consumed in a mountain mist, shook off my tent and packed it in, and set back down the winding mountain road for Highway 5. I enjoyed the last few melancholy miles of California as I remembered friends and adventures from Los Angeles. But soon I broke through the Oregon border energized with a new excitement for the unknown that awaited me. My next stop would be camping solo at Crater Lake National Park.

When I entered the park, it had started to rain again, and the car's thermometer was reading 42 Fahrenheit. I parked and quickly put on some layers and my raincoat. After setting up my tent in the drizzle, I walked around the campground. My site was close to a canyon. The sound of water running came as a brisk trickle a few hundred feet below. I hiked down the switch-backs to reach a crystal clear creek that ran off from Crater Lake. The hiking trail followed along the water's flow and crossed over it on broken bridges several times. I heard unique bird calls one only hears at higher elevations and felt the natural sacredness that surrounded me. The path turned back up the steep slope, and when I made it back to my tent, the sun had come out.

That night while camping solo at Crater Lake the temperature fell below freezing. I was not prepared. I stayed wrapped in my summer sleeping bag wearing not much more than pajamas. It was difficult to sleep, the cold ground absorbed my body heat and the air escaped into the darkness of the night. I yearned for the morning sun to heat up the mountain campground.

I survived through the night. That morning, my tent was frosted over. At over 6000 feet, I was humbled by the mountain's cold. I stepped out into the frosted morning and did some jumping jacks and rubbed my hands together. A small bird hopped onto the bear-proof locker and slipped on the icy top. I learned from The Survivors Club that a sugary drink will raise your body temperature more than a hot drink. So that morning I drank my coffee with extra sugar.

My road trip continued around the rim of Crater Lake - 33 miles of pure beauty. The scenic views look out onto the pure blue ancient caldera that once harbored a volcanic blast 50 times more powerful than Mount St Helens. I took the boat tour across the lake's surface guided by a ranger who knowledgeably answered all our questions about the geology and history of Crater Lake. He shared with us the local Native American tribe's creation myth that centered around the great mountain. Looking down over the railing, I could see over 100 feet down into the clear blue snow melt lake. Wizard Island, which resembles a sorcerer's hat, resides in the middle of the lake and the boat cruised by as we all took photos.

When I got back to shore and ate lunch, I parked at the trail head for Garfield Peak. This point, over 8,000 feet above sea level, offers 360 degree views of the lake and the surrounding Oregonian wilderness. Trees are seen for miles in every direction. On top of that peak, I sat in awe of the greatness of the American West - just one observer of a grander beauty.

That night, I layered up determined to sleep comfortably. Before I cocooned myself up with a blanket inside my sleeping bag, I gazed at the billions of stars piercing the sky like pinholes until my neck hurt. I could see the 'milky' in the Milky Way in that forest of light above my head. That night I experience a more restful sleep camping solo at Crater Lake and awoke at least somewhat warm blooded.

For the last leg of my road trip, I left Crater Lake going north. I took two-lane forested highways headed west towards Eugene until they connected with I-5 North. When Portland was only miles away, I both wanted to get there as quickly as possible and slow down to savor the anticipation. As my adventure was drawing to a close, I reflected on how this experience was a wonderful way for me to start building a new life in a new city. My road trip was exciting and offered many beautiful sights. Camping solo at Crater Lake National Park and Shasta National Forest challenged me to adapt to difficult situations like the freezing night near the lake and learn to rely on myself to handle problems. The trip gave me perspective on the American West and energized me for future adventures. I arrived refreshed and ready to undertake my new urban encounter in Portland, Oregon.

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Fear of the Unknown

Sure, change can be exciting and fun...but change can also be terrifying. The kind of change we are often afraid of is the kind of change that hasn't even happened yet. And it isn't always the kind of change that doesn't actually involve bad things or unhappy things. Instead, it's the kind of change that could happen if we allowed it to.

 

For a moment, think about the kinds of things in your health you've always wished you could achieve, or challenges you've always wanted to overcome. Whether it's overcoming an addition to smoking, being someone who makes the gym an absolute priority every day, or working through emotional overeating.

