Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gratitude

It’s been almost two years since I sat down and penned something for the blog. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, but more that I haven’t had the energy. I’ve known since I wrote my Dad’s eulogy, that the next piece I would “need” to write would be about the experience of losing him and, frankly, each time that I sat down to put the thoughts into “action,” I just wasn’t ready. But, after a while, I realized that no matter how much time passed, I would never be ready to tell this story or share this experience in exactly the perfect way. So, best to just dive in…head first.

For as long as I can remember, my Dad and I shared frank, open conversations about death and dying. Quite honestly, I’ve always been fascinated by the process…and what, if anything, would be waiting for us on the other side. My Dad spent the early part of his professional life in the funeral business and my Mom was in healthcare, so the story of my life is chock full of experiences in and around hospitals and funeral homes. As a child, these places weren’t scary to me; instead they were a connection to my beloved P’s.

I don’t think it would be surprising to anyone to find out that during some of the darker moments in my cancer battle, I’ve given extensive time to thoughts about death and dying. Frankly, I’ve never been particularly worried about the process…other than the fact that I didn’t want to linger, because that would be hard on my family…and I didn’t want to experience pain, because that would be hard on me. Relatively speaking, I’ve been pretty practical about it. It would be what it would be…and I would handle it. No more…no less. But, that was when I was thinking about, and dealing with, the potential end of my own life. Not the life of someone I love.

I can say without the least bit of hesitation that when my parents had their car accident, I was in no way prepared to lose them. Not that I hadn’t thought or worried about it. As an only child, I’ve had a nagging fear of that loss since I was a little girl, but I usually didn’t let myself go “there.” And then…in a moment…on a beautiful November day, we were “there,” and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it; except… be grateful.

Yes…I said it…grateful.

As much as everyone wanted to believe that my Dad was going to get better, I knew in my heart, within a few of days of the accident, that we would ultimately be facing the end. Instead of choosing to stick my head in the sand and pretend that everything was going to be “ok,” I made a conscious choice about the roll that I was going to play in the end of his life. And, I have never regretted…for a second…a single decision that I made during those precious three months. I cherish the hours spent sitting by his beside (or lying in his bed cuddling with him). I am honored to have been able to take care of him and help ease my Mom’s load. And, I feel so incredibly blessed that one of the last things he felt and heard in this life, as he transitioned to the next, was my touch and my voice telling him how very much he was loved. I realize that not everyone gets these opportunities…and that sometimes those who do, don’t take advantage of them. But, I did…and, I am profoundly grateful to have been a part of Jay Saner’s life…and his death.

I miss my Dad more than you can possibly imagine. Seriously. Nothing feels the same since we lost him. And, with time, I’ve learned that, that’s ok. When someone touches your life in all the ways that he did mine, it shouldn’t be business as usual when he or she is gone. It shouldn’t be business as usual…but, as those left behind, we should still be IN business: the business of living.

In the early days after he passed, it was very difficult to do, or see, any of the things that I so closely associated with him and his life. My heart ached every time I saw a little girl with her Daddy, or I happened upon a KU basketball game on the television. When the phone in my office would ring, I felt as if I was being stabbed, because I knew there would no longer be the chance that I would hear that familiar voice on the other end of the line, “Hey, Suz…whatcha up to? Are you too busy for a chat with your old Dad?” And, even though I knew it made no sense, I spent hours standing in the exact spot in my living room where he took his last breath in an effort to feel him again. I tried, but nothing filled the hole in my heart left by his absence. So, I eventually stopped trying and just let it be.

I’ve learned since February 25, 2011, that life does indeed go on even when it doesn’t seem possible that it will…or can. That even in the face of unimaginable grief, things are still funny…and frustrating…and infuriating…and beautiful. That the sun still rises…and it still sets. That you can’t eat anything and everything that makes you “feel better” and still expect to fit into size 8 pants. And, that after a while, you can actually tell a story about the person you’ve lost and not have to stop mid-sentence and cry it out…at least once in a while.

