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Who's in Your Aquarium?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

One of the books I’m currently reading is “Life,” by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Keith grew up listening to everything from Mozart and Bach to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When he was 13, Keith used to walk around his bedroom, holding a tiny radio up to his ear, twisting the antennae just so until he could get an intermittent signal from Radio Luxembourg. According to Keith, the night he heard Elvis Presley singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” was “like an explosion,” and the next day, he “was a different guy.” Whether he knew it or not, Keith Richards had just found his tribe—the aquarium in which he wanted to swim. Rock and roll music and artists like Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino would forever change his life. He’d found his passion, that thing that gave meaning to his life.

One of the greatest gifts we can receive in life is discovering who we are. Even if we know we’re a shark, a goldfish, or a guppy, we still need to find what gives meaning to our life. Writer and teacher, Joseph Campbell, said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were walls.” Certainly that path held true for Keith Richards, but what about the rest of us, especially if we’ve experienced a brush with death? <PREVIEWEND>

After surviving a serious illness, some of us have a tendency to play it safe. While our friends and family have gone back to life as it was, we seem to be tapping our foot, waiting for “it” to return. We’ve disconnected from the rest of our life to deal with our illness, but when treatment is over, who are we? How do we integrate our healthy self with our new normal? How do we go from wellness to surviving and from surviving to thriving, squeezing everything we can out of life? The real tragedy isn’t dying, but failing to live our lives. As Joseph Campbell said, sometimes “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

For starters, we can use our illness as an opportunity to become healthier by adopting a better diet and exercise plan. We can also use this transition time to integrate our mental, spiritual and emotional changes into our family life. We’ve heard about men who leave, after their wives have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but I’ve also heard of women who’ve been the one to leave after their cancer diagnosis. Their rationale is, “If I only have five years left, I’m not spending it with him!” Whether you’re prepared to leave an unhappy marriage and carve out a new life for yourself, or to create a life that has more joy and purpose, spend some time thinking about what makes you smile, what gives you purpose. Bring more bliss into your life, one experience at a time. Surround yourself with things, people and activities you love. In addition, step outside yourself and think about ways you can help other people; that’s the best way I know to stop focusing on yourself and move forward.

There is life after the darkness. Swim toward the light, and make it a good life.

P.S. Speaking of Keith Richards, I had a front row center seat to the Rolling Stones’ first American concert: Teen Fair, at Joe Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. (You don’t want to know what year.) I went to swoon over Bobby Rydell, Paul Peterson and Bobby Vee, so I didn’t know what to make of The Rolling Stones. I took pictures of every artist there, except the Stones! Now, no one’s interested in my little black and white scalloped edge photos of singers the world hasn’t heard from since. It wasn’t long before I was the Stones' biggest fan, saving baby sitting money to buy their album “Out of Our Heads.” My mother hated it and kept throwing them away, but I bought another one and another one. I’m still a huge fan. You wouldn’t believe what I paid for two, front row center seats to the Stones’ 2002, AT&T Center concert in San Antonio. Really… you wouldn’t, and I would have paid twice that!! Am I crazy? Maybe, but I’m just squeezing everything I can out of life.

P.P.S. Keith, did you name the iPhone music Ap “Shazam?”

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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 30-Nov-2010 11:23 AM
Brenda, This post is full of great stuff. I really like the quote "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were walls." I agree, after my serious illness, I am trying to redefine what really matters to me - what brings more meaning and purpose to my life. I also certainly want to become healthier through some life style improvements. Sometimes it's all overwhelming and I have to remind myself it all takes time. I am trying to "swim toward the light and make mine a better life." How was that concert in 2002 compared to the first one you saw? Good for you for squeezing as much as you can out of life!
Anonymous commented on 30-Nov-2010 12:00 PM
Making lifestyle changes is difficult & takes discipline. My oncologist says all things in moderation, including moderation, but I'm not a moderate kinda girl. I seem to be all or nothing!

"Find your bliss..." Don't you love that? Michael Samuelson, a male breast cancer survivor & speaker at the Life Beyond Cancer Retreat, had the good fortune of having Joseph Campbell, the "find your bliss" originator, as his teacher & mentor. Campbell did a powerful series of videos w/Bill Moyers & PBS about bliss & the Power of Myth. I need to do a blog about both Samuelson & Campbell.