 

To actually accomplish these goals, you will change. You will be a different person by the time you have overcome those hurtles, obstacles and challenges.  And while those changes seem like obviously positive things, embracing the possibility of that change is overwhelming.

 

Or maybe you're changing how you think and feel about a part of your life. If I had spent the past 15 years of my life in a strong pattern of disliking myself, putting myself down, feeling like a loser, ugly, and unworthy of anything good...then changing into a version of myself that is proud, confident, happy and beautiful is a scary change. Terrifying.

 

Even in unhappiness, we can get really cozy there. If you've been there long enough, you'll learn to like it, to seek it, to stay in it because it's familiar. You know what it's like there. It's easy to keep doing what you've always been doing, even if it doesn't really make you happy.

 

Change is scary.

 

Now imagine if you removed the fear-factor. Removed the element of, "Oh my gosh, I don't know who I'd be if were to change into the person I've always dreamed of being!"

 

"I don't know what it would be like."

 

The unknown! The idea of changing into something you haven't been before, or something you've never felt before, or a way of thinking you've never thought before...that can be terrifying.

 

It is all too common to be afraid of what we don't know; even if might obviously lead to happiness, health, success and pride.

 

If the fear didn't matter, if there was no risk of failure, what would you go after? What would you aim to achieve? Who would you become? What kind of person would you create yourself to be?

 

As you sit at your desk, thinking about the parts of your life and yourself that you've always wanted to change, to improve, to develop and strengthen, ask yourself, "How long have I been thinking about this?"

And how much longer are you going to wait before you begin to take action?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Kept Myself Alive Today

Every single day, I survive diabetes. Living with Type 1 diabetes can look fairly easy to the outsider. You can't tell by looking at me that there is something terribly wrong going on inside my body....or something that is not going on, to be more exact.

 

I don't make insulin. Every living mammal needs insulin to live...and I don't make a drop!

 

But like I said, you can't tell by looking at me that something isn't right. I look healthy, happy, normal, strong, ready, and able. But if I were to boil down what it means to live with diabetes into one brief sentence it would be this: Today, I have to keep myself alive.

 

To some that might sound so severe, exaggerated, and incredibly dramatic, but it's really the truth. Actually, since my diagnosis, I have seen that glimpse of my body really failing on me in two severe low-blood sugar episodes and one episode of DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis)...

 

And during that one DKA episode, I would say it felt like "my body was shutting down." Bit by bit, as my blood sugar climbed during the night and the insulin in my insulin pump had become completely useless due to being outside in the extreme winter weather for too long, my body was trying to shut down on me.

 

But I survived that DKA episode. After throwing up 15 times from simple sips of water, I made it to the hospital. And after begging and unsuccessfully trying to convince two medical students to not give me an overdose of 10 units of insulin per hour (on top of the 10 units they'd already given me), and getting glucose in my IV an hour later to undo what they did, I finally took control over my body again.

 

But all of that is nothing compared to what some of my diabetes-surviving friends have survived!

 

My friends with diabetes have survive seizures, comas, car accidents...the list goes on and on. Transplants. DKA so severe that she said her lips felt like they were on fire and it wasn't until a week after her hospitalization that her throat stopped burning from the acid that had flooded her body.

 

My friends are survivors.

 

Just the littlest things, whether it's equipment malfunction, the wrong dose of insulin, or purely human error and imperfection...the littlest slip in diabetes care could end our life in a moment.

 

...stuck in the middle of nowhere without any glucose and a plummeting low blood sugar.

...an accidental overdose in my insulin injection without realizing it while I'm rushing through my day.

...giving myself my rapid acting insulin instead of my long-acting insulin dose without realizing it. If you don't know what that means, let me tell you, that 20 units of rapid acting all at once, when I thought I was taking long-acting, would end me quickly if I didn't do everything in my power to turn that situation around.

...an unforeseen low blood sugar while I'm driving that leads to a car accident.

...an unforeseen low blood sugar in my sleep when no one else is around and I'm too low to even reach for the glucose tabs sitting on my nightstand.

...dropping quickly during exercise, so quickly that I don't feel it coming, until I pass out, completely unconscious, having seizures until I slip into a coma.

 

This list goes on and on with "ifs" and "coulds" and "maybes."