The hole that Jay Saner left will always be there, but I don’t feel like I am going to fall into it every day like I once did. As much as I miss him, I am relishing the opportunity to get to know my Mom in a way that I never did when he was alive. I know it would make him happy to see how close we are now…especially after his front row seat to our relationship during my teenage years. I’ve actually laughed at the thought of him and my Grandma Booth sitting in heaven watching us and saying, “Did you ever think you’d see the day?!”

Above all, the experience of losing my Dad has taught me about the peace that comes with approaching life with a philosophy of “No Regrets!” I know that I didn’t do everything right when my Dad was dying. I didn’t, but I tried…and he confirmed for me, in one of the last conversations we shared, that he knew that. I cannot, nor would I, ask for more.

Someday, hopefully not too soon, it will be my time. Or, worse, it will be time to say goodbye to someone else I love. I realize that I may never again have the opportunity that I had with my Dad. And, that in the end, the precious time to say all that I want to say and do all that I want to do may be elusive. As a result, I’ve vowed to no longer wait for the perfect occasion to say, “…’thank you’…’I appreciate you’…’you make a difference in my life’…’I learned from you’…’You make me smile’…’I love you’…” and to do my very best to make sure that my actions are a true reflection of these feelings, as well. I don’t always get it right; but, again, I’m trying.

During a particularly difficult time, on one of the last days of my Dad’s life, he grabbed me, pulled me close, looked me in the eye and said in a clear, strong voice, “YOU…are… precious.” Given what he and I were dealing with at that particular moment, it amazed me that he found it in himself to speak, much less say something so meaningful. But, he did…because that’s who he was…and for that, and so much more, I am grateful.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A World Without Jay Saner


The following is the eulogy that I delivered at my Dad's Memorial Service on Wednesday, March 9, 2011:

It was either 1983 or 1984…the last time I stood in front of a congregation…in this church…in this spot. My Mom came home from choir practice that week with the not so exciting news that she had volunteered me to do a reading in church. I was 13 at the time and not at all thrilled about the prospect of standing in front of the congregation doing anything…much less a reading…by myself! I threw myself into the state of histrionics that only a preteen girl can and it wasn’t until my Dad sat me down and said…”Just look at me. Don’t worry about the rest of them. Just talk to me” that I thought I might actually be able to get through it. So Sunday rolled around. I’d practiced. I was ready. I walked up to the pulpit…looked over and saw my Dad’s smiling face. He gave me the thumbs up and I began. At the end of the first paragraph, I knew I was nailing it, so I decided to throw in the dramatic pause…with congregation glance. I gave the crowd the once over and then locked eyes with my Dad, who by that time had his eyes crossed…his tongue hanging out…and was mimicking my every word. When the giggles started…I couldn’t get them to stop and there he sat, with that Jay Saner smirk that most of you know so well. The only thing I remember about the rest of that reading was the sound of my laughter…trying hard to avoid my Dad’s face…and hearing the “Pst-Pst” sound coming from the choir loft, as my Mom tried to get the two of us to knock it off. My public speaking career at the Wellsville United Methodist Church came to abrupt end that Sunday morning…and, yet here I find myself again…trying to do justice to a life that meant so much to so many…this time, Dad, I’m talking to…and about you. I hope I serve you well.

I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you how difficult the last several months have been for our family, but I must tell you that I feel incredibly blessed to have shared so many special moments with my Dad during that time. I was telling a dear friend of mine about one of these moments and he said, “You know, Susan, being a Dad is the most wonderful thing about my life. I love my kids like nothing else in this world. I know that this morning with your Dad was a sweet one for you, but I know I speak for him when I say…for him, it was magical.”

John was right. It was magical for my Dad…and neither John nor my Dad had to tell me so, because if there is one thing that I have known without question every single day of my life, it’s that Jay Saner loved being my Dad…and I am so blessed to be his daughter.