About the Rolling Stones... The 1st time I saw them, they weren't my cup of tea. Two years later, & since then, I can't get enough! I've seen them several times in concert & they just get better & better. Seriously! They are a force unto themselves. The last time I saw them, I took James, who didn't really know much about the Stones. About half way thru the concert, James leaned over & said, "Keith Richards is really cool!" Duh...

Keith's gorgeous wife of 27 years, 1970's model, Patti Hansen, had breast cancer in 2005 & bladder cancer in 2007. They're both tough survivors!

Anonymous commented on 30-Nov-2010 02:49 PM
My aquarium is filled with all sorts of people from different walks of life, but the King Fish is Jesus Christ. Wherever my feet go, he walks with me; as of late, into the chemo lab less than a mile from my home. An entirely new fishbowl for me, and while I'd rather not have cancer, I cannot imagine my life without it now; it has taught me and given me a perspective I would have never known had I not walked this road.

And I ADORE the people in the chemo lounge. So many good, new connections! I don't waste one minute when I get there, and have no doubt that I'm there for such a season as this--to extend the light and life of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet.

Round 5 took 4 hours this morning; a full house with lots of laughter and cheer. I will miss the fellowship once I'm finished, so I particularly like the post that preceded this one... about what we do once our treatment is over.

It's a thought that's been bothering me for quite some time. We have a support group here that I'm going to try and attend next go around but will also keep the retreat in mind that you mentioned.

Thanks for visiting the blog and for your encouragement. You've blessed me with your investment of time and energy at my place. It is my privilege to serve you in any way I can.

Anonymous commented on 30-Nov-2010 05:38 PM
Three more rounds of Taxol till you're done! I have no doubt that when you finish chemo, other fellowships and hearts await your message. Would love to see you at next year's Life Beyond Cancer Retreat. Wishing you all Gods blessings, sweet lady, Brenda
Anonymous commented on 01-Dec-2010 08:10 AM
Living life after cancer certainly can be a challenge! Every ache and every pain can haunt us for days, wondering if the cancer has metastasized. After my breast cancer diagnosis, life continued...I was so young when I was diagnosed, that I didn't have a choice! I got married, had two daughters, and life keeps on going 14 years after my diagnosis. My mom survived for 26 years after her first diagnosis at 40. Sadly, we lost her a year ago. But when I think of all the things she accomplished in those 26 years! She was an amazing woman!

Thanks for stopping by Lemon Drop Pie. I'd love to have your crabcake recipe! :)
Anonymous commented on 01-Dec-2010 07:27 PM
Ginny Marie, You know, all too well, the fine line survivors walk; the balancing act between moving on with our lives and wondering if "it" has returned. Your mom sounds like she was a great role model for you, and it seems as though you, too, are an amazing woman and role model for your daughters. Your mother has left the best legacy she could possibly have left: the ability to be a survivor under the most adverse and terrifying conditions. FYI, I will rustle up that recipe and get it to you. Thanks so much for your comments, Brenda
Anonymous commented on 01-Dec-2010 07:33 PM
Hi Brenda, Every time I receive your updated blog i get so inspired!! Well, I have some good news to share. My sister's surgery went well. Because of your comments, my sister insisted they perform the Oncotype test, and they did. We just got the results back on Friday, and the doctor said he had never seen numbers so low (I think it was a 12 or something - I'm sure you understadn the numbers better than I) and that due to those results, they DO NOT recommend chemotherapy; just radiation. So, we are all very happy about that, and grateful to you for your wisdom, experience, and the information you gave us. :-) She has started taking Tomoxifin (sp?) and will begin radiation next week, so I'm sure we must continue to pray for her. But I am so thankful for your support through this whole ordeal. Thank you for being here for me via emails, it has meant so much, and I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Your Friend, Amy
Anonymous commented on 01-Dec-2010 07:36 PM
Brenda, I loved this blog. Good for you for squeezing everything you can out of life.
Anonymous commented on 02-Dec-2010 11:05 AM
Brenda , What a great blog! lucky you... i grew up in Asbury Park, N.J. And often Bruce Springstein would come and do a gig in the Stone Pony Bar,, He would just pop in and surprise us all... It was such a treat ... Those are memories to put in our memory bank..
And yes,, No matter how i feel,, I have been waking up feeling terrific,, but then I go and take my Arimidex pill and it just always reminds me of my cancer and how fragile my life really is... How do I get over that.. Close my eyes when I swallow it?? It is a drag....
Does one ever feel totaly cancer free? xxx Merry
Anonymous commented on 02-Dec-2010 11:25 AM
You made my day with this update about your sister! Thank you for letting me know. Clear margins and no lymph node involvement is indeed good news, and I'm glad her doctors decided she didn't need chemo. No doubt her oncologist told her she may experience fatigue with the radiation, plus the Tamoxifen may make her joints ache. So many young women don't take the full five year course of Tamoxifen because they don't like the way it makes them feel, and I can identify.