 

Fortunately, I've become really good at keeping myself alive every day. In fact, I should list that on my resume as one of my exceptional skills!

 

There is careful line I walk every single day, without being obsessively perfect, that allows me to prevent diabetes from ending my life today. I walk that careful line every day in order to survive diabetes.

 

Every single insulin shot keeps me alive.

 

I endure diabetes every single day. I beat diabetes every single day.

 

Every low blood sugar that completely throws off my day because my brain spent an hour trying to recover from being completely deprived of the glucose it needs every second in order to function!

 

Every high blood sugar that makes me feel like mud is running through my veins, puts my brain in a thick fog, and makes me feel about as energy as a rock covered in moss.

 

Every single day I do what I can to keep that rollercoaster ride less exciting. I do what I can to manage something so complicated that my body is supposed to be managing on its own using a hundred little details, many of which I have no control over!

 

So it is a big deal. I'm alive today. I did it. I kept myself alive. I survived another day with diabetes.         

 

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Meet Ginger - Type 1 Diabetic, Cognitive Health Coach, and Record-holding Powerlifter

Well, let me tell you right from the start that my background is a funky cumulation from several different paths in the world of health. But please don’t jump to any conclusions about me. I am not some ultra-healthy, perfect-diet, gym-bunny! Actually, I have an insatiable sweet-tooth. I was never successful in athletics when I was younger. And maintaining a healthy weight and balancing my diabetes is something I work really hard at every day.

But today I am living this life well, and I’m living it happily, too. But let me fill you in on the details.... First and foremost, I’m 24 years old and I’ve lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999 (over 11 years). I diagnosed myself, actually, at a health fair in the 7th grade and no one believed me for a week. I read the symptoms listed on my classmate’s poster and said, “Mom, I think I have diabetes.”

But you never think that kind of thing can actually happen to you. Sure enough, a week later and a trip to the doctor’s office, my world was turned upside down. While I absolutely did throw myself a tremendous pity-party for several hours in the hospital, I left that hospital three days later having realized that I don’t know a single person in my life who doesn’t face immense challenges. Diabetes is one of my challenges, and it has never stopped me from achieving anything I’ve set my mind on achieving.

•••

Secondly, during the year 2009, I set 14 records in drug-tested national powerlifting federations and I’ve won the Vermont State Bench Press competition in 2009 and 2010. Today I continue to train and will compete again in 2011 after rehabilitating two postural injuries. But I never used to be much when it came to sports. Sure, I dabbled in almost everything, but in late 2007, I joined a gym and hired a trainer, because I was suddenly truly determined to take better care of my health. I’d started on my own but I wanted to do more and learn more.

By 2009, I was training to compete in my first powerlifting event, and by May 2009 I realized my body was absolutely designed for this sport, for lifting ridiculously heaving things. You can see competition videos, exercise video blogs and video blogs on life's emotional obstacles at my YouTube Channel and you can find me on Twitter here. Balancing diabetes around powerlifting training and competing is a whole other story--and it wasn’t easy--but having to learn how to do this changed my life and the way I live with this disease.

To make a long story short, I realized how much more there was to learn that the doctors never had time to teach me...and I realized I was capable of learning it on my own.

•••

And lastly, I am a cognitive health and chronic illness coach in my own business, Living In Progress. The foundation of my training is through David Rock’s neuro-science based program, www.ResultsCoaches.com. As a cognitive coach, my clients are people who are facing any challenge in their physical and emotional health. Everything from managing an illness like diabetes to working on your nutrition habits to rebuilding your self-esteem and self-worth after surviving an abusive relationship.

My primary training is in the “neuro-plasticity” of the brain; how our brains are hard-wired to think and act in a certain way...but we are able to build new wiring, new ways of thinking and new ways of living our lives. With a background of working as a personal trainer and Ashtanga yoga instructor for over two years, I also write “Personal Exercise Programs” for people who are interested in becoming more active or taking their fitness to the next step. I know from experience that it is really hard to stick to a plan if you don’t have one in the first place! I write programs for people based on your level of fitness, your goals, the environment you want to exercise in (the gym, your living room, you name it), and how much time you have for exercise in your life. I also help people with diabetes understand how to balance their blood sugars around exercise.