Dad was born on March 12, 1934 in Kingman, Kansas to John H. and Elsie Saner. By all accounts, his included, he was a “busy” child and it was not a rare occurrence for my Grandma to get phone calls from people asking, “Elsie, do you have any idea where Jay is? The answer: Swinging naked from the trees along the highway…playing Tarzan…or dismantling his best friend’s Mother’s new washing machine, so that they could attempt to make a motorcycle, by attaching the motor to Dad’s bike. He was a good student and star athlete, but had a bit reputation for loving a good time…and more than the occasional beer. During those years, there were often tear laden threats by my Grandmother that he would be sent to Boys Town, yet he managed to remain in the family home until he left for college in 1952. During visits to see my Aunt and cousins, trips to Kingman generally meant that we would run into someone who had a Jay Saner story. One of my favorites was from the woman…one of my Aunt’s best friends… who told the story of being shot in the rear end with a BB gun by my dear Dad when they were all playing as kids. She’s in her 80’s now and still carries that BB in her bum today. During another visit, we ran into one of the girls who graduated from high school with him. She laughed when she found out that I was Jay’s daughter and made the comment that she was thrilled to hear that Jay had not only lived, but stayed out of prison long enough to become a father and a productive member of society.

In 1957, he met a girl. Barbara Booth. He married her on April 6, 1958 in the church just across the street. They shared almost 53 years of marriage, but a total of 54 years together as a couple.

I learned very early on that in our house, my Mom was the practical one…and my Dad while still practical was more of a dreamer. When I had crushes on boys, it was my Dad that I would go to, because he “got it” and would listen to my incessant rambling about how fantastic someone was and why we really would be perfect together…while Mom, on the other hand, would roll her eyes a bit and say, “Susan, you’ve never even talked to him. Now empty the dishwasher.” So, it made complete sense to me that when I got to the age when I became curious about how my parents met, that it was Dad that I would go to, to paint the picture.

When I asked the question the first time, he got a very serious look on his face and said, “I think we better call a family meeting.” My immediate thought was, “UH OH!” A family meeting in our house was serious business and not undertaken lightly. It was made quite clear very early on that business discussed during a family meeting stayed in the house and was not to be shared, so when the family meeting was called to discuss the beginnings of my parent’s relationship, I knew it was a big deal.

When we sat down that day for our family meeting, he took my hand in his and said, “Susie, this may not be easy for you to hear…and it is very important that you respect the code of the family meeting.” I sat there wide-eyed, shaking my head in agreement waiting for the bombshell that he was about to drop. With a straight face, he looked me in the eye and said, “When I was in college, I took a job at a women’s prison to earn extra money. Your Mother was an inmate.”

The real story, I later learned, was that they met through friends while he was working at Cooper Warren Funeral home in Lawrence and Mom was in nursing school at St. Lukes…and that they made each other laugh…that they could talk about anything and everything…and that Dad thought Mom was beautiful…and strong.

YOU ARE.

One of the great traditions that I grew up with was that every Christmas, I would get to go on Christmas shopping date with each of my parents. Neither my Mom nor I are particularly good or willing shoppers, so our trips were usually surgical and precise…with a celebratory Chinese food dinner when we were done. The trip with Dad, on the other hand, was a process of handling…and looking…and talking…and never…and I do mean NEVER settling for less than the perfect gift for “Saint Barbara the Devine” as he used to refer to her. ..or anyone else that he was shopping for, for that matter. You never knew, what he was going to come up with for Christmas, but you always knew that it was going to be special…and I always knew that the trip with him was going to be fun.

One year, he decided that my Mom needed a new nightgown and robe set, so in we trudged to Victoria’s Secret. When the saleswoman approached Dad and I and asked how she could help…Dad announced loudly, “We’re here to pick something out that will inspire me to give this one…a baby brother or sister.” After years of therapy, I no longer drop into a fetal position when I think about that moment…and I know today he has a huge smile on his face remembering that and so many other moments just like it.

Dad and I didn’t get to take our annual trip this year, because our holidays were spent in the hospital, but I have the incredible memory of 2009 when we only visited one store and spent the rest of the evening talking, laughing and crying over a three hour dinner. I’ll cherish that memory for the rest of my life.
I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for 41 of my parents almost 53 years of marriage, sometimes it was a drama…during the health scares and difficult times; sometimes is was like an action film...the moves across country or the home building/remodeling adventures and misadventures; other times, it was comedy…time spent laughing with friends or playing games as a family; still other times, is was a mystery…trying to figure out why exactly they were mad at each other and why my Mom was whistling through her nose; but there is one thing I know for certain…with all it’s good…and it’s bad…it’s the greatest love story that I’ve ever seen and I feel so honored to have been the result of it.