I took Arimidex for five years, and unless I exercised EVERY day, I felt like an old lady. Every time I got up out of a chair, I had this mental image of my grandmother, and when I kneeled down to pick something up off the floor.... I was the classic "Help, I've fallen and can't get up." While it's tempting to say, "I'm not taking this medicine anymore," I hope she reconsiders. FYI, three days after I stopped Arimidex, I began to feel more like my old self. A few weeks later, I was limber and fine, so just know that arthritic feeling goes away.

So thankful for the outcome of the genetic testing. That's great news, but since "stuff" happens, I hope you'll continue your self breast exams.

Fabulous, fabulous news!!!! Yes, my friend, I want to keep in touch with you. When you have time, email me and tell me about you. All I know is you love your family with all your heart, and want the best for them. In the grand scheme of things, that says volumes about you.

Anonymous commented on 02-Dec-2010 11:51 AM
Hi Merry,
I'm envious, your getting to see Bruce Springsteen in a small club and the adrenaline rush when you realized he was really there! How awesome!

Know exactly what you mean about the Arimidex. When you take it each day, can you see it as a good thing, something life saving? I hate the thought of you cringing every time you take it. Perhaps you can imagine a giant, animated "A" running through your system--a super hero that's protecting you, keeping the estrogen at bay so any renegade cancer cells can't grow. As far as feeling like life is fragile, I felt the same way until my husband reminded me that we have no idea what's going to happen from day to day, even if we're totally healthy: We could slip on the ice and hit our head, like actress Natasha Richardson, or some whacko could run us off the road. "Stuff" happens, but YOU ARE NOT FRAGILE!! You have come through this beautifully. You are a strong, determined woman! A Survivor! Embrace that! Let the Arimidex empower you and attack life like the Super Heroine you are. And yes, all of us who've had cancer will always wonder if "it" will return, but we must blow past that and get on with the business of living. The tragedy is not in dying, but failing to live!

Anonymous commented on 03-Dec-2010 10:30 AM
Thank you sooooo much! What wondeful advice you give.. This is your true calling! You have made me feel so much better.. Guess this is just all so new to me.. as I have just begun the recovery process.. I was diagnosed last March, had a bilateral mastecomy, 6 months of chemo and reconstruction. a few complications.. a few surgergies,, but now back at the gym this week, and beginning to feel strong again,, but your blog is amazing.. and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.. this was a sorority i did not want to belong to, but now i am so thankful for all my "sisters:.What amazing women I have met through this journey,, and you are at the top! Thank you... xxxx Merry"
Anonymous commented on 03-Dec-2010 10:40 AM
You've had a lot thrown at you in a short period of time. I hear you about the surgeries and the complications. Been there, done that. I sometimes wonder if they told us everything up front if we'd agree to do it. Probably, since it's our nature to survive, but not so "willingly." If you're already back at the gym this week, I'm impressed, girlfriend! Truly. My oncologist told me it would be a year before I began to feel more like my old self, so I'd say you're way ahead of the curve. Thanks for the kind words, but out of the two of us, you're the one who's amazing!!

Anonymous commented on 03-Dec-2010 10:03 PM
Hi Brenda
Have read this post several times over the past couple of days and each time I get something new. Just as it should be! Today I am taking away with me the words of Joseph Campbell. Tomorrow...who knows?
My love and gratitude for all that you bring to my life. You continue to amaze and inspire me my friend. Thank you for being so 'special' xo
Anonymous commented on 04-Dec-2010 11:39 PM
I've left posts on your site and Starry's. Your friendship means everything to me. Last week I even seriously thought of traveling to meet you. I hadn't planned things out at all, didn't know what I could do other than be present in your grace and love. You are the one who inspires and amazes us all. Just know I hold you up to God and ask that He blesses and loves you. You are such a special woman, and a reflection of God's love. XOXOXO, Brenda

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