•••

You see, if you asked me five years ago if I’d be a record-holding, health-teaching, fitness guru, I would’ve laughed hysterically! Maybe I wanted to be, but I didn’t know back then I could make that many changes in my life and actually succeed. I believe we are capable of any change we want to make in our lives. Some changes can happen quickly while others need time to build and develop. In the words of Epictetus, a stoic Greek philosopher I admire, “No great thing was created suddenly.”

Please contact me any time with questions about your own challenges and goals at ginger@living-in-progress.com or 303-947-7212.

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Being a Friend Requires Acts of Love

TEN years ago, I packed up my belongings, and with my 13-month-old child, moved from my home in England, to America. My then-husband, an American, had yet to tell his job we had decided to cross the pond, and so I moved alone, waiting for him to find the right time.

Those first few weeks in an empty house – our furniture had somehow gone AWOL – I learned, very quickly how hard it was to get by without the support of family, and my family had always lived within a three mile radius.

But I was lucky. I found friends. Quickly. And I drew them close, came to think of them as my family of choice. I thought, back then, I knew what friendship required, and how to be a friend.

Heidi was my first friend, found when our sons were tiny, when we were in each other’s pockets, lives, homes every day. Then I found others, when I briefly moved up to Litchfield county, where my marriage broke down, and then, when I knew I had to come home, home to Westport, Dani and I moved into a tiny beach cottage with my four children, whereupon I fell in love with life at the beach. Shortly thereafter, I fell in love with my landlord, and three years later, in a tiny ceremony he became my husband.

Life was was perfect. The wedding had been beautiful, tiny, intimate, filled with warmth and love, and just our family, with Heidi and Jennifer joining us later for drinks at our favorite restaurant in town.

Our children were thrilled with this new, blended Brady Bunch family and life was good. And yet I still had nights when I couldn’t sleep, excitement perhaps, or anticipation.

That night I got up, and idly flicked through the emails on my Blackberry, just in case.

That night, at 2am, I read that Heidi had been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. She had found out the day after our lunch, after an MRI showed that the back pain she had been complaining of for three or four months was not a pulled muscle, or a trapped nerve, but tumors. All over her spine.

Up until that night, I thought I knew what friendship was. Together my husband and I have six children, and I have published twelve novels, and I run the lives of all these people, and I thought, up until that night, that it was fine not to call my friends. I’m busy, they’re busy, everyone’s busy. And we have all learned to lower our expectations.

'They understand,' I’d tell myself.

'We understand,' they’d tell me.

We would meet for lunch every couple of weeks, plan to grab coffee more often, phone at the last minute to cancel: ‘babysitter issues’.

And now Heidi was sick. Seriously sick. She was not ready to see people, she wrote. She asked for privacy, and I determined then, when I felt, deep in my gut, that time was not on our side, I would be there for her, that I would do whatever it takes.

And accompanying her on this journey, through her trips to hospital, her chemotherapy, her wincing with pain during the dreaded Neupogen shots, I learned more about friendship than I ever thought possible.

I learned that truth is in the action. That love is a verb. That being a friend requires Acts of Love. It is not, as so many of us are wont to do, saying platitudes such as: ‘call me if you need anything,’ or, ‘I’m here for you.’

Love is quietly working away, doing. For me, it started with nightly emails. I refused to let my friend become defined by her illness, and so I sent her “The Evening Report”. No matter what time I fell into bed, how much alcohol I had consumed – and trust me, during those months I consumed a lot – I typed up a fun, funny, pithy, gossipy newsletter.

I attached photos, and websites I had found, and things that had made me laugh, and I tried my level best to make her feel like my friend, not like a girl who has Stage IV cancer.

“I love your emails,” she wrote. “they make me feel normal, and that makes me feel good." Summer rolled around, and she went to her cottage in Canada, but things started to go wrong. Somehow, by that time, three of us had become her advocates. She came back to Connecticut, shockingly thin, frail and pale. She had caught an infection, and had terrible, debilitating headaches, that no-one could pinpoint.

When she lay in bed, exhausted, scared, we asked the questions. When the doctors changed the medication, we asked why, and when they needed to know the name of the last steroids, or the results of the tests, we had the answers.