Whether during his career in the funeral business, in sales or as a restaurant owner, his genuine love for people and hard work was always evident. Even as a kid, I realized that he never did anything halfway. There was passion and purpose behind everything he did…and his expectation for those around him was that we would do and be the same. He pushed us all to do…and to be better…because he always believed we could. And, whenever possible, he believed in providing opportunity for those around him who might not otherwise have it. He wasn’t always easy…he could be demanding and difficult, but when someone around him would underperform (me included) and he would lash out…it was done more out of frustration with himself than the other person, because he felt that he had failed to properly motivate. I understand this as an adult, because I am the same way.

Although the P’s only had me, my Dad loved kids…and his capacity for loving them was unending. Whether you were one of my friends…my cousins…the children of my parent’s friends…kids who worked for him…neighborhood kids, if Jay Saner thought you were special, you knew it. And, that didn’t change when we entered adulthood either. To him, we were still “the kids”…and he followed each life with wonder and amazement…celebrating successes and grieving losses. In the final months of his life, I shared many conversations with him about the kids he loved. His memories were long and he shared stories with me that even I didn’t know. To each of you, who allowed him to touch your life, I thank you.

I’ve always believed that one of the greatest gifts that my Dad gave me was the ability to make people laugh…and the ability to laugh at myself. Laughter gets us through our darkest hours and lucky for so many of us, when we think about my Dad, it is so easy to laugh. It has been such a pleasure for Mom and I to hear so many of you share your fantastically, funny Jay moments. My childhood memories of my Dad are filled with laughter, whether it be my own…or that of the people around us. What a gift and legacy he left behind.

The day before Dad passed, a dear friend said to my Mom, “I can’t imagine a world without Jay Saner.” Neither can I. My Dad’s is the voice I hear inside my head when I’m trying to close a big deal…make a big decision or manage my team at work. He was my “go-to” phone call when I had something to celebrate, needed advice or my heart was aching. Sports, for me…especially Kansas Jayhawk Basketball, will never be the same….I will never be the same…the world, will never be the same.
In the last days of his life, I kissed and loved on him constantly…and I told him that if I gave him a million kisses it still wouldn’t be enough. He would always nod his head and when he could, he’d say, “that’s right, Suzie.” Dad took his last breath surrounded by love…and it was only after he passed that my Mom, Aunt Eve and I realized that he had a smile on his face. So fitting of a man, who left so many smiles behind.

Dad had a sage piece of advice that he used to give my Mom and I…my cousins…and our friends…before we would leave to go anywhere. So, in this spirit of this day…I return the advice to you my dear Dad…and say…

I love you beyond measure…I will miss you every single day…and, until we meet again, have a wonderful time in heaven… but, please…don’t embarrass the family.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One...Two...Three...WAKE UP!


It’s Monday, January 3, and I’ve already had 6 of them. Six of those post holiday work emails that say, “I hope you’ve had a relaxing holiday and are refreshed and ready for the new year. Not sure why, but I’ve felt compelled to answer each out loud with a snort and a “Yeah right, buddy.” Of course most of these people can’t possibly know that my life…and this holiday season…have been anything but relaxing and refreshing. They can’t possibly know that on November 19, my world was turned upside and that life…as I knew it anyway…was forever changed.

That day…a beautiful Friday morning…I was awaiting word from my parents that they were in their new car and in route to my house for the winter. Dad would fill me in on their miniature dachshund’s exploits on the first hours of the ride and Mom would have me adding to the list of things to get at the grocery store for the Thanksgiving feast the following week. Instead, as I worked away in my office that morning, I received the phone call that would change everything: “The P’s had a little trouble.” With these words came the news of a car accident…two hospitals…and injuries.

I’m not sure if every child feels this way or if it is just those of us born with the genetic makeup predisposed for worry (thanks Dad!), but I’m pretty sure I was about five the first time I remember realizing that if something happened to my parents I would be an orphan. At seven, when my worry gene kicked into serious overdrive, I realized that something could happen to them at…GULP…the same time and, as an only child, I would then be totally alone. From that point on, every romantic trip, ”adults only” vacation or road trip became a source of serious angst and had me camped at the window or by the phone until Jay and Babs were safely deposited wherever they were supposed to be. Even as the years passed, this fear never subsided and I have had more than one nightmare in my adult life that they were taken from me. Each time I woke feeling not unlike that scared five year old saying a silent prayer of thanks and relief that it was only a “dream.” Oh what I wouldn’t have given for that day…and most of the days since…to be just that.

I arrived at Kansas City International Airport at 11:54 that evening…steeled myself against the bitter cold and rushed to the Rental Car Facility. As my neon blue Ford Fusion and I passed the clubs of Westport where I spent my 21st birthday and turned at the corner where the little music box shop was that my Mom used to take me to as a child, I realized that the roles that my parents and I had played my entire life no longer fit. No matter what happened in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and, God willing, years, this was the event that would change everything and that they would need me in a way they had never needed me before. When I hit the doors at the St. Luke’s ICU, it was as clear to me as that night’s sky, the “luxury” of being “the kid” was officially over.

It might sound curious that with all the growing up I’ve had to do given my own cancer battle and all that’s come with it that I could even think of myself as “the kid,” but until November 19, I did. Fighting for my own life is quite different than feeling responsible for someone else’s…especially an adult “someone else” who has spent a great portion of his (and her) life teaching, guiding and preparing me to navigate moments just such as this. What if I failed? What if I did these beautiful lives a disservice and didn’t give them the voice they deserved when needed most? What if? What if? What if?

In the days and weeks since my parent’s accident, I’ve had to say…do…and know things that I don’t want to. I’ve had to explore the deep dark reality of what life would have been like if they had been taken from me in an instant on that beautiful November day and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that someday, they will be. I have often, over the last 11 years of my cancer battle, questioned why I am still alive. I think I now know why. My face was the one my Dad needed to see when his heart was stopped and restarted in an attempt to bring it back into rhythm and my hand was the one my Mom needed to hold when she hurt so badly she couldn’t move.

Jay and Barbara gave me life…and a reason to fight for it. I hope in the dark hours of the last several weeks I’ve been able to return the favor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

On the Countdown to LIVESTRONG 2010

In October, I’ll be taking the cancer fight to the roads of Austin, Texas (in spandex no less) by riding my in the LIVESTRONG Challenge. As I’ve to come to you over the years for support during my cancer battle, I am reaching out to you now and asking you to consider donating to a cause that means so much to me. I know that each of us has felt the impact of these difficult economic times, but cancer doesn’t sit back and wait for the economy to turn around and neither can we! It is my goal to donate $20,000 to the global cancer campaign in 2010 in memory of those we’ve lost, in honor of those who fight and in support of those who have yet to be diagnosed.

This year I am participating in memory and honor of the following people:

In Memory Of...
Easta "Grandma" Booth
Ben Diffenderfer
Stefan Cleveland
Mike Lovett
Debbie Doty
Barbara Bean
Jennifer Hurcombe
Jim Owens
Eddie May
Bob Sanders
Lisa Garcia
Ron Newhouse
Susi Internicola
Larry Fort
John Nelson
Isabel Moss
Johnny Green
Mike Williams
Gene Mitchell
Bob Thornburg
Janice Breashears
Melody Winfield

In Honor of...
Auntie A (Ardena Yakle)
Katie Schofield
Bridget Halpin
Jim Pullen
Brienne Fisher
Susan Duek
Lesley Breithaupt
Lisa Oswald Miller
Amy Breashears
Erma Craig
Morgan Langdale
Mary Jo Ruff
Reenie Hughes
Roscoe Hodson
Lori Reed
Tanner Flynn
Shawn Gleave
Joan Scott
Judy Wolever
Bryn Truett-Chavez
Nancy Williams
Bob Judge
Rod Brown
Mike Ryan
Ken Nelson
Mike Hiddleson
Anne Bengfort
Joe Judge
Joe Rock
Rich Gallaher
Karen Heck
Keith Rogers
Lynn Vestal
Randy Vestal
Mrs. Adams
Bill Davidson
Jack Cavner
Denis Bengfort
Charlene McAuley
Joanna Wilhite
Carol Granas
Jeff Anderson
Wayne Linder
Marie Linder
Zelma Van Horn
Kathleen Heuter
Lois Molseed
Tim Parker
Debbie McAuley
Vivian Schwabish