Her emails changed during this time. “I love you,’ she would write. “Always”. And when we were together she would look us deep in the eyes and repeat it. I have never easily said “I love you”, to a friend. But I learned, and said it to her every day, many, many times.

Transferred briefly to Memorial Sloane Kettering, we three were there the day they found out what it was. Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis. A rare disease, a diffused tumor in the cerebrospinal fluid. We three were there when the team of doctors stood around the bed, sorrow on their faces, as they told a 43-year-old woman with a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old that she might have a year. If the treatment worked.

And if it didn’t? We asked, her advocates who asked the hard questions.

Six to eight weeks.

‘You being here with me,’ she wrote to me later that night, via email. ‘…holding my hand and crying with me is your love verb.’

The last few weeks of her life she came home. We climbed on her bed and stroked her head, fuzzy like a baby bird, and fed her hummus, and then, when she stopped eating, ice chips. I couldn’t not touch her when I was in the room. Holding her hand, stroking her head, gently, gently, showing her what love is.

She died on September 30th, and today I have learned what it is to be a friend. The truth is in the action. It isn’t enough to think of my friends, and hope they are fine. I phone them now. Regularly. I drag them out to lunch. I shoot off emails telling them I love them.

The tragedy was losing someone I loved. I was lucky in that it wasn’t too late to show her what she meant to me, but a second tragedy would be not to practice the things she taught me.

Love is, as she said, a verb, and I think of her, and practice those lessons, every day of my life.

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Alexander Smith Runs the San Francisco Half Marathon

I had never thought that I would be a person on track to run a marathon. It was something other people did but not me. But in March I knew I was ready for a significant personal challenge.

When I decided to make the commitment to run the San Francisco half marathon scheduled for July 25, 2010, I had never run more than 4 miles in my life. How was I ever going to run 13.1 miles in only a few months? But this nagging doubt didn't stop me from trying. My desire to overcome this challenge and complete the race trumped my inner voice that said, "You can't do it." I wanted to run on the Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to run more than I have ever run before. I trusted that if I started training early, I could prepare my mind and body for the race.

To prepare I acquired a marathon training guide that could keep my training runs organized. The guide spanning 19 weeks built up my running distances gradually. This strategy gave my body enough time to adjust to the long distances in order to remain healthy and injury free.

I kept disciplined to my training schedule. Running at least four times a week. I did my longer runs on Sunday mornings and throughout the rest of the week, I hit the pavement after work. In the last month of training I added a short run in on Saturday. It is important to go running often and slowly build up mileage throughout the week if you want to compete in a long run. Even if some commitment came up, and I had to skip a scheduled run, I would at least try to run a shortened version or run extra the next day to make sure my legs were still moving.

I remember week 11 of my training when I first ran ten miles. This accomplishment felt great. I was becoming a long distance runner, and finishing a double digit run made my dream seem closer. I was almost there. I was amazed by my progress, and I was on the right track. I decided to up the ante and shoot for a 2 hour finish time in San Francisco.

After I restated my goal, I kicked my training into a higher gear. Since the race was in San Francisco, I figured that I had better start training for the legendary hills. The San Francisco Marathon is known as one of the toughest for runners in the United States.

The race day came faster than expected, and at 6 A.M. on July 25th, I was in a huge crowd of runners wearing my new blue San Francisco Half Marathon jersey. The energy was palatable and despite the early hour and dark sky, the energy of the event electrified the Embarcadero.

After an enthusiastic announcer wished us luck and sounded the start, I found myself corralled with thousands of runners. This congestion soon spread out as our road unfolded. I felt great. I had made it here with my own hard work and dedication.

I remember as the route lead me onto the Golden Gate Bridge. Two lanes of traffic were blocked off for the runners. There was a dense fog resting on the bridge, and this murky cloud closed off the panoramic view. Instead of on the scenery, my attention grasped onto each stride I took. I began to feel a joy rising inside me, as I realized that I had dreamt of this moment.