The following link will take you to my fundraising page:
http://austin2010.livestrong.org/susancdavenport

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Assignment

January…I haven’t written since January?! How is it possible that seven months have passed and I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and do the one thing that usually brings me so much joy? Perhaps, more than anything, it has to do with the fact that I’ve been nervous about what I would actually say if I allowed myself to go “there.” Sometimes it’s easier to be silent than to risk saying what is really on one’s mind…and then dealing with the aftermath. But, last week, while sitting with a new friend, I realized that by not being true to my voice, I’m not being true to me…and slowly, but surely, my fire is going out. I can’t have that.

Angry. That seems to be the emotion that resonates with me more than any other right now. I don’t say that lightly…and it certainly isn’t said easily. But, like it or not, my reality is that I am profoundly unhappy and I spend much of my time with a bitter burn raging in the pit of my stomach. This burn makes me sick and sad…and, if I’m honest, scared. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it…and frankly, it’s a bitch.

I’m not an angry person by nature, in fact, quite the opposite, but here I am. Why?

Answer: I’ve lost my balance.

I wouldn’t call this a first for me. I’ve been struggling with balance for as long as I can remember, but right now I seem to be smack in the middle of my own personal storm of the century and my life and I are out of control…and that really pisses me off…at ME! Gut check time for ole’ Sus here, because I’ve spent the last 7 months (at least) telling myself and others how frustrating, screwed up, lazy, blah, blah, blah everyone else is and the naked truth is that I’m the problem. It’s me…just me.

OUCH!

One of the first things that Professor Byrd taught me in Psych 101 at the University of Kansas a few… ahem…years ago was that no one can make “us” feel something without our consent. Well, I’ve been giving almost everyone, and his or her proverbial brother, permission to frustrate me, steal my “happy,” zap my energy and simply wear me out. It’s almost as if I’ve been asking everyone I meet, “Hey, how can I help you or your project suck the life right out of me?”

How in the hell did I let this happen? For Pete sake!! I’ve been dodging death for 10.5 years and yet not even I could see that I needed to trim the sails and get the ship back on course before the storm hit?! After months of doing only things that I felt like I “had to,” instead of creating balance with things that I “need and/or want to,” the royal dung has officially hit the fan and I’m S-P-E-N-T. It took the fresh perspective of a new friend and the wisdom and patience of a few special folks (the P’s included) who really love me to help me realize that without change, I’m headed for disaster.

The happy ending in this tragic tale of woe is that I have a plan…or at least I’m in the process of formulating one. Step One of that plan…writing…and not just the work related proposals that have occupied much of my life for the last several months. Step Two….get back to the business of taking care of me. And, Step Three? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see…

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Letter...

I’m sitting in the airport in Phoenix waiting to board my flight to Ft. Lauderdale where I will meet up with my lifelong friend Amy and embark the Independence of the Seas for the “Susan Saner Davenport 40th Birthday Cruise.” 40…Wow. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I never gave turning 40 a bit of thought. Why would I? There wasn’t any reason to worry about getting “old.” And then suddenly, without warning, turning 31 didn’t look good…35 less than a 5% chance and 40…well, that was a pipe dream at best.

And yet here I am.

I don’t know why I have been blessed…and let’s be honest, spared. I’ve watched so many friends and fellow cancer patients lose their battles to this horrible disease and yet here I stand preparing to do what some (and even I at times) thought was impossible. To me, it’s nothing short of a miracle…and further proof that WE are the Captains of our destiny and that so much of our life is dependent on how good the “crew” is that we choose to surround ourselves with. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be here right now if not for the incredible support system that I have, the medical team that has been fighting for me and the fact that I am a stubborn, hard-headed chick who doesn’t like to be told what to do…especially when “what” has anything to do with dying.

I’ve always thought that when you turned 40, you were supposed to have “it” together. I don’t even know what to do with “it,” much less how to get “it” together. What I do know, though, is that while I wouldn’t make any wholesale changes to my life, I sure would love to go back in time and impart some of the wisdom of these years to the girl I used to be. So, in honor of this dubious occasion, I’ve decided to honor the years that I’ve lived…and the years that are still to come with the following letter to…

10 year old me…
Dear Susan,

I know that it hurts to leave your best friend, Amy, on 69th Terrace in Prairie Village and move to Wellsville, but I promise you that it will be ok. You will come to think of Wellsville as your hometown and the people that you meet there as your family. You will cherish the experiences and friendships that you make there, you will respect the work ethic that you learn growing up there and you will be forever grateful for the time that you get to spend with your Grandma Booth. Here’s the best thing though, this move will teach you that distance means nothing with true friendship. Your friendship with Amy will grow as the two of you do and there won’t be a major…or not so major event…in either of your lives that the other one isn’t a part of. You are now…and will always be…best friends. It’s going to be ok. I promise!

15 year old me…
Dear Susan,

I know it seems like the end of the world now, but I promise you that when you are 40, it really won’t matter that “he” doesn’t and didn’t notice you. Someday he will…and by then, you will have moved on. The memory of the time and energy that you put into this one sided love affair will someday make you smile…and, in reality, will provide relief as you realize that if you had gotten what you wanted then, you might not be living the life you have now. Everything happens for a reason, dear girl. Keep your chin up and keep plugging away. Like fine wine, some things really do get better with age. You are one of them!

25 Year Old Me…
Dear Susan,

Someday the friend that you are falling in love with will break your heart. Stay the course. There are great lessons to be learned in this relationship. When all is said and done, you will emerge friends…fiercely loyal to each other…and equally pleased not to be married to each other anymore. I am proud of you…and you should be proud of you, for the way that you will handle yourself during the divorce. Class act, baby!

I’m not going to tell you not to beat yourself up, because you “failed” at marriage, because I know that you will anyway…what I am going to tell you, though, is that the lessons that you learn from that failure will serve you well as you grow older. At 40, you will know exactly what you want and don’t want out of a relationship…and it will be clear that settling will never be an option! “He’s” out there…or he’s not…either way, you’ll be fine!

30 Year Old Me…
Dear Susan,

They’ve told you that you are going to die. It’s true…you will, but not on their terms. Listen to your gut. If it feels right, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t allow yourself to be talked into it. This is YOUR life. Don’t ever forget that.
Research all you can on nutrition and alternative therapies. Tell the people that you love…that you do indeed love them…as often as you can. Cut the dead weight out of your life! Don’t be ashamed of that beautiful bald head. Wear that badge with honor, because you will earn it ten-fold! When someone tells you that something is only going to hurt “a little,” don’t believe them. When someone asks you how you feel, don’t tell most of them the truth. When your best friend asks you, be open and honest…even though it will hurt her, she really wants to know and she can take it. Don’t ever give up your dream of a future…your ability to laugh…and the knowledge of the relief that comes from a really good cry. It’s ok to be afraid, but don’t ever allow yourself to be paralyzed by fear. You are a genuine hard chick with a soft, gooey filling…the best kind of woman.

And, never forget that it’s ok to lose…as long as you didn’t give up!

35 Year Old Me…
Dear Susan,

He’s not worth it. He will only bring heartache and pain…and take years to truly get over. Keep walking…or as the British say, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This, dear girl, might just be the best piece of advice that I am able to impart. Think about it…smile…and then walk…no RUN…away!

Learn to listen with your head and your heart. Have the guts to make the move. Don’t take it personally, because sometimes it has nothing at all to do with you. Take the opportunity to enjoy your parents while you can. Fill up other people’s buckets, but don’t forget to ration or you won’t have anything left in your own. Don’t ever stop caring as much as you do…it’s one of the things that makes “you” – you. Jealousy and anger are wasted emotions…let them go. It really is “only money.” Don’t let a few sprinkles…or even a downpour…ruin an otherwise perfect day. Be open to the possibility. And, get ready for an amazing ride, because the next five years will be incredible.