Once the grade of the bridge shifted downwards, I began to see the green hills of Marin County emerging from the morning fog. On the shore there was a rest area with electrolyte drinks, food packets and restrooms. I quickly indulged, then continued back across the bridge. I kept my eyes open for my friends running the race with me, Alicia and Danielle.

When I saw them on my way across the bridge, I was so proud that we all were doing this. Seeing their hard work painted on their faces, kept my spirits up.

There were only a few more miles left in the run after I got back into San Francisco. The run continued through some hills. When I ran, I made sure to lift my knees up high. This allowed for me to “fall” up the hill. It didn't feel like I was pushing myself up against gravity. On the way down I took longer strides and landed my foot in the middle rather than on the heel because I found that this was easiest on my body. Leaning into the hill is easier on the body. When a runner's weight is leaning back, their muscles and skeleton are working against gravity slowing the body down. This puts more wear on the joints which is no good. Also, when taking longer strides downhill, I found that I could manage my speed better and not get overwhelmed by a hill's slope.

When the buildings started to fall away and more greenery came into view, I knew that the race was coming to an end. My first half marathon took me from the wharfs on Embarcadero over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Golden Gate Park.

I saw the finish line in sight! I ran across at full speed and then slowly trailed my pace down to a walk. My legs still felt like they were running.

I was given a SF Marathon safety blanket to wrap around my body, some food to re-energize myself, and I stretched. My time was 2 hours 3 minutes, and I was ecstatic. Although I didn't quite meet my 2 hour goal, I still came close enough to feel proud of my accomplishment.

Over the course of my training I ran 223 miles. Now that I have completed this, I plan to run a full marathon. As of yet, the location and time have not been determined, but I have the intention. I've still been running and plan to keep it as part of my exercise routine.
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Justification

It is funny how we get to where we are today; the experiences that shape us, the people that influence us.  Major global events and significant personalities, though powerful in the moment, often fade in persuasion as time passes, while small occurrences and ordinary people sometimes possess tremendous power and provide life altering memories.  This is the story of three ordinary people whose extraordinary lives have provided inspiration and urgency and have brought forth what is to this day the most important and difficult challenge of my life.

I first met Brad Ludden, professional Kayaker and the founder of First Descents, at the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado.  A mutual friend provided cause for the initial introduction.  Common interests and the Mountain Culture built our friendship.  From the beginning I admired Brad's zest for life and charitable personality.  When we met, First Descents was a fledgling organization with a simple goal:  Provide free adventure therapy to young adults with cancer.  As our friendship grew, so did First Descents.  Watching mostly from the sidelines, I followed the organization as it grew from a single adventure camp serving 14 participants to a well-respected charity that has now affected the lives of over 600 campers.  Though I could easily see the positive affect FD was having on young adults with cancer, I maintained a certain distance from direct involvement with the organization.  Confronting cancer is no doubt a daunting task.  For me, confronting those with the disease was equally intimidating.  It meant confronting my own weaknesses, my own immortality.  As a young adult myself, in a profession with a higher than average cancer risk, I did not particularly want to face the reality of the deadly disease.

When I finally did come face to face with Cancer, the affect was unexpected.  The moment came in April of 2008 at the Second Annual First Descents Charity Ball and Fundraiser.  I attended alone while my wife stayed home recovering from a hard pregnancy and the birth of our first child, Max.  It was at that Ball that I first made contact with the "campers" as they are known, the young adults who have attended the First Descents Adventure Camps.  I saw first hand the impact that FD had on their lives.  I listened to the stories they told as they spoke of their exhaustive battles against illness, the affects on their bodies, families, lives and dignity.  I laughed at their jokes and admired their will.  I held back tears as they spoke to the fear of dying and appreciated their courage as they justified their fears in the remembrance of fallen friends.  I left that night affected in ways that I did not anticipate.  I was not discouraged or afraid, depressed or angry.  I was inspired.  I had found a cause that touched my heart.  I wanted to do more...