40 Year Old Me…
Dear Susan,

You made it! I’ve been waiting for you and so has…


To be continued…

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne - 2009

December 31, 1999, I rang in the New Year on the couch at my former in-laws house. Having spent the day at the mall in Capitola, California watching my head of beautiful long red hair become a pixie cut in preparation for chemotherapy that would be starting in the coming weeks, I felt only fear and dread as I watched the clock hit midnight and 2000…the decade of my 30’s…officially begin. January 2000, was a blur and yet I remember so many moments of it like it was yesterday. I associate those days with painful experiences, both physical and mental. Experiences that I wish I could forget, but know I never will.

My 30th birthday was spent at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, in an x-ray room laying flat on my back for several hours having a lymph-angiogram in an attempt to determine what Stage my Lymphoma should be categorized. Birthday dinner that year was a taco and a Diet Coke from Jack in the Box fast food restaurant at 11:00p.m. as my ex-husband and I drove home in silence exhausted by the events of the day. There were more long and painful tests to come, until the final verdict…I was “toast”…could be delivered by my Doc.

During those days, the phone rang and was used incessantly. I simply couldn’t get away from it. There were tests to schedule, people to tell about my cancer diagnosis and its latest developments and insurance companies to fight with. In fact, it might be that time of my life that is most directly responsible for my aversion to talking on the phone now when I’m at home. To this day, when the phone rings during the evening or weekend, my first thought…before I even know who is calling…is, “Sigh…what now?!”

Chemo started and I was bald about two and a half weeks later. A month or so after that, the pretty girl that I remembered being in my 20’s had been replaced by a strange creature that looked suspiciously like Uncle Fester from The Adams Family. This doesn’t do much for one’s self esteem…especially when you know that if you are going to put any sort of string of survival together, you and Fester are going to be “together” for the long haul.

I wonder what you will think when I tell you that there hasn’t been a single day of the last decade…the entire span of my 30’s…when one of the first thoughts of my day and one of the last before I go to sleep doesn’t surround cancer? I wonder what you will think when I tell you that I have lived with an almost constant sense of fear that suddenly the reaper will realize that I snuck out of line…that I haven’t followed protocol…and that I have cheating death longer than I should have been allowed? I wonder if you know what it’s like to try to bargain with a killer for just a few more months…or years? I wonder if you can understand the guilt that I have felt as I have watched friends and loved ones lose their battles, while I still muddle through? And, I wonder if you have any idea what it feels like not have any clue why cancer loves…and hates…me so much?

The last decade has been a fight for my life. With that fight came incredibly beautiful moments, breathtaking experiences, relationships that bolster and inspire…and fear, ugliness and pain. I’ve spent my 30’s trying to stay alive and as much as has been allowed by my situation, trying to have a life. As we welcome a new year…a new decade…and I eagerly await my 40th birthday, I’ve decided that having a life is going to take precedence over simply trying to stay alive. Gone forever is business as usual in my cancer care…I’ve taken the reigns and I’m leading the charge.

For me, pumping my body full of chemicals and radiation to kill…or slow…cancer and a poor diet was no longer working. It was time for me to empower myself to take control of my body and my cancer experience. I stopped all of my traditional cancer treatment, fired the docs that didn’t support my decision and looked for a new path which I happened to find while talking to someone in the CT Scan line.

Through a regimented diet (and I do mean regimented!) and a naturopathic approach to cancer care, I am welcoming 2010 feeling (and looking) better than I have in years. It hasn’t been easy, but as I have repeatedly had to remind myself when I wanted to “cheat”…this isn’t about the perfect pair of jeans…this is about my life. And, for the first time in a decade, I truly believe that there is a LONG life in there to be had!

I wish you a peaceful end to 2009 and with the stroke of midnight…optimism, courage and joy for 2010. No day is promised and nothing is easy, but my wish for you is that you find the strength to make the most of every second you have. YOU (and I) are worth it!

Happy New Year!
December 23, 2009