Running the New York Marathon is hard.  For my friend Ethan Zohn, not running it was even harder.  I had agreed to meet Ethan in New York for a head to head battle in the 2009 running of the City's famous marathon.  The effort would be to promote and raise money for Ethan's charity, Grassroot Soccer.  That was before Ethan was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin's Lymphoma and would begin what he would later describe as "the ultimate test of strength and will known to humans."  For Ethan to say that means something.  Ethan is a former professional soccer player and winner of the hit reality television show Survivor: Africa.  He once dribbled a soccer ball nearly 500 miles from Boston to Washington DC to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS in Africa, the final portion of which he did with a torn ACL.  Ethan knows pain.  He knows commitment, perseverance, devotion and hard work.  He knows them and he needed them as he fought for his life against cancer.

Ethan's treatment was grueling.  It began with 6 months of chemotherapy treatment resulting only in confirmation that the treatment was unsuccessful and that the cancer was spreading.  For the first time Ethan faced the conscious reality of death.  Just one year earlier he was a healthy young adult kicking a soccer ball across the Brooklyn Bridge.  He now faced the frightening reality of a disease with no proven cure and treatment that would test the thresholds of his physical and emotional strength.  Cancer was going medieval.  Ethan went for his sword and prepared to slay the dragon.

After building up his strength Ethan would undergo 4 more months of treatment.  Because his immune system would be almost completely erased, he would be confined for the duration in an isolated and sterile environment.  His blood would be chemically scrubbed clean then re-booted and replenished, hopefully cancer free, with new cells produced after undergoing a painful stem-cell transplant process.  In an uncontrolled environment, Ethan's depleted body would be too weak to survive.  Essentially he was brought to within a germ of death so that he may have a chance to survive.  Ethan's battle demonstrated the often-unrealized potential of the human mind, body and spirit.  The strength that Ethan summoned, the indomitable will required in his fight against cancer, it is there inside us all.  Though life's relative ease may not require its company, it's there, available and wasted by most.  First Descents inspired me to do more; Ethan proved to me that I could...

Zoe was three months old when I met her. Though HIPAA laws prevent me from knowing or revealing much about that day, it's impact has profoundly influenced the course and direction of my life.  Not a day passes unaffected by our brief encounter.  No decision is made without a consideration towards the lessons learned from a three-month-old girl whose life would never see its fourth month.  Zoe died three days after our meeting.  Her life was short.  Its affect was infinite.  No single moment demonstrated more effectively the importance of each day.  Though Zoe's life would eventually pass, the efforts of emergency crews and hospital staff regained and preserved it long enough for her family to say good-bye.  They were by her side as she took her last breath, as her heart beat for the last time.

I wonder sometimes, if she were given the choice, what Zoe would have been willing to endure to live.  Would she have agreed to a broken arm, a bad hair day or financial hardship?  Would she have traded her peaceful death for a battle with Cancer and the chance to see her 30th Birthday?   I think she would have.  I know I would have.  Unlike Zoe, I can choose.  I can choose how I live each day, what I do with it.  Knowing they are a blessing, I make choices now with a conscious understanding of life's delicate nature.  That is the gift of life as taught to me by a three month old baby girl.

Small occurrences and ordinary people are what have had the most influence on my life.  Intimate encounters have revealed the details of life's balance.  From the power and support I gain from my own family, to the inspiration of an organization, to the strength of a man and the precious life of a little girl, I have seen both rock and rain drop.  I have bared witness to the tremendous force of life alongside its equally powerful fragility.  It is for these reasons I live an inspired life, undeterred by challenge, appreciative of each day.  It is for these reasons that I am part of Team First Descents.

Help inspire someone.  Click the link to First Descents to visit my page and join the revolution!

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Survivor Central Blog

No matter what challenge you face, The Survivors Club offers true stories to inspire you and practical tips and ideas to help you. The Survivors Club Blog is where our panel of experts react to the latest survivor news and offer amazing true tales about surviving and thriving in every kind of adversity from cancer and divorce to unemployment, airplane crashes and shark attacks.Read More

About The Authors
Ben Sherwood

Ben is the Founder & CEO of TheSurvivorsClub.org

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Alexander Smith

Alexander is the Editor for TheSurvivorsClub.org

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Ginger Vieira

Ginger Vieira is a Health Coach and Founder of www.Living-In-Progress.com

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LY Marlow

LY Marlow is the Founder of the Saving Promise Campaign and an Award-Winning Author

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Kim Mucci

Kim Mucci is a holistic health counselor

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